Monday, July 6, 2009

pakistan's problems and india

Much is being made these days of Pakistan's newly-found resolve in fighting the Taliban. Wherever he goes, President Zardari is being praised by the same Western leaders who used to believe that Pervez Musharraf was the only man who could save the region from extremism. Now Zardari has taken up this role, and whereas one can certainly see something positive in the way opposition to extremism has been mobilized in the society, doubts must remain about the efficiency of the military "operation" against the Taliban: There is a huge cost in terms of civilian victims, displaced or even killed; the "operation" is taking place without observers, with total impunity for the army to do what they want; and the army doesn't seem to have abandoned its tactics of pitting one tribal leader against the other.

These are old tactics, but is there a new vision and a new policy as far as extremist groups are concerned? For this, one would have to compare the actions against the "Pakistani Taliban" with what Pakistan is doing about other militant groups which haven't turned against Islamabad, but are apparently still seen by some in the establishment there as useful strategic assets internationally: The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) aka Jama'at-ud-Dawa (JuD), which is blamed by India for the Mumbai attacks in November, and the Afghan Taliban, many of whose leaders are reported to have found refuge in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

So far, the situation is far from clear here. A case in point is that Hafiz Saeed, the head of the banned LeT/JuD, had to be released from house arrest because the government had failed to present a case against him. There are strong indications that not much will change unless something happens in the relationship between Pakistan and India. In a perceptive recent analysis for Reuters titled "Can Pakistan take on the Lashkar-e-Taiba?", Myra MacDonald calls it
the Catch 22 of India-Pakistan relations. Without peace, Pakistan may never fully turn against the LeT. And India will not offer peace talks until it does so.
Anyone who has seen the latest UK Channel 4 "Dispatches" documentary on the Mumbai attacks, containing the recordings of intercepted phone conversations between the attackers and their handlers in Pakistan (at least that's the claim in the video -- which seems to have disappeared from youtube due to copyright issues...) will certainly understand why India has difficulties in resuming the dialogue with Pakistan before action is taken against LeT.

But is this Indian position helpful and constructive? In a brilliant speech earlier this year on relations between India and Pakistan, Stephen P. Cohen, one of the leading American experts on the region, was very critical of New Delhi. Some excerpts:
Structurally, the India-Pakistan relationship is toxic. It is a classic case of what I call a “paired minority conflict.” In these situations both sides see themselves as vulnerable, threatened, encircled, and at risk. They have a “minority” or “small power” complex (...)
It is easy to see why Pakistanis have a classic small power complex: they are indeed smaller than India, increasingly less capable, their friends are fickle, and when from time to time Indian politicians and officials concede that Pakistan is a legitimate country, Pakistanis feel even more insecure. But why India? (...) India is groping now for a national identity that would allow it to approach Pakistan with confidence, but there is no consensus on how to mesh India’s identity with that of Pakistan’s. Indians do not know whether they want to play cricket and trade with Pakistan, or whether they want to destroy it. There is still no consensus on talking with Pakistan: sometimes the government and its spokesman claim that they do not want to deal with the generals, but when the generals are out of the limelight, they complain that the civilians are too weak to conclude a deal. The default option seems to be that Pakistan is now someone else’s problem--in this case the United States’. (...) There is also an absence of imaginative strategic thinking in India—most officials and politicians seem to follow the advice of P.V. Narasimha Rao, who said that inaction is always preferable, that time will fix most problems.
This is not about "blaming" India for Pakistan's problems. But I find Cohen's argument highly persuasive that "Rising India has a Pakistan Problem" (the title of his speech), and that it is mainly in India's own interest to overcome the deadlock. India is the stronger one in this pair, why shouldn't it be "confident" and "imaginative"?