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Inglorious End

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That the twenty-year military (and every other) intervention of the West led by the United States in Afghanistan has experienced an inglorious end is quite clear. No matter how (although well instructed) special reporters from Kabul try to convince everybody that what is happening (already happened), and that is that the Taliban took control over the whole country, was ‘not the imaginable’, however the masters of (dis)information might even try to present the obvious defeat to the public even as a victory, the facts cannot be changed.

 And the facts are these. Following the attacks on New York’s ‘twins’ (World Trade Center skyscrapers) in September 2001, the United States embarked on a ‘crusade’ against global terrorism, primarily against Al Quaida and its leader Bin Laden. Taking a leading role, meaning the United Sates are the one who commands, while all the other just obey. Because it was America which literally created Al Qaida with the task of creating for the Soviet troops that held Afghanistan under occupation ‘another Vietnam’ (having in mind its own defeat in South Vietnam), it was in a way logical to strike first of all Afghanistan (and the organization which targeted those who created it). It also could, if not justified by international law, be understood as a defensive reaction from a state under attack. But, sending troops to Afghanistan was another story. This meant the occupation of that country (the Soviets, albeit painful, understood and organized their withdrawal from Afghanistan years ago) and entering in the process so favored by US strategists, the process of nation building, in other words imposing a model of Western neoliberal democracy to a country where there were no conditions for it. But such ‘little things’ do not bother Washington. The main thing is to establish a government of occupier-friendly people and hold multi-party elections. It will prove, however, that this is not enough .

 In the occupation of Afghanistan, the Americans were obediently followed by the Atlantic Pact, an organization that has already – though no one in the West will dare to admit it – turn from a defense alliance limited to Europe into a iron fist of American politics in the whole world. Rather than reach for a model of Afghanistan (in that time and in that region an advanced country) from the time of King Mohammed Zahir Shah, when – for example – education of girls and the active role of women in society was something perfectly normal – they started ‘from the beginning’, as if nothing had existed before. They did restore above mentioned values from the royal period, which is persistently insisted upon as something sensational and new, they sent instructors who – and again on the American model – formed and trained the police, army and special forces, delivered a huge amount of military equipment and arms, they formed – on paper at least – the construction of a democratic Afghanistan, adequate (note: only in theory) to every democratic country of the West. But all this was functional, or – better to say – created the illusion of functioning only under the protection of foreign troops.

None of strategists and politicians who in collusion ‘created’ new Afghanistan, did even think about Afghanistan as a country with its own history and its traditions, and certainly no one tried to apply a formula known in international relations from not so distant past, namely that every country has the right to develop in accordance with its specific conditions. Instead, to Afghanistan a model of internal organization that is completely strange to that  was imposed . In addition, it was imposed by the occupiers by military coercion. And as the key goal of the occupation was not nation building (it was a side task, ‘just to show’), what was stated as the primary goal at the time when, twenty (20!) years ago, the intervention began, and that was the destruction of the Taliban and Al Quaida has been pushed into the background, especially after Osama bin Laden was assassinated in a film-like operation, which President Obama and his associates followed on screens like a video game. 

Interventionists concentrated on gaining control, though never complete, over the land which is located at the position very interesting, to sy the least, to those strategists preoccupied by the project of American hegemony of the world (no, this is not a conspiracy theory, it is a reality for which there is too much concrete evidence, from almost 800 military bases scattered on all meridians and parallels, through the ‘installation’ of ‘its’ people in key positions in the former socialist states, to overt or barely covert destabilization or overthrow of regimes Washington considers as unsuitble from the position of preserving and defending the interests of the US.

So the Taliban remained present, although at first defeated and forced to the sidelines. Over time however, they began to strengthen again, but as Americans were no longer overly interested, their growth was not suppressed at the root. In parallel, the process of spreading corruption and crime took place, which is in this particular case of special interest (but also dangerous), because Afghanistan has become the main exporter, illegal of course, of opium, ie poppy, which is used for drug production. America was officially pushing the government (which was as much its own, as Afghan) to put an end to it, which proved impossible. First, without poppy farming, half of Afghanistan would have starved and – second – private companies involved in the entire Afghan operation were often involved in drug smuggling at their own level , because it was – what elese – a lucrative business. Drilling ‘a la Marines ’ and modern combat techniques will prove insufficient to create domestic forces capable and willing (this ‘willing’ is especially important!) to take control of the country at the time of the departure of the Americans and NATO allies.

And when Donald Trump last year hastily announced the withdrawal of US forces, and his successor also hastily approached the realization of that promise, there was no one in NATO (which is now, in the words of its Secretary-General ‘deeply disturbed’) who would dare tell the Americans that they all are leaving without finishing the job. Instead, as soon as the ‘boss’ rised from the table, they all hastily follow his example. Declaring confidently (led by President Biden) that it was ‘not inevitable’ for the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan and, in particular, that any comparison to the US fleeing from South Vietnam was totally unfounded. Now, no one can doubt the Taliban rule over the entire country and the burning of documents at the US embassy and helicopters hastily evacuating Americans from Kabul to the airport where military transporters are waiting for them must, simply must remind anyone who still remembers those events of the American departure with the ‘twisted tail’ from Saigon.

So this is the end, an infamous end indeed. But it is, in the long run, much more than that. It is the destruction to dust and ashes of all illusions that the democratic West, led by the United States, brings, as it was once said, a better tomorrow. This is the collapse of moral values, which are so often mentioned, and which – clashing with the interests and calculations of capital – seem to be totally irrelevant. In the past two decades, the Americans and allies have managed to tie tens of thousands of Afghans to their, basically, occupation apparatus, from logistics and translators, domestic staff in embassies, through members at all levels of the administration to members of the military and police forces. These people, along with their families, are ‘marked’. In the eyes of the Taliban, they are helpers of the occupiers, enemies, they are collaborators. What will happen to them, what will happen to girls and young women, those still in school and those educated, what will happen to emancipated women, hardly anyone cares about that. Except, of course, that everyone is ‘very worried’. Desperate Afghans apply to enter countries whose armed forces they have helped, but these applications are slowly being resolved, or rejected. Only some countries in the EU suspended (for now!) deportation to Afghanistan of refugees from that country; most did not, with the explanation that the acceptance of already arrived Afghan refugees could might be interpreted as a signal to potential newcomers to set out for Europe. And they will set out, no doubt about that. And it will not be the migrants, as Europe is naming them hypocritically, but war refugees brought into the situation to seek refuge somewhere ‘undder the sun’(like millions of his compatriots who have already done) just because of the policy waged by America and its European allies.

US President Biden sent additional troops to Afghanistan, but only to protect the evacuation of Americans and he threatened swift and violent response to the Taliban, but again only if they endanger US interests. And that move, better than anything else, exposes all the misery of today’s West. Winners in the Second World War knew (but not forgetting their interests) to create the basis for the existence of Germany and Japan whose ambitions would not endanger world peace. But since those days, capitalism has ‘progressed’. In those days capital used policy, today it rules the policy. And a policy whose sole goal is to pursue the interest of capital, or those owing it, disregarding the interests of others, or grossly violating them, a policy aimed solely at making a profit, no matter how, can lead to only one result: a military, political and moral breakdown such as me we are witnessing in Afghanistan.

If this author, a journalist with half a century of experience in monitoring international relations, could have predicted a little over a month ago in an article entitled ‘Already seen’ what would happen, it is simply not possible that no one and nowhere in Western capitals could not do the same. Of course they could, if they were not blinded by the illusion of their own omnipotence and the arrogance on which stupidity grows, which inevitably leads to collapse, to an inglorious end. And only one question remains: will at least that and at least now be understood by some of those who decide, by those responsible for the tragedy of the people of Afghanistan ?

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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India’s open invitation to a nuclear Armageddon

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Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier ,  the world’s highest battleground and an old sore in India-Pakistan ties , provided the neighbour accepted the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) that separates Indian and Pakistani positions. Acceptance of AGPL is the first step towards demilitarisation but the Pakistan side loathes doing that”. He said, ‘The Siachen situation occurred because of unilateral attempts by Pakistan to change status quo and countermeasures taken by the Indian Army’ (Not averse to demilitarisation of Siachen if Pak meets pre-condition: Army chief, Hindustan Times January 13, 2022).

Reacting to the Indian army chief’s statement, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan reminisced that the Siachen could not fructify into a written agreement because India wanted Siachen and Kashmir to be settled together. India’s approach ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ scuttled the agreement. As for Kashmir, “a simultaneous effort was made through the backchannel …in what is commonly known as the Four-Point Formula” (Siachen recollections, Dawn January 16, 2022). Riaz laments Indi’s distrust that hindered a solution.

Shyam Saran, a voice in the wilderness

Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations about how this issue eluded solution at last minute. India itself created the Siachen problem.  Saran reminisces, in the 1970s, US maps began to show 23000 kilometers of Siachen area under Pakistan’s control. Thereupon, Indian forces were sent to occupy the glacier in a pre-emptive strike, named Operation Meghdoot. Pakistani attempts to dislodge them did not succeed. But they did manage to occupy and fortify the lower reaches’.

He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.

Saran says, `Kautliyan template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.).

India’s current first option

It appears that Kautliya’s last-advised option,yana, as visualised by Shyam Saran, is India’s first option nowadays. Kautlya also talks about koota yuddha (no holds barred warfare), and maya yuddha (war by tricks) that India is engaged in.

Cartographic annexation

By unilaterally declaring the disputed Jammu and Kashmir its territory does not solve the Kashmir problem. This step reflects that India has embarked upon the policy “might is right”. In Kotliyan parlance it would be “matsy nyaya, or mach nyaya”, that is big fish eats the small one. What if China also annexes disputed borders with India?  India annexed Kashmir presuming that Pakistan is not currently in a position to respond militarily, nor could it agitate the matter at international forums for fear of US ennui.  

India’s annexation smacks of acceptance of quasi-Dixon Plan, barring mention of plebiscite and division of Jammu. . Dixon proposed: Ladakh should be awarded to India. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit and Baltistan) should remain with Pakistan. Whole Kashmir valley should have a plebiscite with no option to independence. Jammu should be divided on religious basis. The river Chmab should be the dividing line. Northern Jammu (Muslims dominated) should go to Pakistan and Hindu majority parts of Jammu to remain with India.

In short Muslim areas should have gone with Pakistan and Hindu-Buddhist majority areas should have remained with India.

India’s annexation has no legal sanctity. But, it could have bbeen sanctified in a mutually agreed Kashmir solution.

India’s propaganda

India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries?

The world is listless to accounts of former diplomats and RAW officers about executing insurgencies in neighbouring countries. B. Raman, in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

 Will the world take notice of confessions by Indi’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?B. Raman reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.

India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”

Death of back-channel

In his memoirs In the line of fire (pp.302-303), president Musharraf had proposed a personal solution of the Kashmir issue.  This solution, in essence, envisioned self-rule in demilitarised regions of Kashmir under a joint-management mechanism.   The solution pre-supposed* reciprocal flexibility.

Death of dialogue and diplomacy

Riaz warns of “incalculable” risks as the result of abrogation of Kashmir statehood (Aug 5, 2019). Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. In the absence of a dialogue on outstanding issues, war, perhaps a nuclear one,  comes up as the only option.

Concluding remark

Sans sincerity, the only Kashmir solution is a nuclear Armageddon. Or, perhaps divine intervention.

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Major Challenges for Pakistan in 2022

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Pakistan has been facing sever challenges since 1980s, after the former USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. The history is full of challenges, but, being a most resilient nation, Pakistan has faced some of them bravely and overcome successfully. Yet, few are rather too big for Pakistan and still struggling to overcome in the near future.

Some of the challenges are domestic or internal, which can be addressed conveniently. But, some of them are part of geopolitics and rather beyond control of Pakistan itself. Such challenges need to pay more attention and need to be smarter and address them wisely.

Few key areas will be the main focus of Pakistan in the year ahead. Relations with China and the US while navigating the Sino-US confrontation, dealing with Afghanistan’s uncertainties, managing the adversarial relationship with India and balancing ties between strategic ally Saudi Arabia and neighbor Iran.

Pakistan has to pursue its diplomatic goals in an unsettled global and regional environment marked by several key features. They include rising East-West tensions, increasing preoccupation of big powers with domestic challenges, ongoing trade and technology wars overlying the strategic competition between China and the US, a fraying rules-based international order and attempts by regional and other powers to reshape the rules of the game in their neighborhood.

Understanding the dynamics of an unpredictable world is important especially as unilateral actions by big powers and populist leaders, which mark their foreign policy, have implications for Pakistan’s diplomacy. In evolving its foreign policy strategy Pakistan has to match its goals to its diplomatic resources and capital. No strategy is effective unless ends and means are aligned.

Pakistan’s relations with China will remain its overriding priority. While a solid economic dimension has been added to long-standing strategic ties, it needs sustained high-level engagement and consultation to keep relations on a positive trajectory. CPEC is on track, timely and smoothly progress is crucial to reinforce Beijing’s interest in strengthening Pakistan, economically and strategically. Close coordination with Beijing on key issues remains important.

Pakistan wants to improve ties with the US. But relations will inevitably be affected by Washington’s ongoing confrontation with Beijing, which American officials declare has an adversarial dimension while China attributes a cold war mindset to the US. Islamabad seeks to avoid being sucked into this big power rivalry. But this is easier said than done. So long as US-China relations remain unsteady it will have a direct bearing on Pakistan’s effort to reset ties with the US especially as containing China is a top American priority. Pakistan desires to keep good relations with the US, but, not at the cost of China. In past, Pakistan was keeping excellent relations with US, while simultaneously very close with China. When the US imposed economic blockade against China and launched anti-communism drive during the cold war, Pakistan was close ally with the US and yet, keeping excellent relations with China. Pakistan played vital role in bring China and the US to establish diplomatic relations in 1970s. Yet, Pakistan possesses the capability to narrow down the hostility between China and the US.

Pakistan was close ally with the US during cold war, anti-communism threat, war against USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s, and war on terror, etc. Pakistan might be a small country, but, possesses strategic importance. As long as, the US was cooperating with Pakistan, Pakistan looked after the US interest in the whole region. In fact, Pakistan ensured that the US has achieved its all strategic goals in the region. Since, the US kept distance from Pakistan, is facing failure after another failure consecutively. The importance of Pakistan is well recognized by the deep state in the US.

US thinks that withdrawal from Afghanistan has diminished Pakistan’s importance for now. For almost two decades Afghanistan was the principal basis for engagement in their frequently turbulent ties, marked by both cooperation and mistrust. As Pakistan tries to turn a new page with the US the challenge is to find a new basis for a relationship largely shorn of substantive bilateral content. Islamabad’s desire to expand trade ties is in any case contingent on building a stronger export base.

Complicating this is Washington’s growing strategic and economic relations with India, its partner of choice in the region in its strategy to project India as a counterweight to China. The implications for Pakistan of US-India entente are more than evident from Washington turning a blind eye to the grim situation in occupied Kashmir and its strengthening of India’s military and strategic capabilities. Closer US-India ties will intensify the strategic imbalance in the region magnifying Pakistan’s security challenge.

Multiple dimensions of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will preoccupy Islamabad, which spent much of 2021 engaged with tumultuous developments there. While Pakistan will continue to help Afghanistan avert a humanitarian and economic collapse it should not underestimate the problems that may arise with an erstwhile ally. For one, the TTP continues to be based in Afghanistan and conduct attacks from there. The border fencing issue is another source of unsettled discord. Careful calibration of ties will be needed — assisting Afghanistan but avoiding overstretch, and acknowledging that the interests of the Taliban and Pakistan are far from identical. Moreover, in efforts to mobilize international help for Afghanistan, Islamabad must not exhaust its diplomatic capital, which is finite and Pakistan has other foreign policy goals to pursue.

Managing relations with India will be a difficult challenge especially as the Modi government is continuing its repressive policy in occupied Kashmir and pressing ahead with demographic changes there, rejecting Pakistan’s protests. The hope in establishment circles that last year’s backchannel between the two countries would yield a thaw or even rapprochement, turned to disappointment when no headway was made on any front beyond the re-commitment by both neighbors to observe a ceasefire on the Line of Control.

Working level diplomatic engagement will continue on practical issues such as release of civilian prisoners. But prospects of formal dialogue resuming are slim in view of Delhi’s refusal to discuss Kashmir. This is unlikely to change unless Islamabad raises the diplomatic costs for Delhi of its intransigent policy. Islamabad’s focus on Afghanistan last year meant its diplomatic campaign on Kashmir sagged and was limited to issuing tough statements. Unless Islamabad renews and sustains its international efforts with commitment and imagination, India will feel no pressure on an issue that remains among Pakistan’s core foreign policy goals.

With normalization of ties a remote possibility, quiet diplomacy by the two countries is expected to focus on managing tensions to prevent them from spinning out of control. Given the impasse on Kashmir, an uneasy state of no war, no peace is likely to continue warranting Pakistan’s sustained attention.

In balancing ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran, Pakistan should consider how to leverage possible easing of tensions between the long-standing rivals — of which there are some tentative signs. With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman keen to use economic power to expand his country’s diplomatic clout by making strategic overseas investments, Pakistan should use its political ties with Riyadh to attract Saudi investment through a coherent strategy. Relations with Iran too should be strengthened with close consultation on regional issues especially Afghanistan. The recent barter agreement is a step in the right direction.

In an increasingly multipolar world, Pakistan also needs to raise its diplomatic efforts by vigorous outreach to other key countries and actors beyond governments to secure its national interests and goals.

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