Monday, December 1, 2008

INDIA/PAKISTAN: War risks increase after Mumbai attack, next six weeks a highly dangerous period in India-Pakistan relations

The British think-tank Oxford Analytica is saying a war risk between India and Pakistan has increased and that the next six weeks are going to be very crucial.

Here are some of the points from OA's today's analysis:

US South Asia strategy: Zardari's conciliatory statement last week needs to be seen in the context of the uncertainties surrounding the impending change of presidents in Washington:

Fall from grace: After initially gaining the favour of President George Bush's administration as a frontline state in the 'war on terror', and receiving lavish military and economic aid, Pakistan lost its way in the last years of President Pervez Musharraf's regime. Inability to act decisively in the FATA, and failure to put the economy on a firmer footing, caused increasing dissatisfaction in Washington. The highly controversial US attacks in the FATA have intensified in recent weeks and US aid flows have not prevented Zardari from seeking help from the IMF.

Indian alignment: More significantly, Bush signalled Washington's desire to switch its long-term focus in the region away from Islamabad and towards Delhi -- overcoming decades of indifference and hostility to win support for the US-Indian nuclear agreement. India became seen as the United States' principal strategic partner in south Asia.

Obama's approach: However, President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration may offer Zardari an opportunity to repair the damage. Obama's expressed intention of making Afghanistan his main theatre of operations in 'the war on terror' has serious strategic implications for South Asia. If this merely leads to an intensification of military action, it could plunge Pakistan into an even deeper domestic political crisis. However, if it brings major efforts to re-stabilise the region, Pakistan could benefit significantly.

Zardari's response: One potential benefit is that a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan would necessarily spill over into the FATA, enabling Islamabad to ease the military strain it faces there. Obama has also suggested that a final settlement of Pakistan's 60-year dispute with India over Kashmir may be a necessary condition for securing a stable political future for the former. Zardari's extravagant gesture towards de-nuclearisation and peace with India was premised on a solution to the Kashmir dispute. He was plainly bidding to catch Obama's eye, and the future strategy of his US administration.

Indian misgivings: In this context, India responded to Zardari's gesture with considerable coolness, as it did to Obama's election victory last month.

India has been a major beneficiary of Bush's policies. In addition to the US-India nuclear agreement, it gained from the pressure he applied on Musharraf to control terrorist operations across the Indian border. In the last three years, Kashmir has experienced less terrorist violence than in any of the previous fifteen. Also, behind the US-NATO front, India was able to rebuild its forward position on Pakistan's Afghanistan border, which it had lost with the defeat of the Soviet invasion in the 1980s.

There are suspicions in India that Obama's election will lead to a reversal of these benefits:

Although Obama has already informed Singh that he intends to carry through the US-India nuclear agreement, Delhi is mindful that he initially voted against the proposal, supported the restrictive Hyde Act and tabled amendments in the US Senate, which India would never have been able to accept.

With Senator Hillary Clinton as prospective Secretary of State, there are fears that the administration will revert to former President Bill Clinton's nuclear non-proliferation strategy, which remains unacceptable to India.

A negotiated settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan would come at the expense of political forces with which India has long-standing relations, and could cost the influence it has recently re-acquired at Kandahar.

Kashmir question: India had hoped to put the Kashmir question beyond further discussion:
While India's position in international law is questionable -- not least in view of UN Resolutions on which it has failed to act since 1949 -- it is in de facto occupation of two-thirds of the old Kashmir princely kingdom, which it administers as a full state in the Indian Union.

It has always struggled to keep third parties and foreign mediators out of the region. Even while pursuing a peace dialogue with Musharraf on other matters, it refused to respond to his initiatives on Kashmir.

Obama may have a case in arguing that a stable, liberal and secular state in Pakistan will be difficult to secure while the Kashmir issue remains unresolved, inciting terrorism and Islamist militancy. However, India cannot give ground on the issue without putting its own constitutional Union under threat.

Threat of war: Against this tense background, the Mumbai terrorist attack could have very serious consequences. Even if the Zardari government can be relieved of direct responsibility, last week's events indicate that Islamabad can no longer control the militant organisations based in its territory, nor their potential links to rogue elements in the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Since Musharraf's resignation, incursions across the Kashmir border have increased and previously banned organisations have again begun operating openly.

In 2002, faced with a similar threat of terrorism, India pressed the issue with Pakistan to the very brink of war. At that point, Bush intervened strongly to protect an ally whom he saw to have prime value. Musharraf finally, if reluctantly, acted to clamp down on the militants within his borders.

This time, the Bush administration may take a different view of a state which some in Washington perceive to be 'failing'. There is nobody with Musharraf's former stature within the Pakistani government to clamp down. Moreover, with concerns over the attitude of Obama's new administration in mind, Delhi may feel that, if it is to act directly and decisively against terrorist bases in Pakistan, it will need to do so quickly.

CONCLUSION: Indian leaders face strong pressure to act against terrorist bases in Pakistan. The restraining influence of the international community may be less than in the past, making the next six weeks a very dangerous period in India-Pakistan relations.

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