Polaris A Takshashila Institution Blog on International Politics and Security

Double-Crossed Swords

How does one reconcile a challenge viewed by India as long-term but physically immediate and the United States as short-term but far-removed?

The WikiLeaks affair has elicited considerable surprise in Indian strategic circles, with many commentators seemingly taken aback by the extent of American knowledge of the Pakistani security forces’ double-dealing. In fact, it has been clear for some time from President Barack Obama’s statements that Pakistan has been seen by Washington as the critical problem in its region.

The United States and India, however, continue to diverge significantly on how to address this common challenge. Washington continues to believe that Pakistan can be persuaded by various ‘softer’ measures that its present direction is untenable. These include a combination of leaks to major newspapers meant to embarrass the Pakistani government and security forces, and intelligence reports being used to apply pressure, on the one hand, and a strategy of buying off and shaping Pakistan with civilian and military aid, on the other. The United States is fearful of loose nukes, which ultimately prevents it from applying greater pressure or exploring other, more severe, measures.

India’s assessment is different in at last two regards. First, it believes that the Pakistan army is not going to let its crown jewels—its nuclear weapons—go so easily, which is why more pressure can still be applied in order to call its bluff. Viewed differently, the Pakistani army is stronger than it seems, and its failures stem more by an absence of intent than of capability. Second, the present American strategy still rewards Pakistan more than it punishes it.

This divergence of views has at least two aspects. Temporally, the Pakistan problem for India is deeper, caused at its core by a self-serving governing elite, relatively immune from popular pressures, that benefits from a state of perpetual crisis with India. U.S. policy, driven in large part by electoral cycles, is, by contrast, dependent on quick and immediate band-aid solutions, and thus becomes personality-defined (resulting in a series of anointed favourites, General Kayani being but the latest).

Physically, India views the problem with much more immediacy. India’s geographical proximity means that it is much more likely to be a target of direct attack from Pakistani soil, and has been over the past twenty to thirty years. For the United States, this direct threat is still less imminent, which means it has a higher tolerance for Pakistani infractions.

How does one reconcile a challenge viewed by India as long-term but physically immediate and the United States as short-term but far-removed? The differing physical threat assessments are unlikely to converge, barring a successful attack on U.S. soil emanating from Pakistani territory or involving Pakistanis. Differences over the nature of the problem, however, can—and should—still be addressed.

Kicking a Bad Habit

08.03.2010 · Posted in Sports, U.S. Economy

Overspending  makes Real Madrid and Manchester United a lot like Wall Street.

Football creates something of a mirror image of Europe and the United States. On the western shores of the Atlantic, the National Football League (NFL) is a tightly-regulated, highly-controlled cooperative entity. Teams are imposed with caps on player salaries, and money from television broadcast rights—contributing the bulk of revenue—is evenly distributed among teams. For what is the de facto national sport of the United States, all of this regulation and income redistribution sounds dreadfully socialist.

Across the pond, European football (soccer) represents the epitome of free-wheeling free market capitalism. Anyone can buy or own a team. Those that perform well qualify for higher or more prestigious leagues and competitions. Players can be bought or sold for however much teams are willing to offer. And there is no equalizing salary cap, which means the richest teams can be shelling out many times more on players than the poorer teams in their league. (“Don’t you think it’s funny,” the World Cup star Wesley Sneijder once teased a fellow Dutch player, “that I make 20 times as much as you?”)

So it’s not surprising that in their bids to outshine their rivals, the richest and most successful clubs, at least those not enjoying the financial backing of a deep-pocketed owner—Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool—have accrued mountains of debt. Real and Barca, the ‘Big Two’ of Spanish football, have debts of over $450 million each. ManU, coming off two decades of unrivaled success on and off the field, has debts amounting to more than $1.1 billion. Not for the first time, serious observers are warning of an industry meltdown (h/t Rajeev Mantri):

“Running as normal companies, the leagues in Spain, England, and Italy would be bankrupt within two years,” [A.T.] Kearney’s Munich-based vice president Juergen Rothenbuecher and colleagues wrote in a report called Football Sustainability Study. Some clubs, even bigger ones, may disappear through bankruptcy in the next few years, the consultants wrote. [Bloomberg]

And yet, success has become dependent on overspending—or is seen to be. Madrid President Florentino Perez has spoken of funding his purchase of superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka for a combined $200 million through a combination of “increasing ticket sales, increasing bank loans and increasing the club’s economic value.” His inclusion of higher loans suggests that he really has no good ideas as to how to balance the club’s ledgers in the long run.

In one view, Madrid’s purchase of Ronaldo and Kaka makes the club ‘too big to fail’, a brand that can assure its survival even if its debt comes back to haunt it (a fate that may elude Liverpool, for example). Another interpretation is that teams are not really interested in trophies, but that star power (or ‘heritage’) may matter more. In that sense, football may stop becoming a business activity in the classic sense, in that it would no longer be for the financial profit of any individual or group.

None of this sounds very satisfying. What A.T. Kearney and others warn of—a sector-wide collapse—may not come to pass, but specific clubs, even big ones, may fail. Leeds United and Fiorentina experienced dramatic declines brought about by financial weaknesses within the last ten years. At the same time, such inflationary spending has also made it clear that European supremacy in club football is not going to be challenged by leagues in the United States, South America, Asia or elsewhere for some time. With the World Cup now over and a new season about to start, European club football is something that Wall Street—barely out of the Great Recession and struggling with debt problems of its own—should consider watching.

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Where's the Consistency?

The United States government and its allies continue to send mixed messages to Pakistan.

The posting online by WikiLeaks of over thousands of classified documents on the war in Afghanistan has drawn considerable attention in the West to Pakistan continuing to act against American and Western interests. According to an early report in The New York Times (still America’s newspaper of record), “The behind-the-scenes frustrations of soldiers on the ground and glimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skullduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Pakistan as an ally by American officials…” A subsequent Times editorial noted that the documents showed that “the collusion [between the ISI and the Taliban] goes even deeper, that representatives of the ISI have worked with the Taliban to organize networks of militants to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan and hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, is even more blunt: “[W]e are paying Pakistan’s Army and intelligence service to be two-faced. Otherwise, they would be just one-faced and 100 percent against us.”

The WikiLeaks revelations have only added to the newfound willingness by some Western leaders to publicly challenge Pakistan’s professed bona fides. British PM David Cameron deserves plaudits for saying what so many have edged around: “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able…to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world…It is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror. Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and the UK is very clear on that point.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was even more pointed in her criticism when she said—just after her visit to Pakistan—that someone in the Pakistani establishment knew the location of Osama bin Laden. And U.S. National Security Adviser, Gen. James Jones, told the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius that the Pakistani military decided to “cut a deal” with tribal leaders in 2006 that allowed Taliban insurgents sanctuary in Pakistan, thus giving them the upper hand in Afghanistan.

At the same time, it’s disheartening to see how others continue to make excuses in public for the Pakistani security establishment. At a recent briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen both defended the old line, Gates saying:

[W]hat I have seen…is a Pakistani government that has become increasingly aggressive in taking on terrorists…in the northwestern part of their country…[I]n the last 18 months or so there has been a dramatic change, in my view, in Pakistan’s willingness to take on insurgents and terrorists, their willingness to put their own military at risk and take casualties in going after this.  And our cooperation has been steadily expanding.

and Mullen adding:

[The ISI is] an organization that, actually, we have, in ways, a very positive relationship, very healthy relationship between our intelligence organizations…I was just with General Kayani again, and this is a subject we frequently discuss.  And they have, as the secretary said, in that country, captured lots of terrorists, killed lots of terrorists, focused on terrorism.  And they are strategically shifting.

P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, had this to say when pressed:

[W]e are both satisfied with the aggressive steps that Pakistan has taken in recent months at considerable expense to Pakistan…[I]n our view, made a strategic shift in the last year or more. It has taken aggressive action at considerable expense of – to Pakistan. The Pakistani people are suffering as much if not more than any other people in the world from terrorism…The Pakistani officials have made clear that – about the contacts with various agencies, including the ISI, with elements of concern to us within Pakistan. We understand what they’re saying and we understand what they’re doing. During General Kayani’s tenure as the chief of staff, Pakistan has, in fact, taken the most aggressive action it’s ever taken against extremist elements within its borders.

There’s broad agreement that the United States’ Pakistan policy requires “consistency,” a conclusion that was a major takeaway from the comprehensive policy review last year. Somehow, Pakistan’s behaviour can be altered if it was assured of a long-term U.S. commitment to the region and saw uniformity in both word and deed. But the different messages being sent by Cameron (the United States’ closest ally), Clinton and Jones on the one hand, and Gates, Mullen and the State Department spokespeople on the other—not to mention the half-hearted commitment in public to the war in Afghanistan—demonstrate anything but.

Compliance Complaints

08.02.2010 · Posted in Uncategorized, WMD proliferation

Why does the State Department add India-specific sections to its Compliance Report, only to rate it highly?

Thanks to my colleague over at Pragmatic Euphony, I came across the latest U.S. State Department Compliance Report, formally titled “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments.” This latest version includes two sections on India’s compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

In both cases, India is rated well. The State Department concludes: “Available information did  not indicate that any of its biological research and development activities were inconsistent with the BWC.” And India is describes more favourably on the matter of its CWC commitments—”The United States notes that India is in compliance with its obligations under the CWC”—with an additional note lauding India for  becoming “only the third State Party [to the CWC] to destroy its entire CW stockpile”.

That all sounds good, but why is this deserving of a special mention?  Other states in compliance with their CWC and BWC obligations are not given similar treatments, and the other countries singled-out for reporting form something of a rogue’s gallery from Washington’s standpoint: Albania, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and Syria. Furthermore, Rohan Joshi of The Filter Coffee astutely points out that there were no such India-specific reporting in the 2005 Compliance Report. Clearly, then, this is not just another bureaucratic holdover from the bad old days when India was considered a WMD concern.

Yes, But Who Loaded the Gun?

07.25.2010 · Posted in China, Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Pakistan

Let’s focus on the real problems with the China-Pakistan nuclear agreement.

MUMBAI—ArmsControlWonk takes a look at the debate among nuclear technology watchers on the China-Pakistan civil nuclear agreement. Ashley Tellis and Mark Hibbs are called upon for representative arguments, Tellis downplaying any link between this development and the U.S.-India nuclear agreement while Hibbs, his colleague at the Carnegie Endowment, highlighting the Chinese use of the Indo-U.S. deal as justification for their actions.

I think there’s little doubt that the two agreements are linked—with the Chinese deal retaliatory—but the debate, framed this way, misses a number of crucial points.

First, it is important to emphasize not just the timing, which ACW focuses upon, but rather Tellis’s main argument that the two arrangements are not quite equatable. In fact, as I’ve noted earlier, that equation coming from the most ardent advocates of arms control is damaging precisely because it justifies Chinese actions.

Second, there’s not much discussion here of prior Sino-Pakistani arrangements; the most recent deal is only a continuation of a history of shady activities between the two. It’s important to place this in context, not simply consider it a one-off event.

Third, what is more important than whether the United States successfully resisted such moves in the past, is the fact that Washington has been remarkably passive in even attempting to resist the most recent arrangement. That cannot be explained away so easily.

Finally, there’s another trigger to the Sino-Pakistani nuclear agreement, as I have noted earlier, one that, if true, is much more insidious than the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal: that the United States agreed in March to look the other way—wink, wink, nod, nod—in exchange for Chinese cooperation on Iranian sanctions. More needs to be dug out on this, but several reputable sources have independently discussed this unwritten arrangement, although none close enough to the prime participants to treat this as an absolute certainty.

Grand Funk Road

07.20.2010 · Posted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uncategorized

If Pakistan now suspends trade and traffic east from Afghanistan, Kabul and Washington will have only one actor to blame.

NEW DELHI—C. Raja Mohan offers a great tour d’horizon of the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan dynamic in today’s Indian Express, particularly valuable to those who are not close followers of the region. In passing, he mentions the agreement signed over the weekend between Pakistan and Afghanistan allowing transit of Afghan goods to India via Pakistan:

The Pakistan-Afghan trade and transit agreement signed in Islamabad on Sunday underlines Rawalpindi’s determination to push India out of Afghanistan. The agreement explicitly affirms that India will not be allowed to export goods to Afghanistan through the border at Wagah. The American and Afghan calls for a broader regional framework including India were vetoed by the Pakistan GHQ.

True. The agreement is suboptimal from New Delhi’s standpoint. But, then, India was not a party to this.

However, I view the agreement much more optimistically than Dr. Raja Mohan. Afghanistan will be far more dependent on the Indian market than India is on either the Afghan market or its exports. Even if goods flow only one way, this agreement still gives India a valuable point of leverage. After all, if Pakistan suspends traffic east from Afghanistan, as a result of its intransigence or incompetence, Kabul and Washington will have only one actor to blame.

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Faisal Shahzad, Jerky Boy

07.15.2010 · Posted in Humour, Terrorism, Uncategorized

Al-Arabiya has just released a video of the attempted Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, explaining his motives behind the attack.


There are some immediate impressions that are intriguing. First, this may or may not be significant, but I thought it interesting that it was recorded in English. Second, the fact that he made such a video before his mission is also curious, given that what he attempted was not a suicide attack. Also, check out the footage that follows.

In addition, there is a veritable treasure trove of unintentional humour embedded in this clip. Despite his advanced education, Shahzad is not at all erudite, often rambling and speaking incoherently. (What is he trying to say at 1:25? Try not laughing when—his face deadly serious—he clearly loses his train of thought.) At one point it sounds like he says that his will be a “revenge attack” on behalf of “the margarine” (1:40). Is he, in fact, voicing his displeasure with the powerful American dairy lobby? My favourite line by far is “all the other -isms and schisms will be defeated.” Apparently, he was more suited to a life as an MC than as a terrorist. (L’il Faisal? T-Painful? Sadly, Mr. Boombastic is taken.)

The total effect, contrived Americanisms included, is somewhat reminiscent of this. (Warning: language not safe for work.)

Pew Poll 2010

The latest Pew Global Attitudes Survey, which involves polling in 22 countries, has some interesting findings.  The full report is available here.

On Indian Foreign Policy:

India is the only country largely against an Iranian nuclear bomb that is also more in favour of military action against Iran than sanctions (p. 9). In fact, Indians are by far the most supportive of the use of military force under certain circumstances, 92 to 7% (p. 76)

More Indians think of China as an enemy than in any other country, with only South Korea close (p. 52)

On the Indian Economy:

There’s a lot of confusion about the state of India’s economy. 85% of Indians give their government a ‘good’ rating, 64% see their economic situation improving, and 57% see the current situation as good, but 54% are dissatisfied with their country’s direction. (pp. 33-36)

The good news is that more people in India think that economic problems are brought on by themselves than anywhere else: 63%, (p. 36).

73% of Indians (and 91% of Chinese, and only 38% of Americans) polled were willing to pay higher prices to address climate change (p. 72)

On the United States:

There has been a drop in confidence of the United States over last year in every country polled except Russia and Kenya (p. 27)

The only six countries where a plurality want U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan are the United States, Britain, India, South Korea, Nigeria and Kenya (p. 4)

Only in South Korea, Turkey and Kenya do more people see the United States as the world’s leading economic power than in India (p. 41)

Democrats, among Americans polled, are more supportive of trade than Republicans, 75-61% (p. 40)

On China:

After Turkey, France and Germany, India is most suspicious of China’s growing economic power (p. 53)

On Pakistan:

Support for suicide bombing in Pakistan remains single digit (p. 65), with 80% believing it is never justified, which is highest of the Muslim countries polled.

A plurality of Pakistanis (and a majority of Americans and Turks) believe their country is generally disliked (p. 73)

On Europe:

Other than Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan, India has the lowest opinion of the EU (p. 62)

Crocodile Dunderhead

Is the Pakistani military’s support of the Taliban simply a bad habit, as David Kilcullen would have it?

Australian David Kilcullen is widely believed to be one of the smartest men in Washington, at least in matters pertaining to counterinsurgency. And with good reason: his excellent book, The Accidental Guerrilla, makes it clear that few people have looked at the many problems inherent in counterinsurgency in such an in-depth and multifaceted manner.

But for all his expertise on the subject, Dr. Kilcullen—a former colonel in the Australian Army—has fallen short, repeatedly, in his analysis of Afghanistan and Pakistan at a strategic level. Last year, for example, he readily bought into an exaggerated threat perception in Pakistan, telling The Washington Post: “We’re now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state”. His reasoning was suspect, and his powers of prophecy were, thankfully, no match for Paul the Octopus.

Now, once again, he calls into question his geopolitical nous (h/t Pragmatic Euphony):

David Kilcullen of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security says that as Iran backs Hezbollah to exert influence in Lebanon, Pakistan supports the Taliban to maintain a foothold in Afghanistan.

“There’s a habit in Pakistan of using militants as a tool for foreign policy, and we’ve seen this over a generation in Pakistan,” he said. “And it’s not something that you can just give up overnight in part because of habit, but also because these people are now out there and what are you going to do?  Are you going to walk away from your relationship with them?  They’re just going to go rogue [unchecked].  So I think that that’s one reason that people continue to support the Afghan Taliban.”

Analysts say India has made increasingly assertive bids to exert its influence in Afghanistan, which, Kilcullen says, has made neighboring Pakistan very nervous.   [Voice of America]

So effectively, Pakistan’s support for the Taliban is no more than a bad “habit”, while India’s supposed assertiveness—as peaceful as that may be—is an understandable cause of nervousness. This comes from the same person who, only last April, alerted lawmakers to the “overwhelming evidence” in Pakistan of:

—security services that have been complicit in allowing the takeover of part of the country by militants,
—direct or indirect sponsorship of international terrorism by elements of the Pakistani national security establishment,
—ongoing support by the same national security establishment for insurgents who are killing Americans in Afghanistan, and
—a militant movement that is growing in reach and intensity week by week.

[House Armed Services Committee Testimony]

There is admittedly no simple way of squaring these acknowledged realities with a strategy that meets one or more of the base objectives laid out by the U.S. government. But such a muddy sense of the incentives, means and objectives of key regional actors, as articulated by one of the most influential voices on counterinsurgency strategy, threatens to hamper U.S. efforts even further.

Bad Officiating

China’s blatant offside goes unpunished.

This year’s World Cup (whose second semi-final takes place today), has been marked by a spate of bad decisions by officials. A crucial United States goal against Slovakia was incorrectly disallowed. Carlos Tevez scored from an offside position against Mexico. Miroslav Klose was shockingly sent off against Serbia. And Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany went unnoticed by the officials, with the match still very much in the balance.

But one very good ruling—not to mention a very smart move—was Luis Suarez’s “save” against Ghana. The goal was not counted (and it should not have been as the ball did not cross the goal line), but Suarez was given an automatic red card for an intentional handball, and Ghana was awarded a penalty, which striker Asamoah Gyan failed to convert (see it all here). Yet this has not stopped Ghanaian players and supporters—devastated, as can be expected—from believing that they were robbed.

Unlike football, the international system is not always governed by strict, enforceable rules. There may be officials, but they have only yellow cards at their disposal, not red. At the same time, it is still possible to distinguish between good officiating and bad officiating. The decision by the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group—in particular, the United States and Western European nations—to not resist the agreement between China and Pakistan concerning the sale of two civilian nuclear reactors would fall into the latter category.

Why?  First, the deal in question not only violates NSG guidelines, it involves two countries with abjectly poor non-proliferation records. (Here is some further reading on the subject.) Second, the general silence of those members of the international community who resisted or condemned the nuclear deal between the United States and India for its non-proliferation implications has been shocking.

Third, the decision cannot be equated with the U.S.-India nuclear agreement, as some members of the international  non-proliferation community argue. The United States sought a waiver for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group; China is simply circumventing that body (so much for maintaining the integrity of the international non-proliferation regime). India has also had to bring its export controls into line with other members of the nuclear mainstream; Pakistan is under no such obligation. In fact, the erroneous equation only appears to justify China’s actions.

And finally, there is a sad irony at the heart of all of this. The United States is terrified about aggravating relations with China and Pakistan. Cooperation with Pakistan is seen as crucial to ensuring that its region stabilizes, so that the worst-case scenario of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists does not materialize. Meanwhile, good relations with China are required for, among other things, ensuring that Beijing supports a sanctions regime against Iran for its pursuit of a nuclear weapons program. (In a further irony, Iran’s weapons program was helped in large part by the proliferation of technology from Pakistan.) It appears that a tacit deal between Washington and Beijing, which secured China’s support of sanctions against Iran in exchange for the United States looking the other way on a deal with Pakistan, may have been made in March.

A rule-based international system is inherently on weak ground; not only are the officials weak, but there is no higher body, no equivalent of an appeals system, a Court of Arbitration for Sport, or—dare I say it—a Sepp Blatter. But a system is clearly rotten when the officials are so afraid of players as to not pull out their notebooks and flash even a yellow card for a blatant offside.

Correction: It occurred to me—thankfully, before anyone else had to point it out—that that last line is deceiving, since yellow cards are rarely (never?) given for offsides. Consider it creative license.