A Preview of Obama's South Asia Policy

Lately, Senator Barack H. Obama has been taking a tough, even hostile stance toward Pakistan. He is threatening to send US ground troops into FATA if there is "actionable intelligence" to end "terrorists' safe haven" inside Pakistan. His opponent, Senator John McCain has said Obama "doesn't understand" the situation in FATA and chided him for being naive and "talking loudly" about Pakistan. Many Obama supporters dismiss Obama's tough talk as merely designed to assert his commander-in-chief credentials to appease his critics.

Is Obama's tough talk just an act? Or is it based on considered advice from the experts of the liberal think tanks to whom Democrats generally outsource policy? While there is a small chance that Obama does not really mean what he says, it is also a fact that foreign policy experts such as Bruce Reidel are advising Obama on South Asia policy.

Riedel says that there will be a renewed focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan under an Obama presidency. “Obama is determined to put a lot more resources into the war in Afghanistan — and it’s overlapped into Pakistan — than either a McCain presidency would or the Bush administration did.” He adds that Obama sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as “the central front of the war against al Qaeda and the war against extremism.” Translation: The war in Afghanistan will escalate and expand into Pakistan.

Who is Bruce Reidel? What are his credentials? How does he view US role and policy in South Asia? Bruce Riedel is a Senior Fellow in foreign policy at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution. He served with the Central Intelligence Agency for 29 years and retired in 2006. Riedel served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97), and National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Intelligence Council (1993-95). His areas of expertise include counter-terrorism, Arab-Israeli issues, Persian Gulf security and India and Pakistan.

Riedel says Obama will take a tougher line with Pakistan, and make military aid conditional upon Pakistan’s performance in combating the Taliban and al Qaeda. But he disagrees with the view, prevalent in Pakistan, that Obama dislikes that country. Instead, he says that Obama is a strong critic of the “Musharraf-centric Pakistan policy” pursued by the Bush Administration. He believes that Obama is likely to be supportive of the present PPP-led government, unless it were to engage the Taliban, a move which would prove extremely unpopular in the United States.

On India policy, Reidel says, “The Democrats are much more likely to want to revisit the nuclear proliferation implications [of the nuclear deal]". He adds, "That would complicate the relationship with New Delhi.”

“There’s talk of a strategic partnership with India. The Obama campaign buys into that,” says Riedel. “As president, he will place the same priority on India as Bush did, and Clinton did before him.”

In his speech to the Democratic National Convention, Obama pledged to halt tax sops to companies that ship jobs overseas. If Obama sticks to this promise, it will mean trouble ahead for India's IT industry. India's software and services exports stood at about $40 billion during the financial year 2008, a growth of 29%, with US as its largest market. Can Obama really curb outsourcing? It seems unlikely.

In an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, Riedel's candidate Obama seemed to agree with the narrative of the Indian lobby when he accused Pakistan of "preparing for war with India".

In a recent article, Riedel wrote that “fear of India is the driving force” behind Pakistan's pursuit of relationships with Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism". He added, “The conflict with India affects all aspects of Pakistan's worldview and its self-image.”

"Coming to grips with Pakistan's obsession with India and Kashmir is critical to killing the monster," and the "time may be ripe in 2009 to move," Reidel writes, hinting at the likely policy of the new administration that is likely to be in office next year.

Answering a question about Pakistan and the war on terror at a meeting of Council on Foreign Relation, Reidel said, "Pakistan is an extremely dangerous and unstable country. We need to tread carefully. We need to get the Pakistanis to see this as their war. And that's going to require some major new initiatives on the American side. Commando raids and Predator strikes are not a long term solution to this problem".

If history is any guide, it can be fairly safely predicted that the a Democratic administration will pursue a punitive policy toward Pakistan while tilting heavily toward India, much more so than the Bush administration. Given the caution sounded by Bruce Reidel about Pakistan, the hope is that better sense will prevail in the potential Obama administration on policy toward Pakistan. However, if "President" Obama does follow through on his tough talk on Pakistan, there will be an expanded regional war involving Afghanistan and Pakistan leading to massive destabilization of the entire region and extremely dangerous consequence for the world.

Related Links:

Reidel Interview at Council on Foreign Relations

Sunil Adam on Obama's Kashmir Policy

Who is Bruce Reidel?


Riaz Haq said…
#India Held #Kashmir Commander: “Militarily, there's not much more to do than we already have done. We're losing" http://www.voanews.com/content/ap-kashmir-villagers-rise-up-foil-rebel-hunting-indian-troops/3360064.html

Indian military officials estimate there are some 200 militants in the region, staging attacks on Indian law enforcement and crossing back and forth over the de facto border with Pakistan. It's a steep drop from the 20,000 estimated to have waged the insurgency in the early 1990s, but military officials say their job is getting harder as the villages increasingly get involved.

“It's a big problem, a challenge for us to conduct anti-militant operations now,” said Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, India's senior military commander in the region. He noted that armed soldiers had little hope of competing with the militants for public sympathy.

Most citizens in the mostly Muslim region have long resented the Indian presence, and support rebel demands that Kashmir be independent or part of Pakistan.

“Frankly speaking, I'm not comfortable anymore conducting operations if large crowds are around,” Hooda said. “Militarily, there's not much more to do than we already have done. ... We're losing the battle for a narrative.”

Human rights activist Khurram Parvez said that, while the rebels are fewer in number, their influence has grown. Beyond their usual guns and grenades, rebels now carry smartphones to coordinate their movements with village supporters, and load photos and videos onto social media sites.

“It's a more like a symbolic militancy now which tries to rally the support for freedom, and glamorizes militants, resistance and defiance,” Parvez said. “But people listen to them and support them more openly and fiercely.”

Kashmiris in the countryside regularly defy the curfews imposed when the military plans an operation in their area. Some militants have even become household names.

“India's military might have crushed militancy to a large extent, but they've failed to change people's minds,” Parvez said. “Their support for militants and freedom (from India) is now increasingly manifesting in fierce ways.”

Indian forces admit the village defiance is forcing them to change their strategy.

“During an average counterinsurgency operation, general law and order has become more important to tackle than the actual operation itself. It's a matter of serious concern,” top paramilitary officer Nalin Prabhat said.

They're trying to reach out to Kashmir's youth, organizing school debates, sightseeing trips throughout India and visits to sporting events in hopes of persuading them to stay away from the insurgency and anti-India protests.

But the so-called “Operation Goodwill” campaign has so far had little impact among Kashmiris aged 18 to 35 - two-thirds of the region's 7 million people - who have grown up politically radicalized over decades of brutal armed conflict.

Kashmir continues to be one of the most militarized regions in the world. The countryside is crisscrossed by coils of barbed wire. Police and army checkpoints are a common sight, and emergency laws grant government forces sweeping powers to search homes, to make arrests without warrants and to shoot suspected rebels on sight without fear of prosecution.

“Earlier the sight of an army soldier would send us into hiding,” said Zahoor Ahmed Reshi, sitting amid the rubble of what was once his home in the southern village of Gudroo, near Lelhar. The modest wood house was destroyed by an army mortar fired at a rebel who took shelter there during a firefight.

When the village came under siege again in May, hundreds of men and women clashed with the soldiers to help three trapped militants escape.

“People have overcome their fear,” the 48-year-old villager said. “Everybody is now saying, it's do or die.”

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