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.
Reidel Interview at Council on Foreign Relations
Sunil Adam on Obama's Kashmir Policy
Who is Bruce Reidel?