The future of American foreign policy in South Asia

The current online edition of Foreign Affairs contains a detailed essay written by each of this year’s U.S. presidential candidates (some going back to last summer). The only three essays that still matter are those penned by John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Naturally, the one South Asian nation they all mention is Afghanistan. What I wanted to do was highlight their thoughts on India and Pakistan and then end this post with the latest developments in Pakistan, which will play a pivotal role in how each of these candidates would be able to actually implement their stated policy (note: I’ve recently learned that quite a bit of the blogosphere anxiously waits for this ignorant American to blog about Pakistan again on SM).

First up is John McCain, the Republican nominee:

Success in Afghanistan is critical to stopping al Qaeda, but success in neighboring Pakistan is just as vital. We must continue to work with President Pervez Musharraf to dismantle the cells and camps that the Taliban and al Qaeda maintain in his country. These groups still have sanctuaries there, and the “Talibanization” of Pakistani society is advancing. The United States must help Pakistan resist the forces of extremism by making a long-term commitment to the country. This would mean enhancing Pakistan’s ability to act against insurgent safe havens and bring children into schools and out of extremist madrasahs and supporting Pakistani moderates. [Link]

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p>Well, it seems that events on the ground have already upstaged McCain’s foreign policy. We won’t have Musharraf to kick around much longer (more about that at the end of this post). I would like to know more about what he means by “long term commitment.” That does sound like a good idea, although historically out-of-line with how we operate. America usually does not make long term commitments unless it has a stable leadership to work with that believes in (or a leadership that has been installed by us and coerced to believe in) our goals. As for India, this is all McCain has to say:

As president, I will seek to institutionalize the new quadrilateral security partnership among the major Asia-Pacific democracies: Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. [Link]

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p>Next up is Hillary Clinton, one of the two remaining Democratic candidates:

Terrorists are increasingly finding safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Redoubling our efforts with Pakistan would not only help root out terrorist elements there; it would also signal to our NATO partners that the war in Afghanistan and the broader fight against extremism in South Asia are battles that we can and must win. Yet we cannot succeed unless we design a strategy that treats the entire region as an interconnected whole, where crises overlap with one another and the danger of a chain reaction of disasters is real. [Link]

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p>Clinton, like McCain, believes that the U.S. has a vested interest in rooting out the terrorists in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The words she uses are different though. She uses “root out” and “battles we must win,” and sees the entire region as an interconnected crisis. This, to my ears is subtly more hawkish in wording than McCain’s policy of working with the Pakistani government. However, I believe they are essentially saying the same thing and I am not clever enough to figure out, based on just these words, how either of these two differ in policy from President Bush. About India, Clinton writes the following:

In Asia, India has a special significance both as an emerging power and as the world’s most populous democracy. As co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, I recognize the tremendous opportunity presented by India’s rise and the need to give the country an augmented voice in regional and international institutions, such as the UN. We must find additional ways for Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to cooperate on issues of mutual concern, including combating terrorism, cooperating on global climate control, protecting global energy supplies, and deepening global economic development. [Link]

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p>Of the essays I read, she seems to spend the most time singling out India, which goes quite a ways in explaining why first generation Indian Americans especially support her candidacy.

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p>Finally we have Barack Obama, the Democratic frontrunner:

We must refocus our efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan — the central front in our war against al Qaeda — so that we are confronting terrorists where their roots run deepest. Success in Afghanistan is still possible, but only if we act quickly, judiciously, and decisively. We should pursue an integrated strategy that reinforces our troops in Afghanistan and works to remove the limitations placed by some NATO allies on their forces. Our strategy must also include sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban and more effective development programs that target aid to areas where the Taliban are making inroads.

I will join with our allies in insisting — not simply requesting — that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups. At the same time, I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look toward the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe that its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban. [Link]

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p>If someone interprets this differently, by all means I’d like to hear it, but this clearly sounds like the most hawkish and interventionist of all three essays, more so than even Bush’s policy. Of course, we already knew a little about Obama’s position on Pakistan before this essay. We also know that solely working with the government of Pakistan has never been a viable option, even with Musharraf. The unspoken reality of the situation is that our SEAL Teams and Delta Force commandos already go in to Pakistan and take care of business when they need to without permission. Giving Musharraf the credit for some of the ass-kicking just provides political cover (some would argue necessary cover) for both sides. What Obama is saying is “we don’t really care about providing political cover any more.” He wants to be more open about the fact that we will take care of business ourselves if Pakistan can’t. I actually kind of dig the openness and the “anti-Realpolitik” of his stance. Of course, following such a policy would mean admitting that you have no respect for the government of Pakistan. What is even more interesting than his Pakistan stance (because I believe all three candidates would pretty much do the same thing regardless of how they articulate it) is his comment about Kashmir. India has historically rejected third party mediation over Kashmir. The above policy seems to imply that the tribal regions along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border cannot be secured until Pakistan can relax a bit about its Indian border. Obama wants to “encourage” greater dialog about Kashmir, whatever that means.

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p>Now for the other side of the equation. Who exactly will we be dealing with in Pakistan? Newsweek thinks it knows:

As the victors of Monday’s Pakistani elections continued to discuss who would lead their coalition in parliament, party insiders tell NEWSWEEK that the choice will most likely be veteran politician Makhdoom Amin Fahim. “It’s almost a done deal,” says an official from the Pakistan People’s Party who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the information. The PPP, led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto until her assassination in late December, won the most seats in the national assembly and thus has the prerogative to name the premier. Another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whose party ran second, has agreed to support the choice.

Fahim, 68, almost became prime minister in 2002. Only his loyalty to Bhutto kept him from running the government. Back then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was scrambling to find coalition partners to bolster his own jerry-built party. He offered the top job to Fahim, who then as now was vice chairman of the PPP, but only under the condition that Fahim would not take direction from Bhutto, who was in exile. Fahim flatly refused. During her nine long years abroad, Bhutto knew she could rely on her fellow landowner from southern Sindh Province to be a trusted adviser and executor of her plans on the ground. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who is now the PPP’s co-chairman, is counting on the same fidelity. [Link]

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p>Fahim is described as someone who is as close to uncorruptable as you can get among Pakistan’s politicians (he actually sounds like an ok guy based solely on the article). He is also apparently viewed by America as a good potential partner. However, as noted in the article he was an extremely loyal servant to (the corrupt) Bhutto, and by extension her widower Zardari, who considers Fahim to be an ideal seat warmer. As for Zardari…

Nicknamed “Mr. Ten Percent” for the alleged kickbacks he received while Bhutto was in power, he served eight years in jail on corruption charges. (He denies the charges and has not been convicted.) He did not run for the assembly himself, preferring to remain abroad and look after the children while his wife campaigned and led the party. And at least for now he’s made it clear that he does not want to be prime minister. Party insiders say he realizes he could be too divisive a figure. But he can rest assured that Fahim will follow the party line that Zardari will largely lay down. [Link]

I know that a lot of Indians (based on some blogs I’ve read) think Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is beholden to the Gandhi family (especially Sonia). I don’t pay attention to Indian politics so I don’t have an opinion one way or the other. If there is any truth to it you might be seeing something similar in neighboring Pakistan now: an elite family ruling through a loyal and clean “remote-controlled” figurehead. Regardless, Pakistan seems likely to be ruled by a coalition of parties with diverging interests cobbled together (I say probably only because we know the military’s historical tendency to get involved with the “ruling” part). This will result in a weaker central government, one that will be more difficult to engage in Realpolitik with. The U.S. might just have to be more openly interventionist to meet its anti-terror goals, just like Obama seems to imply.

24 thoughts on “The future of American foreign policy in South Asia

  1. Abhi, Regarding the Obama excerpt, I, for one, don’t read it as more hawkish or more interventionist. The first highlighted part just says (on my interpretation) that he’s going to try to get the Germans, etc. to get more involved with combat in Afghanistan (which I think is a non-starter) and the second highlighted excerpt says he’s going to to try more jaw-boning with respect to South Asian security issues. But, Obama is already starting to be mocked by analysts in, e.g., Lebanon, for his pro-jawboning views, so, no I don’t view it as particularly hawkish.

  2. I meant this part, not the highlighted parts which are interesting for other reasons:

    I will join with our allies in insisting – not simply requesting

    He implies that Bush requests and that he would escalate to insists.

  3. 3 · Abhi He implies that Bush requests and that he would escalate to insists.

    Fair enough, but what good is going to do to “insist” to the Germans? I don’t think they’re going to pony up (more out of weakness than anything). Europe’s dying.

  4. Great – one more arrogant US President who thinks he has the ability and the right to go forth and do what he thinks is right. Notice how Barack is the only one of the three who never mentions either the UN or any other kind of multi-lateral partnership that other nations may choose to have amongst themselves. And after half a century of trying, even the US government has learnt it cannot get India & Pakistan to ‘now shake hands and be good friends’, Obama obviously has his own learning curve. Or maybe he’ll just ‘change’ all of it anyway.

    His version of Kipling’s burden. Not white, but a ‘Western man’s burden’ – is all the world needs.

  5. At the same time, I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look toward the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe that its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban.

    Actually right now is a good time for India to come to an agreement on Kashmir: Pakistan is in no position to declare terms. But I doubt the agreement will hold once Pakistan solves the mess on its western borders. If jihadis are ejected from Afghanistan, Kashmir is the closest place they can be sent to. Unless Pakistan completely rethinks its jihadi policy: maybe that will happen, who knows.

  6. I know that a lot of Indians (based on some blogs I’ve read) think Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is beholden to the Gandhi family (especially Sonia). I don’t pay attention to Indian politics so I don’t have an opinion one way or the other. If there is any truth to it you might be seeing something similar in neighboring Pakistan now: an elite family ruling through a loyal and clean “remote-controlled” figurehead.

    There are massive differences:

    Sure, Gandhi family (or Sonia Gandhi) is the nerve center of Congress Party. However, she knows she becoming PM will derail Congress for at least 2 election cycle, and she does not trust (Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar and others – most of them have had brief falling out (or disagreements) with Gandhi family, but are regional satraps who cannot hold influence outside their home turfs). But within their home turfs, they can be quite powerful, like Sharad Pawar.

    So enter, people like Manmohan Singh, Ambika Soni, etc. They (like Singh) have no popular base (not even regional, local to the even city level), but do have loyalty to her, are independent only to a degree but will not challenge Sonia Gandhi.

    Within Congress, there is a very complex politics going on a daily basis…..chess game by Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Manmohan Singh, Sharad Pawar. In coalition politics, politicians like Mayawati from cow belt play a very important role, and not to discount communists, like, Karat. Or for that matter, DMK, AIADMK from South. Like in recent Indo-US nuclear deal, Karunandhi has become an intermediary between Congress, and Communists.

    Now to Pakistan.

    Zardari is not a Bhutto, he cannot carry the mantle of Zulfikar, Benazir – their son can. Zardari is too tainted. But PPP has not even leaders outside of Bhutto family that can hold small regions on their own, even though PPP has always strong support amongst poor people.

    Both PPP and Congress are centered around a family, but PPP does not even have regional satraps.

  7. 6 · sakshi Actually right now is a good time for India to come to an agreement on Kashmir: Pakistan is in no position to declare terms. But I doubt the agreement will hold

    Yes, this is the question–who would that agreement really be made with, and to what extent would it be respected going forward (I don’t want to provoke the “SM is anti-Pakistan meme,” but I think that it would be irrational to overlook that concern!!).

  8. Actually right now is a good time for India to come to an agreement on Kashmir: Pakistan is in no position to declare terms.

    I do not think any lasting peace can come with one of the parties are in weaker position.

    Even during Simla Agreement, one of the reason, it had some (partial) healing effect, to embolden Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Indians did not squeeze him.

    Kashmir is a very emotional issue – it can only reach any agreement when Indian politicians, Pakistan politicians, and Pakistan military are equal partners, and find the solution equitable. Anyone forced to agreement, will be an extreme disaster.

  9. Within Congress, there is a very complex politics going on a daily basis…..chess game by Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Manmohan Singh, Sharad Pawar. In coalition politics, politicians like Mayawati from cow belt play a very important role, and not to discount communists, like, Karat. Or for that matter, DMK, AIADMK from South. Like in recent Indo-US nuclear deal, Karunandhi has become an intermediary between Congress, and Communists.

    V true. Indian politics has become v federal in its structure, with the local satraps having a lot of autonomy. Also regional parties have become very powerful. Whatever magical powers die-hard Congressis may ascribe to Sonia Gandhi, she cannot win an election just on name recognition like Benazir could: she probably cannot guarantee even a single state on her name alone. Both Congress and BJP have to enter into coalition agreements with regional parties in each state, and which party ultimately forms the government in Delhi depends as much in skill in the choice of the correct coalition partner as on the popularity of the leaders of Congress/BJP at the national level.

  10. Actually right now is a good time for India to come to an agreement on Kashmir: Pakistan is in no position to declare terms. I do not think any lasting peace can come with one of the parties are in weaker position

    Yes. That is why I said that the agreement will not last, unless Pakistan is really tiring on the jihadi business. Its hard to say if that is true, but it might be possible to build a mood in that direction right now if the political parties want to.

  11. Good post Abhi, glad to see something like this being covered on SM.

    Minor technicality – FA has been running this series for the last 6 months, the current issue contains only Huckabee and Richardson. Thus if you go looking for all the essays in the current $10 print edition, you wont find it. The link above that Abhi posted does have everything though.

    On a related note, for the politics of money inclined, the current issue has an interesting article on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

  12. Abhi — FYI, Hillary recently published an op-ed in India Abroad regarding her proposed policies towards India, and Obama will be publishing an op-ed in the upcoming issue of India Abroad on his policies relating to Indian Americans and India. I think it would be useful to look at those, as they might be more useful that trying to parse the two or three South-Asia related sentences in their Forein Affairs op-eds.

  13. I’m Kurt Abhi. I’m incorrigible. Congratulations. What’s…”incorrigible”? I think it means you want to be treated like a boy. ;)

    [stolen from the other SM, the one I loved first...and saw 100 times]

  14. Thats interesting. I didn’t know abt Fahim’s rise and her chances. I only heard that Mushrraf had gone sulking since two of his arch enemies Asif and Nawaz are probably going to join hands that may eventually lead to his impeachment. As a result the western embassies in pakistan are working hard to ensure Mushrraf’s survival since they feel that he is absolutely essential for a successful war on terror.

  15. If Mr Obama thinks he can get India to negotiate anything on Kashmir with Pakistan, he is naive, and pressuring India on this will only set back relations between the US and India. There is no point in further negotiations with Pakistan on this matter. There is simply no faith in Pakistan keeping to any bargain that they may negotiate. Settlements have been tried in the past, including in Simla and the only result is escalation in terrorism. I think the real question is whether Pakistan in its present form will survive for very long.

  16. If someone interprets this differently, by all means I’d like to hear it, but this clearly sounds like the most hawkish and interventionist of all three essays, more so than even Bush’s policy…I actually kind of dig the openness and the “anti-Realpolitik” of his stance.

    Not the best place to learn American History in South Asia, [Hollywood's: Charlie Wilson's War] but I bet it places me in the company of the majority of Americans. Near the end of the flick (in the movie at least) the congressman lobbies for something more “open” and lasting be done for Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew. He wasn’t successful. IHT op-ed on Charlie Wilson’s Zen lesson.

    Yes, Afghan suffering at the hands of the Soviet invaders was atrocious, and the Soviets’ defeat by Afghan mujahedeen armed with U.S. Stinger missiles ought to have been a humanitarian liberation. But the fighting among Afghan warlords that ensued opened the way for the fanatical Taliban to take power, for Al Qaeda to set up terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, for the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, and then for to the Bush administration’s global war on terror, whose destabilizing effects are likely to extend far into the future. In a similar vein, Bush should have foreseen that the invasion and occupation of Iraq could become a strategic gift to Iran; that his pledge to foster democracy in the Muslim world while backing Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan would make America look hypocritical; or that his reluctance to seek a UN Security Council resolution to halt Israel’s bombing of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 would inflame anti-American feelings in the Arab world. These are the sorts of unintended consequences a Zen master would expect – and a president must try to anticipate.

    >#2 (#1)Here is another Lebanese blogger (in Lebanon, for sure, unlike my previous link!–sorry) who is deeply skeptical of Obama.

    I didn’t get what Micheal Young’s alternative/ better plan was? From your link : “I would be able cynically to stomach her [Obama' FP advisor]scheme if it were not couched in the hypocritical language of moral self-righteousness“. Did Mr. Young ever come out and say directly the US went to Iraq for Oil? And his question “What happens if an American withdrawal leads simultaneously to mass murder?”

    Are we to stay there forever? Will 100 years be long enough?

  17. I should admit that I am no well wisher of Pakistan. But I think the sooner Pakistan gets rid of US influence the better. :-)

    The same guys (“freedom fighters fighting for their faith”) who the US supported in the 80s against the “Godless communists” have now turned “terrorists” and Pakistan was supposed to be friends with them in the 80s because it suited US policy and their faith and hunt them in the 2000s because it suits US policy and the US approved “moderate” version of the faith. never mind it doesn’t suit the jihadi aspects of the faith.. :-)

  18. Usual bass-ackwards article from this dude..

    do you think india has gotten to where it is because of kindness/help/notice from some US leader or the other?

    The reality is that US will deal with india based on the reality of indian progress. If indians keep growing their economy at 8-9%, improve infra-structure etc. the US president will have to make nice and amreekan big sahibs will have to go to Delhi say things like “natural affinities between our countries” and other sweet-sweet nothings….cause they want the moolah and to sell planes and guns and apples…

    If indians screw it up, and we have a long history of doing this, with either or both of communal-forces or statist-politicians dominating things, then there will be no interest from USA. Why should there be any?

  19. Thanks for this post, Abhi. I vaguely recall Obama saying some unsettlingly hawkish things about Pakistan a while back. It’ll definitely be a hot topic regardless who is elected.

  20. Rediff/India Abroad has an exclusive from Obama.

    On India:

    As President, I will also strengthen the critical relationship between the United States and India. The world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy are natural partners, sharing important interests and fundamental democratic values. That is why I voted for the US-India nuclear energy deal on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And that is why I will move forward to build a close strategic partnership between the United States and India when I am President of the United States. The United States and India must work together to combat the common threats of the 21st century. We have both been victims of catastrophic terrorist attacks, and we have a shared interest in succeeding in the fight against Al Qaeda and its operational and ideological affiliates. That fight must not be undercut by a misguided war in Iraq.

    On Pakistan:

    I have argued that we need to do more to roll back the Al Qaeda sanctuary along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and that we cannot put all of our eggs in the Musharraf basket in Pakistan. That is why I proposed, long before the declaration of martial law in Pakistan, that we need to condition our assistance to the Pakistani government so that we encourage stronger action against Al Qaeda and a restoration of democracy. Our goal remains not simply an ally in Pakistan — our goal is a democratic ally, with a vibrant civil society and strong institutions.

    He also has stuff on racial profiling, India’s contribution to the US tech sector, his admiration for Gandhi, yadda yadda.

  21. 4 · rob said

    Fair enough, but what good is going to do to “insist” to the Germans? I don’t think they’re going to pony up (more out of weakness than anything). Europe’s dying

    I agree it’s unlikely that they’d pony up, but it would put them in a position where they have to pay the costs of their policies. That is, right now they send troops but stipulate that they aren’t to do anything, which allows them to placate their electorate (since the troops aren’t in harm’s way) and still claim to be on-board with the whole mission. For his part, Bush isn’t in a position to call them on this because he can’t afford to further alienate Europe after the whole Iraq thing. But a new President will not have this problem: he’ll be able to demand they step up, and if they refuse he can downgrade their influence both with the United States directly, and in NATO (and they’ll lose face more generally; if nothing else, we’ll no longer have to listen to lectures which begin “the whole world supported you in Afghanistan…”). And, who knows? Certain European leaders might decide that it’s more important to get tight with the new President than to throw red meat to their electorates, particularly if said new President is more popular with the European voters.

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