Friday, May 06, 2011

Osama's Jihad and India - Part 1 - Background

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Author: Rudra Devacharya

Osama Bin Laden (OBL) was an enemy of India only in the broadest ideological sense. Just because he became the poster-boy of "dangerous Islamism" for the west,  we do ourselves a disservice by adopting that image wholesale and applying it to an Indian context where it is not at all relevant. 

Indeed, the presence of OBL in our subcontinental neighbourhood was in fact a net gain for India.

1) In the early 1990s, the US was full of hyperpower hubris. They had just won the cold war and destroyed the USSR, and Pakistan (via its support for the Afghan war) was appreciated as a key player in that campaign. 

These times were the apex of influence for the Brzezinski/Scowcroft school of American foreign policy in the State Department, and Milt Bearden/Michael Scheuer were the victorious lions of the CIA.  Many political figures of future importance, such as Madeline Allbright (and Robin Raphel further down the ranks) were rising stars under the tutelage of these worthies.

These people could do or say no wrong, as far as the US establishment was concerned. And what they were saying was that Pakistan must be THE primary US proxy in fashioning the new world order in South/Central Asia.

2) It is an assiduously created myth by the US media that Afghanistan and Pakistan were "ignored" after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A deliberate power vacuum was engineered in Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal, one that only Pakistan was capable of filling via its proxies. Washington, at that time, favoured the creation of an Af-Pak under Islamabad's Paki army/ISI rule. It fit in with Washington's game plan perfectly.

3) The game plan was ultimately, to create an Af-Pak dagger aimed at Western China and the former Soviet states of Central Asia. A dagger that could potentially play the same role against China as it had against the Soviets when needed. Even as China was engaged economically by the US. Additionally, such an Af-Pak power under Islamabad could stabilize the Eastern flank of West Asia, threaten a recalcitrant Iran, and give the US "pro-Islamic" credibility with the Arab street. 

Essentially the very "Great Game" ideas behind the creation of Pakistan in 1947, were seen to be "borne out" by the eventual usefulness of Pakistan in defeating the Soviet Union. Extending those same ideas, Pakistan (with Afghanistan as its vassal/strategic depth) was now going to be the launch-pad for expanding Western influence into the Asian heartland and containing America's potential competitors in that theatre. 

This whole aspect of US foreign policy in the early 1990s was played out much more quietly than the rebuilding of former Soviet satellites in Europe, and the eastward expansion of NATO. Much more money (and publicity) were allocated to Marshall plans for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The creation of the AfPak dagger was a relatively modestly funded effort with a much lower profile. This is not surprising; one of the attractions of Pakistan to the US has always been its willingness to sell itself cheaply.

4) For this US proxy Af-Pak to enjoy unchallenged dominance in Central Asia, serving as an uniterrupted conduit for US forces in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea into the Asian heartland... it was vital that this Af-Pak should include all of J&K as well.

Hence, in the early 1990s, a multi-pronged assault was launched with the backing of Washington, to enable Pakistan to separate J&K from India. The assault had a military component, masterminded by Mirza Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul,  in which Afghan war veterans and CIA expertise were used by the ISI to launch a "war of a thousand cuts" against India. It also had a political component, as evidenced by the redoubled efforts (via Robin Raphel) to build the Hurriyat Conference as a "democratic" platform for secession.

5) India at that time was seen to be a helpless state, from Washington's point of view. It was a former Soviet ally and not deserving of trust or sympathy. The strong leadership of Indira Gandhi was a thing of the past. India had slipped into a state of post-dynastic political turmoil following the VP Singh ascension of 1989; this was projected by Washington to mean political instability and lacklustre economic performance for the rest of the decade. To top it all off, in 1991 India had to go to the IMF with hat in hand.

Thus pressure was put on India from every direction to part with Kashmir. Our pleas to declare Pakistan a terrorist-sponsoring state were soundly ignored. We were lectured as never before on Kashmiri "human rights". When the ISI committed terrorist atrocities, such as the Mumbai '93 blasts, US investigators dutifully "misplaced" the evidence of Pakistan ORF ammunition given to them for examination. IMF strings were pulled taut whenever India made any move to assert or consolidate its regional position.

Had it not been for PV Narasimha Rao, our greatest Prime Minister to date, at the helm in those dire years, the plan to separate Kashmir might even have succeeded.

6) In support of the fiction that "Af-Pak was ignored after the Soviet withdrawal/ Pakistan felt betrayed by the US", the laughable Pressler Amendment (which prohibited US arms sales to Pakistan on account of its nuclear weapons program) is often cited.

In truth, the Pressler Amendment was completely spurious as a non-proliferation tool. Pakistan already had nuclear weapons by 1990,  tested and produced by China and the US knew it. Given nuclear weapons and a large, well-organized offensive machine for subconventional warfare, to jihadi veterans of the Afghan war and growing cadres of local Tanzeems, the Pakistanis could very well wage terrorist jihad in Kashmir without fear of conventional retaliation from India. 

The US knew this as well as Paki army/ISI did hence, it did not matter at all if Paki Army/ISI were denied conventional armaments and F-16s under the Pressler Amendment. In fact, such things could be held up as carrots by Washington to further guarantee Paki army/ISI's future cooperation in the great game. 

In the 1990s, from Washington's point of view, it was more than enough to let Pakistan have control of Afghanistan and conduct nuclear blackmail against India. Paki army/ISI's economic strength did not suffer as a result of the sanctions they had income from the A Q Khan's nuclear proliferation industry, and income from heroin sales via the Afghan poppy fields they controlled. They would do Washington's bidding, well-financed as they were through all these unorthodox mechanisms to which Washington turned a willing blind eye. 

Thus the myth of the "Pressler Amendment" being a symbol of Washington's "negligence", "neglect" or even "neutral even-handedness" is nothing but a hoax.

Eventually, Washington was betting that India would tire of the sustained nuclear blackmail/terrorism from Pakistan and buckle under political pressure from the western world, giving up Kashmir. Then India could be turned into a docile, decapitated cash cow while martial Pakistan, imperial overlord of Af-Pak-Kashmir, could become the West's frontline soldiers for the dominance of Central Asia.

Managing China, Iran and resurgent Russia, rather than containing India, was the thrust of the 1990s Great Game. India, it seemed, would be a pushover.

Continued to Part 2

1 comment:

Ace said...

excellent analysis.