Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finally, It’s Hillary’s Turn

Global terrorism emanating from Pakistan, a nuclear Iran, and the military and economic ascension of China are issues that we read and hear about every day. In the case of India, they must deal with these issues as a bordering nation to all three. Next week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the US-India Strategic Dialogue, a series of meetings that she also presided over last year in Washington DC regarding security issues that both nations share. Fortunately for Sec. Clinton, her unique gift of leadership and strength, combined with seldom-matched intellectual prowess, affords her an uncanny ability to maneuver the complicated issues of what may be the most complicated region. Her assertiveness as a leader demands others to think outside the box, and inspire everyone in the room to address real problems with realistic solutions, and not just in the hypothetical. It is this ability that Sec. Clinton must use to not only kick start upcoming peace talks between India and Pakistan, but also lay the foundation that can lead to its rightful conclusion.

This past weekend, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said at a South Asian Regional Cooperation Conference that, “South Asia cannot realize its full potential until and unless the region solves its differences peacefully and develops the culture of solving our problems themselves.” The main issue with this statement is that India and Pakistan have consistently refused any form of mediation or facilitation by a third party, preventing any possibility of a problem solving culture to develop. However, Sec. Clinton has the grace to not only facilitate, but also to allow India and Pakistan a belief that they ended their seven decade feud on their own. More importantly, India could finally emerge as the legitimate counterweight to China that India assumes is already a reality. Finally, India can become the powerful regional ally the US must have for a myriad of security and economic reasons.

As the relationship between the US and Pakistan continues to sour, the relationship between India and the US continues to expanded considerably. Moreover, Sec. Clinton will enjoy greater flexibility to assist in addressing issues such as Kashmir, water rights and nuclear arms reduction due to the recent Obama Administration announcement or the suspension of $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan which Pakistan typically used to strengthen it’s border with India and fund militant groups, rather than the intended purpose of fighting terrorists and the Taliban. No longer can India point to US assistance as being part of the problem. Finally, the recent killings of Osama bin Laden and Ilya Kashmiri by the US inside Pakistan also tells India that the ‘US understands the terror state that is Pakistan’, and will unapologetically do what it takes to rid the world, and more importantly the region of this cancer. Nobody appreciates this more than India; except for maybe Pakistan behind closed doors.

In addition to dealing with the Pakistan v. India conundrum, Sec. Clinton must also address Pakistan’s quickly emerging relationship with regional rival China. Make no mistake; China is India’s biggest threat, not Pakistan. A fact that China has gone above and beyond to display much to India’s chagrin. In the past month China and Pakistan have strengthened their relationship with announcements of Chinese construction of hydroelectric damn projects in Pakistan, military assistance and sales of fighter jets and naval ships, possible Chinese bases on the Indian Ocean and civilian nuclear power assistance. Moreover, reports of Chinese military personnel roaming the Pakistan-India border, in addition to roaming the India-China border has also raised eyebrows. You see, there is a flipside to India replacing Pakistan as the United States prime regional ally; China is attempting to replace the void left by the US in Pakistan. As one security analyst recently said, “If conflict were to break out between India and Pakistan, what would China’s reaction be?”

Fortunately, the timeliness of Sec. Clinton’s visit just before peace talk are set to resume between the two rivals in New Delhi the following week couldn’t be better. Coupled with all three nations attending the annual ASEAN conference in Bali, Sec. Clinton will have an ability to lay the groundwork through possible shuttle diplomacy given Pakistan’s eagerness to try and recoup some of the US assistance it so desperately needs. In addition, this may also be the counterpunch the US and the region as a whole need to China’s recent assertiveness in South and Southeast Asia. Secretary Clinton would have an ability to use the resumption of funding as an incentive for Pakistan to accept some of the terms put forth by India with regards to their concerns over the water issue, as well as nuclear safeguards. Additionally, Sec. Clinton would have an ability to present new and possibly logical solutions to deciding the fate of Kashmir that is acceptable to all parties, including the Kashmiri people. Through incentives as well as a fresh voice with new ideas, India and Pakistan can gain on a number of levels via US Assistance, yet an ability to claim ownership in resolving their own bilateral issues.

The real question remains, can India and Pakistan be reliable partners in a region beset by dysfunction and failed promises. Once and for all, the table is set for Sec. Clinton to finally emerge from the Presidential shadows that have cast over her by both her husband and current boss. Finally, it’s Hillary’s turn.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The death of Ilyas Kashmiri Vastly Exceeds Osama bin Laden

The impact of the killing of Pakistani militant/terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri by a US Predator drone strike paid far more dividend than the killing of Osama bin Laden. Of course, the symbolism of killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan remains symbolically more significant. Regardless, the direct impact resulting in communication disruption and rooting out the poisons within the Pakistani military and intelligence circle are only just beginning. The killing of Kashmiri dealt an incredible blow to Al Qaeda, as well as a host of other terrorist groups located in Pakistani Administered Kashmir and the tribal areas. The recent arrest of Pakistani Brigadier General Ali Khan, and the interrogation of four other Generals had far less of a connection to bin Laden’s phone, than to Kashmiri and the terrorist network who enjoyed 30 years of financial, military and tactical support from the military and ISI.

Until his death earlier this month, Kashmiri was well known primarily in South Asia, especially India and Pakistan. Kashmiri hailed from Pakistani Administered Kashmir, and had a long history of working intimately with what later became Al Qaeda during the 1980’s in Afghanistan as a member of the Special Forces in the Pakistani military. Once the Soviets were repelled from Afghanistan, Kashmiri went back to Kashmir and began waging jihad against the Indian Military in what he viewed as a “liberation movement” for the Kashmiri people from Indian Rule. It is this connection that spans over three decades that is the biggest blow to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and may in fact be the tipping point for both the US in Afghanistan, as well as Indian and Pakistani relations.

Kashmiri during the 80’s and early 90’s was the logistical master of shuffling young fighters to training camps in both Pakistan and Afghanistan for “on the job training” against the Russians, and to be played out on the battlefield against India. The importance was he not only was able to transport young fighters for training against India, he established the connections and links necessary with villages and tribesman in the mountainous regions ensuring safe passage. This network continues today, but with the killing of Kashmiri, his network appears already in free fall in Pakistan, which will have a greater impact in Afghanistan as movements become of greater challenge through the tribal areas. The people who provided aid and comfort did so primarily to their relationship with Kashmiri, and not just tacit support for a militant movement.

The connection between bin Laden’s ability to hide in Abbottabad under the nose of retired military and intelligence officers was of no coincidence. Kashmiri had the connections and ability to call in favors knowing that questions would never be asked. Kashmiri was instrumental in the Mumbai attacks, which gained him great favor within the establishment community. Despite the Pakistani militaries fighting with the Taliban, everyone knows that the real danger in the mind of the military and intel community is India.

However, just this past week Indian officials paid Pakistan a visit in what was viewed as a precursor to renewed talks between the leaders of the two sub-continent rivals. I asked both former Pakistani, Indian and Kashmiri officials if they thought the death of Ilyas Kashmiri would have a direct impact on relations between India and Pakistan, and most of them just said “of course.” One former Pakistani official took things one step further and said, “not only could this lead a major breakthrough for Indian and Pakistani relations, but the death of Kashmiri will turn the tides once and for all for the Americans in Afghanistan.”

There is no question the recent decision by US President Barack Obama to reduce troops in Afghanistan was directly impacted by this high level target. Of course, the US Generals wanted to keep more boots on the ground. However, we must remember that Generals think in terms for what is happening today. The Taliban’s continued ability to engage and fight with the same passion and fury as they always have. What US Intelligence officials in the region feel, is that there will be a decrease in numbers, and far less traffic along the boarder regions. The Pakistani military will be much more alert and assertive when encountering militants attempting to move along the region. On the flip side of that coin, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are becoming much more reluctant to travel through the region to various safe havens because they are being taken away one by one.

In the end, the death of Ilyas Kashmiri will go down as one of the biggest victories, as well as the possible trigger to India and Pakistan finally resolving their 70-year-old differences. With arrests within the Pakistani intelligence and military community sure to come, militant activity on the Indian border. Additionally, this will open the door for India to finally begin removing her 500-700,000 military troops occupying Indian Administered Kashmir, especially in urban areas. Finally, al Qaeda and the Taliban lost their regional broker who provided safe passage and support from top ranking military and intelligence officials. I am sure that numbers in Osama bin Laden’s phone helped a bit in being able to find out who knew, and how high up the power chain knowledge of his whereabouts went. However, in just three weeks since that US drone strike in early June, already the death of Ilyas Kashmiri vastly exceeds the death of Osama bin Laden.

Hooray for Ai Weiwei

For the past three months, the story that received the most copy regarding China was the detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Ai Weiwei’s skyrocketing popularity and becoming the darling of the western media as the poster child of Chinese internal dissent had western governments and human rights organizations calling for his immediate release and/or charges for the reason of his detention. This continued fascination with Chinese human rights policies and detention of homegrown detractors continues to clog up the headlines in the most reputable newspapers around the world. I am not suggesting that the attention Ai Weiwei’s detention received was not justifiable, nor deserving of the international outcry it has received the past three months. However, the real stories regarding China and the impact their strategic moves of late will have on over a billion people, and not just one activist, are being passed over without a thought by op-ed and senior foreign correspondents leaving a general audience without knowledge of the strategic gains China has racked up over the three month Ai Weiwei saga.

I must confess I have always believed the most important stories are those five to ten line blurbs that most readers casually glance over without understanding the considerable impact those stories may have in the not so distant future. China has aggressively pursued alliances within the region and made moves that could only make the greatest of global hegemonic powers proud. In fact, one almost would wonder if Chinese leaders actually calculated the amount of focus the Ai Weiwei detention would receive, creating a nice diversion to a series of regional strategic moves they were beginning to embark upon, and to some within international security circles, very provocative to say the least.

Here are a few in case you missed them:

China assisting DPRK utilizing it’s own model of growth

The first story should come as no surprise given the relationship between China and North Korea. However, this feel good story of China actually helping their troubled neighbor to the south open a series of economic processing zones (EPZ’s) with the intention of assisting the DPRK with loosening market restraints, and giving citizens access to viable employment in a variety of sectors. Additionally, this may also be part of a “carrot and stick” approach to the DPRK, as well as providing the DPRK with economic growth and possible ways in which an authoritarian regime can relax market constraints without jeopardizing the status quo enjoyed by ruling elites.

China for the past two decades has grown through the use of EPZ’s established by western corporations via subcontractors generally from Taiwan who had a clear understanding of how local politics in China worked, and the ins and outs regarding environmental protections and a lack of workers rights. Regardless of the old argument regarding working conditions and the environmental degradation in the countryside where these zones were established, China would not be the world’s second largest economy without EPZ’s. It is ironic that the Chinese would seek to solve some of the DPRK’s economic and employment problems through such measures. However, the same model was used by both the US and Japan in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Singapore with great success. Who better than China to understand what steps an authoritarian regime must take in order to loosen the economic stranglehold and growth on the economy at home? On the other hand, China must also be responsible not to allow that growth to lead to an expansion over the DPRK’s controversial nuclear program, rather than the tradition laissez faire approach. I would only hope that such measures are structured into the agreement, but like most agreements involving China, one can only speculate given the lack of transparency the Chinese authority prefers to conduct international affairs.

Old problems continue to surface

Over the past week alone, tensions in the South China Sea continue to escalate between China and Vietnam, and China and the Philippines. For those of you unfamiliar with the South China Sea, it contains some of the highest oil, mineral and natural gas reserves, not to mention a robust fishing area for regional nations as well. Despite decades of third party intervention, working groups hosted by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the rights to these reserves continue to be a matter of debate regarding whose sovereign claims over areas such as the Spratly and Parcel islands are legitimate. Recently the Vietnamese government made a plea for third party intervention due to China’s continued muscle flexing. In an interesting move, the Chinese government issued a warning to the US to stay out of it’s “internal matters”, which according to one DoD official was “surprising given we have not really thrown our weight behind Vietnam with regard to the Spratly Islands, and have long held the stance that regional parties should sort out maritime matters on their own, through regional bodies such as ASEAN or the UN.” However, the stance takes an about face when a much closer ally comes under threat like the Philippines.

The South China Sea maritime issues are nothing new, however the level of escalation between the regional states was a matter of surprise. The fact that China now finds itself in maritime disputes with all of her neighbors at one time displays the confidence that China has in its regional prowess, if not regional hegemonic aspirations. China knows that without third party intervention, there is not one nation state, with the exception of possibly Japan, that has the ability to stand up to China economically or militarily. It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out for Vietnam and the Philippines, as it may serve notice for what is about to come in the future as China seeks to secure more assets necessary for long-term sustainable growth.

Firmly establishing South Asian footprint, and forcing India’s hand

For decades China has in many ways been a silent player when it comes to security, development and economics in South Asia. Many have little idea that China is actually a player in the Kashmir dispute. Of course, remaining innocuous regarding highly contentious issues is China’s specialty, and when it comes to issues in South Asia; China mastered navigating the minefield of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. However, recent agreements between China and Pakistan, as well as other provocative what ifs raised in international media with regards to Pakistan’s invitation to China to establish naval bases on it’s Indian Ocean coast have thrust this once silent member front and center.

This outreach comes on the heels of some landmark agreements between the Sino-Pak relationship. First, China agreed to provide 50 fighter jets to Pakistan following the killing of Osama bin Laden in a move that showed China was all to eager to fill the void the US would leave given the strains between to the two “strategic” partners. In addition to providing the fighter jets, Pakistan would allow China port access for oil exports via a pipeline from Iran, as well as the possibility of establishing naval bases in order to serve as protection for the increase of traffic of Chinese oil freighters and naval ships. Next, was the establishment of a civilian nuclear agreement between China and Pakistan that has everyone guessing the contents to the framework of the agreement, despite both sides expressing that we take the two parties at their word that this involves to civilian reactors, and that’s it. In addition to the two nuclear reactors, a $15 billion dollar proposal is close to agreement to dam the Jhelum River, a river that is a deep source of contention between India and Pakistan with regards to water rights, as well as hydroelectric energy generation for the sub-continent. The one positive may be that India and Pakistan will now hold legitimate peace talks seeking solutions to their 70 year old disputes, rather that just the occasional photo-op of a meeting.

No more noise please

So as we take a look back at the past couple of months and realize the level of activity China has taken in Northeast, Southeast and South Asia, it should come as no surprise that those in the economic and security realms find it surprising the most attention being paid by the media was on Ai Weiwei. Of course, the portly charismatic artist does make for good copy, especially the way in which he flaunts his spotlight to bring a clearer picture to the outside world with regards to China’s continued policy of silencing any and all internal dissent. For this I am happy of his release and must shout a “Hip Hip Hooray for Ai Weiwei!”