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India’s challenges in Afghanistan post-2014 August 9, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Guest authors, India , comments closed

Rupakjyoti Borah

With the United States set to begin direct talks with the Taliban, India’s strategic position in the region has been upended. The talks are the result of a stalemate: the United States knows it cannot defeat the Taliban militarily and the Taliban knows that as long as Western forces are in Afghanistan they can only have partial control of the country. But while Pakistan will gain from a face-saving US exit, since it will allow Pakistan to increase its so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, India faces difficult policy choices in Afghanistan after Western forces pull out in 2014.

So why is Afghanistan important for India?


Why Pakistan is lagging behind India August 12, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Desh Gupta

Before the creation of Bangladesh in 1970-71 the then West Pakistan was economically more vibrant than India. There were a number of reasons for this.

It drew resources from the former East Pakistan to sustain its relatively large army. In addition during that period the Army, which even then determined whether it had direct or indirect control over the political apparatus, allowed its entrepreneurs drawn mostly from the Gujarati immigrants, a free reign and they drove economic growth. Fundamental Islam was weak and, muzzled by the army, Pakistan was politically and economically more liberal. This ensured a greater mobility of labour and capital, leading to greater efficiency in their use.

India’s economy, however, was highly regulated by the state. The government decided what should be produced and directed resources for this purpose. Economic efficiency was poor. This was reflected in the loss of competitiveness of Indian textile mills, which became ‘sick’ in the early 1980s. Even in steel production, which was a priority industry, the rate of increase was slow as it was limited to the public sector, and input of imports was difficult and low because foreign exchange was limited.

The loss of Bangladesh (but more so from 1980 onwards), brought economic change. It meant that Pakistan’s army could not be sustained at its then prevailing level. Cuts created dissatisfaction and were difficult to justify politically after its humiliation by India in the 1970 war. Its defence budget had to be bolstered after India’s explosion of a nuclear device in 1974, as Pakistan devoted resources to gain parity with India in nuclear defence technology. A redirection of defence resources from the army resulted in an alienation of the army that eventually led to the overthrow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), the elected government.

Had economic growth lifted it would have been easier to raise defence outlays without reducing those for the army. But Bhutto embarked on a nationalisation program. He stymied Pakistan’s economic dynamism by attacking its successful entrepreneurs who slowed investment, leading to a fall in investment and growth rates. Bhutto strengthened the power of the unions, which benefitted a very small segment of the labour aristocracy but created rigidities in the labour market. (more…)

Perceptions from Islamabad: Pakistan’s twin objectives in the Afghan endgame. June 14, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Motwani, Nishank, Pakistan , comments closed

Nishank Motwani

The NATO summit held in Chicago last month confirmed that NATO’s combat forces would be withdrawn by the end of 2014, leaving behind an unknown number of training units in Afghanistan. As the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) mission to hand over combat command to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) draws closer, Pakistan is shifting gears to protect its strategic interests in the Afghan endgame. Understanding Islamabad’s objectives is thus essential to evaluate where it stands and how and why its defined ends oppose the desired goals of Afghanistan and its US-led ISAF stakeholders.

Map of Pashtun majority areas (in green)


The South Asia Cold War ‘quadrilateral’ redux? August 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

This post first appeared here on the Future Directions International site.

For significant periods during the Cold War, South Asia and the Indian Ocean region were locked in the embrace of a four-power, ‘quadrilateral’ structure.  On one side were India and the former Soviet Union – New Delhi then had a ‘tilt’ towards Moscow.  For much of the period Pakistan stood beside the US against Soviet and ‘leftist’ influence in the region, being at one point even a member of the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO).

After the Sino-US rapprochement in 1972, China, Pakistan and the US found themselves ranged in broad terms against India and the former Soviet Union: the ‘quadrilateral’ in effect re-emerged as an ‘pentagon’.  All of that, of course, changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which opened out the long process of rapprochement between India and the US.


A happy ISI chief Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who reportedly recently ‘secretely’ visited China.


Afghanistan: conundrum central February 8, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Snedden, Christopher , comments closed

Christopher Snedden

Afghanistan provokes many conundrums, but few answers. The most important current question is whether external forces can defeat the Islamically-motivated Afghan Taliban trying to regain control of their fragmented, underdeveloped and war-weary country? Policy makers and military strategists from 48 foreign nations believe so. Accordingly, they have ‘surged’ their International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to 132,000 personnel. And, since President Obama came to power, ISAF—particularly its United States’ component of 90,000 personnel—has been better focused and may be gaining ground.

However, a significant conundrum is to determine the actual ‘state of play’ in Afghanistan. The Taliban, about which we know little, almost certainly overstates its strength and position. Equally, official Western sources may paint a picture rosier than reality. On 3 December, at Bagram Air Base, President Obama stated that ‘Because of the progress we’re making, we look forward to a new phase next year [2011], the beginning of the transition to Afghan responsibility’. This suggested that operations were going well. By contrast, on 26 December, the Wall Street Journal reported that United Nations’ maps showed ‘a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan’ during 2010. Much of southern Afghanistan was still at ‘very high risk’, while the risk in previously ‘low risk’ areas in northern, central and western Afghanistan had increased ‘considerably’. Similarly, in January, a ‘NATO official’ estimated there were ‘up to 25,000’ insurgent fighters, ‘the same as a year ago, before the arrival of an additional 40,000 US and allied troops’. ISAF may not be doing as well as we are led to believe.

President Obama’s remark above about ‘the transition to Afghan responsibility’ also confirmed that ISAF is keen to extract itself from Afghanistan. Accordingly, ISAF is trying to develop the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police so they can take responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. This task is difficult. Low education levels, high attrition rates and Taliban intimidation make these forces’ capabilities questionable. Equally, ISAF needs to succeed in other nation-building activities—which, in a dilemma, it cannot do until it has secured and stabilised the country. These activities include: developing Afghanistan’s economy; enhancing its political and governmental structures; overcoming people’s deep fear of a Taliban takeover after ISAF’s inevitable withdrawal; reducing corruption; and, delivering meaningful aid and infrastructure throughout the country.


Assessing the tragedy of the Pakistan floods August 31, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Mohsin Khan, PIIE and Shuja Nawaz, Atlantic Council, Washington

This article first appeared here in the East Asian Forum on 29 August 2010.

The floods in Pakistan have affected one-fifth of the country (an area roughly the size of England) and engulfed large parts of all four provinces—Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North West Frontier Province). The vast scope of the damage makes this a truly national disaster with long-term economic and political consequences. With waters still rising, it is far too early to assess the economic costs; a proper assessment will be made in time by the Government of Pakistan, assisted by the UN and the World Bank. But on the basis of early indicators, a preliminary and admittedly impressionistic view of the damage can be formed.


Pakistan’s tax regime: new grief for the US funding machine? August 2, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Pakistan, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

ABC Radio National’s Saturday Extra on 24 July featured a fascinating interview with Akbar Zaidi, a visiting scholar in the Carnegie Endowment’s South Asia Program and a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.  He spoke about Pakistan’s tax regime that allows the rich, owners of the country’s wealth, to avoid or evade paying tax.

Speaking from Karachi he said that of the 170 million Pakistani’s, only some 20 per cent pay tax, leaving a major burden to be borne by the poor.

The nature of the tax system where the rich make policy leaves loopholes in a largely undocumented economy with a complicit bureaucracy.  Politicians, landowners and business people own the wealth of the country and simply do not pay tax, nor is tax collection enforced. (more…)

The US in Southern Asia: power versus influence April 13, 2010

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

The United States and its allies are engaged in two wars in South West Asia.  But this costly involvement does not appear to have won the US and the West the influence they would expect to enjoy in the region. This is not due so much to military factors, but rather to the fact that there are now a number of alternatives to the financial and economic influence of the West.  The most immediate implication of any such decline in influence is likely to be a diminution of the capacity of the West to assert its governance and human rights agendas.

This decline of Western influence was starkly illustrated by the failed attempts of a number of Western powers to influence the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the dénouement of the Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009.  As reported earlier in South Asia Masala, the US and some European powers attempted to bring financial pressure to bear on the Rajapaksa government to allow a humanitarian pause in the fighting to enable civilians to escape the war zone.  Even though Sri Lanka was hard-pressed for cash and had gone cap-in-hand to the IMF, President Rajapaksa was able to ignore Western demands and fight the Tamil Tigers ‘into the ground’.   He could do so largely because of other support from China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Such support was unconditional, whereas Western support came garlanded with human rights considerations.

Mr Karzai goes to Beijing.  Source – People’s Daily


Afghanistan: will ISAF just walk away one day? September 24, 2009

Posted by barbaranelson in : Afghanistan, Snedden, Christopher , comments closed

Christopher Snedden

Recently, while re-watching Richard Attenborough’s film about Mahatma Gandhi, I was struck by the scene in which Gandhi presciently told the bewildered British that, in the finish, they would simply walk away from India. I immediately thought of Afghanistan. Unless things change dramatically there for the better – and soon, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) may also ‘walk away’. Unlike the British in 1947, however, ISAF’s departure will be couched in justificatory terms to suggest a victory, not a defeat.

As things currently stand, it appears that ISAF will fail in Afghanistan. There are (at least) five reasons for this. First (and not in any order), ISAF’s overall military resolve to engage and defeat the Taliban is weak. United States’ forces appear to be fully committed to, and engaged in, Afghanistan. Other nations (including Australia), to varying degrees, appear primarily to have military forces in ISAF to ‘pay their dues’ to the US. ISAF may have the overall military capability to win in Afghanistan, but it is hampered by the weak and/or wavering intent of its various component militaries. This is a poor basis on which to fight a resurgent Taliban. With forces such as the Dutch and Canadians keen to withdraw from Afghanistan, ISAF’s military resolve is unlikely to improve in the short term.


Taliban in tribal Pakistan: down but not out? August 26, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kirpalani, Kunal P, Pakistan , comments closed

Kunal P. Kirpalani

Latest BBC reports confirm the death of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsood.  Reports of his death have ignited an intense debate: is the TTP  ‘on the run’ from Pakistani government forces or is it biding its time and awaiting an opportunistic moment to return, just as it did in Afghanistan?

Prior to the hardening of the resolve of the Pakistani government, there were widespread fears of ‘talibanisation’ generated by the takeover of the strategically valued Swat and Buner districts in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). By March of this year, the Taliban were only about 150 km away from Islamabad. They were ramping up their annexation of tribal districts. It was taken as an indicator of a ‘doomsday’ scenario in which a moderate Muslim country would be overrun by Taliban militants intent on creating a regime similar to that of the repressive and backward Taliban-administered Afghanistan of the 1990s.