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US Mid Term Elections and South Asia

October 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Analysis, foreign policy

Which Side?? Public Anger!

The mid term elections in US have ominous portents for Obama ranging from the domestic to foreign policy issues. This post attempts at unraveling some of the the thoughts being proposed and debated by think tanks across the globe. The domestic issues are for US to take a call on. With less than a month left, it’s beginning to look as this midterm election will have less to do with which of the two parties is at fault for the state of the nation, or which party offers a better plan to come out of this economic mess . . . and everything to do with just one thing: voters’ anger. And that never augurs well for those who presently hold political power, no matter the length of time they’ve been holding the reins.The real danger is from “New” ideas of military expansionism in South Asia.

Bruce Riedel in an article in FP articulates that Obama must make a South Asia Command. Excerpts of the proposal are here. Some interesting issues recommend making a South Asia Command:

If Barack Obama is to really get serious about the region, he needs to create an executive bureau for Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan — one that spans across the U.S. government. Good organization does not guarantee good policy, but a poorly constructed bureaucracy is almost always a recipe for bad policy. A new military command that puts Pakistan and India in the same theater would help enormously in improving U.S. strategic thinking about South Asia. No longer would one commander talk to the Pakistanis and another to the Indians; the Pentagon waould have just one voice. And likewise for Foggy Bottom: An empowered assistant secretary of state for South Asia could travel regularly on diplomatic missions between Kabul, Islamabad, and New Delhi.

Obama was right to recognize that the Afghan war could not be effectively prosecuted without dealing with Pakistan. But it’s foolish to think that Pakistan can be effectively assisted without dealing with the issue that dominates its own strategic calculus: India.

Other suggestions include revamping the US Muslim world equation and rewriting the rules of war. Ashley J Tellis has proposed that Obama rewrites the rules of engagement with Pakistan and lets (Pakistan) know that the rules have changed. In a thought provoking piece he has argued that for far too long Pakistan has been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds:

The most important problem is that suddenly challenging Pakistan after a decade of acquiescence to its mendacity is tantamount to abruptly changing the rules of a game that Washington and Islamabad have gotten used to: It could result in even greater Pakistani obduracy and further support for its jihadi proxies. Although that is certainly an unpalatable possibility, the bitter truth is that the current state of affairs — in which Washington indefinitely subsidizes Islamabad’s sustenance of U.S. enemies — poses far greater dangers to the United States. The Obama administration must make the difficult choice now and show Islamabad that the rules of the game have changed.

These are interesting thoughts for speech making during the upcoming election platform. For South Asia the dangers lie in the vacillation of US in undermining the Chinese influence which has emboldened Pakistan to play a double game in the region. In all this melee the Afghanistan war has lost much of its sheen. The domestic pressure to cut military spending and get troops back home earliest are shaping the American Foreign Policy in the region. In an earlier article “Afghanistan after America” SAI had articulated few possible scenarios post US pull out. If Obama loses ground in these elections the repercussions for the region could be played along any of the following scenarios;

Scenario One: Obama decides to pull out as per Jul 2011 date. This has been played enough in earlier posts and the direct ramifications would be  return of Taliban to power duly supported and engineered by Pakistan. This will return the region to the anarchy of Taliban rule and give Pakistan and the Taliban a shot in the arm to proliferate their brand of Political Islam.

Scenario Two : Continue to conduct operations while negotiating with all tribal factions without announcing a formal date of withdrawal This would impose caution on Pakistan and deliver a strong message that it cannot play the game from both the sides as Tellis articulates. This may not find favour domestically, but if not implemented, may result in Vietnamisation of Af Pak.

Scenario Three: While retaining Scenario two focuses on China This is a tough call but may help US and India assert their core national interests to China and desist and deter it from interfering in the region. As BS Raghavan puts it:

“In sum, over a period, China has been proclaiming more and more areas to be out of bounds for the rest of the world, and taking aggressive postures to enforce its own version of Monroe Doctrine. At one stroke, China has brought the entire Korean peninsula within its sphere of influence; it has enlarged the scope of maritime domination in strategic waters that connect northeast Asia and the Indian Ocean; and it has asserted its interventionist rights over whatever has a bearing on its ‘core interests’. .It may have a sobering effect on China if India also draws up its own list of inviolable, immutable core interests and asks China to adhere to them. Is New Delhi listening and shouldn’t Washington draw up its own list of inviolable, immutable core interests in the Asia-Pacific region and ask China to adhere to them?

Scenario Four : Engages South Asian neighbours in finding a solution to Afghanistan and marginalises Pakistan This would be a tough call and mandates US finding alternate supply routes or arm twisting Pakistan by linking aid to genuine participation in the peace process.

Scenario Five : Makes South Asian Command and pressurise Pakistan to heel


Whatever path US chooses there are some definite fallouts.

Firstly, Pakistan has and will remain a tough nut to crack unless US uses all power at its disposal to ensures it heels to the cause of common good of the region and the world at large.

Secondly, US must involve regional players like India, China, Russia and Iran(??) to find common cause with the Afghan people..even if it means devolution of power structure along the existing Jirgas.

Thirdly, US must pressurise China to maintain only economic interests in Af Pak. Any military interventionism, directly or indirectly, would complicate the equation further.

Fourthly, US needs to ensure that its public diplomacy initiatives in Afghanistan are in congruence with the best interests of the Afghani people.

Wait and Watch

For the time being India and South Asia will have to wait for Obama’s response post mid term elections. If he looses he will definitely choose the first scenario and if he wins he would feel empowered enough to take up and play any of the other scenarios. Which side will the camel sit to pacify the voters anger is a tough ask. We can only wait and watch.


3 Responses to “US Mid Term Elections and South Asia”
  1. chander thapa says:

    If he looses and chooses the first scenario than that will be a tragedy for our region as the China Pak axis will also grow, which is to Americas detriment. Even if he looses he cannot go out in a hurry because than it will affect Iran and Middle East also. He has to show signs of solving the problem before he leaves, therefore, in order to retain Americas credibility some thing that is fast sliding down like the dollar.He is therefore here to stay. He may cut down the troops and deal more through drones but quiting means a resurgent Republican and no second term, he has a problem a catch 22 situation.

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