Monday, August 3, 2009

Political and Military Objects

I am rereading On War for the first time since my time at the Hudson School for Boys, this time looking through a Clausewitzian lens at Afghanistan. I should precede all of this by firmly stating that I am by no measure a Clausewitz scholar, so feel free to beat me up in the comments. This type of analysis has been done many times in general before (here for example), so I'll try to add to the discussion and not repeat things.

[T]he political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception. (BK I, CH I) Ok, so what is our political object in Afghanistan? I'll quote from the White Paper on U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan: "Therefore, the core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan." Ignoring the fact that disrupt and defeat have their own distinct definitions in DoD lexicon, this is pretty straight forward. From this it seems to me that the political object is focused on al Qaeda in Pakistan in the present and prevention in the future after the first object is met.

So what is the military object then? I'll quote from GEN McChrystal's nomination hearing:

"In Afghanistan, I believe intelligence-driven precision operations will remain critical, but must be subordinate to efforts that protect the population and set conditions for governance and economic advancement.

Although I expect stiff fighting ahead, the measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence."

While I will digress more on positive and negative objects in a later post, it strikes me as odd that the political object ("precision operations") is not the primary focus of the military object ("efforts that protect the population"). Understanding that the U.S. cannot conduct full-spectrum operations where the political target resides (Pakistan), this incongruity of objects seems, through a Clausewitzian lens, misguided. Especially given the recent proclivity to equate this military object with the cessation of any kinetic operations in the political target.

In the next chapter, discussing the fact that the disarmament of an enemy force is rarely realized, Clausewitz speaks to those factors that would lead to peace: "in Wars where one side cannot completely disarm the other, the motives to peace on both sides will rise or fall on each side according to the probability of future success and the required outlay." Call me a pessimist, but it seems to me that the probability of future success in defeating al Qaeda in Pakistan is slim at best, especially if the military object isn't focused on that population or state - or even al Qaeda's allies in the Taliban in Afghanistan.

So then there's the discussion of outlays: the force required to meet the military object. There are already rumblings of additional troop requests in order to execute the population-centric counterinsurgency plan envisaged by ISAF, which will be presented in yet another study coming from military planners soon. When and if that occurs, and in analyzing the current situation, the questions that need to be asked and answered are 1) will that outlay be adequate to meet the military object and 2) will the military object ever lead to the political object? GEN McChrystal doesn't have to answer to me, but I don't see a "yes" answer for either question.

To be sure, Clausewitz is not the be-all, end-all in military strategy. But we've based much of our doctrine preceding FM 3-24 on his work, so as a nation we've put a lot of credence to his theories. There is also the distinct possibility that I'm misinterpreting him as well, but I don't think I am in this case. Thoughts and arguments are welcome.


  1. To von Clausewitz it's all kleinkrieg
    But even small war can lead to fatigue:
    Canada, Denmark, even the Brits
    Are siding with Pierre and Fritz
    In eschewing more Hindu Kush intrigue.


  2. Guerilla war faut un peu de fanatisme, right?
    That's what Le Miere said about the fight.
    Well, what is the political to the crazy?
    Perhaps the answer to drop the cutter (daisy)
    And leave as soon as you can get a flight.


  3. Kleiner Krieg or Petite Guerre
    Same for Carl C, same for Le Miere
    Same for Petraeus, Stan the Man,
    Same for Exum, same for the Taliban:
    The means and ends must compare.


  4. The Center of Gravity ain't in Kabul,
    You can't win by building a school.
    The real crux is across the border --
    The Taliban militias and the disorder
    Caused in Pakistan. That should be our goal.


  5. But we can't cross Durand's line
    So a different "strategy" we define:
    Do pop-centric on the cheap,
    Let Triage's mission creep
    Until we approach the truly asinine.


  6. Default doctrine drives our strategy.
    Well how is that the War of the Flea?
    There must be and end to justify the means,
    Otherwise we're just wasting Marines.
    Tell that to the scholar from Tennessee.


  7. Pray, tell me the ends we hope to meet?
    One would think it's to finally defeat
    Osama bin Laden and his ilk
    Not turn a pig's ear into silk
    And find a mom or taxpayer to cheat.


  8. To do just to do
    Is strategy askew:
    One eventually must indentify
    (And not simply mystify)
    The what, when, where, how and why.


  9. Find a goal and make it so --
    Means to ends, that's how it goes.
    Thus far all we have from Stan the Man
    Is a lotta hope but no concrete plan,
    And many our buddies lined up in rows.


  10. Exum once grabbed Speechboy by the sack
    Clutching his nads with his attack,
    Using Clausewitz to make a point
    That the Prussian would never anoint.
    Pot, meet a kettle that's pretty black.


  11. But even if you don't give two shits
    About Herr Carl von Clausewitz,
    How about van Creveld?
    He's underwhelmed
    With our nits trying their wits.


  12. And a very different sort of COIN, according to the French:

    Les premiers CAESAR sont arrivés à Kaboul

    Leur arrivée était attendue et elle est désormais devenue réalité. Trois Camion Equipé de Système d’Artillerie (CAESAR) ont été acheminé à Kaboul, le 1er août, quelques jours seulement après les hélicoptères de combat Tigre du 5e RHC.Ces canons de 155 mm, montés sur un camion, fourniront un appui-feu à partir des bases opérationnelles avancées (FOB) [...]

    What next? A pop-centric Arc Light?


  13. Good thing I can read French. So, a French triple-something (truck?) artillery system arrived for the first time in Kabul? Something about the Tigre combat helicopter, 155mm, and something else about a FOB. I know, I'm a genius.

  14. My favorite NATO officer says it's a derivative of the South African highly mobile truck mounted heavy artillery.

    You can also read about it here:

    The French are sending a total of eight it appears.

  15. Good to know. Tell him I said thanks.

    To get back on topic, it seems the French are aligning political and military objects better than us. Wow. I can't say that that's something I'd ever thought I'd say.

  16. I can't imagine that you're looking for a linear relationship between political objectives and military strategy in an unconventional conflict in the modern security environment. So while it seems more than reasonable to question the adequacy of the resources, rather than ask what your alternative strategy is for this region and this problem (to which I've yet to hear a remotely realistic answer yet), let me ask this: where do you see the logical fallacies in the strategy itself?

  17. If the military objective is not the political objective, how is the political objective going to be obtained?

  18. @Mad Rhymer....

    Est-ce que je vous jeter des fleurs?

    Actually, an old friend of mine would have put that - Je Se lans des fleurs....

    OK. yu were worrying me....but I see your point. Nuke Pakistan. Oh, maybe that's my point.

    Saudi first, please.

    Works for me.

    BTW - any Van Crevald links? Since we're doomed to follow exactly the path of his beloved ones.

  19. MK - the problem that I see with the strategy is that it does not adequately address the political objective. If our political objective was to reduce violence in Afghanistan and support the government there, then this would probably be a good primary strategy. But it's not the political objective.

    At the risk of oversimplifying the modern security environment, I'm trying to determine when political and military objects wouldn't be related linearly. At a minimum, I doubt they should be as askew as they are here. At the risk of paraphrasing COL Gentile, there's a huge gap between cause and effect. I'm less inclined to agree with him at the tactical level, but at the strategic level, I don't understand how you defeat an adversary when you do no harm towards him. Especially when the state in which the adversary has made camp is not doing anything about the threat.

    I have ideas on how the strategy could possibly change to meet the political objective, but I think that it's the political objective that should be modified because it's not what we're trying to do. But then we have domestic political problems, so that's probably not going to work either.

  20. "I can't imagine that you're looking for a linear relationship between political objectives and military strategy in an unconventional conflict in the modern security environment. "

    Is that worthy of comment or rebuttal?
    That sort of thinking is all muddle.
    To suggest that all of our small kriegen
    Don't follow principles of war in the region
    Is what lands great powers in trouble.

    The Clausewitz of small irregular wars,
    COL Callwell isn't one of those bores.
    It's not their size that defines them
    But rather the characteristics that condemn
    Us to wielding bad means for ends galore.

    Look only to Field Marshal Harding's Cyprus
    When it fell into its endemic crisis:
    He used a poor means, a corrupt police,
    To his ends, a long-lasting Cypriot peace,
    And watched the entire campaign combust.

    All the resources on this globe
    Won't make a prince from a toad.
    One must have some utility of force
    Or it just gets worse and worse
    As Iraq and Afghanistan showed.

    Doctrine doesn't equal strategy,
    Even if this terrible tragedy
    Is what one finds in Triage --
    That crazily murky bricolage,
    A mummy in search of sarcophagy.

    You're putting the cart before the horse:
    Doctrine doesn't drive strategy, of course,
    But only leads to doing just to do,
    Biding our time until our faint "adieu,"
    Wasting the potential of our force.

    No one is saying small wars should be fought
    Like the big ones, but perhaps we ought
    To tailor our punch to the foe and our goals?
    Hybrid Taliban insurgencies, hearts and souls?
    So far we simply procure hope, strategy nought.

    What is the end state we seek?
    How to fight an enemy who is weak
    But secure behind his Pakistani redoubt,
    Aided by the many Salafi devout?
    Well, that's my critique.

    We met in Vietnam four decades ago
    An enemy who was a hybrid foe.
    We couldn't kill or capture,
    Dissuade, convince or enrapture
    Our way to victory, no?

    The same strategic paradox
    Circles us like angry crocs:
    Two choices, and both bad --
    The Hindu Kush version of Chad?
    Or eventual win of the Taliban flocks?

    The Talib, he tells time in years,
    Long enough to strangle his fears,
    Out waiting us and our NATO chums,
    The fighting Brits and not a few bums,
    Not to mention Karzai's profiteers.

    Even if we work a miracle in Kabul,
    Pacifying the "nation" in the full,
    The center of gravity always remains
    Pakistan's Pathans, their hearts and brains
    And we can't prod them, nor can we pull.

    But what's really lost in all this talk
    Is that those numbers on the board ain't chalk:
    They're real live soldiers too soon to die
    So doctrinaires can't cross a T, dot an I
    At AEI and CNAS -- the same chickenhawk.

    Dead or wounded to prove pop-centric points,
    The flesh flayed from human joints,
    Is deeply amoral, especially when
    We know no strategy here to spin
    Or miracles, only what shall disappoint.

    Clausewitz, van Creveld, Mao and Sun Tzu
    Would agree on what's good for me and you:
    Know the natures of enemies and friends;
    Match the likelihood of our means to our ends
    And find a solution, get that Afghan clue.

    Throwing blood and treasure at a problem
    Is the crazy dream of the hobgoblin
    Cackling that we can always do more,
    Forgetting the bodies washing ashore
    In the tide of our arrogant sin.


  21. "The center of gravity always remains
    Pakistan's Pathans, their hearts and brains
    And we can't prod them, nor can we pull."

    That's your reading of it, SNLII, and one that at the same time presumes the connection between Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns and that it only runs one way: that radicalism or discontent on the Pakistani side will destabilize Afghanistan, but that improved conditions in Afghanistan won't moderate the Pakistani side. I don't see how either logic or history supports that assertion.

    As for the rest of your screed: I'd refer you back to Gunslingers' 22 July post 'Service does not an expert make' and point out that you haven't contributed clarity to the debate in an awfully long time - just derided and insulted others. Get off your soapbox and engage in an actual discourse with the rest of us trying to understand an incredibly complex situation, instead of shouting us down.

  22. "...that radicalism or discontent on the Pakistani side will destabilize Afghanistan, but that improved conditions in Afghanistan won't moderate the Pakistani side."

    MK - what worries me is that Pakistani Pashtuns also have a Pakistani identity, at least to some extent? If positive pressure is exerted from the Afghan side, why not other pressures from a different element in Pakistan? Our goals don't mesh - Pakistan has said, specifically, that India is the greater concern, and not the stability of Afghanistan.

    In relation to the VA discussion in another post, there was a conference in May, I think, called Building Health Security in Afghanistan. The keynote speaker was Abu M! I don't remember it from the blog, but I was reading sporadically in the spring.

    I tried to read some of the references linked, but they are largely power points!

    "Improving health and health care independence in other nations is just as critical to enhancing stability and preventing conflict as our other missions around the globe," - it says on the conference website. Hmm. I think a civilian surge in this area will be difficult because the skills needed, specific to rural Afghanistan, are not the skills our health care system necessarily prioritizes. I am going to go through the whole conference and try and report back :)

  23. There is more clarity and example
    In my poetry than in your sample.
    What you posit is a dream, a folly,
    Doggedly pursued, like a collie
    But no less like on strategy to trample.

    Pray, show me the historical proof
    That reforms in Kabul would build a roof
    For all Pathans on both sides of the Line?
    Perhaps they're waiting for Karzai's sign,
    But instead I'd prefer some sort of truth.

    No one is asking for combat service time
    But rather some argument that will mime
    Strategy, goals and means, ends and ways,
    Not tragedy and dreams, gold from clays,
    What a general, not an alchemist, would limn.

    You see rhyme as a glaring insult
    But I respond as an adult:
    Defend your position with some history,
    Not the hopeful stuff of mere mystery,
    Some application beyond COIN cargo cult.

    I would suggest the obvious is true:
    It's not the Talib who joined the crew
    To destabilize the South Asia region
    But rather the latter day Caesar, his Legion
    That funds the very insurgency, thank you!

    The cure is the disease, our pill the germ
    That brought to Kabul's apple a worm.
    It wiggles and chews our "strategy" from within,
    An intrinsic problem, the original sin:
    It's our "occupation" that should be the term.

    Deeply unpopular, like Karzai,
    Our puppet, you know? Our guy.
    The Taliban are hated, this is true,
    But are they so hated as Karzai's crew?
    Or US bombs that fall from the sky?

    This perhaps might make you sore,
    But when it comes to rebels, they make more
    Than we destroy, deter or detain,
    So let's just get off that train
    And instead look to what roils the war.

    Even if we turn Kabul into the Chad
    of the Hindu Kush, no longer bad
    But really, really sorta good
    The strategy remains misunderstood
    Because by then Pakistan will be had.

    Our policy is stranded like a whale,
    The Gallipoli you can see (ok, in braille):
    Even the most sincere expert will say
    We can't affect Pakistan's Pathans, m'key?
    And that should our strategy derail.

    Instead we water down our goals,
    Shift the rhetoric, switch our poles:
    No longer do we aim for bin Laden
    But rather to help the down-trodden
    In Kabul, even if they don't play those roles.

    We fight on just because we can,
    Domestic politics drive the van,
    Cause who wants to deride the "good war?"
    Surely not the pimps who sell KBR's whore
    Or the do-gooders who weep for Afghanistan.

    Our strategy has become unmoored,
    Ends no longer with goals assured.
    Do we fight and die to help the 'Stan?
    Is that really the only oplan
    Or just a pale doctrine obscured?

    This is all that we will do in a year:
    Build up the Afghan forces, tip o' the spear,
    Then hand off the fight to the Afghan
    Without a means for them to pay a man
    Much less kit him out in gear.

    They will run at the first bullet's crack,
    Rushing on their way to the back,
    Way back to their 2001 lines between
    The Taliban and the old mujahideen,
    The playthings of a regional pact.

    For India, Tajikistan and Islamabad,
    Iran, the Balochis and the Uzbek squad
    Have turned Afghanistan into a proxy war,
    Just as they've always done before
    And hope won't make that any less sad.

    What will we have to show for this?
    Thousands more dead, and we shall reminisce
    About the day before 9/11,
    When none of these soldiers sang in heaven
    Or fell into our strategic abyss.


  24. "All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible."

    T.E. Lawrence

  25. SNLII...I haven't seen the word 'limn' used in a long time. Bravo.

  26. Yeah, I know. Pathan.

    "SNLII...I haven't seen the word 'limn' used in a long time. Bravo"

    'Alice Munro "has created tales that limn entire lifetimes in a handful of pages," she writes in one citation. Robert Olen Butler "draws upon [the] ability to limn an entire life in a couple of pages," she says in another.

    The word "appears to be a critical part of good writing" for Kakutani, observed Gross. "Though perhaps in her own work, she might consider using it a tad less?" '

  27. And so Madhu outs SNLII as Michiko Kakutani. Explains the poetry.

  28. "We fight on just because we can,
    Domestic politics drive the van,
    Cause who wants to deride the "good war?""

    One thing that has always confused me about this discussion is why the fact that we are there already isn't a valid factor for why we should stay. Losing wars (and i think it would be very difficult at this point to spin a withdrawal in the next 6 months to a year as anything but that) have serious costs to both international and domestic perception of the US, and thats something that should be weighed seriously.

    Patrick Porter had a great piece on how this type of calculation has effected British involvement ( and the new Iraq Inquiry board also seems to be taking it seriously ( Maybe we should put some time into think through want this means for the US as well.

  29. Honor, fear and interest apply
    And here they stick us in the eye:
    We longer fight in Asia out of fear,
    Any "interest" remaining strikes me queer
    And "honor" isn't mumbled by those who die.

    The very history of Afghanistan,
    From Alexander to Stan the Man
    Is told through the flux of invasion,
    Lingering regrets, later evasions
    Of transient peoples, fire, frying pan.

    As the dead Greek I already cited
    As an historian his wish unrequited
    Was that Athens fighting for honor, ire,
    And fear, immolated a democracy on the pyre,
    Leaving Athenians to call a Spartan "sire."

    A larger strategic reality intrudes:
    South Asian people and their attitudes.
    Do they see our OEF as a just war?
    Or picking fights, killing rapport,
    Endlessly umpiring Afghan feuds.

    I don't mind us fighting in the region
    So long as we define ends and use reason
    To design some means get there,
    A problem the Soviets once shared.
    Now is mentioning that really treason?

    The harder case is the moral one,
    Strip away the bomb, goodbye the gun:
    How do you explain mere "interest" or "honor"
    To the mom near her hard luck goner,
    In the casket a CPL, but to her, a son?

    Staying just to say we refuse to lose
    Ain't gonna help those who ooze
    And groan, torn with their wounds,
    Their minds destroyed, their lives pruned
    Because on policy we refused to choose.

    Kicking the can down the road
    Is really a very cynical code
    Deciphered from evil transmissions
    Nothing more than sins of omission,
    "Lives for time," the wisdom bestowed.

    But still we reach the crucial question:
    What do we get for our aggression?
    If ends and means can never match,
    What sort of "victory" can we snatch
    From this object of our obsession?


  30. Thanks for linking to the report- I had seen news items on the discussion but not the document.

    My point was not that i think its not worth talking about whether we should stay, but rather that because emotions start running very high very fast i think we have not spent much time thinking though the potential costs to our reputation in a realistic, rather than a hysterical way (in other words the conversation should include things like "are we going to be able to form international coalitions to deal with security threats in the future" and "will pulling out now negatively effect our relationship with Pakistan" not "OH NOZZ THE USA IS LOSING ITS HEGEMONY").

    These seem like two sides of the same coin. You think we need to talk about why we're there and whether we should remain, I'm just pointing out that that conversation should include among many other strategic interests, a weighing of how that choice effects our relationships with allies.

  31. The real crux is regional security gains,
    Especially India and Islamabad's pains.
    Afghanistan is a proxy war that's fought
    By neighbors and the militias they bought,
    So if we left they would arm them again.

    But I ask you how we hope to appease
    India and Pakistan, who disagree
    On Kashmir and a more existential sin
    That came from their bloody partition
    And plays out in Dacca, Kabul and the seas?

    Peace comes through a peace pact,
    But here's one very disturbing fact:
    Neither India nor Pakistan seem to want
    Much quiet, really just an armed detente,
    Certainly not a permanent compact.

    Pakistan is worried about India's rise
    The Tajiks, Iranians also see the prize
    That comes from roiling the region,
    One arms a band, the other a legion
    And no one cares about some mother's cries.

    But I say that there will be no quiet
    Unless we hoodwink two countries to diet
    On calm and sweet bilateral relations,
    Comity, finally, between two nations
    Instead of more Kashmiri or Kabul riots.

    How do you sell real peace to your peeps
    After calling each other, for years, creeps?
    And after so many millions have died
    Could voters now say that you lied
    And became DC's puppet, American's sheep?

    Peace through the region doesn't go
    Through Khost, Helmand or Kabul.
    And just as the center of gravity is Swat,
    Even that is pretty much naught
    Compared to regional quid pro quo.

    What will it take to get this calm?
    Are we even holding out our palm?
    Why are we not holding a big summit
    While our Afghani prospects plummet
    And we convince Pathans by the bomb.

    Our A-team should be in Islamabad, eh?
    New Delhi, Tashkent, why not Dushanbe?
    Without a regional accord
    There will be no Kabul reward
    Anymore than hair is really a toupee.

    Honor, interests and fear
    Don't matter anymore here:
    Diplomacy is the only way
    We'll sieve gold from Afghan clay
    And finally leave or persevere.

    Ultimately Afghanistan isn't the prize,
    A land not worth our soldiers' lives
    But if you told me that our force
    Could finally mend the subcontinent's divorce,
    There might be some strategy I could advise.

    But instead we hear only lies and cant
    Pop-centric dreams and CNAS rant
    That fool no one who knows strategy,
    The difference between meaning and perfidy --
    We don't need a Custer. We need Grant.


  32. "Ultimately Afghanistan isn't the prize,
    A land not worth our soldiers' lives
    But if you told me that our force
    Could finally mend the subcontinent's divorce,
    There might be some strategy I could advise."

    Well, that ain't happening by COIN, that's for sure. Lecturing India about climate change and pushing Pakistan into actions that displace so many people internally is only irritating the region, or so it seems from my perspective, which I admit, is a narrow one.

    Well, what can I say? You watch the subcontinent as a diasporan your whole life and you get kind of cynical. The only really good thing I've seen is an improvements in the economies (and that was through liberalization of economic policy.)

    Please do not escalate into getting involved between those two in order to save some policy in Afghanistan, or some idea that you can figure it out, wonkish sorts. Sometimes you can't figure it out.

  33. el Belle - I certainly appreciate your points about hysteria. As to your first comment, I don't think people like to think of "sunk costs" when discussing the lives of soldiers. Especially those that made the decision to make the investment in the first place (or to continue to invest more).

  34. Well, Madhu, I certainly wasn't suggesting that the US COULD do anything about the subcontinent, only identifying a goal that actually would be beneficial to American (and global) security.

    I might offer some utilities to which force could be placed should we get Pakistan and India at a bargaining table.

    But I think the more important idea to take away from this is the adult realization that the central problem in South Asia is the lack of regional security, the very crisis that animates the actions of the pro-Taliban Pakistanis (who use the Taliban and other terrorist organizations as strategic chits) and the pro-NA Indians (who use their own irregular militias as strategic chits).

    Obviously, I don't really believe that India and Pakistan (and the other regional actors) are ready to stop supporting internal and external non-state forces designed to destabilize each other. Nor are they willing to discuss nuclear disarmament, a solution to Kashmir, bilateral buffer zones or anything else that might make them stop their proxy wars.

    So, until they are serious about discussing this, what are the true options in South Asia? Afghanistan will always be the boneyard of their proxy armies, just as Kashmiri separatists will always be the means Pakistan uses to tweak India.

    The key here, however, is that I identified the central problem, mentioned how the stability would benefit both the US and those in the region, and probably lead to some settlement of the Afghan problem by cutting off state support for non-state forces -- should everything go perfectly.

    Finding the core issue is what a grand strategist should do, but it's something we seem reluctant to do.

    Hoping that whatever we do in Afghanistan will somehow affect Pasthuns in Pakistan is NOT a plan. It's most certainly not even a realistic hope. It's doing something just because we can do it.

    That's doctrine driving strategy.


  35. "But I think the more important idea to take away from this is the adult realization that the central problem in South Asia is the lack of regional security, the very crisis that animates the actions of the pro-Taliban Pakistanis (who use the Taliban and other terrorist organizations as strategic chits) and the pro-NA Indians (who use their own irregular militias as strategic chits)."

    Yes, exactly.

    A few quick links:

    "Whether he intended it or not, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made himself personally vulnerable. Whether he intended it or not, his Sharm-el-Sheikh lollipop is a gamble: if there is another Pakistan-originated terrorist attack during his tenure, Dr Singh will be thrown to the dogs by his own party; if there isn’t one, as the phrase goes, Singh is King. Since the only people who can prevent a Pakistan-originated terrorist attack are the powers that be in Pakistan—whether it is Asif Ali Zardari, Yousuf Raza Gilani or the military-jihadi complex—Dr Singh’s fate is effectively in the hands of his Pakistani adversaries. Another terrorist attack during the UPA government’s second innings will certainly hurt India; but it will (okay, okay, it might) end Dr Singh’s prime ministerial career."

    One of the commenters at Acorn counters:

    "For 50 years, India and Pakistan have been locked in a stalemate where our respective power structures are vested in making no progress whatsoever. Pakistan’s power elite are evil and would kill to keep us down. India’s power elite are venal, worried about self-preservation above even national interest. We can leave our people’s fate to these folks — which means any act of daring that tries to move things forward is denounced as cowardly — or we can throw a little caution to the wind and try something new

    We are the victims of terror. We have now made an unexpected move to break the logjam. We have shown the world (again) that we are the responsible nation in the region, worthy of our growing global clout

    If the enemy’s response is the same old same old, this will be no longer about Dr. Singh’s future (which doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things). This will lead to war (aar paar ki ladai, to quote a former PM) blessed by the world, or will (less likely) lead to peace on our terms. Either is better than the stalemate which our power elite seems to prefer

    How pray does his boldness make Dr. Singh a “chaprasi” or a “eunuch”?"


    "Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday defended his government's foreign policy in after a prolonged attack by the Opposition in Parliament. Manmohan said that India had to carry on dialogue with Pakistan and severing talks with Pakistan was not an option."

    I don't know the Pakistani side of the debate very well, but I probably should learn more.

  36. Oh, to be clear, I realize that some of that comes across as bombastic, I only meant to highlight one point of view about dialogue between Pakistan and India. I'm sure some Pakistani diasporan is rolling their eyes at the above.....

  37. No, I think you hit on the central problem: Both nations realize that they are trapped in a Manichean struggle, now compounded existentially by the creation of nuclear weapons, and that domestic politics create the fault lines separating them from backing away.

    If it's Congress or another party in India, they run the risk of a politicized Hindu coalition decrying concessions to Pakistan, especially if there's no quid pro quo over Kashmir.

    Currently in Pakistan, the democratic leadership is too weak to negotiate with India and survive either a coup or another losing election.

    There actually is a nation that should intercede, that should present itself as an honest arbiter in the Bismarkian sense: The US. But the US can't create miracles or guarantee obligations if neither regime can survive the very negotiations, much less the concessions that inevitably come from them.

    Now, I'm not an expert on the domestic politics of either India or Pakistan. But this is what my friends in India and Pakistan tell me.

    So, non-state actors will continue to be strategic pawns used by both Pakistan and India against each other and, indeed, neighoring rivals.

    I won't even mention how the politicization of Islam within the largely ungoverned frontier provinces and in neighboring Afghanistan actually helped Pakistan's internal balance of power. But suffice it to say that if Pakistan agreed to quit funding the Taliban's militias it likely would have longterm consequences for Islamabad that might not be good, too.


  38. "But suffice it to say that if Pakistan agreed to quit funding the Taliban's militias it likely would have longterm consequences for Islamabad that might not be good, too."

    I wasn't aware of this. Doesn't this make mincemeat of the domino theory being touted: That nation-building in Afghanistan shores up a shaky Pakistan?

  39. The pushing of politicized Sunni orthodoxy by the Pakistani military and intelligence service for Pasthuns on both sides of the border was important for Islamabad, Madhu.

    By postulating Islam as more important than ethnicity, it helped to bring potentially disgruntled Pathans on the edge of the nation into a consensual rule.

    In Afghanistan, it acted as a safety valve, diverting Pasthun aggression against the regime in Kabul, then the Soviets and, still later, the mujahadeen who failed to keep up with Islamabad's diktat, and then the Northern Alliance of mostly non-Pasthun militias.

    Were the Taliban then an existential threat to Pakistan? Or were they just another militia used to exert influence in a proxy war pitting other regional powers, including Iran and India?

    You make the call.