Sunday, October 24, 2010

Obama's boat to India springs leaks

Obama's boat to India springs leaks
By M K Bhadrakumar

In the world of diplomacy and politics, a "leak" invariably means something and its timing is never accidental. The leak is a form of diplomatic ingenuity. Two leaks in successive weeks, appearing in New York and London in the run-up to the visit by United States President Barack Obama to India in early November, raise tricky questions. They threaten to become the leitmotif of Obama's visit.
The thrust of the "original leak" on October 15 in ProPublica, a Manhattan-based website that specializes in "investigative journalism", can be summed up as follows:
  • The US Federal Bureau of Investigation had advance information relating to the planning of the terrorist strike on
    Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people but didn't share the details with Indian agencies.
  • The FBI knew as far back as 2005 that David Coleman Headley, an American national who figures now as a key person in the plot, was an active militant in the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), had trained extensively in Pakistani camps and shopped for night-vision goggles and other equipment, but didn't prosecute him.
  • A "complicated relationship" existed between American authorities and Headley stretching over a decade since he began working as an "informant" for the US Drug Enforcement Administration sometime in the late 1990s.
  • Headley was probably an American "asset" within the LeT who turned "jihadi" at some point.

    The ProPublica leak was followed four days later by an item in Britain's the Guardian newspaper on October 19, based on a classified report on Indian officials' interrogation of Headley in June in Chicago. It makes out that:
  • Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence was "deeply involved" in staging the Mumbai attacks. "The ISI had no ambiguity in understanding the necessity to strike India."
  • Pakistani military officers were involved in the conspiracy.
  • Headley received US$25,000 from his "ISI handler" to finance one of his eight surveillance missions to Mumbai.

    Look at the deep irony of it. This was to have been a historic visit to Gandhi's land by Obama, who professes admiration for the apostle of non-violence - and the confessions of a terrorist threaten to upstage it.

    The two leaks are joined at the hip. The narrative is that: a) The US is hypocritical while professing to be
    India's strategic partner; b) The ISI was involved in the Mumbai terrorist strike but there is nothing anybody can do about it now.

    By a bizarre coincidence, the ''leaks" appeared even as the influential think-tank the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), which is wired into the Washington establishment, released a "non-partisan" report on Monday co-authored by Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state in the previous administration, and Nicholas Burns, formerly undersecretary of state in the previous and the current administrations, titled "Natural Allies", which presents an exciting "blueprint" to "rejuvenate" the US-India strategic partnership and put it on a "more solid foundation".

    Consider the following: Washington's painstaking choreography on Obama's visit reaches its final lap and a hidden hand appears from nowhere to disrupt it. At the very least, to quote a senior Indian editor: "A miasma of suspicion hangs over the role of US agencies in failing to prevent the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks," which in turn has "deepened the doubts and raised questions" about the nature of US-Indian counterterrorism cooperation.

    It is anybody's guess whether a hidden hand is indeed at work to derail Obama's India visit. At any rate, a three-way cat-and-mouse game has begun involving the US, India and Pakistan.

    US officials are in desperate damage-control mode. The point is, now is a critical time in the US-India partnership. Expectations are high that Obama's visit will lift the strategic ties out of the trough of inertia of the past couple of years.

    There is talk of easing of restrictions by the US on "dual-use" technology flow to India, of new vistas of cooperation in space and energy, a multi-billion dollar arms deal for C-17 military transport aircraft and new business opportunities in the burgeoning Indian market that hold the potential to generate tens of thousands of jobs in the US. The Delhi grapevine is that India has all but decided to award to the US a massive contract for 126 multi-purpose fighter aircraft - worth anywhere up to $16 billion.

    Logic prevails over emotion
    Meanwhile, the Indian political establishment has also so far avoided joining in on making an issue over the leaks.
    New Delhi is genuinely hoping that Obama will publicly and explicitly commit the US to working with India in support of its permanent membership in an enlarged UN Security Council. Thus, in every way, the Headley story introduces a jarring element, as it only goes to highlight that the US and India make strange bedfellows.

    New Delhi will factor in that the Headley disclosures can ratchet up India-Pakistan tensions and that the Pakistani military may seize tensions with India as another alibi for not undertaking operations in North Waziristan. New
    Delhi tunes into Obama's AfPak symphony very attentively.

    The tough line adopted lately by the US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, vis-a-vis Pakistan is making things hot for the military leadership in Rawalpindi. The US is in no mood to accede to the Pakistani military leadership's demand to be the key facilitator of any Afghan settlement, and instead has begun explicitly backing Hamid Karzai's "Afghan-led, Afghan-driven" peace plan.

    Meanwhile, NATO cross-border operations on Pakistani territory infuriate the Pakistani military. In short, as the New York Times commented: "General Petraeus seems determined to show progress on achieving American goals in Afghanistan - both military and political - ahead of a December review of the war effort ordered by Obama."

    The Pakistani military establishment is furious with Petraeus. A highly placed Pakistani general has been quoted as threatening: "Petraeus has to lower his goalposts if he wishes to see some semblance of peace in Afghanistan." The Pakistani military is hoping Obama will ultimately rein in Petraeus and sue for peace.

    But, Washington is circling its wagons. In a hard-hitting opinion-piece on Tuesday titled "Petraeus rewrites the playbook in Afghanistan", influential Washington Post columnist David Ignatius rubbished the Pakistani military's orchestrated media campaign to discredit Petraeus. Ignatius wrote:
    Gen David Petraeus appears to be making a strategic pivot in Afghanistan. He is shooting more, increasing special-operations raids and bombings on Taliban commanders. But he is also talking more - endorsing President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation talks with Taliban officials and guaranteeing their safety to and from Kabul as a confidence-building measure.

    With Petraeus in the political-military driver's seat, he can steer a process to push the disparate Taliban groups toward a political settlement. The diplomatic side of this game depends on Petraeus's ability to pound those who resist - with devastating firepower. That's why he has been pushing Pakistan so hard to step up its operations against the Haqqani network, sheltered in the tribal areas of the northwest, and against the Quetta Shura Taliban fighters, who operate from Baluchistan in Pakistan's southwest.
    No doubt, the US is also seeking a regional consensus, as was evident at the special representatives' conference held in Rome this week in which Iran participated for the first time. This political-military approach aims at progressively reducing the US dependence on Pakistan.

    Quite clearly, the Headley controversy pops up at a critical point in the Afghan war. Delhi's comfort level with Obama's AfPak policy is rising and the Pakistani military stands to gain immensely if Headley takes the center stage in the region's security discourse.

    The Indians would be downright stupid to get agitated over the leaks (which reveal nothing startlingly new) instead of optimizing the outcome of Obama's visit. As the CNAS report underscores, US interests in a closer security relationship with India include:

  • Ensuring a stable Asian and global balance of power.
  • Protecting and preserving access to the global commons.
  • Countering terrorism and violent extremism.
  • Ensuring access to secure global energy resources.
  • Fostering greater stability, security and economic prosperity in South Asia, including in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

    But then, in politics, perceptions matter. Indian public perceptions of the US are going to be of its double standards and its unreliability as a partner. The leaks also make the Indian intelligence agencies look foolish and inept, and spooks are an egotistical lot. The Indian leadership will find it next to impossible to carry them along on a path of "kiss-and-make-up" with Pakistan in a near-term.

    On the other hand, New Delhi can derive satisfaction that Obama's presidential psyche is coming face-to-face with the monstrous security paradigm that Indians are fated to live with in day-to-day life. The "leaks" may be succeeding where Indian demarches haven't. A paradox about good leaks is that like Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles, those who launch them can never be sure of their trajectory....

  • Call for 'bold leap' in US's India ties
    By Jim Lobe

    WASHINGTON - On the eve of United States President
    Barack Obama's maiden voyage to India early next month, an influential think-tank is calling for "a bold leap forward" in ties between the two nations.

    In a report released here Wednesday, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) expressed concerns that the momentum in building such ties that was gained during the two previous US administrations "has stalled" and that both countries need to take concrete steps to restore it.

    The 12-page report, entitled "Natural Allies: A Blueprint for the Future of US-India Relations," calls on Washington, among other things, to publicly support India's permanent membership in an enlarged
    United Nations Security Council; seek a broad expansion of bilateral trade and investment; "greatly expand the security relationship and boost defense trade"; and liberalize US export controls on goods that have both a civil and military application.

    For its part, India should, among other steps, act quickly to fully implement its Civil Nuclear Agreement with the US; raise its limits on foreign investment; reduce barriers to defense and other forms of trade; enhance its rules for protecting intellectual property; and cooperate more closely with the US in international fora, according to the CNAS task force that approved the report.

    The report, which was released amid a three-day "strategic dialogue" here between officials of the US and India's traditional rival, Pakistan, also comes two weeks before Obama's scheduled visit to India, part of an Asian tour that will also take him to Indonesia; South Korea, where both he and Indian
    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are expected to play key roles at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit; and Japan, which is hosting the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

    This week's US-Pakistan meeting is expected to result in Washington's agreement to provide a five-year, more than US$2 billion aid package for Islamabad, in addition to the nearly $2 billion it is supplying the Pakistani army this year.

    India has historically opposed
    US military assistance and sales to its western neighbor, fearing that the aid will eventually be directed against it. The two nuclear-armed countries fought three wars between 1947 and 1971 and another limited conflict in the Kargil district in disputed Kashmir in 1999.

    Washington is thus seeking assurances from Islamabad that all of the current and forthcoming assistance will be used only for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations against Islamist militants, particularly along Pakistan's border with
    Afghanistan. Washington and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have been engaged in a nine-year conflict there against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates.

    The new aid package appears designed primarily to induce greater cooperation from Pakistan in denying safe haven and other forms of support to the militants, some of whom are also closely associated with anti-Indian groups; among them, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which two years ago carried out a commando-style attack on high-profile targets in Mumbai in which nearly 200 people were killed.

    While the CNAS report does not focus on Pakistan, it stresses that the US and India should "deepen their dialogue" on both Pakistan and Afghanistan and expand their anti-terrorist cooperation pursuant to a memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries in July.

    The Obama White House has sought to make India a major diplomatic priority, but its preoccupation with events in Afghanistan and Pakistan has largely overshadowed those efforts.

    Last November, Manmohan was the guest of honor at Obama's first state dinner since his inauguration 11 months before and, in November, the president participated personally in the opening session of the two countries' first "strategic dialogue" held at the State Department last June.

    "Never has there been a moment when India and America mattered more to one another, and never has there been a moment when partnership with India and America mattered more to the rest of the globe," said then-under
    secretary of state William Burns at the time.

    The CNAS report, however, suggests that progress in forging that partnership is, in its words, "falling short of its promise".

    The non-partisan task force that produced the report was co-chaired by former deputy defense secretary Richard Armitage and former under
    secretary of state under both George W Bush and Obama, Nicholas Burns.

    Task force members included leading experts and former South Asia policymakers, including Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution; former assistant secretaries of state for South Asian affairs Karl Inderfurth and Teresita Schaffer; former US
    ambassador to New Delhi Frank Wisner, and Ashley Tellis, a former Bush adviser now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    CNAS, which, along with the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress, has played a key role in staffing the upper foreign policy ranks in the Obama administration, also included a number of its experts on the task force.

    The report asserts that India's "rise to global power is in America's interest", and that Washington should not only seek a closer relationship with Delhi, "but actively assist its further emergence as a great power".

    Both countries have a "vital interest" in maintaining a stable balance of power in Asia, according to the report.

    "Neither seeks containment of China, but the likelihood of a peaceful Chinese rise increases if it ascends in a region where the great democratic powers are also strong," it said, adding that India will also "play an increasingly vital role in addressing virtually all major global challenges", from international trade and finance, to energy and climate change, to nuclear non-proliferation and the exploration of space.

    The report put special emphasis on what it called "an expanded US-India military partnership" and expressed disappointment that "bureaucratic inertia in both countries" has hampered growth in that the defense sector.

    During his November 5-9 visit, Obama hopes to oversee agreements totaling between $10 and $12 billion in US sales to India, most of it in the form of advanced weapons, particularly in military-transport aircraft, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week. The CNAS report also noted the ongoing competition for India's next fleet of tactical fighter aircraft, which could earn US companies as much as $10 billion.

    The administration also hopes to shore up a landmark 2008 deal that would enable US companies to build nuclear power plants in India. Those companies, however, have been discouraged by the Indian parliament's failure to enact legislation that would exempt manufacturers from liability for accidents.

    That failure, warned the report, "will undermine the most important agreement the two countries have negotiated and pose grave risks for the relationship at the political level."

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