In the epicentre of terrorism
FOLLOWING India’s proactive diplomacy in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attack that put Pakistan in compliance mode for meeting the UN’s demand for a ban on Jamaatud Dawa, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has charged that Pakistan is the “epicentre of terrorism”.
Although it is a victim of terrorism, this impression plus reports in the media establishing possible links of the lone surviving terrorist with Faridkot in Punjab, has put Pakistan in deep trouble.
The situation has been further aggravated by the US warning of unintended consequences if Pakistan did not act against the non-state actors who allegedly used its soil to stage attacks in Mumbai. Signals from Washington ruptured the bipartisan comprehensive dialogue, emboldened New Delhi and caused it to adopt a combative posture perhaps to evade the demand for a bipartisan investigation of the Mumbai tragedy.
Amid this hype a Shiv Sena member of parliament Mohan Rawale said India should attack Pakistan in the wake of the terror strikes. Some analysts have called for taking over Pakistan. And the world community remains unconcerned.
With demands for Pakistan to ‘do more’, Pakistan has claimed that India has yet to provide concrete evidence. However, Pakistan initially did not take serious notice of Dr Manmohan Singh’s accusation and sank deep into its shell, perhaps with the hope that those who have a strategic partnership with New Delhi would bail it out of trouble. But questions are being asked as to why the Indians have raised the stakes. Do they really want to banish terrorism or are they trying to prove that Pakistan is an irresponsible state not worthy of being in possession of nuclear capability? Or is all this aimed at circumventing serious bipartisan responsibility for the Mumbai carnage?
Be that as it may, while the peace process has been converted into an exercise in warmongering, especially in India, Pakistan’s leadership, both civilian and military, has been unable to comprehend the consequences of being in denial and adopting an apologetic mode, despite being the target of several terrorist attacks, one of which took the life of Benazir Bhutto, the ruling party’s late chairperson, last December.
It was a failure of Pakistan’s diplomacy. Shrugging off responsibility is not the solution. Pakistan must engage the international community in a cooling-off period and embark on a determined diplomatic offensive focused on regional capitals, especially Beijing which did not oppose the passage of the UN resolution. The situation has arisen because the new government which was elected on the agenda for change, especially in its foreign policy including the war on terror that has destabilised Pakistan from within, continues to pursue Gen Pervez Musharraf’s policies.
Everything seems to be in a mess. We have been consistently maintaining that we have no involvement in the Mumbai incident and that the terrorists had nothing to do with us. But suddenly we launch a crackdown on organisations accused by India of complicity, with the US firmly stating that Pakistani soil has been used in the incident. The Indians maintained the pressure and even produced the electoral listing of the parents of Ajmal Kasab, one of the terrorists in the Mumbai tragedy. Media investigation reports have further embarrassed the government. In addition we misread the so-called telephone call by Pranab Mukherjee. Was it part of an elaborate plan to ratchet up the pressure on the Pakistani government to crackdown on militant organisations?
Fears were also expressed that the Indians were contemplating an attack on Pakistan. But why should they do so when we have provided enough of a pretext to Nato forces to embark on surgical operations inside Pakistan owing to our failure to provide security to their logistic supplies and in combating the Taliban? If they can operate with impunity in Peshawar, which place is safe? Many people think that the initial reaction to threaten to pull out troops from the western borderland, in response to the Indian tirade, was also mishandled and strengthened the Indo-US-Israeli plank. Our security agencies have a lot of explaining to do in this regard.
However, the fact remains that whether or not the world community is pressuring us, we must clean up our own house and eliminate the terrorists. While the operation against the militant groups must be a sustained process, we must also ask the world community to fulfill its responsibility by ensuring the early repatriation of 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Coalition forces in Afghanistan must create conditions for their settlement as equal citizens in their homeland. This is necessary because refugee settlements provide the best sanctuary for the militants. This is a failure of the international community which accuses Pakistan of harbouring the terrorists. Pakistan must also ask the allied forces in Afghanistan to ensure that while they launch operations against the Taliban, these elements are not pushed into Pakistan.
But most of all, Pakistan must insist on addressing the root causes of terrorism be these in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal or Bangladesh by adopting a regional approach. Mr Pranab Mukherjee was opposed to including the resolution of the Kashmir issue in the context of terrorism, but Pakistan must insist on that besides stressing on joint investigation and the sharing of intelligence.
Despite media investigation reports about Ajmal Kasab, joint investigations are necessary because one cannot rule out the possibility that elements like the ones who were involved in the Samjhota Express blast and the Malegaon massacre have had something to do with aggravating the situation. After all India’s Anti Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, who was investigating the involvement of the serving Lt Col Purohit of the Indian military intelligence, along with others, was among the first victims of the terrorists in Mumbai. A joint investigation is also necessary to verify the controversial confessional statement of Ajmal Kasab and different accounts of the incident involving him.
The new US outlook
WHICH way Pakistan will go in the next few years — perhaps in the next decade or two — will be influenced by some developments over which Islamabad has little control. The shape of things to come will be determined by how the administration of president-elect Barack Obama views Pakistan; what kind of stance India adopts towards the country after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai; and what kind of relations develop between the US-led West and the Muslim world of which Pakistan is an important part.
Pakistan, given its unending reliance on external capital flows, has to pay attention to how it is perceived by those who provide the resources the country relies on for running its economy. The most important of these remains the US but the Middle East also matters: Pakistan is now a major recipient of foreign direct investment from that part of the world, and the last thing the oil-producing countries of the Gulf want is a major conflict on their borders. Today I will focus on America’s changing perceptions regarding its interests in South Asia.
As America’s 44th president, Barack Obama has little in common with President George W. Bush whom he succeeds next month. Bush was not a deep thinker. He was not curious about the way the world works. He was also remarkably stubborn about changing the course he had adopted once he had followed it for a while, even when it became clear that disaster awaited. He was proud of the fact that he allowed his instincts and God’s direction to guide him in fashioning public policy.
Obama, on the other hand, is in favour of letting his ideas be shaped by people who are as bright as he is and who have more experience in government affairs. The Washington Post recently published an interesting analysis of the type of people Obama was bringing into his administration. It pointed out that of Obama’s top 35 appointments so far 22 have degrees from an Ivy League school or one of the top British universities.“While Obama’s picks have been lauded for their ethnic and ideological mix, they lag diversity in one regard: they are almost exclusively products of the nation’s elite institutions and generally share a more intellectual outlook than is often the norm,” said the newspaper. The world view of this group will be very different from the people who governed from Washington for eight years under the leadership of President Bush.
One difference between the approach of Obama’s people and that of the people they are succeeding is the strong belief that the world is interconnected, more so than ever before. President Bush and his team were exponents of the point of view that is generally referred to as ‘American exceptionalism’. According to this, America is very different from the rest of the world. It has a unique place in the community of states and has the responsibility of spreading its system of values to other parts of the world.
This reading of America’s history and its world vision prompted the Bush administration to articulate four objectives as a part of the strategy in international affairs. The first was that having defeated the Soviet Union in the conflict over ideologies that marked the Cold War era, America was not prepared to allow any other country to challenge its power.
Second, it was not only the sole surviving superpower, it was an uberpower, with so much economic and military strength concentrated in its hands that no country should dare to challenge it.
Third, it was prepared to launch pre-emptive strikes if it felt that its strategic interests were threatened.
Fourth, it would promote the adoption of what President Bush regarded as universal values. Most important of these was democracy: governments should be run by the will of the people exercised openly and transparently.
All this constituted a remarkable change from the realism of policymakers such as Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft who were big influences on the previous Republican administrations. They took the world as it was; it was not America’s business to reshape it. Its only concern was to properly read the world and to ensure that within what existed America would be able to protect its strategic interests.
The Bush doctrine turned out difficult to pursue. The rest of the world was not prepared to accept that America could proceed unchecked, accomplishing the mission it had defined for itself without consulting its allies.
Even when democracy was tried as a way of organising the affairs of governments, it turned out that elections produced results the Americans did not like. This happened in Gaza and Lebanon where the citizens elected Hamas and Hizbollah respectively. The notion that America could do it on its own began to be challenged by several European countries and by China. The latter was rapidly gaining on America in the field of economics.
When Obama campaigned he promised change. It was clear that the Americans also wanted to proceed on a different course. He has been elected and there is no doubt that change will come. This is why Islamabad has to take serious note of the rapidly changing perceptions in Washington as a new administration takes shape.
The government headed by Barack Obama will bring an entirely new style of governance and thinking about international affairs. One thing is already clear: Obama and his talented and experienced team will bring a holistic approach in dealing with the various problems in the world the US must confront. Unlike President Bush, President Obama will look at the world from more angles than only that of terrorism. And even where terrorism is concerned he is likely to go deeper to determine its cause than to use the bring-’em-on approach President Bush followed.
In a remarkably lucid 45-minute interview with journalist Tom Brokaw on the popular news programme, Meet the Press, president-elect Obama covered a number of areas where his administration would get deeply involved the moment it was sworn into office. South Asia is one of them. President Bush looked at the countries of this region from the perspective of two of his concerns. His preoccupation with terrorism had him focus on Pakistan. And his concern about rising China was the main reason for his efforts to develop a close relationship with India. Obama promises a different kind of engagement with South Asia. Islamabad would do well to prepare itself for the new dialogue with Washington.
Foreign policy and energy needs
IT is something of an understatement that the foreign policy of nations is heavily influenced by global energy needs. The geographical factor alone emphasises this. Petroleum reserves are extremely localised in their existence. Less than 10 countries hold over 85 per cent of the total global oil and gas reserves.
Securing the desired level of supplies from petroleum-rich countries is therefore at the heart of tough realpolitik, for a number of countries (particularly major global economic and military powers) with rare exceptions are energy deficient. Alliances are formed not with those that are liked, but with those that are needed to meet ever-growing energy requirements.
The pivotal role of energy in the architecture of foreign policy is a phenomenon that surfaced for the first time with the advent of the 20th century. By that time, there was broad realisation of the economic benefits of oil and a desire to control oil resources had begun to feature in western politics.
Just before the First World War, Britain’s decision in 1912 to convert its battleships to run on oil in order to maintain naval hegemony gave birth to a new geopolitical age. The switch-over from coal to oil, the latter a fuel that did not exist inside Britain unlike coal, was a strategic move that demanded a secure supply of oil. Winston Churchill substantiated this in the following terms: “We must become the owners, or at any rate the controllers at the source, of at least a proportion of the oil which we require.”
The vigorous pursuit of oil thus became an important feature of the British campaign in several parts of the world. The same year Britain bought the controlling rights of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Having discovered oil in Iran in 1908, the company was formed in 1909 as a subsidiary by another British company, namely Burmah Oil Company.
The powerful role of oil in the make-up of international relations became more evident after the First World War that significantly changed the geopolitical landscape. Apart from Britain and France, a number of other emerging powers including Russia, the US and Japan paid special attention to establishing ties with oil-rich countries. The conclusion of the Second World War presented the US, arguably the most powerful nation, a status that it has maintained thus far.
On the eve of the Second World War the US was self-sufficient in its energy requirements producing over 60 per cent of the world’s oil. With demand on the rise globally, US policymakers were aware of the intense competition for oil in the years ahead. Immediately after the war, the US started manoeuvring to replace the influence in the Middle East of Britain and France, both greatly weakened by the war, by its own. Washington’s motives in this regard not only aimed to contain Russia and become the predominant power but also to be the principal beneficiary of oil wealth. A top US State Department official in 1945 substantiated US policy in this regard: “A review of the diplomatic history of the past 35 years will show that petroleum has historically played a larger part in the external relations of the United States than any other commodity.”
The second half of the last century also witnessed a number of oil-driven geopolitical moves in the world. Although helping strengthen ties among nations, oil also contributed to triggering numerous frictions and conflicts. The use of oil as a weapon during the Arab oil embargo of 1973 — second in history after the US embargo on Japan in 1941 — and Iraq’s invasion of Iran (1980) and Kuwait (1990) are some of the leading paradigms.
The nominated trade secretary in the US president-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet, Bill Richardson, who also served as the secretary of energy with Bill Clinton, in 1999 reflected upon oil’s importance during the last century in the following terms: “Oil has literally made foreign and security policy for decades. Just since the turn of this century, it has provoked the division of the Middle East after World War I; aroused Germany and Japan to extend their tentacles beyond their borders; the Arab oil embargo; Iran versus Iraq; the Gulf War. This is all clear.”
The unfolding geopolitical landscape of the 21st century appears to have an even more prominent role in petroleum resources than that of the last century. Along with oil, gas is also set to become a coveted commodity. Sino-US ties are already under stress over the growing competition for petroleum reserves. For almost a decade now, in order to satisfy its rapidly growing energy requirements, China has been proactively pursuing the goal of increased shares in petroleum resources. In China’s foreign policy towards many parts of the world, particularly Africa, the Middle East and the Caspian Sea region, oil holds a critical status. China’s vibrant policies in these regions are being watchfully monitored in Washington.
Alongside the US and China, there are a few other proactive players on the chessboard of the future energy world. Russia, for instance, holding the largest gas reserves and seventh-largest oil reserves in the world, has emerged as an energy superpower. Particularly in Europe, that imports almost half of its natural gas and 30 per cent of its oil requirements from Russia, there is a growing degree of apprehension that the Kremlin may try to ride on its rich petroleum reserves to regain the powerful status it held during the time of the former USSR.
European countries were reminded of the strong Russian position during the recent Georgia-Russia conflict. Despite a strong push from various member states, the European Union could not impose sanctions on Russia, thanks to Germany that snubbed the proposal for sanctions warning against the dire energy crisis the move would have triggered.
The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy at the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK.