For Afghan Peace, India, Pakistan Must Cooperate

Since Western powers invaded Afghanistan to weed out Al Qaeda, the level of violence in South Asia has remained high. It’s not just Afghanistan is facing the consequences of more than a decade of war but the entire subcontinent.

Many of Al Qaeda’s top leaders are dead but the situation in Afghanistan has hardly improved. Rather the fundamentalist forces are extending their reach and continuing to battle NATO troops and undermine liberal elements in their society.

Afghanistan has been a battlefield for major powers for centuries. Invaders always failed to establish themselves there permanently however.

Most recently, the Soviet Union tried to convert Afghanistan into its corridor but failed due to the tangible support that was given by America and Pakistan to the anti-communist mujahideen. Now, the Americans have made the same mistake by engaging what may well be the most warmongering ethnic group in South Asia in an enduring, never ending conflict.

Despite past superpower involvement, the two most relevant external powers in Afghanistan today are India and Pakistan.

India had a significant presence in Afghanistan into the 1970s but the collapse of communist rule and the emergence of the Taliban enabled Pakistan to establish a greater influence there. The 2001 invasion was an opportunity for India to reassert itself. New Delhi allied with the Northern Alliance and Hamid Karzai to oust the Taliban and frustrate Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in the country.

The real struggle will begin after the NATO exit in 2014. The Afghan question will be one that is posed to the whole of the subcontinent. India has made economic and political investments in the country that it will surely try to safeguard while Pakistan is likely to try its best to protects its strategic interests.

Pakistan considers the Indian presence in Afghanistan a direct threat to its security. The Pakistani army, despite its support for the War on Terror, always recognized that it inadvertently helped bring the Northern Alliance to power which it so detested because of their ties with India, Iran and Russia — all Pakistani rivals.

The army has also been deeply perturbed by the sudden influx of Indians in Kabul. It believes that New Delhi is financing and training exiled Baloch leaders who live in Afghanistan. It would rather have the Taliban back in power than instability and possibly foreigners conspiring against it on its western frontier.

Instead of vying for influence in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan may be best served by cooperating to reap the economic benefits. It would be better for the region to engage in order to stem an escalation of Indo-Pakistani rivalry in Afghanistan.

There are few options to face the post-2014 challenges in Afghanistan. After the military pullout, the situation is probably not going to change. The Taliban will surely use violent means to attempt to come back to power. Warlords remain active and await the opportunity to establish themselves over the current power structure. Afghanistan could once again succumb to civil war.

A regional security force, drawing personnel from all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation member states, could be stationed in Afghanistan to guard the fragile peace. These nations have previously worked together in peacekeeping missions in Africa under the banner of the United Nations. Their commander should be elected on a rotational basis.

A second step toward stabilizing Afghanistan would be drawing representatives from all ethnic groups that live in the country into a power-sharing arrangement. It is the only way to neutralize the warring factions which are patiently awaiting the chance to occupy Kabul by force and rule the other groups.

Thirdly and most crucially, India and Pakistan would have to work together to restore a modicum of normalcy in Afghanistan. They would have to give up their infighting in the interest of Afghanistan and stability in the region. Both recognize that the talibanization of Afghanistan has not been good for South Asia. It has disturbed the peace in their own countries; inspired terrorist activity in India and radicalized segments of Pakistani society which has caused an uptick in militant activity within Pakistan’s borders.

There is no viable option for the nations of South Asia except to work together if they seek peace in Afghanistan. Unless the SAARC states recognize the gravity of the situation and their shared objective, they too will suffer the aftershocks once foreign troops pull out in 2014.

India Stands Only to Gain from Pakistan Trade Deal

As India’s commerce minister proceeds to Islamabad to talk trade, it is important to remember that progress on the India-Pakistan free-trade agreement has all but stalled. At first glance it is easy to dismiss this as typical subcontinental petty wrangling. The reality is that it is part of a much larger Indian endgame aimed at accruing maximum advantages post the 2014 NATO drawdown in Afghanistan.

When one talks of the interests of the “Pakistani business community,” these are three completely diverse streams — in this case working at counter purposes to each other.

First are the traders and transporters who comprise 90 to 98 percent of what constitute the “business community” — nonproductive middlemen who actively support the deal as increased trade volumes means increased opportunities for them. Then come the nonmilitary industrialists who will be affected by their lack of competitive economies of scale but see this deal as a very important tool to weaken the army. Lastly there is the army industrial complex, the Fauji Foundation, which according to estimates controls about 95 percent of everything including industries and land and which stands to lose the most.

India has been nudged repeatedly by the West to normalize its ties with Pakistan in order to ease the pressure on NATO in Afghanistan owing to various Pakistani geostrategic imperatives there. The devil lies in the details in exactly which sectors India will accept unilateral disadvantages which could be skewed to support either the military’s or the nonmilitary industrialist’s commercial interests. Of course should both choose to get along (highly unlikely given the current impasse) then it could strike the right balance between the two.

Engaging the Pakistan military with an active commercial stake in India is seen as the first step in ridding it of its institutionalized paranoia and bellicosity. This is not to negate the fact that India actually sees real benefits in bilateral trade but it certainly helps India gain good “street cred” with the West.

These considerations are however balanced by the more menacing undertones of this deal. Implied in it is the reality that Pakistan’s civilian government can deliberately “throw” the negotiations to damage the military’s commercial interests and in so doing advance India’s passive-aggressive democracy promotion agenda in Pakistan. Presumably some intelligence inputs would have gone in to tailor this carefully to ensure that the Pakistan civilian and military industrial complexes got equal advantages. Thus rather than being seen as a peace building exercise with India, from the Pakistani point of view, this might as well be an army defanging exercise. Given the current state of things this could actually be an internal conflict exacerbation mechanism — which India is not exactly averse to.

The sudden resuscitation of court cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani could thus be part of a determined thrust by the on-again-off-again judicial-military tie up. Recall that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was reinstated because the army and intelligence chiefs refused to back Pervez Musharraf, unlike was the case during the general’s previous showdown with the Supreme Court. As a result some form of “beholdness” of the chief justice to General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the chief of Army Staff, cannot be ruled out.

This also explains why after the initial rush to ratify the deal, its implementation has completely stalled, in action if not in rhetoric. To be noted also is that the initial momentum this deal gained in Pakistan coincided with when President Zardari allegedly initiated the “memogate” scandal.

Gilani can also use this deal to build bridges with the military by allowing the negotiations to give military businesses their share of Indian unilateral concessions. The structure therefore is that should military-civilian compromise happen with this deal, it is good for Pakistan and India. Should it not happen, India loses nothing but gains in that it destabilizes Pakistan. Additionally a Pakistani rejection of this deal will play out as a Pakistani attempt to scuttle a peace overture.

Depending on the shape of the 2014 Afghan pullout, Pakistan’s isolation will only increase and it is at that point that the real diplomatic and political potency of this deal as a tool to either ameliorate or exacerbate tensions within Pakistan will be tested.

The logic seems to be that (just like India’s developmental, as opposed to military, assistance to Afghanistan) that whether this is a win-win situation or a zero-sum game situation — it is entirely up to Pakistan. Either Pakistan can choose to cooperate and make it a win-win or Pakistan can perceive it as a Trojan horse and score another self defeating goal.

The West cannot be ignorant of the stakes and is sold as a sign of India’s seriousness toward normalization as well as a test of Pakistan’s sincerity. On balance it is an extremely sophisticated feint and one wonders if India’s myopic transactional diplomacy actually envisioned the horns of dilemma built into this.

Ultimately, like past Indian diplomatic endgames that have been counted as “victories,” this must be seen as a result of sheer luck rather than any concerted grand strategy on India’s part.

Pakistan Denies Seeking Taliban Return to Power

Pakistan’s foreign minister on Wednesday rejected claims that her country’s spy agency was actively supporting the Taliban in their fight against NATO forces in Afghanistan. “We have no hidden agenda in Afghanistan,” Hina Rabbani Khar said in Kabul.

The BBC and The Times reported earlier in the day that insurgents captured by Western forces had told them that with Pakistani support, the Taliban were poised to return to power after 2014 when NATO’s mission is supposed to come to an end.

“Pakistan’s manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly,” the BBC quoted a NATO report as saying.

This confirms the suspicion that was raised by America’s top military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, last year when he said that the Haqqani network, a militant Islamist organization that is allied to but not necessarily affiliated with the Taliban, “has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm” of Pakistani intelligence.

The NATO study that was obtained by British news media also asserted that Taliban leaders meet regularly with Pakistani intelligence officers “who advise on strategy and relay any pertinent concerns of the government of Pakistan.” It alleged that Islamabad was “intimately involved” in an effort to topple President Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul.

Pakistan’s civilian authorities may not be part of the plot but there is little question that its intelligence services and possibly its military maintain ties with Afghan insurgents in order to regain their influence in the country once NATO forces pull out.

Taliban sanctuaries are known to exist in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. NATO commanders have long complained that they hamper the war effort and that there doesn’t appear to be the political will in Islamabad to crush the Islamist insurgency on their frontier.

The Pakistanis are reluctant to expand counterinsurgency operations because they have to prepare for the eventuality of a Taliban resurgence if not the formation of a “Pashtunistan” in the tribal area that manages to assert itself independently of Kabul.

Pakistan, moreover, regards the modern day mujahideen as a wedge against India, to be deployed whenever New Delhi seeks to strengthen its ties with the Afghans. India has indeed fostered relations with the Karzai regime to upset Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in the country.

The rivalry that has defined South Asia for half a century won’t dissipate overnight, no matter America’s insistence that the Pakistanis have nothing to fear from India and little to gain from betraying the West.

The Pakistanis have problems of their own. Years of anti-terrorist operations by a majority Punjabi army in predominantly Pashtun territory have pushed the Muslim nation onto the brink of civil war. The army’s offensives in the region displaced nearly half a million people. Before the Afghan war escalated, the battle was confined to the tribal areas but since 2008, it has spread into Pakistan proper with bombings and assassinations taking place in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.

Since the United States are preparing to withdraw, it makes no sense for the Pakistanis to crack down on extremists that might prove an asset in the future. The surest way for them to fill the power vacuum that will be left in Kabul once the Americans are gone is to cultivate ties with the Taliban and their allies. If they don’t, there may be a place for India in whatever power constellation emerges across Pakistan’s porous western border in the next couple of years.

Zardari Under Pressure, Musharraf on Way Home

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari traveled to Dubai this week for the second time in as many months while his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, announced that he would return home to stand in next year’s election. With tension between Zardari’s civilian government and the military mounting, could South Asia’s restless democracy again fall victim to a coup?

Zardari’s last trip to Dubai in December sparked rumors of a military takeover. His government appears on the brink of collapse amid allegations that it sought American support to stave off an army coup in the wake of the special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

Pakistan has had its fair share of military power grabs since independence. The army ran the country three times after 1947. Musharraf led the last military government between 1999 and 2007. His successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has promised to keep the armed forces out of politics but enjoys tremendous influence as the nation has been on a war footing since the war in Afghanistan began ten years ago.

The conflict next door has deeply divided the Muslim country which is home to different ethnic groups that had never formed a nation before 1947. The majority Punjabi army is reluctant to expand operations in the western tribal region where the people are of Pasthun descent and insurgents battling NATO forces in Afghanistan are known to shelter. The army’s offenses in the region are estimated to have displaced up to half a million people. Terror has spilled into Pakistan proper with assassinations and bombings taking place in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.

The crisis is compounded the Pakistan’s troubled relationship with the United States. Musharraf committed to the War on Terror. His successors have been less adamant about stamping out the Islamist threat. Reports surfaced last month that Islamabad had been in negotiation with the Pakistani Taliban to suspend counterinsurgent operations in the frontier area. American drone attacks in the region are terribly unpopular because they sometimes incur civilian deaths.

An outright army coup would associate the military’s leadership with the American raids and overall sense of decline that is currently blamed on the civilian government. Moreover, says Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, who is a research officer at India’s Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and a contributing analyst for Wikistrat, such a overt seizure of power could precipitate a coup from the middle ranks of the army which are more ideological and dissatisfied about America’s breach of Pakistani sovereignty in order to eliminate Bin Laden last year.

The generals are cautious, he believes, because “they are simply not sure of their footing. But they also find their window for a covert coup closing very soon for no fault of theirs.” Zardari has made the ruling Pakistan People’s Party so unpopular that the conservative Muslim League may just win by a landslide in the next election. That would frustrate suspected attempts on the part of Pakistan’s intelligence services to divide parliament and weaken the civilian government in order to justify a stronger role for the military in national politics.

Musharraf is an interesting wildcard. He has formed his own political party and intends to run for president in 2013. He could face arrest if he returns home. The exiled general is wanted for his alleged involvement in former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s murder.

According to Iyer-Mitra, there is “exactly zero support” for Musharraf. “Assuming power is the prerogative of the chief of Army Staff which is Kayani.”

Michael Kugelman, who is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, agrees that Musharraf’s political prospects are probably dim. “Not only is he reviled by many for his dictatorial policies during his last few years in power — media crackdowns, Supreme Court sackings, state of emergency declarations — but he is also faulted for the country’s current problems, especially the troubled relationship with Washington.”

Musharraf apparently still has friends among the Saudis though who maintain amicable ties with Pakistan’s security establishment. Musharraf is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia before flying to Pakistan later this month. How he’ll be welcomed may be a sign of what role there is for the once president in Pakistan today.

Pentagon Study Says NATO Messed Up

Three weeks ago, 24 Pakistani soldiers dug in trenches along the Afghan-Pakistani border were accidentally killed by NATO aircraft during one of the many counterinsurgency missions that American and Afghan troops have undertaken over the past year. Except on this particular nighttime raid, the precision and professionalism that have become hallmarks of the coalition’s military campaign in Afghanistan were lost, tragically ending the lives of over two dozen men.

The Pakistani military and government, which have had a frosty relationship with the United States for most of the year, responded angrily. The Pakistani embassy in Washington went so far as to tell reporters that the NATO operation was a deliberate act aimed at loosening the morale of the Muslim nation — a viewpoint that, while conspiratorial, may be acceptable given Islamabad’s roller coasty partnership with the Americans.

Sensing that another fallout in American-Pakistan relations would hurt the NATO war effort in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense called their Pakistani counterparts and told them that a transparent and factually based investigation would be implemented. That Pentagon study is now out and to the consternation of Western military officials, it looks like the Pakistanis may not have been wrong in all of their assertions.

Although the final report has not been made public, the Defense Department released a press statement briefly touching upon its most important findings. In sum, the investigation concluded that NATO was perfectly within its right to return fire in self-defense but the coordinates that were given to Pakistani soldiers in the area turned out to be wrong.

The investigating officer found that American forces, given what information they had available to them at the time, acted in self-defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon. Nevertheless, inadequate coordination by American and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination center — including our reliance on incorrect mapping information shared with the Pakistani liaison officer — resulted in a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units.

The study is not a perfect inquiry. Out of protest, the Pakistani military refused to cooperate with the Pentagon’s investigation, which lead investigator Brigadier General Stephen Clark acknowledged was a significant setback in uncovering all of the facts.

The findings are certain to draw condemnation from the Pakistanis who continue to feel insulted by what they view as Washington’s lack of appreciation for the thousands of military and civilian casualties that they have suffered in the fight against terrorism since 2001. General Athar Abbas, the chief Pakistani military spokesman, quickly indicated that his colleagues rejected the report’s conclusions.

The completion of the inquiry leaves the Obama Administration with a difficult decision to make. Does the president “swallow American pride” and formally apologize for NATO’s part of the responsibility or will he continue to express regret over the incident without offering that apology?

At least for the time being, the White House and the State Department have not budged from their original position. A State Department spokesman attempted to take responsibility for NATO’s infractions at a press briefing after the report’s release, all the while punting questions on apologizing.

Now that US/NATO forces are indeed held liable for at least part of the border incident, the administration should in fact reverse its previous stance, privately and publicly making it clear that anyone on the American side who was part of the problem will be dealt with accordingly.

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been on the phone for weeks with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the Pakistani foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, trying to rebuild a tattered relationship. Kayani has reestablished contacts with NATO commander General John R. Allen, a good start to making sure that a deadly accident like the one that occurred on November 24 does not happen again. But neglecting to say “I’m sorry,” even as the Pentagon investigation details that NATO did in fact make mistakes, will give the Pakistanis a greater reason to doubt the United States as committed partners in the region.

The reality is that as long as the United States are engaged with tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, Washington needs Pakistan’s help — whether or not Pakistan has been truly forthcoming in battling militancy on its own soil. Absent cordial relations between the two countries, NATO commanders can expect Islamabad to continue closing down supply routes that go into Afghanistan — forcing the coalition to either spent millions more airlifting supplies or putting them increasingly into the pockets of Central Asia’s autocratic regimes.

Pakistan may be a double faced partner right now but imagine how much worse NATO’s experience in Afghanistan would be without a measurable level of Pakistani complicity. Sometimes in war, a nation does not get to choose its allies. Pakistan is one such nation — a pain to deal with but necessary for a smooth NATO conclusion to the war across the border.

Is Pakistan Talking With the Pakistani Taliban?

If the news reports from Pakistan are true, the Pakistani government is intimately involved in peace overtures with at least one faction of the Tehrik i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban.

The claim, only a rumor when it first came out, was reinforced when Faqir Mohammed, a senior TTP leader in the Bajaur tribal agency, spoke out to confirm that his fighters are talking with Islamabad in a bid to pacify his region. In fact, based on his statements, the discussions with the Pakistani government are going so well that a peace agreement may be signed between the two in short order.

“Our talks with the government are going in the right direction,” he said.

If we succeed in signing a peace agreement in Bajaur, then the Taliban in other places such as Swat, Mohmand, Orakzai, Darra Adamkhel, Kurram and South Waziristan tribal regions will also ink peace accords with the government in their respective areas. Bajaur will be a role model for other areas and if our talks prove fruitful, the same formula will be applied in all other areas where the Taliban are fighting against the government and its armed forces.

Reports of a peace deal come at a tumultuous time in Pakistan’s history. The country’s strategic relationship with the United States is at its lowest point since former President General Pervez Musharraf agreed to align the Pakistani armed forces to Washington after the 9/11 attacks over a decade ago.

The civilian government in Islamabad, historically weak in comparison to the Muslim nation’s military and intelligence services, is limping along as it faces criticisms from all sides, including but certainly not limited to the generals that control Pakistan’s foreign and security policy.

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, has just returned home after being out for nearly two weeks with heart problems, prompting speculation that the military command was taking preparatory steps to either replace him with a politician more friendly to the army or take power themselves.

With violence in Afghanistan continuing, Pakistani military officials have been bombarded with complaints and accusations from Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, which has argued that Islamabad is unable or unwilling to aggressively pursue Afghan Taliban bases on its soil.

Preliminary Pakistani-TTP negotiations will do nothing to dispel those accusations, particularly when Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network fighters continue to stream into eastern Afghanistan from their shelters in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The United States is already worried about the possibility of these talks succeeding and President Karzai will clearly not support any effort that weakens the pressure on militants next door.

Pakistan, however, does not seem too concerned about what its neighbors and patrons think. Negotiations with militants who have made it their life’s duty to perform jihad against the Pakistani state have happened many times before so the notion that today’s peace feelers are unprecedented is not supported by the record.

Pakistani militant outfits operating in the South Waziristan tribal region, at least before the 2009 Pakistani military offensive, were often dealt with through a series of quid pro quos — in exchange (PDF) for militants halting attacks on Pakistani institutions and soldiers, the government would allow the groups to operate with relative impunity in the areas of control. The implementation of Taliban justice and Islamic law was allowed, as long as these militant organizations directed their armed attacks across the border in Afghanistan.

The arrangements with the TTP have not had a clear positive effect for the Pakistanis. On the one hand, those deals have allowed the government to cut short a fighting campaign that was proving to be too much to handle for Pakistani soldiers. Yet at the same time, the peace has given militants in the tribal regions an opportunity to reconstitute their fighters, rebuild their ranks and training camps, and expand their influence in districts that were previously free from the Taliban’s grasp.

It is in this context that the Pakistan-TTP negotiations are occurring, if they are occurring at all. A Taliban spokrsman has denied that any such talks are taking place, as has Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani. But if Pakistan’s diplomatic history with insurgent groups is any guide, a peaceful outreach is not out of the question. In the minds of Pakistan’s generals and politicians, it will seem better to give peace a chance by pushing the Taliban’s focus toward Afghanistan than pursue an exclusive military campaign against them which would surely result in TTP suicide bombings in Pakistani cities as retaliation.

Compounded by a NATO airstrike that killed 24 of its soldiers, Pakistan now has an even greater incentive to ignore Washington’s complaints and forge its own way of getting the violence in Pakistan down — even if that way has not held up for more than a few months.

Karzai Balks at Terms of Taliban Reconciliation

Negotiations between the Taliban and the United States broke down after President Hamiz Karzai balked at the terms of a reconciliation proposal.

The Washington Post reports that the deal would have seen the Taliban renouncing Al Qaeda and terrorism and the United States transferring five prisoners currently held at a naval facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The prisoners would have been held under house arrest in Qatar where the Taliban plan to set up an office.

According to officials who spoke with the newspaper, the Afghan president had failed to build political support at home among powerful Afghan players, particularly ethnic Tajiks and other forces in the northern part of the country who resent the southeastern Pasthun fanatics that constitute the heart of the insurgency.

The news comes less than a week after Vice President Joe Biden sparked controversy with his assertion that the Taliban is “not per se” America’s enemy. “We are in a position where if Afghanistan ceased and desisted from being a haven for people who do damage and have as a target the United States of America and their allies, that’s good enough,” he told Newsweek.

There are risks to negotiating a ceasefire however. With international forces preparing to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 — “come hell or high water,” as the vice president put it earlier this year — the Taliban might determine that their best option is to negotiate an end to the deadly American counterinsurgency tactics and renege on a reconciliation agreement later.

If there is a reconciliation, it would likely see the Taliban return to provincial power in the south of Afghanistan where, over time, a virtually autonomous Pashtunistan could emerge that will destabilize Pakistan, home to 44 million Pashtun, unless Islamabad restores its special relationship with the Taliban — which would also enable is to reclaim “strategic depth” there against India.

The United States would probably not prevent such a fundamentalist Islamic polity from emerging. Once American troops pull out, Washington is unlikely to deploy military force again to maintain the balance of power that has previously been attained.

India, which could be a critical American ally across the Indian Ocean region in containing China’s rise, remains baffled that the United States would pick impoverished and fragmented Pakistan as a partner over New Delhi. The different ethnicities and tribes once united in the Northern Alliance seem quite prepared to deal with India but they are in the minority versus roughly fourteen million Pashtun who are estimated to constitute some 40 percent of the population.

Karzai, two months ago, entered into a strategic partnership with India. Balaji Chandramohan observed at the time that whereas Pakistan’s influence in Kabul is eroding, “there is a chance for India to jump into the vacuum that is Afghanistan and facilitate a comprehensive reconstruction effort, one that is supported by the neighboring states that have most at stake in the country, including Iran, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.”

None of these countries wants to see the Taliban return to power but they have not been prepared yet to commit more than minimal financial support to Hamid Karzai’s civilian government, let alone

Pakistani Military Trying to Push Zardari Out

Pakistan’s military is hoping to oust President Asif Ali Zardari but without a repeat of the coups that have been a hallmark of the South Asian nation’s 64 years of democracy.

The Reuters news agency reports that tensions are rising between Pakistan’s civilian leaders and its generals over a memo that accused the army of plotting a coup after the United States raided the compound of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May.

The memo, which was allegedly written by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, is said to have solicited American help to stave off a military takeover. The ambassador denied involvement but resigned over the controversy.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the military has sought to run the country. Pakistan has had three army coups since it won independence and separated from India in 1947. The last president, Pervez Musharraf, was an army general and led a military government between 1999 and 2007. His successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has promised to keep the armed forces out of politics but enjoys tremendous influence as the nation has been on a war footing since the conflict in Afghanistan began ten years ago.

The war on terror has pushed the Muslim nation onto the brink of civil war. The majority Punjabi army is reluctant to expand operations in the western tribal area where the people are of Pasthun descent and insurgents battling NATO forces in Afghanistan are known to shelter. The army’s offenses in the region are estimated to have displaced up to half a million people.

The war has spilled into Pakistan proper with assassinations and bombings taking place in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died as a result of the conflict.

On top of that, the country suffered flooding and devastation twice this year and last, draining the fractured civilian government in Islamabad of the resources it needed to hold the country together.

Zardari was absent from Pakistan before this week. Despite rumors of a coup already haven taken place, he went to undergo medical treatment in Dubai.

His position is largely ceremonial but the president wields considerable power as the leader of Pakistan’s ruling party. His forced departure would be a blow to the civilian authorities and could throw the country into turmoil.

American Senators Push for Engagement with India

Republican senators on Tuesday were critical of sustained American aid to Pakistan and called for a deeper engagement with India instead. Mark Kirk suggested “making India a military ally of the United States” and said he encouraged it “to fill the vacuum in Kabul once we leave.”

Lawmakers suspended $700 billion worth of financial support until Pakistan convinces them that it is providing all the help it can in battling the production and spread of improvised explosive devices in the region which target American troops operating in neighboring Afghanistan.

The opposition legislators responded to mounting public pressure to penalize Islamabad for its perceived lackluster effort in combatting militant Islamists in the region and sheltering terrorist leader Osama bin Laden who was found to be hiding in a Pakistani garrison town in May where he was killed by American special forces.

The United States have spent $20 billion in security and economic aid to Pakistan since 2001, much of it in the form of reimbursements for assistance in fighting militants.

Although Pakistan has lost more soldiers in the War on Terror than any other country, its intelligence services still maintain ties with mujahideen because it seeks “strategic debt” for Pakistan in Afghanistan in the event of an armed conflict with India.

The former chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress in September that the terrorist Haqqani network in particular, which is allied to the Taliban, “has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm” of Pakistan’s spy agency.

Illinois senator Mark Kirk cited Haqqani when he argued that military aid to Pakistan is unsustainable. If the country choses “to embrace terror and back the Haqqani network,” he said, it should do so “without subsidies from the American taxpayer.”

Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is leading proponent of intensifying the Afghan campaign in Congress, scolded Pakistan last month when he claimed that “the vast majority of the material used to make improvised explosive devices originates from two fertilizer factories in Pakistan.” Hence his insistence on Tuesday that Pakistan dismantle these plants if it is to continue to receive financial support from the United States.

McCain, who has favored strong American ties with India at least since his failed 2008 presidential campaign, reiterated his position on Tuesday that an Indo-American relationship could also check Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean region.

The administration has so far hesitated to deepen ties with India because it needs Pakistani support in the War on Terror. Many of the insurgents operating in Afghanistan maintain shelters in western Pakistan.

American drone attacks against suspected insurgent and terrorist targets in Pakistan’s frontier area are deeply unpopular there however because they sometimes incur civilian losses. What is more, years of anti-terrorist operations by a majority Punjabi army in the predominantly Pashtun territory has pushed the Muslim nation onto the brink of civil war. The army’s offensives in the northern and western tribal areas displaced nearly half a million people. Whereas the conflict used to be confined to the border, bombings and assassinations now regularly take place in Pakistan proper.

With the international coalition prepared to pull out of Afghanistan militarily in 2014, it makes little sense for the Pakistanis to continue to hunt down extremists who might prove an asset in the future. Indeed, the surest way for Pakistan to fill the power vacuum that is likely to result from an American withdrawal is to cultivate ties with the Taliban and its allies. If it doesn’t, there may be a place for India in whatever power constellation emerges across Pakistan’s porous western border three years from now.

Why Pakistan Craves America’s Attention

One of the jokes that went around during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Pakistan was that America acts like a mother in law who wants her daughter in law, Pakistan, to behave better.

The analogy may be dismissed as trash in the seriousness of international diplomacy but there’s a measure of truth in the comparison. Pakistan has failed to live up to the promise of nationhood and the United States have reason to be frustrated.

There is, however, plenty of blame to go around. One might well argue that Pakistan’s current failures are due to American interference during the Cold War when the West was eager to use the country to check Soviet ambitions in Central and South Asia and limit India’s influence across Eurasia.

The ideology that accompanies a nation’s birth is likely to remain with it for many years. India in recent months has faced civil unrest and protests against corruption but no blood was shed. The country, after all, gained independence nonviolently. It’s a tradition that resonates in India up to his very day.

Pakistan, for much of its existence, received the attention of world powers Russia and the United States. Although the Cold War is over, Pakistan’s elite and military establishment seem to believe that if they don’t win the attention of foreign powers anymore, they are failing to live up to their predecessors and Pakistan’s national character. If the world’s great powers don’t care about Pakistan anymore, there’s a good chance that India’s economic rise one day causes another part of Pakistan to secede as happened with East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971.

The Americans seem likely to take their hands off Pakistan come 2014 when they retreat from Afghanistan but there’s a silent player to this puzzle. China has been an ally of Pakistan’s since the 1962 war with India. Both countries seek to contain India’s rise and prevent it from asserting itself outside of South Asia although from the Pakistani perspective, New Delhi is a more direct foe.

If the 1962 skirmish is overlooked, China and India have lived comfortably in their own spaces for thousands of years. Beijing regards India as an economic competitor foremost and will not be tempted to boost Pakistan’s defenses to such an extent that it might be drawn into a conflict with New Delhi.

That leaves Pakistan in need of support from Washington. It helped drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s and has been a partner in the War on Terror, positioning itself as a reliable and fairly secular Sunni partner in the struggle against radical Islam and Shia Iran.

There’s one blind spot. If China and India continue to rise and the United States engage India to balance against Chinese expansionism in East Asia, Pakistan will have to play a double game of helping both China and the United States. In its war against militant Islamists, Pakistan has had ample experience serving two contradictory goals but in a cold war between superpowers, the stakes are much higher and Pakistan’s strategy of serving two masters could fall apart.