A South Asian Pitfall for the New President
by J. Sri Raman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Far from Barack Obama's battleground, a second-tier city in India's deep south witnessed, on October 26, a fervently devout mass prayer for the Democratic candidate's victory in the presidential election of November 4. The man behind the event, a P. R. Krishnakumar, identified as an astrologer, made a patriotic case for the prayer. "Obama has vouched that India will be top priority [for him]," he told the media. He also mentioned the significance of Obama's candidature as a symbol of progressive causes.
Krishnakumar, however, did not stop there. According to a newspaper report from the textile center of Coimbatore, in the State of Tamilnadu, he stressed a larger South Asian issue as well. "Lauding Obama's determination to 'get' Osama [bin Laden]," Krishnakumar added that "the statement could have earned Obama several enemies ... these special poojas [prayers] will 'protect' Obama from 'evil forces.'"
This particular part of the prayer points to a pitfall, from which Obama will need even greater protection if and after he makes history by winning the election.
The astrologer was articulating an eager and wider anticipation, based not on the stars but on the idea of a "strategic partnership," seen as stronger now than ever before. He was voicing the expectation from an important section of India's political spectrum for an extension of the partnership in the region.
Influential elements in the New Delhi establishment, which pit and promote the "partnership" against regional peace, see new opportunities in Obama's call to replace the "surge" in Iraq with a stronger offensive against al-Qaeda in the unruly Afghan-Pakistan outback.
Spelling out his stand forcefully during the debate with McCain in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 7, the Senator said: "... the war against terrorism began in that region and that's where it will end. So part of the reason I think it's so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan government to do what it needs to do...."
Obama added, "And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden; we will crush al-Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority."
There should be no need to dilate upon the dangers of such a course. The terrain, which has proven tough and treacherous repeatedly throughout history, is not going to turn any more hospitable in the months to come. We have talked, in these columns before, of a Washington-Pentagon plot to give the Soviets their Vietnam war in 1998, which ended up a decade later in the US giving itself an Afghan war (Bush Army in Brzezinski's Afghan Trap, June 20, 2008).
The Afghan trap for the US has consisted largely in its embroilment in a war in which it was paying for both sides - the forces of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's regime and the Taliban warriors whose ties with Pakistan's army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are no tightly guarded secret. Direct US intervention, however, may not prove any less dangerous.
Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, regarded as close to Washington, was among the first to protest against the US bombing of civilians in the borderland and the threat of a military response. President Asif Ali Zardari, with no reputation as a flaming anti-US rebel, has followed suit. True, the threats have not stopped the bombings. But these incidents have not increased popular support for any final anti-al-Qaeda push.
Enemies of regional peace, especially the painfully surviving "peace process" between South Asia's nuclear-armed neighbors, can be counted upon to try and exploit the Obama-proposed policy for their own end. Their friends in India's far right, hoping to win at the hustings and return to power in New Delhi next year, are likely to look at it all in the same light. They can also count on collaboration in this regard from their counterparts in a currently far-from-stable Pakistan.
The promised kind of offensive against al-Qaeda can fuel - and is already fueling - fears in Pakistan, and hopes in India, of a US-India-Afghanistan axis. The talk of such an axis, continuing ever since the July bomb blast at the Indian mission in Kabul blamed on the ISI, has only increased the odds against the recently resumed "peace process."
There are indications that the anti-peace camp is already preparing to profit by the prospect of the axis. As far back as the third week of September, leading Pakistani newspaper Dawn quoted Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg as saying that India and Afghanistan had signed a defense pact, by which India would be deploying some 150,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2009. The report has caused much more than a ripple in Pakistan, while it has not been officially denied in India until now.
Related to the idea of the axis was also the report about US Army chief George Casey's visit earlier in October, under Indian auspices, to the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battleground that saw India-Pakistan hostilities in 1999. Washington's response to Pakistan's remonstration at the visit was more than just to ignore it. It was, in fact, made clear that the visit was part of a study of "Indian expertise and tactics in high-altitude battlefield conditions, which could come in handy for US troops in Afghanistan's front with Pakistan."
In our earlier article mentioned before, we said Brzezinski, by laying an Afghan trap for the Soviets, "had set a trap for George W. Bush and, possibly, his successors, too." South Asia will hope Obama belies such apprehensions.