It is a mark of how far right things have moved in the past 30 years that even a Cold War hawk such as Zbigniew Brzezinski can come across sounding more reasonable than the putatively ‘liberal’ US president. The following is an interesting interview in which Brzezinski explicates his oft-misrepresented position on Central Asia. It also marks the clear split between the realist and neoconservative worldviews. Though both are marinated in American exceptionalism, unlike the neoconservatives, the realists have a sense of the limits of US power. That’s the main reason why all of them opposed the Iraq war. Brezinski’s comments about Afghanistan toward the end of the interview are notable: as he points out, the US cannot resolve the conflict unless it addresses the issue of Kashmir first. This same opinion was forwarded by Graham Usher earlier in the London Review of Books, and most recently by Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books. I have excerpted at length Mishra’s must-read article below.
Obama’s long speech on Afghanistan on December 1 did not refer even once to India or Kashmir. Yet India has a large and growing presence in Afghanistan, and impoverished young Pakistanis, such as those who led the terrorist attack against Mumbai last November, continue to be indoctrinated by watching videos of Indian atrocities against Muslims in Kashmir. (Not much exaggeration is needed here: in late November an Indian hu-man rights group offered evidence of mass graves of nearly three thousand Muslims allegedly executed over the last decade by Indian security forces near the border with Pakistan.) Another terrorist assault on India is very likely; it will further stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, enfeebling America’s already faltering campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
There are many reasons for Obama’s silence. Strident Indian protests destroyed the chances of Richard Holbrooke adding Kashmir to his responsibilities as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. When he assumed the presidency, Obama inherited the Bush administration’s policy of building up India as a strategic American ally and counterweight to China in Asia. Encouraged by an affluent and increasingly assertive Indian-American lobby, the Bush administration offered a civil nuclear agreement to India. India, unlike Iran, has long refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; the nuclear deal was yet another of the Bush administration’s defiant assertions of American exceptionalism, opening up India, after a long period of sanctions, to American defense companies (Lockheed Martin alone hopes to cut deals worth $15 billion over the next five years)…
But Western policymakers still don’t fully understand that the Bush administration’s decision to legitimize India’s nuclear status, and to help project the country as a rising superpower, inflamed an old paranoia in Pakistan (and indeed in China, which, breaking from its policy of befriending previously hostile neighbors like Vietnam and Mongolia, has recently assumed its harshest stance toward India in decades). After all, India and Pakistan have fought three major wars over Kashmir. In 1971, India facilitated the secession of Pakistan’s easternmost province (now Bangladesh), provoking its humiliated army and intelligence officials to pursue a policy of creating “strategic depth” against India by seeking Pashtun clients inside Afghanistan.
In the 1990s, many of the same Pakistani officials who helped supply the Mujahideen during the CIA-led anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan turned to fueling the popular insurgency in India-ruled Kashmir, which since 1989 has claimed more than 80,000 lives. Throughout the decade, Pakistan’s highly secretive intelligence agency, the ISI, trained and financed militant Islamist groups for jihad in Kashmir, even as it settled on the Taliban as its proxy in Afghanistan after that country had been abruptly abandoned by the United States following the Soviet withdrawal.
Against this background—and despite Bush’s support for then Pakistani leader and former general Pervez Musharraf—Pakistan was deeply suspicious of the Bush administration’s policies toward the region. Far from pressing New Delhi to end human rights violations committed by its approximately 700,000 security forces in the Kashmir valley, the United States seemed to be appointing India its chief ally in South Asia. Meanwhile, India appeared to be gaining “strategic depth” in Pakistan’s own backyard. As Pakistan sees it, India is using its new base in Afghanistan—where it has poured over a billion dollars in aid since 2001 and has four consulates in addition to its embassy in Kabul; the United States, in comparison, has no consulates—to support secessionists across the border in the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan. President Hamid Karzai (who attended graduate school in the Indian hill town of Shimla) also seems at least partly emboldened by Indian support in his openly aggressive line toward Pakistan.
In October 2008, a month before he was elected, Barack Obama correctly identified Kashmir as the rusty nail in South Asia’s body politic. Discussing the situation in Afghanistan, he told Joe Klein of Time magazine that “working with Pakistan and India to try to resolve the Kashmir crisis in a serious way” was among the “critical tasks for the next administration.” Obama spoke of devoting “serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach, and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this? To make the argument to the Pakistanis, look at India and what they are doing, why do you want to keep being bogged down with this particularly at a time where the biggest threat now is coming from the Afghan border? I think there is a moment where potentially we could get their attention. It won’t be easy, but it’s important.”
Yet this promise appears to have been forgotten. The most common American complaint one now hears about Pakistan’s security establishment—expressed yet again by Hillary Clinton at a congressional hearing on December 3—is that it is “obsessed” with India. Her exasperated tone makes this obsession seem purely irrational, an unnecessary diversion from the urgent task of combating anti-American extremists in the region.
But Pakistan is growing ever more fearful of an economically stronger India and its new intimacy with the United States. Convinced that America will turn away from Islamabad just as it did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan’s military leaders will be increasingly reluctant to fall in line with Obama’s announced objectives. They may well launch a few token crackdowns on militants, but they are unlikely to abandon the possibility of allowing some of them to remain in reserve in order to unleash them, at a later date, upon India-ruled Kashmir. As always, the road to stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan runs through the valley of Kashmir, and Obama’s failure to even mention a likely solution to the subcontinent’s primary conflict will doom his new strategy just as surely as his other decision to continue assassinating suspected militants with drone missiles.