All posts by Madhav Nalapat

Madhav Das Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University in Manipal, India. Mr. Nalapat writes extensively on security, policy and international affairs. He began his academic career as fellow of the Center for Political Research in 1974. He has contributed to leading publications throughout the world and has written six books. In 2000, Mr. Nalapat organized the first non-official India-China conference in which serving members of the armed forces of both countries participated. He is a Gold Medalist in Economics from the University of Bombay, India.

Bill Clinton Should Come Clean on Donors

The relationship between the U.S. and the Sheikh states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been close ever since the 1960s, when Washington took over from London as the principal guarantor of the reign of these monarchs. Hence it is no surprise that the U.S. policy in the Mideast has almost invariably been a compound of two interests, which intersect more often than they compete: that of Israel and the other (those of the GCC countries). The State of Israel is core to U.S. strategic interests, and is the Knowledge Superpower of the region, accounting for more than 95% of its hi-technology creations. Were Israel to have normal relations with the Sheikh states, the latter would benefit via the infusion of technology and intellectual resources that the Jewish state would bring to the table. This columnist has never hidden his view – even while in Tehran or Damascus that the Jewish people are as an entirety the most gifted in the world. Although small in number, they have gifted the world numerous technologies and improvements that have made life longer and better for billions.

To go beyond the region to India, were the world’s most populous democracy to spend as much on Israeli agricultural technology (especially dry land farming) as it does on defense equipment; 300 million citizens of India would not need to go to bed hungry each night. However, while defense is attractive to policymakers, agriculture is not. Unhappily for the region, the U.S. has hardly used its influence to nudge the GCC towards more normal ties with Israel. Were this to happen, the benefits from the interaction would soon be so obvious that it would silence the domestic opposition to closer relations with the Jewish state. Instead of seeking to leverage upwards their own skills, the GCC states are focused on propitiating domestic constituencies that are increasingly becoming out of touch with the wishes of youth in their countries. The spread of the internet has combined with better knowledge of the English language to create in young Arabs a desire to compete in the global marketplace on equal terms, and not simply through the sale of a single – and finite – natural resource. However, the school curricula within the GCC remain archaic and unsuited to a modernized economy. Hence there is a growing disconnect between the young and those making decisions for them, a gap that is generating a sense of insecurity in ruling groups across the region.

Instead of improving the educational infrastructure, enhancing language skills, and seeking to diversify away from petro-products, the GCC states are satiating their insecurity by seeking the overthrow of those they see (often correctly) as foes of their continued power. These are the non-monarchist rulers of nearby states. Muammar Gaddafi was one ruler such, as was Saddam Hussein, while Bashar Assad is another. Two out of the three were eliminated, and the attention is now getting concentrated on removing the third.

Neither Iraq nor Syria is any safer for the GCC potentates than they were under the previous management. The processes of democracy have made Iraq the second major Shia-dominated state within the region after Iran. Theology has brought the two together, trumping geopolitical considerations, which mandate that Baghdad ought to leverage its possession of Shia holy sites to take over the international leadership of the Shias from Tehran. Instead, Baghdad has become a contented Avis, which gloried in being second-best to Hertz. Given the challenge that Shia Islam is now facing from the Sunni-controlled GCC (at least two of whose members, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are not merely Sunni but Wahabbi), it is no surprise that Iraq has resisted the U.S. calls to team up against Iran. As has been mentioned by this analyst in other articles, the members of the NATO seem to have joined with the Wahabbi-Sunni monarchies in the Middle East to battle against the Shia. The U.S., for example, has been vocal about giving a disproportionate share in Iraq’s oil wealth to Sunni Arabs, even while being silent over the far more egregious discrimination meted out to the Shia in Saudi Arabia. Although more than 70% of Saudi oil is in the Shia belt, members of the sect gets less than 2% of the subsidies that go to Sunnis and Wahabbis.

Again, while there has been a rising drumbeat of State Department condemnation of Syria, the response to the repression of the Shia population in Bahrain has been so muted as to be effectively non-existent. As for Iran, although most of the population despises the mullahcracy, the people as a whole are being demonized as a threat to the international order.

Not only in the USINPAC blogs but in other blogs (such as or, this analyst has been critical of the uncritical welcome given to the so-called “Arab Spring”: from the start, forecasting early on that it would end in a “Wahabbi Winter”, which it has. Taking a leaf from the Jihadists in Kashmir, who use the argot of human values and universal right to camouflage their actual intent to set up a Talibanized system of governance, the Wahabbi elements who were assisted by the NATO to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi have now come into the open, imposing their own version of Sharia Law and killing, torturing, and detaining their theological, social and other foes, all this to near-complete silence from Western media or chancelleries. The Libyan example ought to have served as a wake-up call to the U.S., warning policymakers in Washington away from helping the GCC Sheikhs to fulfill their personal goal of removing regional rivals from office and life. Instead, the State Department headed by Hillary Clinton has joined with the rulers of Qatar and Saudi Arabia in calling for the head of Bashar Assad. Muammar Gaddafi, who had surrendered his WMD and his intelligence secrets to the U.S. and to European countries, ought not to have been subjected to the military assault that took place for more than six months, before he was killed like a rodent near a drain. Such an ending suited the interests of the GCC rulers, but not at all NATO, which has today shown to the world that the surrender of WMD is no guarantee for safety. It is a small wonder that Syria, Iran, and North Korea are very unlikely to go the Gaddafi way. And in Egypt, after more than three decades upholding U.S. and Israeli security interests, Hosni Mubarak was abandoned to a Wahabbi mob that hates him for precisely this reason. If the military is now seeking to prosecute American citizens, it is because they know that doing by so is a surefire way of getting the appreciation of the Wahabbis, no matter how sweetly the latter croon to the U.S. and EU policymakers and journalists. Had Mubarak been given the sanctuary that Yemen’s former president has got for the moment, it would have been proof that NATO stands besides its friends rather than feeds them to the wolves once their use gets over.

Although this may not be welcome news to the lynch mob now gathering force inside the State Department, Bashar Assad is far more preferable than the motley crew of Wahabbists that are being backed with weapons and cash by the Sheikhs. The Wahabbi fanatics will cheerfully accept assistance from any quarter. However, once they succeed in ensconcing themselves, they will resist pressure the way the Taliban did after then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel and then Unocal consultant Zalmay Khalilzad helped it to power during the 1990s.
Today, the warlords roaming across Libya are obedient to no one barring themselves. The GCC Sheikhs have created a monster that will soon turn on them, the way the Taliban did on the U.S. after it came to office in 1996. Adopting a policy towards the region identical to the (flawed and self-defeating) wish list of the GCC sheikhs is a prescription for disaster. And this is where Bill Clinton comes in. The buzz amongst Wahabbis in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait is that they have made munificent donations to the foundations and programs headed or mentored by the former U.S. President, and that it is this money that is proving to be decisive in shaping U.S. policy towards the region, and making it travel in lockstep with the GCC monarchs. Certainly such a smear must be untrue. To prove that it is so, Bill Clinton needs to make transparent the funds and other moneys that his foundations and other institutions have got from sources in the Mideast, whether directly or through fronts based in other countries. Those who claim that the U.S. policy can be purchased, the way they can in some other parts of the world, need to be shown up as being purveyors of falsehood. Come clean, President Clinton. The world knows that Hillary and you are a team. Help her by showing that the charge that you are excessively reliant on funds from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are wrong.

US Repeating Brezezinski-Casey Mistake

When Zbigniew Brezezinski and William Casey implemented a policy of training, funding and equipping Wahabi extremists in order to do battle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the international security consequences of that decision were glossed over. Even a cursory reading of the printed material used by the Wahabi cadres were ought to have shown the disconnect between their world-view and that of modern civilization. The literature teemed with references to historical events such as the crusades, and in particular, the re-occupation of Spain by the Christians. Any reference to Jews and Christians was – to put it in a highly diluted form – uncomplimentary. Given the huge staffs that both had at their elbow, Brezezinski and Casey ought to have figured out that the next target of the Wahabi fanatics, once the USSR was sent packing from Afghanistan, would be the western world.

It was not that there were no options to the recruiting of Wahabi jihadists. At that point in time, the Pashtun community in Afghanistan was almost entirely moderate, and nationalists within them would have eagerly accepted a U.S. request to get launched into battle against the colonial forces of Moscow. Instead, the moderate and nationalist Pashtuns were ignored, and help channeled only to the most virulent and extremist of the Pashtun community; elements incompatible with the co-existence of other elements in any society. It speaks for the lack of accountability within the U.S. strategic community that as yet, neither Brezezinski nor Casey have suffered any damage to their reputations as a consequence of their empowering of Wahabi fanatics into becoming the destructive force they now are. Certainly the defeat of the Soviets was a worthwhile objective, but it is assumed by those covering up for Casey and Brezezinski that this could only have been done by the fanatics. The option of using nationalist and moderate Pashtuns was – and has remained – forgotten. The consequence has been the radicalization of the Pashtun community and the empowerment of the Taliban, that “nurturing solution” to Al Qaeda.

Although 9/11 weakened the warm ties between the NATO powers and the countries and entities nurturing Wahabism, the 2003 Iraq war had the unfortunate and unintended consequence of creating an opportunity for the Wahabists to escape from the box into which they had been penned after the WTC and Pentagon attacks. The grounds for this had been prepared earlier, when Vice-President Dick Cheney decided that the U.S. would implement a strategy of outsourcing the war against the Taliban to the Pakistan army, the very force that saw the extremist militia as an auxiliary force. From 2001 permission given to thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to escape from Kunduz, to the funds provided to Taliban elements deliberately identified as “anti-Taliban” by the ISI, to the NATO-assisted removal of Northern Alliance elements from the Afghan government and their replacement with pro-Taliban elements. It is the NATO which has been responsible for the return of the Taliban, and to such an extent that the alliance is now suing for peace with the militia, although aware of the terrible consequences to the Afghan people and to regional security in general of a Taliban takeover.

2011 saw a full-blooded return of the Brezezinski-Casey doctrine of boosting the offensive capabilities of Wahabi extremists. This columnist had warned – at the start of the Libyan intervention – that the so-called “democracy warriors” active against Muammar Gaddafi were largely Wahabi in composition, and cut from the same cloth as the Taliban. That this was so is clear from the literature they have been spewing out for decades, tracts which reek of prejudice against moderates and other faiths, and which faults Gaddafi not for being a dictator, but for allowing women to go about unveiled, and for not implementing a Wahabi version of Sharia Law. To their shame, western media have dropped Libya off the radar after the killing of Gaddafi, thereby allowing the imposition of (a Wahabi version of) Sharia Law in much of Libya, as well as the killings and torture of thousands, to go unreported. The forecast that Libya would become another Taliban-led Afghanistan, a safe haven for extremists, has come true.

Now in Syria, once again NATO is arming and otherwise assisting elements that will turn on the West as soon as they dispose of Bashar Assad. Intervening in the Wahabi battle against the Shia is as future-disastrous for NATO as Ariel Sharon’s 1982 intervention in Lebanon (on the side of the Maronite Christian militias against the Shia) was for Israel.

Civil wars in Arab countries need to take place without external intervention, especially those having a Wahabi-Shia hue. Hopefully, Hillary Clinton will avoid listening to the big donors from the Middle East to her husband’s charities and foundations, and go by common sense. The repeat of the Brezezinski-Casey strategy of arming Wahabi extremists in first Libya and now Syria is a geopolitical error of the first magnitude.

Mutually Assured Destruction of Economy (MADE) Doctrine

During the phase of the Cold War between 1952 and 92, the possibility of any form of direct attack by the U.S.S.R on the U.S. or vice-versa was reduced to near-zero by the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Each of the two had the capability to absorb a nuclear first strike and thereafter inflict terminal damage on the other. Knowledge of such capability kept peace in Europe and helped the continent escape the conflicts that broke out in Asia. Indeed, the U.S.S.R was so intimidated by the U.S. nuclear arsenal that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (C.P.S.U.) lacked the courage to mount even a conventional challenge, not simply against the U.S. and its N.A.T.O allies, but also against countries such as Pakistan, that were being used by Washington to conduct a war by proxy against Moscow. Had a fraction of the munitions expended by the U.S.S.R. in Afghanistan been spent on locations within Pakistan (in particular the regions feeding the insurgency in the neighboring country), there was a high probability that Moscow would have crippled the U.S.-backed insurgency and its regional satellites in Afghanistan. So pervasive was the fear of a U.S. nuclear strike that the U.S.S.R (even under the usually U.S.-compliant Mikhail Gorbachev) went ahead with an economically ruinous strategic and conventional military buildup after Ronald Reagan spoke in 1983 of creating a missile defense system that would in theory, once completed, absorb a nuclear first strike.

The C.P.S.U. believed that this move was a precursor to a nuclear first strike on the U.S.S.R by the U.S., something that they thought was the fervent wish of every U.S. administration. When in the 1993, this columnist pointed to China as being the replacement for the now defunct U.S.S.R. in the demonology of N.A.T.O., barring a handful of strategic experts (including R D Fisher, then with the Heritage Foundation), others saw such an outcome as “fanciful”. Today, they may have changed such a view, especially after the 2011 Department of Defense strategic vision document released by President Obama, which explicitly mentions the Peoples Republic of China (P.R.C.) as being in the same category of hostiles as Iran and therefore a direct threat to the U.S. Although he has been condemned on the campaign trail as being “weak” on national security, the reality remains that it was Barack Obama rather than the eight years of George W Bush that saw off Osama bin Laden, just as it is since 2009 that drone attacks on terrorist hideouts in Pakistan have accelerated. Indeed, in 2001, the Bush administration gave a free pass to the most deadly elements of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, by permitting their evacuation from Kunduz and other locations within Afghanistan. President Obama has understood that while military power can win a territory from a conventional enemy, it cannot hold it unless it is willing to inflict human casualties on a scale made impossible by cable television and the use of mobile telephones as video cameras. To revert to the case of India, once international publications began to extensively cover the various protests of Mahatma Gandhi, the list of feasible responses by the India Office in London narrowed considerably that the People’s Liberation Army (P.L.A.) and the U.S. military consider themselves rivals is no secret.

Indeed, Afghanistan has become the first significant theater of effective confrontation between the two, with China adopting the 1980s U.S. strategy of using Pakistan to drain and ultimately defeat the military of a rival. While in the 1980s, the target of Pakistan was the U.S.S.R., today it is the U.S. itself. From 2003 at the latest, the P.L.A. has had greater influence over the Pakistan military than the Pentagon, public perceptions, and statements to the contrary. Since 2007, the PLA’s influence – and therefore that of the PRC – has been dominant to a degree that has enabled Pakistan to challenge NATO, including by cutting off supplies to its forces across the Durand Line. The preferred outcome for the PLA is a complete withdrawal of all N.A.T.O forces from Afghanistan (and Pakistan), followed by the takeover of the former country by a Taliban affiliate of the ISI. Across the world, from Iran to Sudan to Venezuela, the PRC has been boosting the military and other capabilities of forces hostile to the N.A.T.O powers, principally the U.S. It is following a low-cost, low-visibility strategy of draining the U.S. in particular via feints and jabs conducted by the States and non-state players reinforced by Beijing.

The P.L.A is no match for the U.S.-armed forces, just as the U.S. conventional forces in Europe were no match for the U.S.S.R. What prevents a sufficiently robust response from Washington to the increasing number of challenges from Beijing? The explanation may vest in what may be described as the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction of Economy (or MADE). While China lacks the capacity to inflict equivalent damage to the U.S. via military means since the mid-1990s, it has reached a stage of economic interlinking with the U.S. as it would make a direct conflict between the two unacceptably costly for Washington.

It is unacceptable because such a conflict would not involve the takeover (actual or attempted) of territory belonging to the other, but jousts in proxy locations. This being the case, the pain threshold that remains bearable in case of a hostile act gets pushed significantly higher, in view of the apprehension that direct hostilities would inflict unacceptable economic damage. Given the absence of an overt and existential threat, such as that posed by the National Socialist German Workers Party (N.S.D.A.P.) by its aggression against Czechoslovakia and Poland in the 1930s, populations in a democracy are reluctant to endure the hardships and uncertainties of war. Such an outlook helped shape the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain, which changed only after the public began to better understand the reality of Hitler’s rule. Public opinion played a significant role in French acquiescence in the 1936 occupation of the Rhineland by the German army. Given the importance of economic issues in the matrix of public opinion, states with an elected government would be chary of committing their military to conflicts where the economic costs are huge. The lack of significant domestic opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. is explainable by the absence of knowledge about the eventual costs of that intervention. Now that the figures have come in, both for Iraq as well as Afghanistan, getting domestic support for another full-scale major war would be impossibly difficult, unless there were a direct and existential threat to the U.S. itself. By keeping the threshold of aggression below this (high) level, a country determined to challenge the U.S. can do so with relative impunity, especially if conflict brings with it huge economic damage to both sides unlike Syria and other states that have pursued politics antithetical to perceived N.A.T.O. strategic interests and got blowback, China has thus far escaped retaliation. The reason for this is the dense web of interconnection between the P.R.C. economy and that of the U.S. and the EU. While the U.S. economy may be able to withstand the shock of the stoppage of commercial relations with China that would follow a conflict, the EU would find such an outcome terminal to its hopes of survival. And in a domino effect, once the EU goes under economically, a weakened U.S. may as well. Given the core importance of economics to voters in within the N.A.T.O. bloc, such an outcome becomes unacceptable and therefore, any steps that could potential generate such an outcome would become undoable. Hence the immunity of the P.R.C. from significant N.A.T.O retaliation, despite Beijing challenging the alliance’s strategic interests worldwide. Apart from assistance to regimes considered “rogue” by N.A.T.O, would such immunity extend to a conflict between the PRC and Taiwan? Interestingly, the island has the same defense vis-a-vis the PRC as Beijing itself has vis-a-vis N.A.T.O. This is again MADE. So closely meshed are the economies of the P.R.C. and Taiwan that a conflict would lead to significant damage in the former. In particular, advances in high-technology items need the willing participation of brainpower. Should the Taiwanese see the P.R.C. as an occupier rather than as now, a partner, they would be unwilling to allow their own R&D skills to mesh with those of the P.R.C. It needs to be remembered that it is the Taiwan Dividend that has most enabled the P.R.C. to leapfrog several technological stages in its efforts at matching the N.A.T.O countries in high technology. While some may point to the economic linkages between the U.S., France, and the U.K. on the one hand and Germany on the other as evidence that such ties need not halt a war, the situation in the first half of the 20th century was characterized by (a) far lower interlink ages than at present and (b) the reality of colonies as a buffer against the shocks that a conflict would cause. The situation is very different in the 21st century. In a globalizing word, the transition from MAD to MADE is inevitable; in that the level of deterrence is similar .The only “anti-missile” defense against MADE would be a significant dilution in the economic linkages binding the NATO countries with the P.R.C., an outcome that seems distant at this time.

Stand by democracy in Pakistan, Mrs. Clinton!

If the U.S. is floundering in a region hosting some of the world’s most dangerous religious extremists, a leading cause is the tribe of “South-Asia experts” nestling comfortably in think tanks, government agencies, and university departments across the U.S. Almost all of them have been apologists for the Pakistan army, as even a cursory reading of their published works during the previous three decades would testify. For years, these analysts and scholars have fed off the disinformation abundant in the ISI trough. Even after 9/11, when the BJP-led government then ruling New Delhi offered Washington an alliance against Wahabbi terror, these “experts” ensured that the offer got spurned, and that once again, the Pakistan army was entrusted with the job of guarding the chicken coop. Unfortunately for U.S. interests, the Clintons’ share with the Bushes’ and the Cheneys’  enormous faith in the “South-Asia” experts who evolved from the crucible of the Cold War, when India leant towards the USSR while the Pakistan army was an alliance partner, albeit on its own terms.

 What those in charge of the formulation of policy towards Pakistan have consistently failed to factor in is the contradiction between a stable Pakistan and a strong military.”South-Asia” experts in the U.S. have been voluble in their claim that it is the military that is imparting stability to Pakistan, and have been dismissive of the few who have pointed out that the reverse is the case. That instability in Pakistan is caused by the bloated power of the military, principally the army, which controls domestic and foreign policy within Pakistan to the same degree as the junta in Myanmar did before the last election.

It is the irredentist adventurism of the Pakistan military and its nurturing of terrorism as a strategy of war that has combined with its Wahabbi outlook and its huge demands on the economy to steadily bring Pakistan to the edge of collapse. Although the “experts” favored by successive U.S. administrations may not be aware of this, the reality is that the Pakistan army is involved in a host of criminal activities, including the transport and refining of narcotics, counterfeiting of currency, and the training of extremist groups. Sadly, all this has been facilitated by the U.S. policy of (effectively) unconditional support for the Pakistan army.

 This is not the occasion to recite a litany of the policy errors made by the Clinton administration in South Asia, except to point out to a grievous error of judgment made by the Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2009, when she secretly joined hands with the Chief of Army Staff Parvez Ashfaq Kayani in forcing the Zardari-Gilani civilian government in Pakistan to reinstate the dismissed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Choudhury. At that time, this columnist had warned that this move would neuter the efforts of the Zardari-Gilani duo to establish civilian supremacy over the military. And unless this is done, there is zero prospect of a “stable” Pakistan. The military is the wild card in the pack that has ceaselessly fomented a jihadist mentality within Pakistan society, and has created conditions that have led to contempt for democracy within the establishment in that country.

 Secretary of State Clinton has not hidden her antipathy for the President of Pakistan, nor her backing of the Chief of Army Staff.

Perhaps the “South-Asia experts” she relies on for guidance have not told her that General Kayani comes from a fundamentalist background: one that is almost completely Wahabbi. Or that throughout his career he has been a votary of the Zia Doctrine of the unity of jihadis with the Pakistan army. In contrast, while President Zardari shares with Bill Clinton a propensity for making overtures towards seductive females, he comes from a Sufi background, one where there is zero space for religious extremism. Indeed, the ethos of the Zardari family is even more moderate than that of the Bhuttos, whose apparent lack of fundamentalist beliefs cloaks a vacuum in religious attitude that was filled by a pseudo-western lifestyle. The Zardaris are religious, but in the Sufi rather than the Tablighi tradition favored by Kayani

This being the case, Asif Ali Zardari has from the start shown his willingness to take on the Pakistan military and cleanse it of extremists and their sympathizers. Instead of assisting him in this task, the Obama administration drove a dagger into its heart by conniving at the re-instatement of Iftikhar Choudhury as Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) in 2009. While there has been a much effusive comment about the “corruption-fighting” credentials of the CJP, what the U.S. “South-Asia experts” have failed to mention is the fact that Choudhury has not a word to say against an institution that is among the most corrupt in South Asia, which is the Pakistan army. The generals, as also lower-level staff, wallow in graft, to be met by a Nelson’s eye from the Chief Justice, who is equally indulgent towards Mian Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, whose family leapfrogged from poverty to plenty within a generation by use of methods that defy characterization as ethical or legal. The U.S.-facilitated re-instatement of Choudhury has turned out to be a disaster for democracy in Pakistan, because of the CJP’s obsession with ensuring the dismissal of the elected PPP-led civilian government in Pakistan. Once Kayani got his man in as Chief Justice, and forced through an extension to his tenure as COAS (again with help from Washington), he became even more open in implementing the policy that has been his signature tune since the time he took over as chief of the army.

 This is to do to NATO in Afghanistan what the Pakistan army did to the USSR during the 1980s, ensure defeat. It is no secret that China has entered the Great Game as a major player, or that Beijing is adopting the same strategy in Afghanistan that the U.S. followed two decades ago, which is to use the Pakistan army to ensure the defeat of rival militaries active in the Afghan theater. In 1998, this columnist first mentioned that China was more influential among the senior levels of the Pakistan military than the U.S. This and pointing out the Punjabi domination of the army earned him an effort from Pervez Musharraf to block him from writing in the Times of India. The Pakistan strongman complained to the former Times of India Editorial Director Dileep Padgaonkar about the unflattering comments (though accurate) being made about the Pakistan army and asked why “such writing was being tolerated by the newspaper”. Today, the most recent Kayani visit to Beijing, and his long meetings with Xi Jinping, Wen Jiabao, and other top Communist Party leaders have made clear that Beijing supports the brass in Pakistan in its struggle with the civilian establishment. After all, it is the Pakistan army that is expected to ensure that NATO leave Afghanistan in disgrace by 2014.

 This is the precise reason why President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton need to avoid repeating their 2009 mistake (of backing Kayani over Zardari), and instead support the civilian establishment in Pakistan. If President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani are given backing from the U.S. and the rest of NATO, they can resume the task that was aborted in 2009, which is to de-radicalize the Pakistan army and make it a professional force that would battle terror groups rather than nourish them.

Is Nancy Powell the right choice for India?

Although fluent in honeyed words, in substance, the Obama administration is proving to be a disappointment for India. None of the promises of the George Bush years has been realized: neither hi-technology cooperation nor an effort to ensure that the Indian military be given access to sufficient equipment in order to maintain parity with an expanding PLA.

Now, the choice of a career foreign service officer, Nancy Powell, as the new U.S. ambassador to India underscores the fact that President Obama has left U.S.-India relations with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while he focuses on the far more consequential relationship between China and the U.S.

In Beijing, Gary Locke (a former Cabinet-level official known for his antipathy towards Delhi and sympathy for Beijing) has a direct channel of communication with the White House, unlike Powell, who on occasion may find it difficult even to reach Hillary Clinton, given her relatively modest status in the ranks of power players in Washington.

During Powell’s stint in Islamabad, the soft-spoken envoy became very close to President Pervez Musharraf and her “See-No-Evil” reporting ensured that the Bush administration saw both Musharraf and the Pakistan military as reliable assets of the U.S. in the region. She believed that the Pakistan army could be relied on to faithfully implement the policies cooked up in the Departments of State and Defense, and raised very few red flags. So complete was her trust in the suave commando whom she clearly admired, the coup-leader who became the President of Pakistan.

It is no secret that decision-makers on the South Block (location of the Ministries of Defense and External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office) share with the North Block (the Home Ministry) a deep distrust of the Pakistan military, especially the army. Administrations in India have not seen any improvement in the ground situation, where irregular elements continue to infiltrate the Line of Control in Kashmir, besides entering India via road from Bangladesh and Nepal. During her period in Islamabad, Powell almost totally ignored such ISI activities against India, concentrating on the situation in Afghanistan and satisfying herself (after briefings from President Musharraf) that Pakistan was fully on board as a major non-NATO ally of the U.S. Doubts about such an assessment began only long after she left her post in Pakistan’s capital. After that, she moved on to Nepal, at a time when the Maoist groups were gaining in strength, thanks to the short-sighted policy of the former monarch in clandestinely backing them against democratic forces in Nepal, whom King Gyanendra regarded as a bigger threat than the Maoists.

Although in the course of her career in the State Department, Powell has had the distinction of being ambassador to both Ghana and Uganda. Her preferred region of interest has remained South Asia, where she evolved a distinctly Pakistan army-centric view of the overall situation. Not surprisingly, her appointment as envoy to India has been welcomed by U.S. experts such as Steven Cohen, Michael Krepon, and Teresita Schaffer. All three of them have vigorously praised the Pakistan army in the past, including the military’s quest for a resolution of the Kashmir issue on lines favorable to itself. In an op-ed in a newspaper in India, Shaffer has called Hillary Clinton’s choice “admirable”. No doubt President Musharraf too would agree, given his close personal friendship with the diplomat. Certainly, he will be ready to proffer her advice on how she should go about her task, something that he is known to do whenever he visits Washington.

Although some within the strategic community in India have delusions of grandeur about the role played by Delhi in the Obama calculus; the Powell appointment has once again shown up the differential treatment between approaches towards China and India. While the first country is a personal priority of President Obama, such that he closely monitors policy to that emerging superpower, in the case of India, Obama confines himself to mere words. The actual policy is left to Hillary Clinton who seems to regard Europe (and in particular the U.K. and now France) as not merely experts on India, but as useful interlocutors. While the expertise of the Secretary of State is most pronounced in the matter of specialty restaurants at the Maurya Sheraton hotel in Delhi (her favored haunt while visiting the country), she has very definite views on India’s role. It is that Delhi needs to behave in the manner that the U.S. and the EU decide is proper for it and forget about seeking parity with China. In that sense, the Powell appointment illustrates the much lower position of India in the strategic calculus of the Obama administration, as compared to China which has always had high-powered envoys, beginning with George H W Bush.

Nancy Powell knows the Pakistan military well and she has kept up her contacts with top generals in India’s western neighbor. However, she has cultivated far fewer links with the Indian establishment, except at the formal level. While key elements of the strategic community in India would like the Obama administration to give up its Euro-centric view of India (as a country that needs to be guided and led by the hand, in the manner of a frisky adolescent), such a development seems remote under Powell’s watch. She has been steeped in the State-Defense culture of seeing India near-exclusively from the prism of India-Pakistan relations and can be expected to follow Hillary Clinton’s instincts and insert herself into the subject almost from the day she assumes office in Delhi from Peter Burleigh, the acting envoy, who too shares with Nancy Powell close ties with the U.S. intelligence community and is a distinguished professor at the University of Miami, which has one of the best International Relations programs in the U.S.

It is no secret that the road map of the Indian-strategic community in Afghanistan and Kashmir is very different from that of the Pakistan army. Seeking to bridge this gap has been a task that Powell’s admirers in the U.S. academic community have been trying for decades to accomplish. In the final year of his present term in office, President Obama’s most urgent priority seems to be an orderly retreat from Afghanistan. Powell is among those who have long regarded it possible to enlist the Pakistan army in such a mission, if only India were to make enough concessions. Her task in Delhi may be to follow the example of another Clintonite envoy, Frank Wisner, who spent much of his tenure seeking to persuade India to make concessions on Kashmir.

Although there will be the obligatory cheers of welcome for the Powell appointment, deeper than the manufactured headlines and the anodyne statements, there is resentment that President Obama has distanced himself from the longstanding U.S. policy of sending distinguished Thought Leaders to India, rather than career diplomats such as Frank Wisner and Nancy Powell. The omens for a true India-U.S. alliance remain bleak, given Obama’s handover of India policy to his Secretary of State and her favorites. Where is the “change” that we were promised, Mr. President?

You seem to have gone back to Bill Clinton’s policy, of seeing India only within the prism of relations with Pakistan.