The Real Tragedy of Memogate

The key lesson of the Memogate controversy is the readiness of the Pakistani political class to exploit the civil-military imbalance for tactical advantage.

On one level, the widening Memogate mystery/conspiracy drama playing out in Pakistan is yet another example of the endemic dysfunctions between the powerful security establishment and their nominal civilian masters that have lead the country throughout its history to the brink of ruin. But the affair also demonstrates the long-running failure of the political class to understand that, even in the throes of competitive politics, it has a common interest – indeed a fiduciary obligation – in upholding the principle of civilian supremacy over the military.

The unfolding saga centers on an unsigned backchannel note delivered to U.S. military authorities following the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. The document, whose authenticity has yet to be ascertained, requests U.S. help in preempting a feared military coup against Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. In exchange, a host of tantalizing, albeit incredible, concessions is offered, including:

 installation of a new national security team in Islamabad filled with pro-American officials;

 transferring to U.S. custody the leaderships of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Haqqani insurgent network;

 giving American forces “carte blanche” to conduct operations on Pakistani territory;

 bringing greater transparency to Pakistan’s swelling nuclear arsenal;

 abandoning support of militant groups in Afghanistan.

Suspicions over the note’s provenance have come to rest with Zardari himself, and Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, a close Zardari ally as well as outspoken critic of the Pakistani military, is alleged to have orchestrated its delivery.  Both men have denied involvement.  But the controversy has now cost Haqqani his job and speculation is rife that army leaders will utilize the uproar to further diminish Zardari, perhaps even ousting him from office.

Nawaz Sharif, the leader of Pakistan’s main opposition party, has now waded into this combustible mix. His remarks this past weekend offer a particularly egregious example of the political class habitually using the issue of civil-military relations for myopic gain. Speaking at a political rally, Sharif blasted Zardari for “bargaining on national sovereignty and people’s self-respect.” He thundered that Haqqani is “asking the U.S. to control the Pakistani military when we should resolve our own problems.” His younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, has likewise charged Zardari with selling out the country’s sovereignty, while Sharif’s political supporters even accuse Zardari of committing treason.

Given how Nawaz once committed the very same acts for which he is now bludgeoning Zardari, he is trafficking in rank hypocrisy. In 1999, during Nawaz’s second stint as prime minister, he was the target of considerable criticism, including accusations of undermining the army’s honor and betraying the Kashmir cause, for cutting a desperate deal with President Bill Clinton to end the Kargil War. (A vivid portrait of Nawaz’s panicky state at the time, which included apprehensions that his life was endangered, is contained in Bruce Riedel’s first-hand account about the deal.) Fearing that the Pakistani army, under the leadership of General Pervez Musharraf, was about to take its revenge by overthrowing him, Nawaz urgently dispatched Shahbaz to Washington to seek the Clinton administration’s intercession.

As British journalist Owen Bennett-Jones relates in his acclaimed book, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, Shahbaz pleaded that Washington had a moral obligation to protect his brother given the political risks he ran on Kargil. But Shahbaz also padded his case by passing along Nawaz’s offer to take a harder line with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and help hunt down Bin Laden. The trip had the desired effect when U.S. officials signaled their opposition to “extra-constitutional actions” against Nawaz.

In the end, the warning shot failed to avert a military take-over and Sharif was expelled from the prime ministership and subsequently exiled to Saudi Arabia. Given his vexatious history with the army chieftains, one might expect Sharif to have a greater sense of solidarity regarding Zardari’s own travails with the military. Yet there he was over the weekend appearing to pander to the generals in Rawalpindi, announcing that his antagonisms with them were a thing of the past and that they would find in him a most suitable partner in the event they grow tired of Zardari.

To be sure, Sharif is only following a well-worn script. Pakistani history is replete with examples of opportunistic politicians who view the imbalance in civil-military relations as something to be exploited for tactical gain rather than rectified for the nation’s good. In an irony that ultimately cost him his life, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto built up ISI’s capabilities in order to suppress his political opponents. As the military constantly rotated them in and out of the prime minister’s office in 1990s, Benazir Bhutto and Sharif took turns celebrating the other’s demise rather than condemning the debasement of the Constitution. And instead of uniting following the Abbottabad raid to claw back decision-making authority from a humbled military, civilian leaders instead equated patriotism with fealty to the army.

The Rawalpindi crowd deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the deep morass that Pakistan has fallen into. But as the Memogate controversy illustrates, the political class is all too often willing to come along for the ride.


EB-2 Green Card Situation Improves for High-Skilled Indians and Chinese

The new State Department Visa Bulletin indicates the availability of green cards is improving slightly for Indian and Chinese nationals sponsored in the employment-based second preference, known as EB-2. (A copy of the latest visa bulletin can be found here.)

How the Law Works

Under the law, there are 5 employment-based preferences: First Preference (EB-1, priority workers); Second Preference (EB-2, worker with advanced degrees or exceptional ability); Third Preference (EB-3, professionals, skilled workers and other workers); Fourth Preference (EB-4, special workers, such as religious workers); and the Fifth Preference (EB-5, employment creation or investor visas).

A total of 40,040, or 28.6 percent of the 140,000 annual quota is used by each of the first, second and third preferences. The second preference can use any numbers not utilized by EB-1, while EB-3, the third preference, can use any visa numbers not utilized by the EB-2 category. For the employment-based second preference, generally the employer needs to require the position to be filled by someone with a masters degree or higher and the individual possesses such a degree.

The employment-based immigrant categories have per country limits, which makes the waits longer for nationals from large countries. India and China are most affected by those limits in the employment categories.

Priority Dates

The setting of priority dates is used to manage the flow of immigrant visas within the limits set by Congress. A visa number generally is “available” for an individual with a priority date earlier than the date listed in the State Department’s most recent Visa Bulletin. A priority date is usually triggered by the date a labor certification application or an immigrant petition is received by the federal government.

In the December 2011 Visa Bulletin, just published online, the priority date for EB-2 is March 15, 2008.  In the November 2011 Visa Bulletin, the priority date for the employment-based second preference was November 1, 2007. This type of movement in a short period is used to encourage more applicants to help ensure the quota is close to fully utilized without going over the annual limit.

The Situation for EB-2 Applicants

In recent years, because of the fall down of immigrant visas from the EB-1 category, about 50,000 immigrant visas a year have been available in the employment-based second preference. Nationals from India and China can exceed the per country limit allocation for their respective countries if otherwise immigrant visas within a category would go unused.

A brief analysis of the EB-2 situation can be found here on the website of the law firm Berry Appleman & Leiden. The analysis notes, “A foreign national cannot apply for permanent residence (a green card) until a visa is available based on their priority date, preference category, and country of birth.” It goes on to explain: “The DOS [Department of State] has predicted that it is possible that immigrant visa availability could move forward again in the January and February 2012 Visa Bulletins, but then retrogress later in the year. Last year, according to the DOS, there were 3,000 EB-2 petitions filed on behalf of individuals born in India who already have priority dates established through EB-3 petitions.  Because those individuals can use their previous EB-3 priority date for the EB-2 category, the movement in EB-2 numbers for India is likely to slow down.”

The attorneys at Berry Appleman & Leiden also offer this advice: “While we cannot predict whether movement will occur in the Visa Bulletin, it is important that any Indian or Chinese national with a current priority date files the last step of the green card process as soon as the priority date is current in December.  If visa numbers regress before the application has been filed, the foreign national will lose the opportunity to apply for permanent residence, which would negatively affect dependent children who are close to turning 21.”

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that absent Congressional changes to employment-based immigrant quotas and the per country limit improvement in green card availability for highly educated Indian nationals may only be short-lived.

Emerging Contours of the Indo-US Strategic Partnership

At a symposium on the emerging contours of the Indo-US strategic partnership, organised by the Woodrow Wilson Centre at Princeton University on November 11-12, 2011, most participants agreed that the partnership was indispensable and that it would shape the geo-political contours of the 21st century. The present state of drift in the relationship does not portend a break down in the long term. The symposium was attended by leading members of the strategic community, including policy analysts, military experts, academics and journalists, from India and the United States.

An Indian analyst was of the view that the balance of power is shifting gradually from Europe and America to the Asia-Pacific region. He ascribed this to the ongoing rise of China and India as emerging economic and military powers. China is investing rapidly in enhancing its military capabilities as it wishes to safeguard its sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) in the Indian Ocean by deploying the PLA Navy.

A U.S. analyst identified three main trends in China’s rise: China is governed by ‘arbitrary despotism’; the main engine of economic growth, i.e. the large-scale move of rural population to urban centres is declining; and, nationalism is on the rise in China. China is likely to engage in a new Cold War with its regional neighbours and the U.S. can and must play a role in acting as a balancer.

Another U.S. analyst spelt out three core pillars of the U.S. strategy in Asia: U.S. engagement anchored by treaty obligations; developing a strong relationship with emerging Asian powers like India, Indonesia and Malaysia; and, building multilateral institutions like ASEAN for stability.

Speakers from both the countries were critical of the sense of gridlock that has gripped domestic politics, particularly when there has been an economic downturn. Both the governments appeared to have ceded space on driving the respective national agendum. There is a need to enhance diplomatic engagement and reduce the newfound proclivity for military interventionism.

An Indian analyst expressed the view that the growing Indo-US relationship merits an ‘A plus’ report card, but there are bound to be some differences in the approach of the two countries to emerging issues like the conflict in the Middle East/ West Asia and Iran’s purported quest for nuclear weapons. Indian participants conceded that India’s nuclear liability Act was problematic and that India needed to suitably address the apprehensions of international nuclear energy suppliers. However, they were of the view that the Indo-US partnership was strategic in conception and should not be reduced to a transactional relationship.

A U.S. analyst stated that international politics is about the distribution of power and the emerging relationship with India was central to the U.S. approach as a strong partnership with India would ensure a favorable distribution of power. An India that was capable and powerful was desirable from the U.S. point of view even if it did not always support U.S. initiatives. There is a perception in India that U.S. power is flagging and if this gains currency, India will have fewer incentives to go with the US.

An Indian participant stated that India is likely to join a future coalition of the willing for joint operations if the desired goal directly affects India’s vital interests. Recent joint military exercises have gone a long way towards resolving interoperability issues and have led to mutual trust and confidence. Major irritants from the Indian perspective include the continuing sale of conventional arms to Pakistan, the lack of U.S. concern about Indian interests in Afghanistan and the enduring reservations on the part of the U.S. about transferring cutting edge defence technology to India.

There was a broad consensus during the symposium that the U.S. and India must work together for peace and stability in Asia. While the Indo-US strategic partnership is not intended to form a joint front against China, should China behave irresponsibly in Asia, or should it implode due to internal instability, both India and the U.S. will need a strong partner to successfully manage the fallout.

China-India Strategic Relationship

Relations between India and China have been fairly stable at the strategic level. Economic relations are much better now than these have been in the past and bilateral trade has crossed US$ 60 billion even though the balance of trade is skewed in China’s favour. The two countries have been cooperating in international fora like WTO talks and climate change negotiations. There has been limited cooperation in energy security. However, at the tactical level, China has lately been exhibiting a markedly aggressive political, diplomatic and military posture.

The major cause for instability is the half-century old territorial and boundary dispute over which the two countries fought a border war in 1962. China continues to be in physical occupation of large areas of Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). On the Aksai Chin plateau in Ladakh, China is in possession of approximately 38,000 square kilometres of territory since the mid-1950s. In addition, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory to China in1963 inthe Shaksgam Valley of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir under a bilateral boundary agreement that India does not recognise. China continues to stake its claim to about 96,000 sq km of Indian territory in the eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls Southern Tibet, particularly the Tawang tract.

Chinese interlocutors have repeatedly claimed that the Tawang tract is part of Tibet and that the merger of this area with Tibet is non-negotiable. In 2005, India and China had agreed on “guiding principles and parameters” for a political solution to the territorial dispute. One important parameter was that “settled populations will not be disturbed”. In the case of Tawang the Chinese have gone back on this. If such errant behavior continues, India will find it difficult to accept Chinese assurances of peaceful resolution of the territorial dispute at face value.

The Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China is yet to be physically demarcated on the ground and delineated on military maps. In fact, despite the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA) signed with the Chinese in 1993 and the agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field signed in 1996, border guards of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have transgressed the LAC repeatedly to intrude into Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. They have even objected to Indian road construction efforts and the presence of Indian graziers at their traditional grazing grounds.

Patrol face-offs are commonplace and usually end with both the sides warning each other to go back to their own territory. While no such incident has resulted in a violent clash so far, the probability of such an occurrence is high. Demarcation of the LAC without prejudice to each other’s position on the territorial dispute would be an excellent confidence building measure but little progress has been made in 14 rounds of talks between the two special representatives. Under the circumstances, China’s intransigence in exchanging maps showing the alignment of the LAC in the western and the eastern sectors is difficult to understand.

The military gap between Indian and China is growing steadily as the PLA is modernising at a rapid pace due to the double-digit annual growth in the Chinese defence budget while India’s military modernisation plans continue to remain mired in red tape. China’s negotiating strategy is to stall resolution of the dispute till the Chinese are in a much stronger position in terms of comprehensive national strength so that they can then dictate terms.

During any future conflict with either China or Pakistan, India will have to contend with a two-front situation as both China and Pakistan may be expected to collude militarily with the other – a situation for which the Indian armed forces are not prepared. Hence, it is in India’s interest to strive for the early resolution of the territorial dispute with China so that India has only one major military adversary to contend with. Meanwhile, instability in the security relationship has the potential to act as a spoiler and will ultimately determine whether the two Asian giants will clash or cooperate for mutual gains.

Contribution of the Gorkhas to Indian National Security

A week ago, 2/5 GR (FF) – the Second Battalion of the Fifth Gorkha Rifles, Frontier Force – popularly known as the ‘VC paltan’, celebrated its 125th anniversary. The famous battalion is called VC paltan because of the three Victoria Crosses awarded to its personnel by the British during the Second World War in the Burma Campaign. This is an unparalleled feat in the annals of military history as no other battalion in any army has won the nation’s highest gallantry award three times.

With the spine chilling war cry ‘Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali’ (‘Victory to Goddess Mahakali, the Gorkhas are coming’), the Gorkhas, have served first the British Indian Army and then the Indian Army with distinction for almost two centuries. Over 200,000 of them participated in the two World Wars; of these 43,000 sacrificed their lives. Hailing mostly from villages of impoverished hill farmers in the Gorkha district of Nepal, the Gorkhas belong to four main ethnic groups: the Gurungs and Magars from central Nepal and the Rais and Limbus from the east.

The British had identified the Gorkhas as a ‘martial race’ for their sterling qualities of toughness and fortitude. The Gorkha soldier is famous the world over for his ferocity and unflinching courage in battle. One author has described the Gorkhas as, “Small of stature, large of heart, accustomed to hardship, good natured with a keen sense of humour, loyal to death, more disciplined than any fighting force in the world, brave and capable, and absolutely without fear.” These hardy troops are undoubtedly tough, bold and durable under withering fire, and they are extremely well disciplined. Close family ties within each battalion ensure that they fight not only for the paltan’s izzat (the honour of the battalion) but also for their own kith and kin.

The Gorkha regiments of the British Indian Army played a key role during both the World Wars. They saw action in Africa, Europe and in Asia and earned battle honours everywhere. Following the partition of India in 1947, under a tripartite agreement between Britain, India and Nepal four Gorkha regiments – 2nd, 6th, 7th and 10th regiments – were transferred to the British Army, eventually becoming the Gorkha Brigade. Of the total of 10 regiments, six (1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th and 9th regiments) joined the Indian Army. 11 GR was raised later. Currently there are 39 battalions serving in 7 Gorkha regiments in the Indian Army. While Gorkhas in the Indian Army hail both from Nepal and India’s hill regions, the Nepalese Gorkhas have helped to build strong bonds of friendship between the two armies.

All the Gorkha regiments have performed creditably in India’s wars since independence. Besides the major wars, the Gorkhas have served in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, at the Siachen Glacier and in the UN peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and Sierra Leone. In October 2011, the 4/9 GR won the gold medal in the annual Cambrian Patrol Competition held in Wales, UK.

The Gorkhas still carry into battle their traditional weapon – an 18-inch long wickedly curved, broad-bladed heavy knife known as the khukri. It is the world’s most renowned fighting knife. “Often the mere sight of an unsheathed khukri is enough to discourage any further action by causing a cold, cramped feeling in the nether regions of the stomach.” Legend has it that once a khukri was drawn in battle, it had to ‘taste blood’. If it did not, its owner had to cut himself before returning it to its sheath.