SACOM, India, and American Strategic Depth in South Asia

Posted: October 14, 2010 in Af/Pak, India, South Asia, U.S.

Brookings’ Bruce Riedel wrote a three-incher in the November issue of FP urging CINC to form a South Asia COCOM to seal the rift in AORs between CENTCOM and PACOM. He points out that this isn’t just a COCOM problem: OSD Policy, NSC, and State all have different desks for Af/Pak and India, muddling policy planning and execution vis a vis South Asia:

If Barack Obama is to really get serious about the region, he needs to create an executive bureau for Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan — one that spans across the U.S. government. Good organization does not guarantee good policy, but a poorly constructed bureaucracy is almost always a recipe for bad policy. A new military command that puts Pakistan and India in the same theater would help enormously in improving U.S. strategic thinking about South Asia. No longer would one commander talk to the Pakistanis and another to the Indians; the Pentagon would have just one voice. And likewise for Foggy Bottom: An empowered assistant secretary of state for South Asia could travel regularly on diplomatic missions between Kabul, Islamabad, and New Delhi.

Obama was right to recognize that the Afghan war could not be effectively prosecuted without dealing with Pakistan. But it’s foolish to think that Pakistan can be effectively assisted without dealing with the issue that dominates its own strategic calculus: India.

What surprises me most is that everyone on the Af/Pak side appreciates this is an artificial distinction, and I’m sure the India hands feel the same way. Yet: if this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done already? SWJ has been writing about this for a while, so what gives? And it’s not like ignoring India is trivial–consider Chris Hitchens’ proposal:

When the throat-slitters and school-burners and woman-stoners come to the villagers of Pakistan and Afghanistan at dead of night, they have one great psychological advantage. “One day, the Americans and the Europeans will go,” they say. “But we will always be here.” There’s some truth in this: Most of the talk in this country is now of an “exit strategy,” and for all the good they are doing, most of the other NATO contingents might as well have shipped out already. But if the United States was to upgrade and cement an economic, military, and political alliance with the emerging giant in New Delhi, we could guarantee without any boasting that our presence in the area was enduring and unbudgeable. It would also be based more on mutual friendship and common values and less on the humiliating practice of bribery and cajolery. And the Pakistani elite would have to decide which was its true enemy: the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance or the Indo-American one.

This might be the vodka lassis talking, but why is it again that we should–in the words of former Afghan intel chief Amrullah Saleh (a.k.a. that guy Karzai fired for speaking truth to Pakistan)–“incentivize bad behavior”? (That transcript is from PBS Frontline’s documentary on Afghanistan, featuring a few familiar faces.) I know we’re worried about their nukes, but what if the ruling elite is actually more friendly to the Taliban than other segments of the population? Stay tuned…

–The Fifth Indian

  1. Asfandyar Mir says:

    Ruling elite is of course sympathetic to afghan taliban, if not al qaeda. kayani considers haqqani a strategic asset, isi mantains the quetta shura, and saleh is shown the door because pakistan finds him too much of an obstacle in the so called ‘peace talks’.

    and why shouldn’t they be sympathetic to the afghan taliban. is US winning in afghanistan? no. can it ever win in afghanistan? not a chance. is there any other alternate, besides the quetta shura, to the current corrupt dispensation of karzai if US ever withdraws prematurely? no.

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