The Topsy-Turvy Nature of South Asian Power Games

The strategic debates in Washington on the fortunes of Pakistan are undergoing a palpable degree of modification. The Obama administration has initiated a strategic dialogue. There is no reason for anyone to think that Pakistan will emerge as a strategic partner of India anytime soon; however, the fact that the Obama administration has decided to conduct such a dialogue speaks volumes about its earnest commitment to pragmatism. That might be viewed as bad news in India, largely because one of the many egregious rules of South Asia is the high relevance of the zero-sum game between India and Pakistan involving the United States.

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Turbulent Aspects of A Proposed “Grand Bargain”

The Indian Press was recently full of stories that Chinese naval officials have proposed to Admiral Timothy J. Keating, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) that the two countries ought to divide the world oceans into two camps: China would take Hawaii West and Indian Ocean and the U.S. would be in charge of Hawaii East. The Chinese officials were reported to have told their American counterparts “… you will not need to come to the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean and we will not need to go to the Eastern Pacific. If anything happens there, you can let us know and if something happens here, we will let you know.” Admiral Keating shared that story with the Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, in the context of China’s high interest in developing aircraft carriers.
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Slaying the Beast Called the “Clash of Civilizations”

President Barack H. Obama’s campaign slogans of “a time for a change” and “yes we can” are filtering into his speeches and his actions toward the world of Islam.  He is serious about bringing an end to the poisonous frame of reference that the concept of “the clash of civilizations” presents for Muslims.  In this sense, he is busy slaying the beast that that idea has become in the past fifteen or more years.  President Obama’s interview with al-Arabiyya soon after he entered the White House, his message to the Iranian people on the day of the Nowroze (Iranian New Year), and his trip to Turkey were the most credible examples of that reality.  However, Obama’s battle with the beast is challenging and does not guarantee a victory at this point.


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How to “Win” in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama’s recent admission that the U.S. is not winning in Afghanistan is quite refreshing when compared to George W. Bush’s arrogant declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq in June 2003.  Obama’s candor notwithstanding, the most important thing is that the U.S. should not lose in Afghanistan.  Allowing Afghanistan to descend into chaos once again is akin to issuing al-Qaida an invitation to succeed.  No one needs reminding that Afghanistan was the place where the 9/11 attacks on the United States were planned.  It was also the country from where Usama Bin Laden declared his infamous “fatwa” of Jihad against the United States in 1998.  So, a defeat of the lone uberpower in Afghanistan will be envisaged by the self-styled “Jihadists” as the beginning of the ultimate defeat of the “infidel in-chief.” 

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“Hell” Must be Where Extremism Mushrooms

Looking at the tepid global reaction to the massacre of the civilians in Gaza, one wonders whether the conscience of the international community is half asleep or is suffering from something called sympathy fatigue.  Hundreds of civilian casualties, incessantly escalating human misery, and with no end in the Israeli military action in sight, even God seems to have abandoned them.  At the same time, it should be said unequivocally that Hamas’ indiscriminate firing of missiles on Israeli cities is a repulsive act.  One U.N. official involved in rescue attempts stated that Gaza has turned into hell.  That, alas, seems to be the fate of Muslims in many places. 


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From “Mr. Ten Percent” to Mr. President: Zardari’s Shifting Fortunes

It is hard to decide whether the news of the victory of Asif Ali Zardari for the presidency of Pakistan should be celebrated as a victory for democracy, or be viewed as a cause for concern.  Better known as “Mr. Ten Percent” for allegedly receiving his cut from contractors doing business with the Pakistani government during the administration of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, his sudden prominence is only an historical accident.  Otherwise, he has been known as Benazir Bhutto’s “insignificant other.”  Zardari spent many years in jail, while his wife was in exile.  Throughout the stormy career of his wife, he largely stayed in the background.  As daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, she was supposed to be the “daughter of destiny,” and was to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.  However, her life was cut short when she was assassinated on December 29, 2007.


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The ‘Straitjacket’ of the American Presidency

In the presidential debates between the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, and that of the Republican Party, John McCain, the Middle East and South Asia stand out prominently.  The four issues of discussion are: America’s continued presence in Iraq, relations with Israel, dealing with Iran, and the future modalities of American actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  However, regarding the Middle East more than about South Asia, American presidential candidates are required to wear a straitjacket that prevents them from taking bold actions once they win the presidency.  However, as in the context of every rule, there are exceptions in this one also.  Former President Jimmy Carter was an exception, for he succeeded in getting out of that straitjacket as President and presided over the conclusion of the Camp David Agreements in 1979.  No American President since was able to take off that straitjacket and accomplish a similar outcome, even though President Bill Clinton tried toward the end of his second term.


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Neo-Con Rudux?

One of the hottest topics of discussion in the United States strategic community is that the neo-conservatives have launched a campaign of “redemption”. For now, the person most active is Douglas Feith, who served as under secretary of defense for policy under former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Feith has written a book, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, and is using the opportunity of its promotion to push the neo-con line. He even appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show , one of the US’s most popular shows that specializes in spoofing daily news.

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