3 November 2013

The Indo-Pacific: What’s in a Name?

Rory Medcalf

The high table of Asian geopolitics is abuzz with talk of the “Indo-Pacific.” Manmohan Singh tells his East Asian counterparts that India seeks with them “a stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.” Shinzo Abe speaks of Japan as a promoter of rules across two inseparable oceans. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa calls for a region-wide treaty to safeguard an Indo-Pacific “engine of global growth.” In Australia, the policy establishment has gone further. With a defense white paper earlier this year, Australia became the first country formally to name its region the Indo-Pacific, which suits its two-ocean geography and puts the land down under near the center of things. A new government in Canberra, elected on September 7, is broadly sustaining that view.

In America, Asia-Pacific remains standard issue language, but Indo-Pacific has been thoroughly inducted into the U.S. rhetorical armory, too. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Assistant Secretary for East Asia Kurt Campbell started deploying it in speeches a few years ago. Current Secretary John Kerry has picked up their characterization of the newly opened Burma as part of an “Indo-Pacific economic corridor”, while Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to India this year emphasized the Indian Ocean dimension of America’s Pacific rebalance. The commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, does not even utter Asia-Pacific these days, though he marches to a slightly different beat: He calls it the “Indo-Asia-Pacific.”

Locklear is right to recognize Asia as the heart of the matter. Ideally, the region should be called Indo-Pacific Asia. Some key Asian capitals are now espousing or exploring Indo-Pacific ideas, even if their words are not always the same. New Delhi has toyed with the unhelpfully possessive “Indian-Pacific.” Japan has its own poetic formulation: the “confluence of two seas” (futatsu no umi no majiwari). And Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has added “Indo-Pasifik” to the vocabulary of his country’s wonderfully adaptable language.
Not all are convinced about the new nomenclature. Some in Southeast Asia, notably the Singaporeans, are still much more comfortable with “Asia-Pacific” even though their interests span the two oceans. As for the Chinese, they have been wary of the unfamiliar new Indo-Pacific mantra, but this may be starting to change. The Chinese rendering of Indo-Pacific, Yin Tai, is starting to be used by some foreign policy scholars. Some Chinese strategists are quietly developing a “two oceans” school of thought, paving the way for an Indian Ocean strategy, even though Beijing’s immediate security preoccupation remains the disputes on its eastern maritime edge.

Chinese caution toward Indo-Pacific rhetoric is understandable. For a start, the Chinese foreign policy establishment took a long time to embrace the Asia-Pacific label, a concept that for decades has helped legitimize the major role of the United States in a neighborhood Beijing would prefer to regard as simply Asia. Now the Indo-Pacific idea might seem a further ploy to shift China from the center of things and downgrade its importance by inviting in yet another substantial power, India. It is also a reminder that the security of the South China Sea and other waters connecting the two oceans is everyone’s business.
But that’s the point: Things are changing, so it’s time China and others got on board, not because this is their region’s new name but because this is the name of their new region. The Indo-Pacific is not simply a new term for the Asia-Pacific. Rather, it reflects changes in economics, strategic behavior and diplomatic institutions that are having real consequences regardless of who utters the words.

Just a decade ago, the term Indo-Pacific was heard almost nowhere. Even just a few years ago, it could only be found sprinkled in the writings of think-tank types.1 Then it began popping up in the occasional official speech. At first some mistook this for merely a touch of spice to liven up the staple platitudes of Asia-Pacific diplomacy. But it turns out this has been a conscious shift among thinkers and policy makers in multiple places, from Washington to New Delhi, Canberra to Jakarta. Words matter, whether one echoes them wittingly or not. The more frequent use of Indo-Pacific terminology recasts the mental map of some of the most strategically important parts of the globe. How maps are made and labeled matters too, as Robert Kaplan reminds us, because they affect how the powerful understand the world.2 

At the simplest level of understanding, the “Indo-Pacific” label means recognizing that the accelerating economic and security connections between the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean are creating a single strategic system. The idea of an Asian maritime super-region, in general terms, is actually an old one. It had something of a false start in the early 15th century, when a Chinese emperor grounded the treasure fleet of his eunuch admiral, Zheng He, after seeing little merit in his seven voyages west. Later, during early colonial times, European maps titled “Asia” invariably encompassed a swath from the Indian Ocean rim through Southeast Asia to China, Korea and Japan—tantamount to the “Indo-Pacific.” By the 19th century, this breadth was reflected in British imperial practice: The trade arteries and military sinews of that Indian empire reached China and Australia via Singapore, and went west to Africa and Suez. Thus it was that both Alfred Thayer Mahan and Halford Mackinder each saw Asia as an integrated region.3 So did a range of European and Asian geostrategists after them, from the German Karl Haushofer (who in the 1920s saw the Indo-Pacific as imperial Japan’s to conquer) to India’s K. M. Panikkar. Indeed, British and Australian defense documents still referred to the Indo-Pacific Basin into the 1970s, and at least one Southeast Asian country was scheming from birth about Indo-Pacific linkages despite its present caution about the term: India’s post-1993 “Look East” policy had an antecedent in Lee Kuan Yew’s efforts to enlist India as a security partner in Singapore’s neighborhood.


- The contemporary builders of modern India
Gopalkrishna Gandhi
And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,/ Far, far away thy children leave the land./ Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,/ Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Oliver Goldsmith’s knowledge of India must have been less than minimal. And he was certainly not thinking of a future Hindostan when he wrote those lines in “The Deserted Village”. But I have often thought of his depiction as made for our times, our Indian times.

Near the flat my wife and I have rented in Chennai, three ‘independent’ houses have been given over to high-rise. They were not old patrician buildings whose demise is to be regretted aesthetically. The new ones coming in their places are not hideously ugly, either, as they could well have been. A lovely copper-pod tree in one of those houses which could have yielded to built-up square footage has been spared the axe , an incredible thing. So there is nothing remarkable about this landscape morphing, and certainly nothing to be very regretful about.
But this construction triplet has brought something else to the suburb which is new. It has brought unheard-of dialects of Hindi to a part of Chennai where only Tamil and English held sway. Construction workers from the coal-mining tracts of central and eastern India have set up camp in Tiruvanmiyur and, with seemingly effortless ease, are raising buildings, floor by floor, for people with whom they do not have even a language in common.
These are the migrant workers we speak and write about, the flotsam of India’s booming construction industry and the jetsam of India’s urban sprawl.

In Coonoor, the lovely little hill town in the Nilgiris, where we own a cottage, I can hear the same east India dialects being spoken alongside Tamil and the languages that the local Badaga and Toda speak. If the Roerichs could paint as they did in the Himalaya, an Elwin could study and write as he did in the Northeast, a Ruskin Bond be as brilliantly prodigious in fiction as he is from Mussoorie, why should the daughter or son of a migrant from Chhattisgarh in the cool climes of the Nilgiris one day not attain artistic renown? Why not?
It is not just an east to south thing. Palagummi Sainath recently told a Chennai audience that labourers from Tiruchengode in Tamil Nadu are working in deep-bore well projects in Maharashtra.

In far off Dandi, Gujarat where I was visiting not long ago, I asked a question in Gujarati of some people sitting by the beach-front. They did not answer and said, instead, in broken Hindi that they were from literally the other end of the country, Odisha, brought there by “builders”. That was a stand-alone English word they used.
“Builders of Modern India” is the name of a very good series of books launched by the publications division of the government of India. They were written by well-known writers about some great Indians, foundationally great figures from history.

The phrase’s initiators would not have thought that the metaphorical “builder” which they had in mind would be recognized by a progressively regressing number of readers and that the word would be famous in a very different, very literal context in 21st-century India. They would not have expected the word to be used in its original English form domiciled in dialects spoken across the country to mean the man who buys up houses, rents steel jaws to crunch them down, human hands to pile brick on brick, shoulders to move rod on iron rod, heads to cart bag on cement bag, engages architects and engineers to raise in their place tall, vertical structures that resemble a many-eyed, many-eared, many-mouthed mammoth, or winding roads, looping bridges or whatever. For those who, by the motion of their limbs, actually make these structures, as opposed to those who finance them, “builder” also means the man who transports them from their villages, with no contractual agreements, some hundreds of railway track miles away, as in an earlier era, men and women were shipped under indenture or similar systems to Ceylon, Mauritius, South Africa, Fiji among other destinations.
What links today’s migrant workers to those early ‘girmitiya’ ( Indian workers translocating under ‘agreements’ to work on mines and plantations overseas) is that their move is voluntarily involuntary. It has a very willed fatalism to it, a collaborative self-trapping.

At one level we can celebrate the linguistic bouquet that has formed of itself in these places. Just as Tamil, Telugu and Bhojpuri came to be heard in far-off shores as early as the 19th century, eastern dialects of Hindi being heard in Chennai, Coonoor and Dandi or Tamil being heard in Maharashtra in our times can be a happy thing. Perhaps, as in those lands, many a patois will grow out of the cross-pollinating contact between the arriving language with the host language. As could a new and lively English. I can, in fact, envision a novel in English written by a descendent of Chhattisgarhi migrants, titled “Builder”. These very migrants could well throw up a V.S. Naipaul.

But before that happens and as wealth changes hands from seller to buyer to builder to broker, and accumulates in all these hands, many persons and many lives, many traditions and many skills will decay beyond recognition. That the population of farmers is going down alarmingly is now too well known to be reiterated. But ‘and men decay’ happening to thousands upon thousands of workers moving from one part of India to another, one form of life and livelihood to another, is no less appalling than what happened to ‘girmitiya’ two centuries ago. The only saving grace is that there are no ‘deaths on voyage’.

At a superficial level, there is a kind of cheerfulness about the translocated workers, as might be expected in an army garrison going to battle, but underlying all that, especially in the disoriented mothers and infant children, there is a wan dazedness, a sense of deprivation so deep and encompassing as to resemble bereavement. In the criss-cross of an impoverished humanity searching for what is called ‘hand-cash’, a great upheaval of life is taking place.
Pather Panchali is being re-enacted every day, with this difference — that the families leaving their homesteads are not going to find a Bibhutibhusan to write about them, though a wannabe Satyajit Ray may well try making a film out of their misery, as part of the same accumulation of wealth.

Will this large slice of India have Aadhaar cards? More pertinently for 2014, will it have the vote? Energetic administrations might accomplish the near-impossible and swing into action to provide it with one. But who will the decaying vote for? The “builder”, with a freebie thrown in? Fortunately or unfortunately for them, migrant workers are not vote banks. Whose loss is that? Not theirs. But as to what they are banks of, in terms of craft traditions, farming skills, agricultural, fishing and climate knowledge, music and dance heritage, we are neither aware of nor concerned about. And this is a national decay to which the accumulations of the nation’s (read “builder’s”) wealth will bear rich testimony.

South China Sea & Indo Pacific Politico-Strategic Dynamics

 by dr subhash kapila. Nov 1 2013
Paper on this subject was presented at the Russian Academy of Sciences, School of International Studies, Moscow, Russia at an International Conference on “South China Sea : Security and Cooperation” October 18, 2013.

The original Paper was exhaustive as it will form part of a book to be published. At the Conference the main thrusts and conclusions were read out as an Executive Summary. This is placed below.

Executive Summary
South China Sea territorial disputes have simmered for many years in the bilateral context between China and its smaller ASEAN neighbours, more specifically, Vietnam and the Philippines.

South China Sea disputes now stand graduated and thrust in the global strategic consciousness by China’s conflict escalation and use of force in recent years in the South China Sea region. In fact, China has extended its maritime and territorial disputes to the East China Sea with Japan.
South China Sea disputes were given escalated conflictual contours in recent years by two markedly provocative Declarations. Both unilateral in content pointed to the unfolding of China’s aggressive strategic designs and postures on its South China Sea claims.

The Nine Dash Declaration staked China’s claims of sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea. The second declaration was more aggressive. China declared that the South China Sea was China’s “Core National Interest” and that China was ready to go to war over its South China Sea sovereignty claims.
Implicit in these declarations was China following the pattern of a Superpower laying the groundwork for the global community to accept “China’s Exceptionalism” in the strategic management of the Asia Pacific.
China’s strategic gamble in conflict escalation and claims for “China’s Exceptionalism” in the strategic management of the Asia Pacific, in my assessment, stands failed.
In the wake of China’s strategic gamble, the following strategic developments stand generated and can be cited as having adverse consequences for China:
  • South China Sea conflicts stood “internationalised”, something that China desperately wanted to avoid.
  • South China Sea conflict escalation triggered United States ‘Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific”, after a decade of strategic inattentiveness.
  • South China Sea conflict escalation generated a Strategic Polarisation of Asia Pacific due to growing perceptions in Asian capitals of the unfolding ‘China Threat’.
  • South China Sea conflict escalation hastened Japan and India towards fast-track modernisation of their Armed Forces and forging strategic partnership.
  • Russia’s Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific declared in end 2012 is seemingly attributable to the above politico-strategic dynamics unleashed by South China Sea conflicts.
South China Sea related dynamics recounted above have contributed to a virtual strategic isolation of China in Indo Pacific Asia South China Sea conflict escalation arising from China’s aggressive brinkmanship have in effect presented to the United States on a plate an Asia Pacific strategic template which decades of United States diplomacy could not achieve.

Briefly put, visible today in the context of the South China Sea conflict potential are two opposing and clashing strategic dynamics as follows:
  • South China Sea and East China Sea leading to a conflict-dominated Western Pacific are the initial stepping-stones of China for attaining ‘strategic equivalence’ with the United States as a prelude to eventually prompting a US exit from Asia Pacific.
  • United States counter-strategy of a ‘Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific’ incorporating rebalancing and realignment of its Force Deployments to sustain an enduring embedment in Asia Pacific.
In effect, the Western Pacific is witnessing a new Cold War II, with China replacing the Former Soviet Union as the rival power to the United States. Notably, Cold War II is not an ideological struggle but an outright strategic power struggle between China and the United Saes, with far more explosive contours.
South China Sea strategic turbulence has resulted in the Asia Pacific security dynamics reaching a ‘tipping point’ whose future dynamics hold ominous overtones?

Resulting from China’s demonstrated conflictual record in the South China Sea the wider and far reaching strategic response that has emerged is the enlargement of the Asia Pacific strategic template to a much wider strategic construct of Indo Pacific Asia or Indo Pacific.

The South China Sea bridges the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean and this strategic inter-dependence led to the evolution of the Indo Pacific concept which underwrites the integration of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as one indivisible ‘strategic whole’ in terms of security and maritime cooperation.
The Indo Pacific politico-strategic dynamics have been discussed in fair detail in the main Paper. The ensuing politico-strategic dynamics will eventually arise from the strategic intentions and postures of the major stakeholders in the South China Sea.

In the brief time assigned to me, focus can only dwell on the main players, namely, United States, China and Russia and China’s Asian powers rivals Japan and India.

ISI pushes anti-India campaign in Europe

The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in a “well-calibrated manner”, has unleashed a campaign in Europe, America and Canada to carry out “anti-India activities with regard to Kashmir”. Indian intelligence agencies have indicated that the “ISI has been the main source of building a platform abroad to undertake Kashmir-related propaganda on behalf of the Pak government and has been “creating and nurturing Kashmiri expatriate communities to carry out anti-India activities”.

Pakistani organisations based abroad and separatists in India observed “black day” on October 27, the day Indian troops landed in Kashmir in 1947, to highlight the plight of Kashmiris.
Agencies indicated that the Pakistani Army’s relentless ceasefire violations at LoC were also an attempt to keep the Kashmir issue ticking on the international stage. These groups feel that Nawaz Sharif “needs to be more aggressive in his approach and focus on seeking a solution to the issue rather than making friendly gestures towards India”, intelligence sources revealed.
An Indian intelligence agency said in a report that “these organisations are more visible in the European continent mainly because there is a large chunk of Kashmiri population based in these countries who readily get the support of the Pakistani diaspora for undertaking such activities (sic)”.

It was claimed that the main focus of the Pakistani government and the ISI to carry out anti-India propaganda was the European Union “where crucial decisions on human rights violations are taken up”. It was revealed that the ISI has managed to set up Kashmiri organisations which have been interfacing with the “EU through EU representatives and members to portray the desperate human rights situation in Indian Kashmir (sic)”. To drive home the point, the ISI provides statistics on “human rights violations, along with funds to hold exhibitions and seminars to add to the profile of the Kashmir groups”.

A UK-based Kashmiri lobby has also been able to target British MPs from areas where their population representation is significant. One such area is Bradford. It may be recalled that Respect Party leader George Galloway has announced to lead a relief caravan from Britain to Kashmir by road. In September, while addressing a dinner hosted in his honour by the Tehreek-e-Kashmir and the Islamic Mission (UK) in Bradford, Mr Galloway said that he, “along with thousands of people, will try to go to Srinagar for the distribution of relief goods among the Kashmiris”. The MP had also called upon India to stop alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.

How the Pakistani Taliban Became a Deadly Force

Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Pakistani Army troopers moving toward the Red Mosque during a military operation in Islamabad in July 2007.
By  and 

Who are the Pakistani Taliban?

Published: November 2, 2013
Q. Who are the Pakistani Taliban?
A. The Pakistani Taliban Movement, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, is an umbrella organization loosely uniting up to 30 groups of Pakistani militants along the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Its headquarters, though, is in North and South Waziristan, the jihadist hub at the western end of the tribal belt, where it was formally founded in 2007 by a prominent Pashtun commander, Baitullah Meshud.

Many Pakistani Taliban commanders had fought in Afghanistan as part of the movement that swept to power in Kabul. When American forces ousted that movement in 2001, many of its leaders fled across the border into Pakistan. The Pakistanis among them played host to their Afghan counterparts — as well as hundreds of fighters from Al Qaeda — providing them with shelter, logistical support and recruits.

The Afghan Taliban and Qaeda fighters steadily radicalized the tribal regions, encouraging the Pakistani Taliban to spread their influence
across the mountainous region and beyond into Pakistan’s settled areas and main cities.
Baitullah Mehsud, right, in 2004 in South Waziristan.
A. Majeed/A.F.P. — Getty Images
Baitullah Mehsud, right, in 2004 in South Waziristan.
The militant groups resisted the Pakistani military’s efforts to impose control. They sometimes cooperated in cease-fire agreements with the Pakistani military and then reneged months later. After Mr. Mehsud created Tehrik-i-Taliban, he led the group in attacks against the Pakistani state, striking military and civilian targets in various cities. The group accused the Pakistani government of siding with the United States in its war against terror, and vowed revenge for the killing of Pakistani civilians in the 2006 bombing of a madrasa in North-West Frontier Province, which was renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in 2010, and in the Red Mosque siege in Islamabad in 2007.

The United States designated the Pakistani Taliban a terrorist organization in September 2010 and placed a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud.
Q. Who is Hakimullah Mehsud, and what does his death mean for the Pakistani Taliban?
Video by BBC
On Oct. 9, Hakimullah Mehsud appeared in a BBC report, saying he was ready to enter negotiations with the Pakistani government. More videos »
A. Mr. Mehsud became the leader of the Pakistani Taliban after an American drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009. A onetime driver for the Taliban who had risen to prominence through a series of daring attacks, he played a major role in the humiliating kidnapping of 250 Pakistani soldiers in 2007. He later stole American jeeps as they were being transported to Afghanistan and was filmed driving around in one.

Afghanistan 'zero option' takes shape

What if the United States pulled all its troops out of Afghanistan? 

The general assumption is that as Washington and Kabul work to hammer out a long-term security agreement, a way will be found to maintain a US troop presence after 2014. 

The two sides have reached a preliminary agreement on a deal. But a key US demand - that its troops be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan law and be tried only in the United States - remains a major sticking point. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has put the final decision on a deal to a Loya Jirga - a traditional gathering of tribal, ethnic, and religious leaders - that will meet and give its verdict next month. 

Washington has made clear that the "zero option" of pulling its forces out entirely - as it did in Iraq after it failed to work out a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Baghdad - is a very real option. 

Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Kabul, says a complete US pullout would be a game changer, given Washington's vast footprint in Afghanistan. 

"The US presence is tremendously entrenched in all spheres of life in Afghanistan," Smith says. "So much of life in this country hinges on this question of whether or not there will be US forces after 2014." 

The zero option, if it comes to that, would exacerbate the already formidable security, financial, and regional challenges facing the Afghan government: 

The United States would not keep a residual force in Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces, nor would it maintain a counter-terrorism force there to pursue remnants of Al-Qaeda. Likewise, NATO would not keep a training mission, as that is dependent on Afghanistan and the United States reaching a security deal. 

The absence of any Western forces would deprive Afghanistan's nascent security forces of much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence. 

A complete pullout would also likely see Kabul receiving much less of the $4 billion in annual military aid pledged by foreign donors to sustain the Afghan army and police. 

David Young, a civilian adviser to NATO in eastern Afghanistan and an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project in Washington, says the "zero option" would fundamentally change the whole military state of play. 

"No troops means fewer people to monitor how Western military financial support is spent, which, in my eyes, translates to less financial support," Young says. "So then, with morale sunk, attrition will be even higher, costing security forces even more money that isn't coming in. While Afghan forces can continue a stalemate with the Taliban without constant US supervision, I don't think they can continue it without adequate funding." 

A complete withdrawal of US troops could also translate into much less of the $4 billion in annual civilian aid pledged by foreign donors reaching Afghanistan. 

Smith says that could prove disastrous for the many Afghan industries and the economy as a whole, which is heavily dependent on foreign funding. 

"Just the sheer amount of money that's going to be pulled out has the potential to be a fundamentally disruptive thing," Smith says. "There would be an abrupt deflation of that war bubble in the economy." 

Building a marriage: Beyond economic aid in Pakistan

By Nancy Birdsall, Alexis Sowa  Thursday, October 31, 2013


Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his first official visit to the United States since being elected by a strong majority to serve his third term in office.  The word from the White House is that the bilateral relationship is back on track, and the Prime Minister's public address supports that conclusion.  While Sharif continued to condemn U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions -- remarks that may have prompted the leak to the Washington Post of documents implicating at least some Pakistan government officials in secretly endorsing the program -- he also expressed a desire for cooperation on critical issues such as increased trade and foreign investment in Pakistan, cooperation with India, and a willingness to pursue difficult reforms outlined in the recent loan package from the International Monetary Fund.  In exchange for the Prime Minister's willingness to play nice, the United States government released $1.6 billion in military assistance to Pakistan that had been held up since 2011. 

A renewal of military aid will, for the time being, shore up the relations between Washington and Islamabad.  But military aid will not help Pakistan deal with the daunting development challenges it faces: the loss of its territorial integrity to the Taliban and other groups; the rise of sectarian conflict; high youth unemployment; ongoing power blackouts; underfunded health and schooling services; potentially catastrophic water problems and agricultural losses to soil salinization; and a hopelessly low level of tax revenue for the state to address these challenges.
So what about economic development aid, which continued to flow over the last two years as envisioned in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill)?  Washington reported real progress in the aid program toward achieving important medium term goals, but U.S. economic aid, even at 10 times the current levels, cannot serve as a substitute for the decisions and political will the civilian government of Pakistan needs to provide -- whether increasing energy tariffs to attract desperately needed investment in the power sector, or raising and collecting taxes on the country's small but powerful elite.

One point of economic aid is to enable the United States to work alongside Pakistan's civilian government in tackling its considerable challenges, working as a partner and building the sense of shared understanding and trust that can spill over into cooperation on more sensitive security and anti-terrorism issues.  That is the vision Richard Holbrooke, the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had, and we believe it is a vision that can still animate the U.S. approach. 

Though the current aid program is handicapped by U.S. government mandates to track money instead of results, red tape, security constraints on U.S. staff working in Pakistan, and the difficulty of shifting management of programs from U.S. contractors to local Pakistani institutions, it can be fixed. At least equally, if not more, important, the United States has other tools in its development toolbox beyond traditional aid.  These include mechanisms that facilitate trade, such as providing duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets, and unleashing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to encourage private investment in the country's small and medium-sized enterprise sector and its beleaguered energy sector
U.S. officials are already deploying some of these tools, but to ensure they constitute a coherent development program rather than a haphazard set of projects, we recommend that the State Department and the government of Pakistan establish a formalized Development Dialogue.  This should be a discrete component of the Strategic Dialogue Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to host by March 2014.  Discussions could focus on ways to forge a long-term partnership between Pakistan's civilian government and the U.S. government, including but going well beyond traditional aid. 

To use the marriage metaphor often invoked to describe the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a Development Dialogue could help build the resilience that any healthy marriage needs to withstand life's trials and tribulations.  It could bolster the countries' vows to work together in good times and in bad by insulating the development agenda from often competing security and diplomatic objectives.  And if successful, it could lead to more times of health and fewer times of sickness -- both for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the people of Pakistan.

Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. From 1993 to 1998, she was executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank and previously served 14 years in research, policy, and management positions, including director of the Policy Research Department, at the World Bank.
Alexis Sowa is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development focused on the organization's ongoing work on Pakistan and contributing to the Oil-to-Cash initiative. She has worked as a governance advisor in Liberia with the Africa Governance Initiative and as a program and policy manager at Malaria No More UK where she identified, developed, and managed investments in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Fighting words in Afghanistan

By Knox Thames  Thursday, October 31, 2013  

At long last, it appears that the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan may be nearing the finish line. However, there are equally consequential negotiations reportedly underway between the Taliban and Afghan government.  While it is still unclear what the results of these negotiations will be, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar made the group's position clear earlier this year when he said that they will not attempt to monopolize power in Afghanistan, but that the Taliban seeks "an inclusive government based on Islamic principles."

With the U.S. troop drawdown underway, this statement needs to be fully considered by both the United States and the international community, as it will directly impact Afghan women's rights and human rights more broadly.  Afghanistan's future is on the line. 
Currently, things are far from stable in Afghanistan. The recent assassination of Arsala Jamal, the governor of Logar province, through a bomb hidden inside a Koran, is a new low in the militants' race to the bottom.  Meanwhile, the intimidation and targeted killings of female Afghan government officials and societal leaders continues Statements by U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay after her September trip to Afghanistan highlighted these ongoing abuses against Afghan women. 

Gains have certainly been made -- women's rights are respected in ways that were unthinkable 15 years ago, there is an independent media, and political parties are active -- yet all of these are tenuous and reversible.  Why?  The climate of impunity, and the fact that the current Afghan constitution has effectively established a restrictive interpretation of shari'a as the law of the land.  Consequently, Afghans lack both personal security and freedom of thought.  Protections do not exist to safely dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, to debate the role and content of religion in law and society, to advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or to question narrow interpretations of Islamic precepts. 

Despite this reality, Mullah Omar said it was not enough and his government would be based on Islamic law.  His desire for more would be fatal to Afghanistan's effort to emerge from decades of war and instability.
I saw a glimpse of possible things to come first-hand during a trip to Kabul in May, when I visited the Afghan parliament during the debate on the proposed Elimination of Violence Against Women Law.  The bill was introduced by the irrepressible parliamentarian Fawsia Koofi, who wanted to replace the imperfect but important presidential decree on protecting women.  Koofi thought it better to have a law enjoying popular support through parliamentary passage. When I arrived at the Parliament, Koofi was being thronged by female MPs vigorously arguing that introducing legislation was foolish, as it risked giving conservative elements an opportunity to roll back protections. 

Despite these protests, Koofi forged ahead.  The outcome?  Conservative legislators pressed for amendments based on their narrow interpretation of Islamic law, such as reducing the marriage age from 17 to 14, but the bill did not pass. 
If this is happening under the umbrella of protection afforded by the United States, it should give policymakers pause as they look to engage Afghanistan after U.S. forces drawdown.  From this low starting point, any consideration of Mullah Omar's offer for a government based on his retrograde interpretation of religious law would be deeply problematic. 

Right now, those who think and speak freely in Afghanistan do so at their own risk.  My conversations in Kabul made it clear that Afghanistan is a generation or more away from experiencing anything close to freedom of thought due to decades of war, the theological echoes of Taliban rule, poor rule of law, and weak human rights protections.  Furthermore, the current environment promotes a vicious cycle: diverse thinking is snuffed out, either by state action or violent religious extremists, which amplifies extreme voices while marginalizing differing Islamic interpretations or debate about religion/state questions.  Allowing Mullah Omar to constrict that discussion further would be disastrous.

Afghanistan has not only struggled to respect women's rights, it has also failed to value and protect its religious diversity.  I repeatedly heard that Afghanistan is 99% Muslim, a factoid that obscures its existing religious diversity, of which many Afghans are unaware.  In the Sunni majority, there are different schools of thought, including "moderate" Muslims who hold a progressive view of religion/state relations.  The Shi'a community is theologically and ethnically diverse between Hazara Jafaris and Tajik Ismailis.  The historic Hindu and Sikh communities continue to exist, with their distinctive dress and burial traditions providing a visible reminder of Afghanistan's historic pluralism.  The hidden Christian and Baha'i communities, not acknowledged by Afghan religious leaders or government officials, live a vulnerable existence in the shadows.

Despite this challenging environment, the U.S. government needs to continue to press all the players seeking peace to protect members of the majority faith whose views contradict the religious establishment or Taliban sympathizers, as well as religious minorities.  The Taliban and other militants have long used religion to advance their religio-political agenda.  The United States, however, can undercut their message by offering counter narratives of tolerance and understanding, while supporting women's groups and other human rights groups. 
The U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement, on which I informally advised, offers guidance on a way forward.  It addresses the issue of advancing pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom, stating:
Building on current initiatives, the Administration will increase efforts to engage a diverse spectrum of religious leaders on the advancement of universal human rights, promoting core U.S. values like respect for the human rights of members of minority and marginalized groups, pluralism, tolerance, and sensitivity to and respect for the beliefs and traditions of others.
As endgame negotiations speed up, this strategy needs to be brought to bear in Afghanistan immediately.  Religion provides a narrative and context for much of what happens in the country, and Mullah Omar wants to re-enshrine his religio-political worldview as international forces withdraw.  Instead of ceding the religious space to him, the United States should take steps to protect diverse religious and political views.  Doing so can support other U.S. priorities, such as women's rights and free speech, while undercutting the Taliban and other militants seeking sway over the Afghan population. 

Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  The views expressed here are his own.  He can be followed on Twitter @thames22