Obama presses ‘reset’ button for war on terror

Photo Credit: Flickr/White House

Photo Credit: Flickr/White House

In his national security speech on 23 May, President Obama may have focused on the specific issues of the Guantanamo detention centre and drone strikes, but he also used the speech to set out a new approach to national security and counter-terrorism that his administration has been working towards for the past four years.

This speech could mark the point at which the US government begins to shift away from a counter-terrorism approach that has become excessive and unsustainable, towards one that enables resources to be redirected towards more salient national-security issues. Obama noted that the United States could not remain at war forever and needed an exit strategy; the threat from terrorism was now from ‘lethal, yet less capable, al-Qaeda affiliates, threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad, homegrown extremists’.

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A ‘naya’ (new) Pakistan?

Nawaz Sharif addresses a rally on the campaign trail to becoming PM Photo PLMN
By Kiran Hassan, Research assistant, South Asia Programme

Can a third-time prime minister rescue a nation in trouble? This is a question being asked about Nawaz Sharif since his party won the most number of votes in historic elections in Pakistan last weekend.

The poll – in which one elected Pakistani government succeeded another for the first time since independence in 1947 – leaves Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League–N (PML–N) in charge of a country plagued by terrorist attacks, corruption and daily power outages. Sharif has already made it clear that the economy will be his top priority, but his campaign promise to force the United States to cut back drone attacks on Pakistani soil – albeit now softened – remains in the news.

Sharif and the PML–N saw off a plucky challenge by former cricketer Imran Khan and his Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI), and should now be able to govern alone without needing to form a coalition.

Pakistan’s youthful population meant there were 36 million registered new voters among a total 86m; and voter turnout was substantial, at 60%, including a large proportion of women. Although more than 100 people lost their lives in election-related violence, the Taliban failed to significantly disrupt the vote.

However, Sharif’s two previous unpopular terms in the 1990s hang over him, and his party’s victory in this election rests almost entirely on its success in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

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Pakistan’s landmark election may change little

At Tehreek-e-Insaf Lahore Rally 23 March. Photo PTI

By Kiran Hassan, Research assistant, South Asia Programme

Pakistan is heading for an historic election on 11 May, in which one democratically elected government is due to succeed another for the first time in the country’s existence. President Asif Ali Zardari finally called the election on 20 March, after criticism from Imran Khan and other politicians that he was delaying the process. In fact, the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) government headed by prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf completed its full five-year term on 16 March, necessitating the appointment of a caretaker administration in the run-up to the poll.

Retired senior judge Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, from the strife-torn province of Baluchistan, was sworn in as caretaker prime minister this past Monday. The 84-year-old was chosen by the election commission, after Pakistan’s main political parties failed to agree on a candidate.

The day beforehand Pakistan’s former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, had flown into Karachi airport after years of self-imposed exile in the UK and the UAE. Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, intends to run in the upcoming poll. However, he faces conspiracy to murder and other charges in Pakistan, and needed to arrange a ‘protective bail’ order to prevent being arrested upon his return.

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Controversy in the pipeline

Iran-Pakistan Pipeline Photo Office of the Iranian President

By Dr Pierre Noel, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security

Last week, the presidents of Iran and Pakistan inaugurated the final leg of a controversial pipeline enabling Iran to export gas to energy-hungry Pakistan. The US, which has long opposed the much-delayed project, is warning that if it ‘actually goes forward’ the pipeline could breach the sanctions regime against Iran’s nuclear programme and trigger US sanctions against Pakistan.

China’s partial funding of the pipeline complicates the geopolitical implications of the deal.

Lengthy power blackouts are a regular occurrence in Pakistan, causing street protests and undermining the economy. By December 2014, Iran and Pakistan hope to start delivering 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan from Iran’s giant offshore South Pars field in the Persian Gulf. Islamabad plans to use Iranian gas to generate about 20% of its electricity.

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Nuclear escalation in South Asia

India-Pakistan border from space. Photo NASA

India’s presumed ‘Cold Start’ doctrine posits limited incursions over the border into Pakistan

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

During visits to New Delhi and Islamabad last week, I was disheartened by some of the discussions I had on nuclear doctrine. In both capitals, a dominant theme was the perceived need to restore credible deterrence, with seemingly little consideration for the implications of sparking a nuclear war.

In New Delhi, leading members of the strategic community insisted that the restraint India had shown after terrorist attacks in 2001 and 2008 linked to Pakistani officialdom only encouraged further attacks. They argued that when Pakistan-based terrorists struck again – and without doubt the question was when, not if – India would have to respond forcefully ‘to teach them a lesson’.

In Islamabad, ‘plugging the deterrence gap’ was the reason given for Pakistan’s recent pursuit of battlefield nuclear weapons. India’s presumed ‘Cold Start’ doctrine (or ‘proactive strategy’ as it is now called) posits rapid mobilisation and limited incursions across the border into Pakistan. In Islamabad this was considered to be a fully resourced plan and a cunning way to attempt aggression without triggering a strategic nuclear response.

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Decoding Manmohan Singh’s red lines

Manmohan Singh meeting soldiers on National Army Day, 15 January. Photo: Office of the India Prime Minister

Manmohan Singh meeting soldiers on National Army Day, 15 January.

By Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy

Many eyebrows were raised in Delhi and around the world when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted that ‘it cannot be business as usual’ with Pakistan after the recent incident on the Line of Control (LoC). Because these remarks came after the National Security Adviser briefed opposition leaders about the government’s approach to the issue, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha took credit for the prime minister’s tough stance, while welcoming it. However, it has since become clear that Singh was adopting a more nuanced approach, not the sledgehammer response that the Bharatiya Janata Party and hotheads in the media were seeking.

The many expressions of surprise, accompanied by gratuitous remarks about Singh’s ‘uncharacteristic’ toughness, ignore the fact that on vital national-security and foreign-policy issues, the prime minister has always drawn red lines and stuck to them. These red lines have been drawn both with respect to political parties and ministerial colleagues at home and foreign governments. When it comes to foreign policy, Singh has jealously guarded prime ministerial turf and defended the national interest.

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A nuclear pact just right for India and Pakistan

Reagan and Gorbachev sign the INF treaty in 1987

By Daniel Painter, Research Assistant, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Twenty-five years after the signing of a landmark nuclear-arms agreement between the US and the Soviet Union, the world is facing a new atomic-weapons race in South Asia, where similar controls would be useful.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty inked by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 8 December 1987 was the first such agreement to eliminate entire weapon systems, rather than to merely limit the size of nuclear arsenals. India and Pakistan, which both continue to increase their nuclear arsenals, have not engaged in arms-control negotiations. If they were, however, an INF-style agreement would be a good first step towards stabilising the region.

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