A New Year of Familiar Surprises in South Asia

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By Michael Krepon – Every new year has its share of modest surprises, but it
takes big shocks to generate significant changes in national security policy.  “Familiar” surprise comes with the territory
in South Asia – the kind of surprise that is
more a matter of timing than of content. 
Political machinations produce change, scandals erupt, extreme weather
punishes the subcontinent and, alas, mass casualty acts of terror are likely to
be front page news in 2011.  We can
“count” on these familiar surprises; we just don’t know the dates and
particulars when these headlines will appear in our newspapers.

Strategic surprise – the kind that can change a nation’s
course and outlook – is extremely rare.  In
India’s post-colonial
history, strategic surprise has been associated with major wars, and the last
major war India
fought was four long decades ago.  Strategic
surprises have antecedents, but in the noise of everyday events, it is hard for
intelligence officials and national leaders to connect the dots to anticipate
them.  Until major shocks happen, continuity
in policy is a default condition of national capitals.  India can therefore be expected to remain on
a familiar course in 2011 – not just because of the absence of strategic
surprises, but because New Delhi’s policy choices over the past fifteen years
have produced major dividends in national security and economic growth. 

Policy continuity means that Indo-U.S. relations will
continue to improve in 2011, having been well cultivated by different coalition
governments in New Delhi and very disparate U.S. administrations
led by Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama.  Complaints over Washington’s
“dictation” and India’s
loss of strategic autonomy will continue to be heard, but these increasingly
isolated mental outposts have been swamped by a rising tide of mutual and
complementary bilateral interests.    

is also likely to remain on its current course in 2011, which would mean a
further weakening of national cohesion, governance, and security.  Pakistan,
no less than India, faces a
million mutinies now, but with far less capacity than India to engage
disaffected citizens.  Improvements in
national life require improved economic fortunes that depend, in turn, on
normal relations with India,
a recognition that Pakistan’s
military leadership has yet to internalize. 

Only those but the most obtuse now recognize that ill-fated
preoccupations with Kashmir and Afghanistan
have badly mortgaged Pakistan’s
future.  Current political contestants
will continue to squabble for advantage and for the emoluments of public office,
while being unable or unwilling to push for big changes that can re-gift the
nation its future.  Those who are best
positioned to engineer a course correction — Pakistan’s military leaders –
appear unwilling to do so.  As India gains and Pakistan
loses ground, it becomes more necessary and more difficult for Pakistan’s
military establishment to change ill-advised national security policies, including
a growing dependence on nuclear weapon capabilities to counter other weaknesses. 

The troubled, but unavoidable U.S.-Pakistan partnership
seems destined to continue to bump along in 2011.  Another divorce would serve neither partner, and
yet a happy marriage is simply not in the cards.  Mutual grievances and distrust are overblown,
but they are not complete figments of fevered imaginations.  Pakistan’s
national security managers, no less than India’s,
are quite capable of deciding when to accept and when to resist Washington’s preferences.  The heavy U.S.
troop presence in Afghanistan,
dependent on Pakistani logistical support, has given Rawalpindi increased leverage in bilateral
relations, notwithstanding growing national dependencies.  Pakistan
and the United States
need each other, but cannot change each other. 
Despite many areas of contention, they have no choice but to manage
their differences, which are less consequential than their mutual interests.

remains a long story without a happy ending. 
It would be very unwise to underestimate the resilience and skills of U.S. forces deployed there, but it is hard to
envision an Afghan government capable of making good use of hard-won gains
secured by U.S.
and coalition forces in remote provinces. 
will be hard-pressed to help engineer a political settlement satisfactory to
Afghans and their neighbors during 2011.

Mass casualty acts of terrorism are likely to continue
plaguing Pakistan and India in 2011.  Bilateral relations will remain distant and
cold until New Delhi
calculates that its interests are best served by shifting gears.  India recovers after suffering
grievous losses from acts of terrorism directed against iconic targets.  Pakistan does not recover when
these attacks are traced back to its soil. 
A national security establishment that merely inconveniences groups and
individuals that engage in mass casualty attacks winds up hurting itself more
than its adversary.  Judicial authorities
in India as well as Pakistan have
great difficulty securing convictions in high-profile cases.  India
has found ways and means to recover national standing from such embarrassments;
has not. 

Michael Krepon is
co-founder of the Stimson
Center. This essay was
published in the Chandigarh Tribune. 


Photo Credit: “A family tries to escape the floods in
northwestern Pakistan.” by Abdul Majeed Goraya (IRIN), July 2010.

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