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The Great Game Folio

A curious little storm made its way through Pakistan recently without much notice in India. It was about an alleged decision by Islamabad to let India move goods to Afghanistan through its territory.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published: October 7, 2009 1:52:18 am

Transit politics

A curious little storm made its way through Pakistan recently without much notice in India. It was about an alleged decision by Islamabad to let India move goods to Afghanistan through its territory.

Delhi has long been interested in transit trade through Pakistan,which allows a few Afghan items to come through the Wagah border but does not let India export in the other direction. In Pakistan there has been significant opposition to such a move — especially from the Army.

When the Obama administration got Presidents Asif Zardari and Hamid Karzai to consider a regional transit trade arrangement with India and the Central Asian states,there was a political furore in Pakistan.

It was surprising then to see reports quoting Pak commerce minister Makhdoom Fahim Amin as saying that Islamabad had agreed,in its talks with Kabul,to offer India transit trade facility. There was a quick denial by Islamabad which said no arrangement on transit trade with India could be “contemplated until the composite dialogue starts”.

So was all the talk of transit trade just a case of misreporting? Not so fast. As the controversy over transit died down in Pakistan,external affairs minister S.M. Krishna was quoted as saying that he was surprised by Pakistan’s interest in ‘working together with India’ in Afghanistan!

That sentiment seemed completely out of step with the massive Pakistani campaign in the US and the West against Indian presence in Afghanistan. When it comes to India-Pakistan dialogue,nothing is what it seems.

If and when the Indo-Pak dialogue does resume,a trilateral transit arrangement with Afghanistan would hopefully emerge at the very top of the agenda; such an arrangement would help not only the three countries but the entire subcontinent. One would assume if New Delhi gets the right to export goods to the West through Pakistan,it would let Islamabad do the same to the East through India.

Civil-military relations

If you think problems of civil-military relations are a very special feature of the developing world,think again. Since the leak of his report seeking an additional 40,000 troops for Afghanistan,the American commander of US and NATO Forces,Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been at the centre of a Washington controversy on civil-military relations.

Speaking at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London last week,Gen. McChrystal was frank enough to say some of the ideas emanating from the White House for a limited involvement in Afghanistan were ‘short sighted’.

American liberals who want an early exit from Afghanistan say Gen. McChrystal has crossed a line by trying to put public pressure on President Barack Obama who is the commander in chief of the US armed forces. Conservatives direct their criticism at President Obama for ignoring the professional military advice of his theatre commanders.

The Republicans want Gen. McChrystal and CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus to come testify before the Congress at an early date on the Afghan situation. The Democrats,who know it will be unpopular to disagree with the generals in public,want the White House to lay down the line before they come before the Congress.

Both the National Security Adviser,Jim Jones,a former general of the Marine Corps and the Defence Secretary Robert Gates,ticked off Gen. McChrystal for airing his views in public,rather than sending them through the proper chain of military command.

Funding Taliban

The principal source of financial support for the Taliban,besides the lucrative opium trade,is said to be foreign donations. The Obama administration estimates that Taliban leaders and their allies received $106 million in the past year from donors outside Afghanistan.

According to the General Accounting Office of the US Congress,“Saudi individuals and Saudi-based charitable organisations continue to be a significant source of financing for terrorism and extremism outside of Saudi Arabia.” US officials do not blame the Saudi government,which has been a major partner of the U S war on terror.

Since 2003,Riyadh has had a ban on charities transferring money outside of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,but the GAO says this has not prevented Saudi-based charities with branches abroad from serving as funding sources for terrorists groups.

The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress,Washington DC

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