American self-goal

American self-goal

The thousands of US diplomatic cables dumped on the world media over the weekend add little fresh insight into political dynamics of the Great Game territory. They merely confirm what was quite evident to the analytical eye.The first nuggets culled from the massive cable dump are hardly surprising the Arab concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons, the psycho-babble about the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the longing in the regional chancelleries for Pakistan's Gen Pervez Musharraf, the widespread contempt for President Asif Ali Zardari, and the US interest in doing something about the dangers of nuclear proliferation in Pakistan but the inability to act. What matters more over the longer term for the Af-Pak dynamic may be what Kishore Mahbubani the dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore and a columnist for this newspaper calls the growing "Western incompetence" in the international arena.The US self-goal is not accidental, but is rooted in the massive difference between the capabilities of the United States and the rest of the world after the Cold War. This gap did not increase the effectiveness of American diplomacy; instead it vastly increased the margin for error which was duly filled by the foreign policy establishment as different sections in Washington pursued their pet fancies on the world stage. ince the US foreign policy debate tends to be self-referential, prevailing in Washington's political contests became far more important than winning friends around the world. This also meant the confidentiality of the engagement with external partners has ceased to be critical. The principal lesson for the United States is that it can no longer afford the laxity that has come to characterise the conduct of its international relations. If it is to regain its primacy in the world, the US will need to rediscover the arts of diplomacy that it chose to downplay after the Cold War.

Arab-Persian divide

While there are no major surprises from the leaks, some of the detail should help redefine the terms of the Indian public debate on regional security. Take for example, one of the juiciest bits to come out of the cables so far the Saudi King Abdullah's reported appeals to Washington to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities and "cut off the head of the snake".That the Saudis have the biggest concerns about the Iranian nuclear weapon programme has not been a political secret, except in the Indian public debate. The Arabs are really afraid that a rising Iran armed with nuclear weapons will undermine the political order in the Persian Gulf. India's huge stakes in the region demand that Delhi reframe the debate in terms of the changing balance between Riyadh and Tehran. End state

In a very interesting briefing to leading TV anchors, editors and columnists at the GHQ in Rawalpindi on Sunday, a top military official (could it be Gen. Ashfaq Kayani himself?), has laid down the Pakistan army's grievances against the Obama administration's Af-Pak policy.A report on the briefing in Tuesday's Dawn newspaper says that the unidentified military official complained that Pakistan has "transited from the 'most sanctioned ally' to the 'most bullied ally' of the United States".According to Dawn, Rawalpindi's other complaints are " the US still has a 'transactional' relationship with Pakistan; the US is interested in perpetuating a state of 'controlled chaos' in Pakistan; and, perhaps most explosively given the Wiki Leaks' revelations, the 'real aim of US strategy is to de-nuclearise Pakistan'." The real motive for the briefing may be that the bargaining between Washington and Rawalpindi on the Afghan question has entered a delicate stage. Pointing to the contradiction between American short-term interests and Pakistan's long-term goals, the briefer demanded that Washington must "clearly identify the end conditions in Afghanistan".On its part, the Pakistan army prefers a three-stage sequence for the construction of a stable Afghanistan. The first is a set of international concessions to Pakistan's proxies in Afghanistan that should help reduce the level of violence; in return, the Taliban and the Haqqani factions would dissociate themselves from the Al-Qaeda; and in the third stage, the Afghan constitution must be revised to take into account the nation's history, culture and geography.The military official, Dawn says, rejected the US demand for an early military operation in North Waziristan. The army wants a domestic political consensus as well as substantive US concessions before it agrees to take on the militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan.

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