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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#2273, 23 April 2007
Tackling Intervention in South Asia Firdaus AhmedFreelancere-mail: firdyahmed@yahoo.com
Intervention by states in each other's internal affairs was highlighted in Rahul Gandhi's inadvertent electioneering remarks on his family's role in splitting Pakistan, which has, unsurprisingly, stirred controversy both internally in India, and abroad. The controversy would serve a purpose if it could become an opportunity to roll back interventionism in state intercourse within South Asia.
Intervention is a ubiquitous phenomenon in South Asian geopolitics, making it almost the primary characteristic of the regional system. Historically, the first instance coincided with Independence when the tribal lashkar moved into Kashmir to pressurize the Maharaja into acceding to Pakistan. The 1965 war was also prompted by the Pakistani launching of Operation Gibratar in which infiltrators were inducted to incite a rebellion in Kashmir, after which the Pakistan Army would liberate it by military action.
India, for its part, played this game with the remarkable results mentioned by Rahul Gandhi. Another theatre of intervention involving neighboring states has been the Northeast, which has long suffered a cyclical problem of insurgency and underdevelopment. Sri Lanka's Tamil predicament has an Indian angle, which evolved in the mid-eighties. The Kashmiri militancy and Baluchi irredentism have led to mutual recrimination alleging covert intervention by India and Pakistan. Clearly, intervention has a bloody history, which has not been written about fully, nor ended.
Intervention is an easy strategy since it is mostly covert, the advantages lying in escaping political scrutiny at home, while having plausible deniability abroad. All states in the region possess overlapping ethnicities and consequent vulnerabilities that can be exploited by neighbors to settle historical scores and further strategic ambitions.
Autonomous intelligence agencies are available to do the bidding of the strategic elite and further their parochial agendas relating to budgets, turf and salience in their respective strategic establishments. The political leadership would prefer to keep the energies of these agencies engaged outside the home turf.
Intervention lends itself to policy usage as a negotiating strategy or as a strategy of enforcing compliance. The bright side is that it is taken to be the lesser evil, the alternative being war. Since its glory days in the Cold War, it has become war by other means or 'proxy war.' That it is kept under wraps reveals an awareness of its illegitimacy in light of Article 2 of the UN Charter. Non-intervention figures as Article 1 of the SAARC Charter, the third principle of Panchsheel and is a cardinal principle of the Non Aligned Movement. The basis exists for tackling it but the political will for required action is lacking.
States only admit to providing moral and political support in such circumstances. Admitting to military and material support would convert their actions into aggression, attracting the international law of jus cogens. Back channel diplomacy can only work if there is political will backing it. Political will is usually missing since the gains are low cost and not too hurtful - the game is played out below the tolerance-threshold level in a politically marginal area. The Rahul Gandhi episode indicates that even young politicians are oblivious to these dangers. Governments can also be expected to be coy. The regional body, SAARC, should logically have an interest in these issues, but has been denied jurisdiction by the restriction on its dealing with bilateral and contentious issues.
A beginning can be made by greater openness in strategic discourse and Track Two efforts. Building greater transparency here could be the precursor to forming opinion in favor of not fueling other self-lit fires.
Presently, strategic communities wear their nationalism on their respective sleeves Dependent as they are on government largesse in subsidized think tanks or through the security establishment, strategists are understandably reticent. The dialogue of the deaf at the governmental level is thus replicated in strategic discourse and in the media. Acquiring a subcontinental perspective based on South Asia being seen as a single strategic space could enable a meaningful opening in acknowledging and thereafter relegating intervention as a policy tool.
An appreciation of the dangers from out-of-control intervention can catalyze action. Attention to conspiracy theories can raise the sensitivity to such dangers. Triggering war through blaming the other side for some terrorist outrage is a worst case scenario that increases in plausibility in the case of extremist regimes. In the India-Pakistan case, discontinuing these covert acts against each other could become an unacknowledged CBM that would certainly advance the peace process. It would distance them further from the realist, zero-sum, philosophy that underlies this strategy.

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