By Shane Eric-Eugene Hensinger
Master's candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
(Author's note: This is the second part of an interview with Gretchen Peters, pictured at left, a student in the Ph.D. program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. (To read the first part of this interview click here.) Peters is the author of the highly acclaimed book Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda. An Emmy-nominated reporter for the Associated Press and ABC News, she has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan extensively and has commented frequently on NPR, CNN and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A recipient of the SAJA Journalism Award, Peters lives in Denver with her husband and their family.)
An article in The New Yorker recently referenced a Pakistani saying: 'You keep the tiger interested without allowing
the tiger to eat you.' This was in reference to the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. What
were your thoughts while you were there on that interplay.
When Zia ul-Haq was president he used to say 'You want to keep the water boiling without letting the pot boil over.' It's really interesting what's happened in Pakistan the last few weeks. They've started arresting all these Afghan Taliban officials, so there's this big question whether ISI (the Pakistani intelligence services) have formally taken Washington's line and they're going to dismantle this group, or there is some speculation that there have been reports of talks going on behind the scenes, that Pakistan and the U.N. are talking to Taliban ? but it's so hard to tell at this point and time. No one really knows.
Pakistan spends an enormous amount of money on defense, one of the highest ratios in the world compared to GDP. And there are huge impacts to services from that -- to education, sanitation etc. It's similar to Israel-Palestine where you have this sort of Hobbesian state of fear. They're convinced they'll be destroyed by India at any moment.
It's their national mythology?
Exactly -- it's their national mythology. The fact that they lost Bangladesh also doesn't help them.
My time in India was illuminative on that point. Indians aren't constantly afraid
they'll be destroyed by Pakistan.
India could never be destroyed by Pakistan.
But Pakistan has more nuclear weapons than India, at least according to some account.
Their strategy is to have more nuclear weapons to offset India's conventional edge
and they also have a 'first-strike' policy on the use of nuclear weapons.
And the thing that's so worrisome about India-Pakistan is the proximity. You can fly from Islamabad to Delhi in 45 minutes. It's as close as New York and Boston. There's no time to decide if something is mistakenly identified on radar -- it's a scenario where both countries have no possibility for a second strike, they're just going to be obliterated. But I really feel, very strongly, that if there were the proper diplomatic initiative, and the pressure would need to be put on India, that the U.S. and the global diplomatic community could certainly do a lot toward ratcheting down that conflict.
What do you mean when you say 'pressure put on India?'
Because the Indians are the ones who don't want any international involvement. They want direct bilateral talks.
Usually the fewer parties you have in diplomatic talks, the more effective they can
I agree with that. I'm not suggesting the whole international community. I think the U.S. has a fair amount of clout with India, which it didn't have before when India was allied with the Soviet Union, in the nuclear deals, the number of business deals, tech workers here in the U.S.
I think the U.S. has a level of influence in Delhi that it didn't have before. I was very pleased to see India and Pakistan have been speaking but the recent horrible incident in Kabul (the terrorist attack on India's embassy) in which so many Indian diplomats and aid workers were killed didn't help. There have been a number of incidents involving Indian road projects, attacks on Indian guest houses and consulates. And the way the Pakistanis see it is that the Indian road projects that took place in Afghanistan were right on the Afghan-Pakistani border. There are a lot of roads that need to be rebuilt in Afghanistan -- they don't need to focus on the ones that are right on the border.
What do they think? That India is going to send troops to that road?
They're extremely strategic roads. Extremely delicate location -- these are roads that run right across the border.
Right, but India and Afghanistan are separated by Pakistan. It's not as if India can
send troops to use those roads.
It's not a question of using the roads it's a question of sending in all of these Indian road workers coming in. And Pakistan assumed they were there for one reason.
To gather intelligence?
Right. Engaging in espionage. And then there were attacks on those road workers and then the Indians did send in security and it just ratcheted things up. I just think there is a level of tension that doesn't need to exist. And U.S. officials need to recognize that when some Indian official comes in and says 'We're going to come in and build some road' the U.S. should say 'No, you're not going to build a road right next to the Pakistani border.' The development work India is engaging in Afghanistan is not perceived by Pakistan in friendly terms.
Right, but it's not for Pakistan to decide what type of development work other states
do in Afghanistan.
I agree. It's not, but at the same time if the Japanese come and build roads they'll build them where they're needed. Why do the Indians need to build a road right along the Pakistani border? I'm suggesting that there's something more to it than just building roads. There's no question that both countries are supporting separatist groups in each other's territory -- there's no question. And the U.S. has the authority with both countries to try and ratchet that down.
I talk with ordinary Pakistani and Indians and they want this situation to be resolved as well -- they could be making so much money. They were one country at one time and the road networks are all connected. Farmland is on one side of the border and manufacturing on another. There are families that have been separated all these years. The same legal system, the same languages. They have so much to gain but they can't, the militaries of both states, can't see past each other at this point. I think Afghanistan is the battleground of the cold war that goes on between India and Pakistan -- and one way Obama could earn his Nobel Peace Prize is to mediate that conflict.
Isn't part of the problem, as Seymour Hersh said, that India has a civilian leadership
in control of the defense and intelligence institutions in India while in Pakistan
they're totally separate. In Pakistan one hand never knows what the other is doing.
I agree with you totally. I think there's a big problem in Pakistan with Pakistan's civilian leadership not able to control the military and possibly higher levels of Pakistan's military unable to control certain divisions of its own intelligence services. And no one really knows how bad this is. There are a lot of questions about this. I tend to conclude that when Pakistan's intelligence services want to stop the extremist groups they can -- maybe they can't at this point because they've created a monster they can no longer control but I've seen them say 'stop' before and they've shut things down -- they can do it.
The willingness of India to negotiate is impacted by this situation. Why compromise
when you don't have a reliable negotiating partner?
I don't think India has to make any compromises beyond not continuing to do the same thing inside Pakistan (supporting separatist movements). If Pakistan says to India 'This is going to take a few years but we're dedicated to ending our involvement in Indian separatist groups,' then India needs to stop supplying rebels in Baluchistan with weapons and training, stop riling up the border with Afghanistan through their road projects. India is the winner here. I mean -- they have a much bigger economy. If they make peace with Pakistan they'll benefit in every way. And India has so much to lose from a failed Pakistan.
Power abhors a vacuum, so what will fill that vacuum?
Exactly, which is one of the reasons that I oppose the drone strikes. The U.S. goes in and kills this person, and then kills another and then another. But there's nobody going in and trying to replace these bastards with someone better. So why are we surprised when someone worse comes in and fills their place?
There's never any long-term institutional commitment within the foreign policy establishment.
It's not only our foreign-policy establishment, it's all foreign-policy establishments.
It's a glaring omission, which makes you wonder why no one thinks long-term versus
the next two or three years.
Right. I feel like the military and the other team that has been put together by [U.S. Army] Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal and his COIN [counter-insurgent plan] is quite thorough. I've read the whole thing and I'm impressed with its depth and breadth. It's a 10-year plan. He's assembled an extremely creative plan that is very holistic and, for lack of a better phrase, it helps me sleep at night