Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Advice for US Policymakers
The South Asian Vortex

Managing Afghanistan and Pakistan will be no picnic as Islamist threats and China loom. India could be a promising partner for the United States, but even it requires skillful handling.

Appeared in: Volume 13, Number 2 | Published on: September 13, 2017
Daniel Markey is a senior research professor in international relations and the academic director of the Global Policy Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is currently writing a book about the geopolitics of increasing Chinese influence in western Asia.
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  • FriendlyGoat

    We need decent relationships with the large-population nations, even if they are awkward.

  • MyWord245

    Good and balanced article — articles for which this blog is known for. Kudos. In a nut shell I think how we manage our relationship with India and Japan will determine our ability to influence affairs in Asia. There is another dimension to this calculus. Can we ‘energize’ India to be strong and active militarily? All our NATO allies — may be Israel, UK and Poland are exceptions — have lost the stomach for war. We have to help India be more assertive which means training and sale of sensitive technology — far more than what we are doing and perhaps more than what India is comfortable with.

  • Anthony

    “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” The South Asian Vortex is an informative TAI (Daniel Markey) contribution to our foreign policy (South Asia) conundrums, thanks.

  • We should support India, its future is far brighter than the rest of South Asia, and they at least are a relatively stable democracy.

    • Europa

      Supporting India is supporting New Delhi and not the people.

  • D4x

    Daniel Markey’s advice on managing America’s relationships with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India needs a few more edits, to reconcile his many good points with his implicit biases about POTUS, and
    “…Unfortunately, Secretary Tillerson’s present dismantling of the State Department raises doubts about America’s capacity to lead a robust diplomatic initiative. …”

    Aug. 31, 2017:
    ” ‘A Step In The Right Direction’: Former Diplomats Applaud Tillerson’s Plan To Cut Special Envoys Will Racke Immigration and
    Foreign Policy Reporter 12:13 PM 08/31/2017″
    12:39 PM 09/14/2017

    “…Tillerson noted that 66 special envoys currently operate within the department, in some cases long after the global crises that
    inspired their creation were resolved or became irrelevant. He recommended that 30 envoys keep their titles, another 21 be integrated into regional or functional bureaus, nine be eliminated entirely and five be merged with existing positions.

    “I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices
    within the regional and functional bureaus,
    and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose,” Tillerson told Corker. …”

    Sept. 13, 2017:
    “Tillerson offers peek into State Dept. redesign plan” By NAHAL TOOSI | 09/13/2017 06:46 PM EDT “…Our redesign plan seeks to align State and USAID foreign assistance and policy strategies, capabilities, and resources to execute
    foreign policy priorities more effectively,” Tillerson writes. …”

    • D4x

      One more example of Markey’s need for more edits, and a lot more research: Markey writes: “…The Trump Administration has announced plans to increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but only by roughly four thousand, taking the total to between 13 and 16 thousand. In addition, U.S. troops are expected to be less restricted in their use of force, …”

      1. Markey failed to read the GAO report released Aug. 10,

      2017 Government Accountability Office Afghanistan Security: U.S.-Funded Equipment for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

      The 2017 budget request includes that the Afghan Air Force will be replacing their Russian Mi-17 helos with modernised version
      of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Iraq has also been buying UH-60s.
      Terrific plan, because medi-vac has been one key reason why US troops have had to stay in Afghanistan]

      “The UH-60M has multi-mission capabilities and features a new airframe, advanced digital avionics and a powerful
      propulsion system. It can be used to perform tactical transport, utility, combat search-and-rescue, airborne assault,
      command-and-control, medical evacuation, aerial sustainment, search-and-rescue, disaster relief and fire-fighting. It
      offers improved situational awareness and greater survivability.”

      2. Markey did ZERO research into the actual deployment of those ‘4,000 troops’ since POTUS Aug 21, 2017 speech at Ft. Myer/Henderson Hall:

      Sept. 1, 2017:
      “Mattis: Additional U.S. Troops ‘On the Way’ to Afghanistan By Susan Jones | September 1, 2017 | 5:14 AM EDT”

      “…Mattis said. “When you go into Afghanistan and you’re carrying a gun, you’re going into a combat zone.
      I don’t buy — don’t get me wrong — the fight will still be carried by the Afghan security forces
      plus the 38 other allies who are there alongside us.

      “It’s more advisers. It’s more enablers — fire support, for example.” Mattis said the goal of sending additional U.S.
      troops is “to enable the Afghan forces to fight more effectively.” …”

      Sept. 8, 2017: ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – A deployment ceremony was
      held on JBER for 2,100 paratroopers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th
      Infantry Division, as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan. … Once on the
      ground, the 4-25 will be spread throughout the northern, eastern and southern
      parts of Afghanistan, where the primary mission will be to advise and assist
      Afghan security forces in an effort to increase their ability to secure the
      country. Units will also protect special operation forces.”

      It was a good idea to deploy so many US paratroopers to train the Afghan ANDSF combat troops including Afghan Special Forces how to deploy safely from those new Blackhawk UH-60s, to be operated by Afghans
      providing close-in air firepower support to the Afghan troops fighting the Taliban on the ground.

      I am so very tired of so many paid ‘experts’ twisting news
      solely to sustain the myth that, as Markey writes: “Judging from the
      general pattern of dysfunction and turmoil within the White House to date,
      however, there is precious little reason for optimism.”

      When will TAI, and their swarm of paid ‘experts’ learn that
      Positive Confidence Trumps the Negative Fear that is the trademark of too many
      paid experts who only care about their paid sinecures, NOT the survival of
      their frozen-in-amber idea of “liberal democracy”????

      [noun: sinecure: a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit.]

      • D4x

        Daniel Markey wrote: “Obama ended his presidency on a high note of personal diplomacy with Prime Minister Modi in spite of their obvious ideological differences. … …. On India, Trump would do well to stay the course. …”

        POTUS and First Lady Melania Trump hosted PM Modi on June 26, 2017.
        “Monday’s dinner is President Trump’s first for a foreign dignitary hosted at the White House”

        Markey should have read this primary source before writing his distorted ‘advice to Trump’, which is why I am copying the entire “President Trump and Prime Minister Modi of India in Joint Press Statement” to make it easier for Markey:
        “The White House Office of the Press Secretary For Immediate Release June 26, 2017
        Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Modi of India in Joint Press Statement

        Rose Garden

        5:31 P.M. EDT

        PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much. Prime Minister Modi, thank you for being here with us today. It’s a great honor to welcome the leader of the world’s largest democracy to the White House.

        I have always had a deep admiration for your country and for its people, and a profound appreciation for your rich culture, heritage and traditions. This summer, India will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its independence, and on behalf of the United States, I want to congratulate the Indian people on this magnificent milestone in the life of your very, very incredible nation.

        During my campaign, I pledged that if elected, India would have a true friend in the White House. And that is now exactly what you have — a true friend. The friendship between the United States and India is built on shared values, including our shared commitment to democracy. Not many people know it, but both American and the Indian constitutions begin with the same three very beautiful words: We the people.

        The Prime Minister and I both understand the crucial importance of those words, which helps to form the foundation of cooperation between our two countries. Relations between countries are strongest when they are devoted to the interests of the people we serve. And after our meetings today, I will say that the relationship between India and the United States has never been stronger, has never been better.

        I’m proud to announce to the media, to the American people, and to the Indian people, that Prime Minister Modi and I are world leaders in social media — (laughter) — we’re believers — giving the citizens of our countries the opportunity to hear directly from their elected officials, and for us to hear directly from them. I guess it’s worked very well in both cases.

        I am thrilled to salute you, Prime Minister Modi, and the Indian people for all that you are accomplishing together. Your accomplishments have been vast. India has the fastest growing economy in the world. We hope we’re going to be catching you very soon in terms of percentage increase, I have to tell you that. We’re working on it.

        In just two weeks, you will begin to implement the largest tax overhaul in your country’s history — we’re doing that also, by the way — creating great new opportunities for your citizens. You have a big vision for improving infrastructure, and you are fighting government corruption, which is always a grave threat to democracy.

        Together, our countries can help chart an optimistic path into the future, one that unleashes the power of new technology, new infrastructure, and the enthusiasm and excitement of very hardworking and very dynamic people.

        I look forward to working with you, Mr. Prime Minister, to create jobs in our countries, to grow our economies, and to create a trading relationship that is fair and reciprocal. It is important that barriers be removed to the export of U.S. goods into your markets, and that we reduce our trade deficit with your country.

        I was pleased to learn about an Indian Airlines recent order of 100 new American planes, one of the largest orders of its kind, which will support thousands and thousands of American jobs. We’re also looking forward to exporting more American energy to India as your economy grows, including major long-term contracts to purchase American natural gas, which are right now being negotiated, and we will sign them. Trying to get the price up a little bit.

        To further our economic partnership, I’m excited to report that the Prime Minister has invited my daughter, Ivanka, to lead the U.S. delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India this fall. And I believe she has accepted.

        Finally, the security partnership between the United States and India is incredibly important. Both our nations have been struck by the evils of terrorism, and we are both determined to destroy terrorist organizations and the radical ideology that drives them. We will destroy radical Islamic terrorism. Our militaries are working every day to enhance cooperation between our military forces. And next month, they will join together with the Japanese navy to take place in the largest maritime exercise ever conducted in the vast Indian Ocean.

        I also thank the Indian people for their contributions to the effort in Afghanistan, and for joining us in applying new sanctions against the North Korean regime. The North Korean regime is causing tremendous problems and is something that has to be dealt with, and probably dealt with rapidly.

        Working together, I truly believe our two countries can set an example for many other nations, make great strides in defeating common threats, and make great progress in unleashing amazing prosperity and growth.

        Prime Minister Modi, thank you again for joining me today, and for visiting our country and our wonderful White House and Oval Office. I enjoyed our very productive conversation this afternoon, and look forward to its continuation tonight at dinner. The future of our partnership has never looked brighter. India and the United States will always be tied together in friendship and respect.

        Prime Minister Modi, thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

        PRIME MINISTER MODI: (As interpreted.) President Donald Trump and First Lady, Vice President, ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen of the media: Right from the opening tweet to the end of our talks, President Trump’s welcome, which was filled with friendliness, his warm welcome to the White House by himself and the First Lady, I would like to thank both of you from the bottom of my heart for this warm welcome.

        I would also like to give a special thanks to you, President Trump, for having spent so much time with me, for having spoken such kind words about me and my country. And I would like to tell you that I’m eager to welcome your daughter to India for the Entrepreneurship Summit.

        President Trump, I’d once again like to thank you for the time that you have spent with me. I’d like to give you special thanks for that.

        My visit and our talks today will mark a very important page in the history of the collaboration and cooperation between our two nations. The talks between his Excellency, President Trump, and myself today have been extremely important from all points of view, for several reasons: Because they were based on mutual trust; because of the convergence and similarities they revealed in our values, and our priorities, and in our concerns and interests; because they focused on the highest levels of achievement in our cooperation, and mutual support, and partnership; because our two countries are global engines of growth; because the all-around or comprehensive economic growth and joint progress of both countries and both societies is the main objective for both the President and myself, and will remain so; because the top priority for both President Trump and myself is to protect our society from global challenges like terrorism; and because our aim is the strengthening of India and the USA — two great democracies in the world — friends.

        Our robust strategic partnership is such that it touches upon almost all areas of human endeavor. In our conversation today, President Trump and I have discussed all dimensions of India-U.S. relations at length. Both nations are committed to a bilateral architecture that will take our strategic partnership to new heights.

        In this relationship, in both countries, increased productivity, growth, job creation, and breakthrough technologies — an engagement towards all these are, and will remain, strong drivers of our cooperation, and will give further momentum to our relationship.

        We consider the USA as our primary partner for India’s social and economic transformation in all our flagship programs and schemes. I am sure that the convergence between my vision for a “new India and President Trump’s vision for “making America great again” will add new dimensions to our cooperation.

        I am very clear about the fact that India’s interests lie in a strong, and prosperous, and successful America. In the same way, India’s development and its growing role at the international level are in the USA’s interest.

        One of our common priorities will be the development of trade, commerce, and investment links. And in this regard, in the technology, innovation, and knowledge-economy sectors, the expansion and deepening of cooperation is also among our priorities. Towards this end, we shall take steps to further strengthen our successful digital partnership.

        Friends, we are not just partners by chance. We are also partners in dealing with current and future challenges that we may be faced with. Today, during our meeting, we discussed the serious challenges of terrorism, extremism, and radicalization, which are the major challenges facing the world today. And we have agreed to enhance our cooperation in fighting against these scourges. Fighting terrorism and doing away with the safe shelters, sanctuaries, and safe havens will be an important part of our cooperation.

        With respect to our common concerns on terrorism, we will also enhance our sharing of intelligence, and exchange information to deepen and expand our policy coordination as far as possible.

        We also spoke at length on regional issues. The increasing instability, due to terrorism, in Afghanistan is one of our common concerns. Both India and America have played an important role in rebuilding Afghanistan and ensuring its security. In order to attain our objectives for peace and stability in Afghanistan, we will maintain close consultation and communication with the U.S. to enhance coordination between our two nations.

        In the Indo-Pacific region, in order to maintain peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, this is also another objective of our strategic cooperation in this area. The increasing possibilities for enhancing cooperation in order to protect our strategic interests will continue to determine the dimensions of our partnership. We will continue to work with the USA in this region.

        With regard to security-related challenges, our enhanced and growing defense and security cooperation is extremely important. We have spoken at length on this subject as well.

        The strengthening of India’s defense capabilities, with the help of USA, is something that we truly appreciate. We have also decided to enhance maritime security cooperation between the two nations. President Trump and I have also spoken about strengthening bilateral defense technology and our trade and manufacturing partnership, which we believe will be mutually beneficial to us.

        We also discussed international issues and our common strategic interests. In this context, we are extremely grateful for the continued support of the United States for India’s membership of international institutions and regimes. We truly appreciate the support, because this is also in the interest of both our nations.

        President Trump, I thank you for your feelings of friendship towards India and myself. I deeply appreciate your strong commitment to the enhancement of our bilateral relations. I am sure that under your leadership, our mutually beneficial strategic partnership will gain new strength, new positivity, and will reach new heights, and that your vast and successful experience in the business world will lend an aggressive and forward-looking agenda to our relations.

        In this journey of India-America relations, I think I would like to thank you for providing great leadership. Be assured that in this joint journey of our two nations towards development, growth and prosperity, I will remain a driven, determined, and decisive partner.

        Excellency, my visit today and the extensive talks I have held with you have been very successful, very fruitful. And before leaving this mic, I would like to invite you to India, along with your family. And I hope that you will give me the opportunity to welcome you and host you in India.

        And at the end, once again, I’d like to thank you for the warm welcome extended by you and the First Lady to myself and my delegation, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. (Applause.)

        PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. I appreciate it. Thank you.

        5:51 P.M. EDT”
        “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s place setting shown before dinner with President Donald Trump at the White House”
        “Another hug: Trump and Modi embrace again as they say goodbye Monday evening”

        Three days later, on June 29, 2017, POTUS and FL Trump hosted South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim
        Jung-sook at the White House, with their second dinner for a foreign Head of State:
        “South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook were then joined by other dignitaries for a dinner in the State Dining Room”

        Eight days later, on July 7, 2017, PM Modi, President and Mrs. Moon, and President and Mrs. Trump met again at the G-20 Summit, dinner, and concert in Hamburg, Germany.
        07 07 2017 G20 leaders and their spouses pose for a family photo prior to the concert at the Elbphilharmonie hall during the G20 Summit in Hamburg.

        The Moons are in the front row, next to Argentina’s President Macri & FL Awada (hosted by the Trumps on April 27, 2017), then Chancellor Merkel, then China’s President & FL Xi (hosted by the Trumps on April 6, 2017). PM Modi is standing next to President Trump in the second row. France’s President & FL Macron are to the left of FL Melania. They first met at the NATO meeting in Brussels, May 25, when the Macrons invited the Trumps to Bastille Day Commemoration on July 14.

        Photos copied from:

        Markey really needs to rethink “Judging from the general pattern of dysfunction and turmoil within the White
        House to date, however, there is precious little reason for optimism. …the competence of the current White House”, at least in terms of “personal diplomacy”.

        • leoj

          Did you read Smith’s last couple over at Tablet? Worth checking out:

          • D4x

            TY – had been thinking of catching up on Lee Smith a few days ago. He is correct about so much in both. However, like Markey here, Lee fails to notice in his Sept 18 critique of Trump’s Afghanistan (lack of) strategy, the Sept. 1 deployment of 2,100 Alaskan paratroopers to train the Afghan ANDSF combat troops how to deploy safely from those new Blackhawk UH-60s…

            Smith also obsesses over McMaster’s 1972 photo of western-dressed women in Kabul. Does he not realize that a generation of Afghans have grown up in Peshawar, love Bollywood films, and, have been moving back to Afghanistan, with all those cellphones?

            On Sept 19, Fortune had a report on what Advisor to POTUS Ivanka Trump is doing at the U.N.:
            “Ivanka Trump met with India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.
            The Fortune article had a link to State Dep’t.:

            “The United States and India will co-host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) November 28-30 in Hyderabad, India. Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump will lead the United States’ delegation to the
            Summit, which will focus on supporting women entrepreneurs and fostering economic growth globally.

            President Donald J. Trump announced the Summit during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House on June 26, 2017. …”

            As for Smith’s belief the COIN strategy will stay the same? A lot of that was transferred to State Dept by Obama. Once I was in, Istarted looking at the organization chart, and saw more than one ‘Acting’ Assistant Secretary…like this appointment on June 26:

            “Alice G. Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Term of Appointment: 06/26/2017 to present”

            Her first trip to India and Pakistan was July 30-Aug. 8

            Sept. 1: Indian Ocean Conference, Sri Lanka

            Sept 12: Wells address to U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
            “U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) “Road to GES” Entrepreneurship Conclave”

            That is enough clues, for me, that COIN is being re-structured along with the State Dept. organization, with a big focus on India and Pakistan, and, that will impact POTUS’ strategy in Afghanistan.
            Maybe no mini-skirts on the streets of Kabul, but more like those college students in Peshawar.

            Anyway, let’s hope Lee Smith can see past the ‘Graveyard of Empires’, ‘McMaster is Svengali’, ‘Trump is clueless/chaotic’ themes that have skewed too many analyses of what is actually happening.

            Of course, in my Pashtun history reply, I should have admitted that Pakistan is the big ‘strategy’ quandary.

            VP Pence was deployed today:

            Oops, have not been paying attention to Pakistan. The new Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is a fine fit for the prosperity path: western-educated electrical engineer in oil and gas, businessman, aviation enthusiast, founder of AirBlue, well connected in Pakistan’s military/ISI complex. He was supposed to be a 45-day temp, but managed a resounding parliamentary vote for his new job on August 1. First foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia, after appointing himself as Pakistan’s first Minister for Energy:

            I am beginning to think Sec Commerce Wilbur Ross is the one to follow.

          • D4x

            The sanity of omission. A lede to remember:
            “Trump Tries a New Tack on the Peace Process: The definition of sanity.”
            Evelyn Gordon / Sept. 25, 2017
            Linked at RCW Sept 27 pm. I don’t know how the RC… select their reads.

  • D4x

    Pakistan has been forcing longterm Afghan refugees, many who have been living in Peshawar, Pakistan for twenty years, to return to their homes in Afghanistan. Do not underestimate the influence of Pakistan’s popular culture on young Afghans, from March 30, 2016:
    College students in Peshawar, once the winter capital of the Kingdom of Afghanistan, before wars of the 1830’s.

    I had cognitive dissonance from TAI’s use of this photograph of Afghan women in their distinctive blue burkhas, by Paula Bronstein, when she worked for Getty Images, which has no date. It could be from any time between 2001, when Bronstein first went to Afghanistan, to 2014, but it is most likely from 2004.
    A news report from 2016, and nowhere near Kabul: “Woman In Afghanistan Beheaded: Taliban Kills Wife For Shopping In City Without Her Husband” By Tim Marcin @TimMarcin On 12/29/16 AT 11:35 AM
    “…The woman was stabbed and beheaded in the remote city of
    Lati, in the Sar-e-Pul province of northern Afghanistan. Zabihullah Amani,
    spokesman for the governor of Sar-e-Pul, reportedly confirmed the account to
    the Middle East Press, saying the woman was killed by the Taliban for
    committing the so-called “infidelity act” of shopping alone. …”

    BUT, uses a Bronstein photo from 2004:
    “An Afghan woman, wearing a burqa, is reflected in a shop window at the main market Sept. 30, 2004 in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

    More on Bronstein – you can follow the links like I did:

    South Asia IS really complicated. Not helpful to use undated photographs to spin a narrative.

    • Maybe the Pashtun territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan should be made into one again, some have argued that the Durand Line drawn by the British was in itself deeply flawed (like the artificial boundaries that divide the Kurds of the Middle East).

      • D4x

        One key difference between the Pashtuns and the Kurds is that a Kandahar-area Pashtun, Ahmad Shah Durrani, created the Kingdom of Afghanistan, and the Durrani Empire, in 1747. Many wars later, including conquest of most of modern Pakistan west of the Indus River from the Mughal Empire, Afghanistan lost their winter capital, Peshawar, in the 1830s, first to the Sikhs, who then lost to the British.

        This Afghanistan/Pakistan ethnic map from the NYT in 2000 shows the complexity, Pashtuns are in brick-red.

        Nationalist Pashtuns, with support from Afghanistan, tried to erase the imaginary Durand Line and create Pashtunistan, during and after partition 1947-49:
        Pakistan mainstreamed Pashtuns into the military and government. In 2010, Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province was officially renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which does NOT include all of Pakistan’s Pashtun-majority areas. The Durand Line was drawn after the 1878-80 Second Anglo-Afghan War, when the British realized they could never ‘govern’ the Pashtuns, especially in Waziristan. Those parts of Pakistan continue to be Federally Administered Tribal Areas, not part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

        Imran Khan’s centrist political party, Pakistan Movement for Justice,
        is Pashtun-izing Pakistan, except for Pakistan’s half of Balochistan, which, separately from Iran’s half of Balochistan, wants self-determination. Balochistan was once an independent nation, but, many Pashtuns live in Pakistan’s Balochistan, where the provincial capital of Quetta is only 108 miles to Kandahar.

        The Constable’s hand atlas of India 1893 is the most fascinating mapping I have ever read. The British labeled all of the Pashtun tribes, along with place names for rivers, towns, mountains. They did not bother with Balochistan. It has been re-published since 2001, but you can see all of the original main maps here:

        After wrestling with complex history of South Asia since 2003, I am now partial to America’s Civil war history, with a bit of Ottoman, and Russian history.

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