Course correction for AfPak policy in the US interest

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Two different reports. From two different countries. In the same paper. Yes. Nothing out of the blue. Every day newspapers carry reports from across the world. Often there may be some thing common to a couple of reports. But not a ring of familiarity as noticed in the New York Times on September 24.

‘Taliban Widen Afghan Attacks From Base in Pakistan’, read the headline of the front-page Washington datelined report. “American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power,” it said.

The second report was from New York. It says Rehman Malik, the Pakistan Minister for the Interior has explained patiently why his country is not acting against the persons responsible for terror attacks on Mumbai in November last even after India said it had provided detailed dossiers on the wanted persons.

‘Look there is a difference between leads and evidence. If we can arrest Lakhvi, why would we not arrest Saeed? The only request that I am making to India is give us credible evidence, evidence that stands judicial scrutiny.’

These were the very same expressions American officials trotted out regularly to Indians whenever they raised concerns over cross border terrorism till 26/11 happened. Now the refrain is picked up by America’s frontline ally in the war against terrorism.

Don’t believe? Well, I do. I have been hearing top Indian officials publicly lament at umpteen press conferences about the wall they had confronted every time they knocked at American doors with ‘evidence’. These laments though unreported are not difficult to verify.

Pick up the phone and ask CIA/FBI officer or those who had handled the south Asia desk at the State Department. The beauty of US system is a willingness on the part of bureaucracy to talk, unlike in third world countries like India and Pakistan. So it may be possible even to get the time and date of the Indian monologue.

Pakistan is highest foreign policy priority to the US, Robert Blake, the new US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian affairs told the Dawn newspaper and TV in an exclusive interview on August 14. He added that the Obama administration was willing to provide whatever security and economic assistance it needs.

The interview was significant for another comment “US strongly backed the Indian demand for punishing the Mumbai terror suspects. Pakistan must punish the suspects and stop cross-border terrorist attacks if it wanted the resumption of bilateral talks with India”. Blake was silent on evidence for action.

The US concern for action against Mumbai terror suspects is not a sudden one though. It was in full display shortly after the terror strike at the iconic symbols of India’s financial capital. The then Secretary of State Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a flying visit to the sub-continent to share India’s concerns and to cajole Pakistan to act against the ‘players’ identified by Delhi with some help from Washington itself.

Both Rice and her successor, who is all set to make her maiden visit to Islamabad, were not prepared to hear the Malik speak on evidence.

Washington considers Delhi’s dossier is enough for action. Islamabad, obviously, doesn’t share the perception. It could be because Indian dossiers are not the worth the trouble. Or it could be because Islamabad believes it can afford to ignore the dossier.

Surprisingly, Pakistan doesn’t appear to be stirred by the increasing stridency in the dispatches New York Times, Washington Post, L. A. Times, and The Times of London carry these days. May be President Zardari and his army chief Gen Kayani have heard and read such reports by the dozen over the years. Earlier the reports carried Delhi as date line. Now the date line is Washington, New York, London and Kabul.

Take the Sept 24 dispatch in the New York Times.

“American officials have voiced new and unusually public criticism of Pakistan’s role in abetting the growing Afghan insurgency. ….The Taliban leaders, backed by the powerful ISI, are using their bases in Pakistan to carry out a wave of attacks in the once relatively placid parts of Afghanistan’, it said.

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This assessment echoed a report by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, which was made public by the Washington Post three days earlier on September 21. He is convinced that the Taliban has become an increasingly sophisticated shadow government that sees itself on the cusp of victory in the war-ravaged nation.

“Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with Al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups,” and are reportedly aided by “some elements” of the ISI, says the General in his assessment that without more forces, NATO will lose the war in Afghanistan..

The United States ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, is also frustrated too. In an interview to the McClatchy newspapers, she said the Pakistani government was “certainly reluctant to take action” against the leadership of the Afghan insurgency.

Substitute India for Afghanistan in all these and many other reports. Cross border terrorism practiced with impunity by Pakistan’s ISI becomes clear like bright day light.

Leaf through the old dispatches of Reuters or AFP to get a hang of the number of terrorist attacks in India and the mayhem caused by ISI’s pampered terrorist groups like Lashker-e-Tayiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

As remarked at the outset, Washington cared two-pence for these reports.

The question is why the White House and State Department are exercised now. Is it because as the New York Times reports ‘American officials face a frustrating paradox: the more the administration wrestles publicly with how substantial and lasting a military commitment to make to Afghanistan, the more the ISI is likely to strengthen bonds to the Taliban as Pakistan hedges its bets’.

It is possible that American intelligence officials who follow Pakistan closely are worried over the Taliban exploiting political vulnerabilities in countries like Germany which are going for general elections. After 9/11, and in fact before that bench mark date, the Taliban have proved their capability for strategic planning.

Reading New York Times and Washington Post in particular, it is crystal clear that the Obama administration as also its predecessor was clearly aware of ‘the threat posed by the ‘Taliban Shura’ (leadership council) based in Quetta in Baluchistan, which abuts parts of southern Afghanistan. The area is also home to the base for launching ‘Drone’ attacks on the ‘Taliban controlled’ region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan.

‘The Taliban inner Shura in Baluchistan is certainly trying to exercise greater command and control over the Taliban in Afghanistan’, American officials in Afghanistan have been saying for long. Yet, Washington is lending an ear to Islamabad for a dialogue with ‘good Taliban’. Apparently, in their singular pursuit of getting out early, American egg heads are led to believe that there could be some good apples in a basket of rotten apples.

No surprise, therefore, Mullah Omar, a reclusive cleric, is bragging that the Taliban is approaching the edge of victory. He is also reminding the Americans of the lessons of the past centuries when Afghanistan turned to be the graveyard of empires.

Jane Perlez reported from Islamabad in the New York Times (Aug 21, 2009) that there is a flipside to the American economic aid to Pakistan.

American officials were worried that the proposed $1.5 billion aid over the next year would feed graft in Pakistan, the dispatch said. Corruption is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. IMF/World Bank and Transparency International have been highlighting how corruption is institutionalized and how the army presides over a vast business and real-estate empire.

The NYT report quoted some American officials as saying that Pakistan Army was ‘diverting’ the money toward ‘programs aimed at deterring India’ instead. Not a new development. It is the ‘in thing’ for years and goes back to the days of METO (Middle East Treaty Organization) SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) and the much talked about NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

From the days of Indira Gandhi (who saw CIA hand even in her shadow), India has been telling the US that its military aid to Pakistan is getting diverted against it. .

Now the American media is repeating the same charges. Time for Déjà vu in India!

‘Pakistan Made Changes to Missiles Sold for Defense’ read the headline of a front page dispatch in The New York Times on August 30. Eric Schmitt and David E.Sanger, quoting senior administration and Congressional officials in Washington reported that Pakistan illegally modified American-made missiles to expand its capability to strike land targets in India.

The accusation may be hard news for the ‘uninitiated’ American media but the sub continent has been awash with reports for a long while that Pakistan had modified the Harpoon anti-ship missiles (sold in the eighties) and the P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions.

At least now, the US administration should face the question: does Pakistan actually need such weapons to fight Taliban?

The problem America is confronting today in Pakistan has its roots in the El’ Dorado of 21st century. It is the readiness of the US, as the largest global inventor and manufacturer of weapons, to unload crates of weapons to keep its factories going and to check unemployment rate. Otherwise Pakistani Generals would not have got toys like Harpoon in the first place.

President Obama or his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will do well to fly over the ‘Taliban territory’ to get a first hand feel of the terrain and then go along with the reports of Generals and ordinance factories.

a course correction in AfPak policy is long overdue. It has become all the more urgent and cannot be delayed. Pakistan conducted a missile test on April 23. Islamabad has not announced the test and it gives Pakistan a new offensive weapon, according to the American intelligence agencies.

7 comments for “Course correction for AfPak policy in the US interest

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