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Af-Pak: Manna from Heaven

August 29, 2009

Pakistan has had the cake and eaten it too!! Obama’s Af-Pak initiative has meant that Pakistan becomes intrinsically important in the American game plan. Obama’s anti-terror initiative has Afghanistan-Pakistan as the focus away from Iraq. The allied forces are withdrawing from Iraq and many of them will be redeployed in Afghanistan. The process has already begun.

Obama wants to go to the root cause of terror worldwide. The Americans concluded that most of the terror the world over emanated from the region of Afghanistan-Pakistan. It was in this light that the recent American military initiative needs to be seen. The Americans soon realized that their whole effort hinged on the support from the Pakistan government, particularly the army (ref: Operation Khanjar: American surge in Afghanistan by Ullas Sharma). They went out of their way to placate Pakistan. The 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks had put a spanner in any forward movement on talks between India and Pakistan. The Americans impressed upon India the need for a thawing of relations. They wanted Pakistan to move their forces to the western border so that the Taliban could be checked. Manmohan Singh went to Egyptian town of Sharm-el Sheikh and issued a joint statement along with Prime Minister Gilani calling for peace and understanding between the two nations. He faced flak back home for his overtures and for letting Pakistan off the hook. Pakistan found that they had managed to get India off their back and then they did not really launch any offensive against the Pakistan Taliban. The initiative in Swat was prior to Shar-el Sheikh and if Pakistan was really keen on cleaning up their country of the horrid Taliban they did not need to insist on a peace initiative between the two countries.

The Americans needed logistical support from Pakistan. They found that their trucks and wares were attacked and burnt more than once. Pakistan authorities said that this was the doing of the Taliban but those in the know had enough knowledge that this was the work of the ISI. Pakistan was in financial crisis. The Af-Pak policy came in handy. They found that the Americans needed them and they could cut a bargain. Pakistan was given billions of dollars in aid by the US government. The balance of payment crisis in Pakistan was averted. A weak kneed government and nation found that they could stay financially afloat after all. And pray what did they use the precious American aid for – to buy weapons that can be used only in the plains and against their self obsessed rival – India. No these arms and planes had nothing to do with Af-Pak. The howitzers and the F-16’s and the submarines could not be used against the Taliban. They were a counter to their adversary on the east. The Americans looked the other way.

India had put a lot of pressure on Pakistan and they had arrested Hafiz Saeed and others that were the masterminds in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Post Sharm-el Sheikh they have released them. I guess a couple of such accused have been detained but it is not clear as to what kind of detention they are in. The government in Pakistan can now claim that they are doing all they can to make sure they take care of the jihadi elements in the Pakistan society. The bad news is that such radicals have a fair following in Pakistan. In that it must be said that the Pakistan society is at a crossroad. They do not know whether it will be good for them if they turned towards extreme right – follow the Sharia and have a pak (pure) Islamic state or whether the country should turn liberal and shun the radical elements in the society. The clergy says one thing and the liberal intellectuals another. The society is in an utter state of confusion.

The Pakistan state has milked the Americans for all they are worth. It has bordered on the obscene – the way they have genuflected in front of their American masters and then got what they wanted. What they have studiously avoided is to act tough on the radicals. They have done only so much and no more. They have allowed the Americans access to three of their bases and the drones continue to pound the border areas inside Pakistan. The situation has become so desperate that the Taliban have resorted to suicide attacks on the Pakistan army. The Khyber saw a suicide bomb attack in which more than 20 Pakistan army personnel were killed. The drone attacks are tolerated as they know that if they restrained the Americans, all financial and military help will be stopped and the country will be in dire straits financially and militarily.

The Af-Pak policy has another aspect that is the opening of schools and dispensaries for educating the masses and providing them healthcare. The Pakistan government is encouraging the Americans to spend some more on this social effort as they have not been able to do much over the years. However, the radicals are now demanding that more madrasas be started instead of modern schools for boys and girls. There is a discord here too. The Americans are afraid that the radicals will take over the madrasas if the they opened any such religious schools. The Americans are trying to juggle the political leadership too now (and this is not the first time either) and Richard Hoolbrook, the American envoy has said that the west must look at Nawaz Sharief as a possible leader for the state of Pakistan. The Americans are trying to use Pakistan for their own ends and the Pakistanis are trying to use the west for theirs.

The latest news is that the infamous ‘nuclear scientist’ Abdul Quadeer Khan has now been releases unconditionally. The Daily Times reports the release of A.Q. Khan thus:

LAHORE: Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered the government on Friday to lift the restrictions placed upon nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Accepting Dr AQ Khan’s petition that the restrictions imposed upon him in the name of protocol were a violation of fundamental rights, the judge ordered the local administration to implement the decision in letter and spirit. He also issued contempt notices on the district magistrate and deputy inspector general of Islamabad, demanding they appear before the court on September 4 and explain their actions in light of an earlier court ruling that had declared Khan a “free citizen”.

Pakistan knows that the west needs them desperately. The war against terror in their neighborhood is not going too well for the west and they will go to ridiculous extent to make it look like a success. The elections in Afghanistan, though a laudable effort have been far from satisfactory. Pakistan has shown a lot of chutzpah in releasing Khan. Americans have asked Pakistan as to why they have released Khan unconditionally. Pakistan has done very little against the terrorists, has stopped all efforts against the Taliban, got out of a financial mess (for now) has increased infiltration in Kashmir and the terror structure that carried out the 9/11 attacks remains intact, as per American intelligence reports. Yes there have been some Taliban killed in Mingora and Buner but that was when Pakistan needed the aid. Now that they are relatively comfortable and have the Americans eating out of their hands, they have gone back to the old ways. India was gullible when we went in for a joint statement in Sharm-el Sheikh on the insistence of the west, practically letting Pakistan off the hook. The Americans are naïve enough to believe that they can depend on Pakistan to make Af-Pak a success. India and the US are being fooled by Pakistan on a daily basis. The irony is that the west still believes that they can achieve their strategic aims in the region by playing ball with Pakistan.

Update 30th August, 2009: NYT has reported modification of missiles and planes by Pakistan to target India. In the August 29, 2009 edition of the paper this was reported by ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER and I quote:
‘The United States has accused Pakistan of illegally modifying American-made missiles to expand its capability to strike land targets, a potential threat to India, according to senior administration and Congressional officials. The charge, which set off a new outbreak of tensions between the United States and Pakistan, was made in an unpublicized diplomatic protest in late June to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and other top Pakistani officials. The accusation comes at a particularly delicate time, when the administration is asking Congress to approve $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years, and when Washington is pressing a reluctant Pakistani military to focus its attentions on fighting the Taliban, rather than expanding its nuclear and conventional forces aimed at India.’
Pakistan’s obsession with India has seen this Islamic state give ascendence to things that should be last on their list. Pakistan has become a basket case over the years, and the one reason is that the focus of the Pakistan establishment is India. They should be looking at their internal problems rather than think of ways and means of creating problems for India. At the end of the day, it is a big step backwards for them. We have learnt to live with a neighbor who is a constant source of pin pricks. It is for Pakistan to think as to where they are as a nation as of today and where they want to go. The US and the west need to decide as to how they would like to help a nation that has all its priorities upside down.
Update 14th September, 2009: Former president Pervez Musharraf says the US military aid given to Pakistan during his tenure was used to strengthen defences against India. The money was used to arm the troops who moved with their equipment from the western border to the east based on the perceived threats, he said. The US gave $10bn dollars to Pakistan to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda.’ Source BBC.

What we here in India knew all along has now been admitted by the former army chief and president of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf. It is a fact that he is trying to play to the galleries back home now that he has been exiled, but it is also true that what he has said was an open secret for long. It would be naive for us to believe that the US was unaware about this. For the US this should be a wake up call, for if Pakistan can divert the military aid to its eastern border, an increasingly radicalized society may see no harm in pumping these same arms to the terrorists who are believed by many in Pakistan as fighting a holy war or jihad. The west needs to redefine its strategy in Af-Pak region and realize that depending so heavily on Pakistan for success may be counter productive. It may be apt to remind that Hafiz Saeed the chief of LeT which has now been renamed Jamaat ud-Daawa, and is projected as a charitable organization is seen as a pious man by many in Pakistan.

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