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Dependence No more

May 31, 2011

Yesterday two NATO choppers flew into North Waziristan , the hub of Pakistan Taliban and picked up five Haqqani men. This is a few weeks after the Abbottabad incident when American Navy Seals swopped into Osama bin Laden’s hideout and eliminated him and his aides in an early morning raid deep inside Pakistan.  Clearly the American strategy to counter insurgency in the Af-Pak region has changed.  Like in life as in war one learns from experience and from ones mistakes. American perception of the region has changed in the last few years. Experience taught the Americans that while Pakistan was a credible ally in the war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan the same cannot be taken as a given now. For years Washington depended on Islamabad both for advice and strategy as well as in the hopes that if there were any insurgents taking refuge in Pakistan they could depend on Islamabad to hand them over or to weed them out.  India had been saying all along that the American strategy was faulty. But the US had its own compulsions. They knew that the supply lines run through Pakistan and were these resources cut off at any given time they could be in real trouble.

Again and again the US tried to implore Pakistan to take steps to check the Taliban on their side of the border. Pakistan came up with one excuse after another.  The oft repeated grouse of Pakistan was that India on their east was a big problem and that they felt unsafe to move troops to the western borders. The US reached out to India and pressed New Delhi to initiate dialogue with Islamabad. The Sharm el- Sheikh initiative was one such response to the American calls. The other was the Mohali cricket diplomacy. Some time in between Pakistan saw that the Taliban leader Sufi Mohammad and his men were in control of the Swat valley. They were moving east decisively and would reach Islamabad. A panicky Pakistan army started a vicious, brutal onslaught on the Taliban and towns like Mingora and Bannu wore a deserted look. But Pakistan had not touched the terror machinery that they had been nurturing all along.

The 26/11 Mumbai attacks were the reason for New Delhi’s recalcitrance. Both Sharm el- Sheikh and Mohali found experts criticizing Indian moves and the policy of reaching out. Such sentiments had their own merit and it did appear to most that by reaching out to Pakistan India was making its position weak. There was some truth in these assertions as the various dossiers given by the Indian authorities to their Pakistan counterparts were never really pursued. Initiation of peace talks made Islamabad casual about bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

The US in the meanwhile waited for Pakistan to act against Taliban. They did not. President George W. Bush then ordered that drones be used against targets within Pakistan. It was a bold move, entering the airspace of another nation and targeting insurgents on the basis of intelligence received from the ground. These war machines had pin point accuracy and could target from hundreds of feet above the ground. Pakistanis however insisted that they be informed before any attacks were carried out. They also insisted that the US attack only in certain areas that they had identified and were called ‘boxes’ by the defense personnel. Americans as per the agreement informed the Pakistan authorities before the attacks.  They soon realized that the drones failed to hit the target. Cross checking with intelligence sources revealed that the target had moved minutes from the time the attack was carried out. This happened frequently and soon the Americans concluded that the targets were being sounded out by the Pakistanis as soon as they were informed. There were some targets that were dispensable and which they would like to get rid of and these found their mark. In essence, ISI and the Pakistan army was using the drones to liquidate ultras that did not follow their diktat or were of no apparent use. In effect, the US was fighting a proxy war for the Pakistan army and the ISI when what they wanted was for the Pakistan army and the ISi to fight their war.

Washington then got tough with Islamabad. They realized that they were dealing with a different Pakistan from the one they were used to in the good old days of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Here Pakistan had interests that were not always in consonance with those of DC. Americans were also keen to come to some deal with the Taliban. Pakistan was the obvious intermediary. They found that they were being duped time and again and the demands never ceased. The most embarrassing episode was one in which a Quetta grocer descended in Kabul posing as a top Taliban commander and demanded money with assurances that he would get back after talking to his fellow Taliban. Grapevine has it that the grocer even pocketed some substantial sums to facilitate talks. The whole thing was a joke and Americans were not laughing.

They began with striking on targets of their choice disregarding the boxes earmarked by the Pakistan army. They also stopped informing the Pakistan authorities before any strike. They soon found that drones were becoming more effective. Baitullah Mesud was killed in one such drone attack along with his wife. Obama increased the frequency of the drone attacks as he found that this constant pressure on the Taliban was critical in keeping American troops in Afghanistan safe and allow them space to undertake operations against Afghan Taliban.

Sometime in August of 2010 the Americans had a whiff of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. They kept a close watch on his Abbottabad residence. They even had CIA operatives living in a safe house to keep tab of the Osama compound. Americans were pretty sure they had their man. Any illusions that Pakistan was ready to fight alongside the NATO forces evaporated when these facts were put on the table.  Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen and other top American diplomatic and defense leaders tried to impress upon Pakistan the need to act against terrorists. Pakistan was given broad hints that if they did not do it then NATO’s hands will be forced. Pakistan did not take cue or perhaps never imagined what the Americans were really talking about. What happened later in Abbottabad is well known.

In the 26/11 attacks too there was a time period that Indians watched Pakistanis. Almost a dozen dossiers were given to Pakistan but they failed to take any action against the terrorists named. Rabbi Holtzberg whose daughter and son in-law were killed in the Mumbai attacks at Nariman House, waited for a couple of years in the hope that Indian authorities would do something about bringing to justice those who were behind the Mumbai attacks. Last year he came to Mumbai, lit candles in front of Taj Mahal hotel and said that he would light candles no more because this had no meaning. Nothing was being done. He then gave an impassioned speech. At this point of time, I understand he met the Home Minister P Chidambram and other Indian officials who said that India could do only so much and no more. They voiced their inability to force the Pakistani authorities to act against Hafeez Saeed,  Zarar Shah and Illias Kashmiri, men behind the Mumbai attacks. Rabbi Holtzberg decided enough was enough and that he would depend no more. Some Israeli’s have dual citizenship, both of the US and Israel. Rabbi’s daughter and son-in-law were both American and Israeli citizens. The Rabbi took all the evidence that Indian authorities had collected over the years and proceeded to a New York court where there was a case registered against the ISI and those behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. News is that the US court has taken cognizance of the matter and while Pakistan was cocking-a-snook at  India and refusing to move against Hafeez Saeed they have now washed their hands off the Lashkar and Jamaat ud Dawa leader and it will not surprise me in the least if Hafeez Saeed is extradited to the US and face the law there.

The 26/11 episode is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in India, but this is what has happened whether we like it or not. India is thought of as a soft state and no one takes us seriously. The Rabbi depended on us to get justice for his family and those others killed in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.  He could not bear to see his grandson Moshe call out for his parents who were killed by butchers who had come from across the border. He would depend no more. Things began to move. India needs to reassess how we deal with terror and conduct our geopolitics.

The latest news that NATO choppers entered North Waziristan and picked up five Taliban militants from the Haqqani faction is an extension of the policy that brought about the Abbottabad encounter. It is clear that the US  will not hesitate to cross the border and pursue those who they reckon are part of terror mechanism that Is being nurtured by Islamabad. They have been too careful about Pakistan’s sentiments for too long and Islamabad has taken them for a ride all along. They will depend no more. While Pakistan has been mouthing how they will not compromise their sovereignty, the fact is that the US has stopped taking heed to what Islamabad has to say. The fact is that Pakistan is in such precarious financial state that they cannot do without American largesse. After this successful operation inside Pakistan it seems that Americans have finally come to grips with the situation in the Af-Pak region. From here it should not be too difficult for America to get its strategic aims. This also means that the US has concluded that as far as they were concerned Pakistan is a failed state. There might be some hiccups in the supply lines getting disrupted. But Pakistan has no choice but to do as the Americans say. They have been running to Beijing time and again and the Chinese have even made some raucous noises but the Chinese defense chief said on a recent trip to the US that they did not see themselves as adversaries of America.

It seems that the military command of the Isaf and NATO have finally unraveled the conundrum that was the Af-Pak region. The credit must also go the American president Barack Obama who identified the problem not as just an Afghan centric but what he termed as the Af-Pak region. My guess is that finally there is light at the end of the tunnel. Americans may succeed where others including the Communist Soviet Union had failed. Unless of course Pakistan itself implodes and attack such as the one in Karachi does not give us much confidence about the future of Pakistan.

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