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A Decent Proposal

July 12, 2011

What the Americans are saying now they have been saying all along – from the times of George W. Bush when they first entered Afghanistan to counter the Taliban regime. This is nothing new, nor is this unexpected. That the Americans would have to freeze military aid to the tune of $800 million goes to show how hard of hearing the Pakistan establishment has been all along. American’s have upped the ante post Abbottabad operation and the killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Americans have changed tack a bit since the success of the Abbottabad operations. They have come to the conclusion that if they have to tackle terrorism and al-Qaeda and all its affiliates including Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar e Taeba, Hizb ul Mujahhiddin etc they will have to go after the leadership of these terror outfits. The killing of Osama bin Laden has shown them the effectiveness of going after the top leadership. There were reports that Illiyas Kashmiri had been killed. There is no confirmation yet and Pakistanis say they are 98% sure that Kashmiri has been killed in a drone strike. That is a margin of a vital 2% and in Pakistani terms the only real percentage that counts.

Since the killing of Osama bin Laden his deputy, the Saudi physician Ayman al-Zawahiri has taken over the reins of al-Qaeda.  Americans see al-Qaeda as an organization that has faced tremendous pressure and one that has contracted post bin Laden’s death. They also believe that if they could get al-Zawahiri that would be the end of this dreaded organization which has wrecked havoc in different parts of the world for the past two decades.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

It appears that data gathered from the Abbottabad compound of Osama bin Laden there is some indication that Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding somewhere in Pakistan.  Pakistan is being asked by the Americans to hand over the dreaded doctor. Pakistanis are feigning ignorance. The new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s (1) visit to Pakistan has to do al lot with al-Zawahiri and the pause in military aid to Pakistan. American approach to Af-Pak can also be gauged from the fact that Gen Patraeus has been made the CIA chief, which means that there will be continuity and Obama values the general’s experience in the region and wants to use it t o good effect.

Pakistan knows that Americans have some usable intelligence about al-Zawahiri and therefore are so insistent on getting him. They also know that were they to hand over the new al-Qaeda chief that will not be the end of demands from the Americans. They would then ask for Mulla Omar and Hizb chief Syed Sallahuddin, LeT and Jamaat ud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, Haqqanis etc.  It must be mentioned here that even the Russians have brought out a list of wanted terrorists and many of those on the list are similar to the ones wanted by the Americans.

There is a give and a take in any transaction. Pakistan knows what the Americans want. Pakistan also knows that the Americans are ready to pay a price for these terror heads. But Pakistan is hesitant. Pakistan is hesitant because they feel that were they to give the Americans all that they want they will have to face fierce backlash from people within. I don’t think the Pakistani establishment has heard and digested all that the Americans are saying. When the Americans are asking for all these radical leaders who are into terror and violence they are in effect telling the Pakistanis to clean up their yard and to get their act together. This message has been sent across time and time again. Hillary Clinton has said it as have other American political leaders like Senator John Kerry and military leaders like General McChrystal, General Petraeus and others. The message is loud and clear – Pakistan cannot afford to remain a breeding ground for terror outfits.

Pakistan understands the message but decodes it in another way. They feel that if they were to dismantle these radical outfits that are an extension of the ISI they will lose leverage with the Americans and will be handing over a useful tool to bleed their neighbor and adversary India. Their calculation is that the Americans will leave the region sooner or later and once the field is clear these terror outfits will help the Haqqanis and other tribal Taliban to overrun Afghanistan.  This is where there is a lack of communication and US political and strategic compulsions make it difficult for Pakistan to understand American resolve to get the job done in the region. American leadership is loathe to commit that they are here to stay, though Hillary Clinton has said as much many a times.

Pakistan must understand that it is in their interest to dismantle the terror infrastructure that they have erected. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan is in such dire straits as far as its economy goes that they cannot keep up without American assistance. Were the Americans to withdraw the pleasure of their good offices Pakistan will come down crashing financially. A bloated military and security apparatus and a nation armed to the teeth with huge nuclear ambitions is in sharp contrast with the economic reality of the nation that is Pakistan. They cannot afford to antagonize Washington. And those who believe that China will bail them out are living in a fool’s paradise.

The American proposal is a decent one. Washington wants Islamabad to wind up the terror infrastructure that they have nurtured all these decades with much care. In return the Americans are ready to help in the rebuilding of Pakistan. They are ready to invest in a big way in the infrastructure development which means roads and bridges and schools and colleges as well as power stations along with some cutting edge green technology. They are trying to impress upon Islamabad the need to have democratic institutions in place and to slowly but surely push back the army to where it belongs – in the barracks. But sending the army to the barracks will be sometime later once the Taliban are decimated on both sides of the Af-Pak border.

Americans want Pakistan as a modern Islamic state somewhere on the lines of Turkey which while being a reliable ally is focused on its own development and does not breed terror infrastructure. The Pakistan leadership’s fear that people will take to the streets were these radicals marginalized is unfounded. The Pakistani awam is so fed up of the rising prices, lack of jobs and sheer undiluted gurbat that they do not care two hoots for these rabble rousing demagogues that have spawned violence and more violence and have given nothing in return. An average Pakistani wants a better way of life and a modern way of life. They are sick and tired of the mullah’s and obscurantist forces that spew venom in the name of religion. An average Pakistani would like nothing better than to see a steady income, kids going to school, a roof over their heads and a happy fulfilling life. Slogans in the name of religion they have been hearing for decades and these have resulted in nothing. On the contrary the quality of life has only slipped downwards.

Were Pakistan to stabilize and to extend a real hand of friendship and brotherhood to the people of Afghanistan and India things will change for the better! Terrorism helps no one. This is one industry that has no positive spin to it. If there was relative peace in Pakistan the American calculation is that Afghanistan will also stabilize then. And if both Afghanistan and Pakistan turn the corner there will be peace in the region and then development can be the focus for all. For an energy starved India the Dauletabad gas fields could be a rich and inexpensive source of gas and this will usher in an era of galloping development. This will be a boon for Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. For Islamabad this will be one way of keeping a hand on the throat of India as the pipeline will pass through their territory. This will also be a huge source of revenue that can then be used for developmental purposes.

The choice for Pakistan is clear. Either breed more terror outfits and leave their teeming millions impoverished or have a forward looking Pakistan that is fighting real issues like poverty and aspiring for growth. The choice is between using terror as a strategic tool against India or to have a vital gas pipeline as a means of bargain with their eastern neighbor (2).  Any which way they look at it the people of Pakistan must realize that for them not to stop the radical terror outfits will be detrimental to their own interests. Pakistan leadership must look for economic growth and prosperity for its people to have a real say in the region. An economically tottering Pakistan can never be taken seriously by anybody.  From economic growth comes strategic importance. One can milk ones geo-strategic position only so much. Ultimately it is the economics that determines politics. Pakistan has a unique chance to set aside its raucous past and focus on issues that matter.

The first step that Pakistan needs to take is to reduce the numerical strength and to modernize its military with view to tackling the problems on its western borders. Pakistan will also have to get over its India fixation. Being a nuclear weapon state they can rest assured that there will be no adventurism from the Indian side. Were Pakistan to dismantle its terror infrastructure and focus on development and growth things will begin to fall in place!

Americans are very keen that Pakistan leadership sees reason – that they get their priorities right. It will harm no one if Pakistan begins to cooperate with Americans and takes a decision to prioritize the needs of the people of Pakistan. They would do well to understand that chances are that the present administration will be there for another 4 years post 2012 elections in the US. I am sure Islamabad also understands that even if there were a Republican leadership post 2012 the Af-Pak policy will not see a marked change. In this case what is good for American interests is good for Pakistan and good for the region. In that this is a unique opportunity. Americans want some men who have been behind terror. Handing them over will mean that Pakistan has made the right choice – a choice of peace and prosperity for Pakistan and for the region.  This $800 million military aid freeze is just a precursor of the things to come. The US will not hesitate to squeeze Islamabad further. They have done their math. They can survive in Afghanistan for a year or more without any supplies reaching through Pakistan. Can Pakistan survive without American aid for a year?


1.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Afghanistan: U.S. Within Reach Of ‘Strategically Defeating’ al Qaeda : ABC News


2. The Pipeline of Peace and the Importance of Sharing: Ullas Sharma WordPress

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