Monday, October 10, 2011
Pakistan versus America
Looked at in any way, the situation is intriguing. Here is a country which is dependent on the United States and the world to the extent of an aid package of $4.4 billion in 2010 alone. It is besieged by jihadis from within. Yet, not only does it encourage jihadis to attack its neighbours, but its principal benefactor, the United States, as well. Indeed, now the US says that it is not merely encouragement, but Islamabad is providing direct support to the jihadis to not only attack American facilities in Afghanistan, but kill American soldiers. You would say that this behavior is crazy. Some would say that artful Pakistan is protecting its national interests, and is merely as crazy as a fox. Others, however, would argue that Islamabad, is crazy, simply crazy.
There is an inevitable sense of schadenfreude in New Delhi as it watches the meltdown of United States’ relations with Pakistan. Since the mid-1950s, the gullible Americans have been part of Islamabad’s project of maintaining strategic parity with India. And now, as American officials directly accuse the Pakistan Army of being involved in attacks against their Embassy in Kabul, and their troops in Afghanistan, the chickens are truly coming home to roost.
An account in Tuesday’s New York Times describing how an American major was treacherously killed in 2007, as he was leaving a peace meeting with Pakistani officials, points to a pathological behaviour that goes well beyond a desire on Islamabad’s part to preserve its national interests in Afghanistan. Yet the Americans have been forbearing till now.
Analysts like Fred Kaplan claim that Admiral Mike Mullen only noted that the September 13 attack on the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters in Kabul was carried out “with ISI support.” That this did not mean that the ISI had foreknowledge of the attack.
However, Reuters put out an item citing Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who has advised the Obama Administration on Afghanistan, that the US had evidence that the attackers “were in telephone contact with people connected to Pakistan’s principal intelligence agency.” On Saturday, an unnamed Pentagon official told Washington Post that Admiral Mullen overstated his case about the Pakistani relationship with the Haqqanis.
There are three known attacks in Afghanistan where the US has traced the attackers’ links to the ISI: The attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008, on Kabul Bank in Jalalabad in February this year and the assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in June. There have been other attacks, such as the one on the Hamid Guest House in February 2010 in which 9 Indians were among the 16 killed, which have had all the hallmarks of a proxy ISI strike.
Targeting Indians and Afghans is one thing, hitting the headquarters of your long-time ally and aid-giver quite another. No matter how it seeks to fudge it, playing both sides in a war is a dangerous game, especially when you target a country which is much stronger than you are and which is under great political and economic stress.
Till now the US has swallowed its bile and sought to keep peace. Given the fact that 60 per cent of the supplies for the ISAF and US forces go through Pakistan, makes it difficult to contemplate alternatives. To an extent, the US has opened up the northern route through Russia and the Central Asian Republics. But its hostility towards Iran has blocked off an important overland route that could have matched that of Pakistan.
Islamabad claims it wants peace, but it has gone out of its way to foil every attempt by the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan national government headed by Hamid Karzai. The February 2010 arrest of Mullah Baradar and the recent assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani are just two of the instances that point to that policy. What Pakistan wants is a peace in which their proxy, the Haqqani network is the dominant actor.
Pakistan has made a great play about how its responses have been the outcome of its national interests, particularly the threats to its sovereignty. These are specious claims. In the post –United Nations environment, sovereignty is not absolute.
All those who have signed the UN Charter have ceded some of our sovereign rights and over time, we have ceded more through our commitments to various international agreements. Moreover as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, Islamabad is also subject to UN Resolution 1368 that was passed in the wake of 9/11, which reaffirmed the right to collective self defence and called on all states to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice. It also stressed that “those responsible for aiding, supporting or harbouring the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of these acts will be held accountable.”
But there are limits to what the US will bear, even for keeping the supply routes open. As it is the convoys have suffered enormous loss from periodic attacks, many of them almost certainly initiated by the ISI. But the US is not likely to easily swallow direct attacks such as the ones we are witnessing in recent times.
What would Pakistan do if the US gave it an ultimatum on the Haqqanis, saying that if Islamabad does not act, it would and very visibly begin building up forces for the purpose near North Waziristan? What if it got UN sanction to pursue that goal? Pakistan may think China will pull its chestnuts out of the fire, but given its past track record, and its generally ruthlessly pragmatic role, Beijing could well step aside and let Islamabad stew in its own juice.
Pakistan is making a huge mistake if it thinks that all this is a matter of a year and the US will pull out and leave. That is unlikely under the present conditions. The US would not like to repeat a “departure from Saigon” moment with the Haqqanis firing AK-47s in celebration at departing helicopters from Bagram. Neither will it be sanguine about leaving Afghanistan to a motely crew who will allow terrorists to establish camps and train themselves for more missions against the US and the West.
Many wonder what India stands to gain, or lose, from the course of events. We lose a lot from a Pakistani meltdown triggered by the actions of the US. Failing Pakistan is one thing, a failed one quite another. You can be sure that if Islamabad takes on the US, it will indeed fail.
India’s interest is best served by a stable Pakistan, but one that is not a rogue actor on the international stage. However, a great deal of responsibility for bringing Pakistan down in a soft landing from the artificial altitude it has occupied in the last fifty years, rests with the United States. Sadly, after decades of pandering to Pakistan’s fantasies, it is the US which is having to contemplate the hard landing.
India should wish the Americans well, but be wary of any joint schemes of bringing Islamabad to heel. The US is two continents and an ocean away. But Pakistan is our neighbour and so we must pursue a policy which will not lead to any self-defeating long-term bitterness. As it is, there seems to be little clarity in the direction the US wishes to take.
Our Pakistan policy must display firmness, and even toughness, when needed, but also seek to be fair and accommodating, if required. Call it flexible containment, or engagement, if you will. There is no automatic congruence of interests between us and the Americans, though there is considerable room for coordination and cooperation.
Mail Today September 29, 2011