JNU prof on Af-Pak in Pioneer, 14 March., 2009
OPED | Saturday, March 14, 2009 | Email | Print |
AfPak: new name for old headache
It's not such a great game any more in Afghanistan, but America is in the throes of a violent Pak-crafted deception. Whatever happened to the promise for 'change' Mr Obama?
Pakistan may turn out to be a political migraine for the recently installed Barack Obama administration. President Asif Ali Zardari has begun to misuse the country's Judiciary; cultivate ties with the Islamic extremists and seek to end the political career of his rivals.
Only recently, military rule failed to stabilise the country and with the help of political backing of the United States, civilian rule in the country was restored. It was a high-priced reinstallation of civilian administration, as reflected in the ghastly murder of one of the most well known and respected leaders, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The military under General Pervez Musharraf ruled Pakistan for about nine years. In comparison the Asaf Ali Zardari government is just about a year old. But that is not enough to insulate it from the prospect of regime change. Analysts have predicted that the outcome of the current political turbulence could be the emergence of a dictatorial Zardari regime. Alternatively, it could spell the premature end of the political career of Zardari and the re-emergence of former Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff as the main political force.
There is a third, highly likely way out of the impasse: the re-imposition of military rule. This is where the credibility of the Obama regime meets the realism of Pakistan. The world is more keen to see how the man who stood for 'change' in America would react to the next military coup in Pakistan.
All these events are taking place in the midst of a review of the Afghan strategy by the new Obama administration in Washington. Like his predecessors, President Obama has clearly concluded that the road to an Afghan solution goes through Pakistan. This conviction is reflected in the increasing use of a new nomenclature-AfPak.
George Bush spent more than $ 10 billion on Pakistan, supplied very sophisticated military equipment to the Musharraf regime and regularly heaped praises on President Musharraf only to realise late in the day that the US political, economic and military investment was not bringing adequate returns. Taliban forces in Afghanistan went on expanding their influence and geographical space. The Islamic extremists consolidated their hold over huge swathes of Pakistani territory bordering Afghanistan and number of terrorist incidents went on increasing within Pakistan. Casualty figures mounted.
Barrack Obama made lots of promises during his campaign to fix the Afghan problem by raising the energy level of the ground troops in that country. He said he would reform the misuse of American assistance to Pakistan by putting in more non-military assistance and making Pakistan accountable for it. He showed his determination to fight terror by going to the extent of using US military prowess against actionable targets in Pakistan only if timely intelligence was available and not caring much about the concept Pakistani sovereignty.
Even before taking oath of office, Obama's Vice President-elect, Joe Biden, travelled to Islamabad to take stock of the situation. Biden did not find it necessary to make a visit to New Delhi from Islamabad. Once in office, Obama instructed his party men in the Congress to introduce legislation to provide Pakistan with $ 15 billion over the next ten years in exchange for that country's support to Washington's war against terror. Two-thirds of this money would be for non-military purposes-fair enough to satisfy a civilian government. For the satisfaction of the military, which seemed more distant from power back then than now, it was deemed fit to allocate about one-third of the American largesse.
To indicate the importance given to the situation in AfPak, President Obama quickly appointed Richard Holbrook, a veteran trouble-shooter, as a special envoy. Without delay he visited the region to have a first hand account of issues and events. The amount of time he spent in Islamabad and Kabul and then in New Delhi indicated that Pakistan (not India) was the key to resolving the terror issue.
In the meantime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her maiden foreign trip to four Asian countries. Included in her list was the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, and Pakistan's most trusted strategic ally-China. She too did not consider important to stop over in India on her way back. Pakistani and Afghan foreign ministers were then invited to Washington for a trilateral dialogue on the South Asian regional issues.
In the meantime, President Obama himself and his high officials in the State Department and the Pentagon sought to advise Pakistan that its main national security threat was not India but terror networks. The Obama administration has failed to properly understand the Pakistani response to such advice. The Pakistani Army Chief sought more weapons that would be appropriate to tackle the perceived threat from India and President Zardari allowed the Islamisation process to proceed full steam ahead in Swat valley.
For a moment, Holbrook appeared disappointed. He spoke against Zardari's appeasement policy and then kept quiet. Perhaps such a response was meant to avoid an impression that Zardari discussed with him and sought his support before extending his friendship to Islamic extremists.
But very soon the cat was out of the bag. The American media came out with reports praising Taliban indirectly for not having a hand in international terrorism and distinguishing between good Taliban and bad Taliban. President Barrack Obama followed suit and expressed his willingness to negotiate with good Taliban.
One hopes the Obama administration has taken proper note of the response of the Taliban leadership to such ideas. The word has spread among the Taliban that the so-called new American strategy involves age-old divide and rule policy.
Pakistani polity is in the verge of implosion much before the strategy of dividing the Taliban is implemented. Obama needs to be more alert and wise. His political and economic investment in the Zardari government could turn out to be much more expensive and much less productive.
-- The writer is a Professor at JNU