EDITS | Thursday, November 12, 2009 | Email | Print | India just can’t read Pakistan
Developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan will figure prominently when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the Obama White House on November 24. The Obama Administration has handled events related to the recent re-election of Mr Hamid Karzai as President of Afghanistan in a crude and insensitive manner. By publicly humiliating Mr Karzai, Washington has only weakened a leader set to play a crucial role in emerging developments in Afghanistan. Moreover, the prolonged period that the Obama Administration has taken to review its policies on Afghanistan has given an impression of dithering and uncertainty on the most crucial foreign policy challenge that Washington faces today.
This has only confused countries like India which have sought to complement Washington’s efforts to strengthen Afghanistan internally. These developments are also encouraging the Taliban and Al Qaeda to believe that they will succeed in efforts to promote terrorism globally.
Vice President Joseph Biden reportedly advocates action against Taliban and Al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan, and even as Mr Obama pondered over what to do next in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a well-planned visit to Pakistan intended to reassure the Pakistanis of American commitment to their welfare, stability and prosperity. The visit came at a time when the Pakistani Army establishment
led by Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had joined forces with the Opposition Muslim League
led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to undermine President Asif Ali Zardari by voicing serious reservations and calling for the rejection of the Kerry-Lugar Act, which pledges $ 7.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan. The aid comes at a time when Pakistan’s own revenues cannot even meet the cost of the Government’s administrative expenditure with Pakistan’s economic growth having plummeted to two per cent in 2008-2009. The longest meeting that Ms Clinton had in Islamabad was
not with President Zardari or Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani, but with Gen Kayani together with ISI Chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, with whom she spent three hours.
After the meeting with the Army brass and irked by orchestrated criticism of US policies while in Lahore, which echoed what she heard in Islamabad, Ms Clinton publicly voiced her misgivings about continuing support by Pakistan’s military establishment for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
On October 29 she said: “Al Qaeda has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2002. I find it difficult to believe that nobody in your Government knows where they are, and couldn’t get them, if they really wanted to”. Cautioning Pakistan on cross-border terrorism it promotes in neighbouring India and Afghanistan Ms Clinton asserted: “If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together, there are issues that not just the United States, but others have with your Government and your military security establishment”. Pakistan’s military and its political allies do not appear to have been affected by Ms Clinton’s public admonition. While the military continues its operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in South Waziristan, primarily because the TTP has challenged the Army’s, the ISI continues to back Taliban military commanders led by Sirajuddin Haqqani in neighbouring North Waziristan who have relentlessly staged terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, including on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and on Indian workers throughout Afghanistan. Moreover, the Taliban political leadership led by Mullah Omar, popularly known as the ‘Quetta Shura’, remains comfortably ensconced in Quetta.
While reviewing policies on Afghanistan, the Obama Administration will sooner or later have to decide on whether it can realistically contain the Taliban or its Al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan without exercising the ‘Biden Option’ of striking at their bases in Pakistan across the Durand Line.Recent revelations
by the FBI of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba links of two Chicago residents of Pakistani origin, who were plotting terrorist strikes against targets in Denmark and India, clearly establish that Pakistan-based terrorist organisations like the LeT now have a worldwide reach and, like the Al Qaeda, a worldwide agenda of terrorism.
The terrorist attacks planned against India were intended to be a continuation of the earlier terrorist strikes on Mumbai and elsewhere. The prime accused, Daood Gilani aka David Headley, was in touch with Ilyas Kashmiri, a former Pakistan Army commando of Pakistan’s elite Special Services Group. Kashmiri was used by the ISI in the 1980s for training the Afghan mujahideen and in the 1990s for terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. He escaped after being captured by Indian forces in Poonch in 1994. Interestingly, while Kashmiri was later charged with an attempt to assassinate Gen Pervez Musharraf and for the assassination of a former commander of the SSG, Maj Gen Faisal Alvi in 2008, he was allowed to get away and seek refuge in North Waziristan alongside Afghan Taliban military commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, who Gen Kayani reportedly regards as a ‘strategic asset’ of the ISI. The LeT was reportedly planning to attack elite schools in north India, reminiscent of the attack by Chechen terrorists in Beslan, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of school children.
Chechen terrorists have long-standing links with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the LeT and with political parties in Pakistan like the Jamat-e-Islami. Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Indian Army chief have warned that future terrorist attacks will not go unpunished. Interestingly, the establishment’s reaction in Pakistan to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech in Kashmir was voiced by former Senator and Muslim League politician, Mr Mushahid Hussain, who has long-standing links with the Pakistani Army and the LeT. Mr Hussain asserted that Mr Singh’s recent readiness for unconditional dialogue was because of growing fears in India about Maoist violence, insinuating that the offer for talks was because of India’s internal compulsions.India has continuously misread the internal dynamics of Pakistan.
Even in late 2007, our High Commission in Islamabad and luminaries in South Block believed that Gen Musharraf remained strong and virtually invincible. Right now there seems to be little appreciation of the fact that it is Gen Kayani and not President Zardari who determines and dictates policy in Islamabad.
Anyone who knows Gen Kayani’s
approach to relations with India, even from the days he commanded the 12th Infantry Division in Murree, knows that he is pathologically anti-Indian and regards the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Afghan Taliban as ‘strategic assets’.
Mr Singh needs to convey these realities to Washington while responding to any calls for a revival of the composite dialogue process.