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Seven years of missing the obvious

Seven years of missing the obvious

Author: K. Subrahmanyam
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: January 2, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/seven-years-of-missing-the-obvious/405473/

Introduction: Pakistan has systematically hoodwinked the US over 'the Afghan problem'

In his interview to Time magazine on December 29, 2008, President-elect Obama has spelt out his foreign policy priorities. He has said, among other things, "Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan will be a top priority. Recognising that it is not simply an Afghan problem but it's an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Kashmir-Iran problem is going to be a priority." It is strange that neither terrorism nor jihadi extremism figures in this formulation. Prima facie it would suggest that the incoming administration looks at the issue as a regional interstate problem.

Let us remind Obama and his team that this phase of the Afghan problem started with 'Operation Enduring Freedom' in October 2001 following the refusal of the Taliban regime in Kabul to surrender Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda cadres. The Taliban regime was cleared out of Afghanistan by the US Special Forces and troops of the Northern Alliance supported by US air power. As the operation was coming to a close and Osama bin Laden and remnants of Al Qaeda were cornered in the Torah Borah mountains, terrorists with links to Pakistan's ISI attacked the Indian parliament. That compelled India to mobilise its forces on the border. Pakistan countered that move and by vacating its western borders permitted Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership to find safe havens in Pakistan. It is now quite clear that the attack on the Indian Parliament was a provocative ruse to trap India into a military move which would justify Pakistan's convenient troop withdrawal.

The same strategem has been employed in November 2008. The Mumbai terrorist attack was to provoke an Indian military response and provide an alibi to Pakistan to withdraw its forces from the western border and enable a Taliban surge into the tribal areas and Afghan territory to preempt and wreck the proposed US surge strategy. In 2001-2, the attention from Al Qaeda and Taliban consolidating themselves in Pakistan was diverted by raising Indo-Pakistan tension. Thereafter Iraq preempted all US attention. Now when the attention of US and the NATO are refocussing on Afghanistan, the same diversionary tactics are being employed.

Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan, as the President-elect desires, should start with a review of what happened in the last seven years in the region. While Pakistan received over ten billion dollars of US aid, Al Qaeda and Taliban leaderships were safe and sound in Pakistan and expanded their activities. Prime Minister Gordon Brown made it clear during his recent visit to Pakistan that in 75 per cent of the cases of terrorist activity in UK, links were traced to Pakistan. In 2002, for the first time religious parties won elections in Northwest Frontier province. It is widely accepted that those elections were rigged by the Inter-Services Intelligence under the Pakistan army - a sure sign of General Musharraf's lack of sincere commitment to the war on Terror and religious extremism. In the seven years when Pakistani army and the ISI wielded power publicly, the Taliban and jihadi organisations were allowed to gain in strength. Mullah Omar was living openly in Quetta and building up the Taliban and providing inspiration for the Pakistani Taliban built up in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The spirit of Talibanisation engulfed the 'Lal Masjid' madarassa in the national capital, stormed by the Pakistan army. That was followed by a number of suicide bombings in various parts of Pakistan, including Benazir Bhutto's assassination and the Marriott bombing. Today Pakistan's Government and civil society rightly claim that they have become the victims of terrorism. The rise in terrorism within Pakistan took place in the last seven years when the army was in power.

The former CIA analyst, senior National Security Council staffer under President Clinton, an Obama campaign advisor, Bruce Riedel sees the terrorist networks' base in the mountains of Pakistan as America's greatest threat. In his forthcoming book The Search for Al Qaeda, he speaks of the Pakistani government's savvy campaign under General Musharraf to fleece Washington for billions of dollars even as it allowed Al Qaeda to regroup in Pakistan's tribal lands. Riedel says in an interview to The New York Times, December 21 - "we had a partner that was double-dealing us.Anyone can be snookered and double-dealt. But after six years you have to start to figure it out."

According to him, the terrorist networks believe that the 'bleeding wars' offer the best opportunity to defeat the US. Winning in Pakistan , says Riedel, requires a tough love approach: overhauling the military aid to Pakistan and cutting sales of the big ticket weapons it has used to keep pace with India. It was Washington's too cozy relationship with Musharraf's military government that fuelled the intense hatred for the US in Pakistan. He cites polls that more Pakistanis blame the United States than either India or Al Qaeda for the recent surge in violence in the country and adds that 'any time in Pakistan where more people blame you than India for the country's problems, you are in trouble"

The terrorist attack on Mumbai ,followed by false allegations of India escalating tension, publicity about possible Pakistani troop transfers from the western to eastern border, destruction of convoys intended for US forces in Afghanistan at Peshawar and the latest stoppage of US convoys on the excuse of fighting militants in the Kabul Agency are all ruses practiced over the long Musharraf years, now being repeated by General Kiyani. The continuing double-dealing is based on the basic belief shared by the jihadis and the Pakistani Army and Intelligence that, as Riedel points out ,'bleeding wars ' are the best way to defeat the US, as happened with the much larger Soviet forces in Afghanistan supported by a more effective Khalq-Parcham government in Kabul. Correctly understanding why a war fought by the US over seven years has not only not produced any successful results but has increased the strength of the adversary in the territory of the ally, Pakistan should become the foremost priority of the Obama administration.

- The writer is a senior defence analyst

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