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Dealing with Insane Pakistan

Dealing with Insane Pakistan

Author: Shobori Ganguli
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 12, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/155845/Dealing-with-an-insane-Pakistan.html

Indian intelligence may well have brushed the threat aside as "nothing new", but the latest warning to India from Al Qaeda outlines the supremely diabolical make-up of an outfit which the world's mightiest military power has been unable to defang. Al Qaeda's military commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid has threatened that "India should know that it will have to pay a heavy price if it attacks Pakistan. The Mujahideen will sunder your armies into the ground, like they did to the Russians in Afghanistan." Defence Minister AK Antony promptly said, "Whatever threat coming from any quarter, our armed forces are always ready to face them." Armed and ready it may be, but Mumbai starkly exposed the fact that terrorists will not strike at a time and place of India's choice. Almost two months since that attack, India's civilian population remains as vulnerable. Yazid's reminder of India's "humiliation" in Mumbai and his threat to repeat similar attacks only accentuates that vulnerability.

Yazid's statement is significant for a number of reasons. One, the Indian establishment would do well to recognise where the threat is originating from and note its credibility. Yazid is no ordinary terror operative. He is Al Qaeda's military commander in Afghanistan. While Pakistan had declared him dead last year for the benefit of American ears, his "resurfacing", as also its timing, are ominous. He is an Egyptian militant whose track record on terror goes back to 1981 when he was implicated in Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassination for which he served three years in prison. More recently, he claimed responsibility for Benazir Bhutto's killing, asserting he had exterminated the "most precious American asset" against jihad. Yazid's name also figured in the 9/11 attacks as well as the 2008 bombing of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad. In the final analysis, Yazid's statement cannot be dismissed as "nothing new" or routine. It speaks of Al Qaeda's deepening resolve to exercise its "legitimate right" to bleed India, Russia and Israel.

Two, Yazid's threat of retribution if India were to attack Pakistan underlines the fact that any military action from India against Pakistan will be met with terror on its home soil, that even before the Pakistani military can reply to an Indian attack, terrorists will. This brings us to the question: Who exactly is calling the shots in Pakistan? After a series of flip-flops on the Mumbai attack, the Pakistani establishment is yet to respond satisfactorily to India's dossier on the culpability of Pakistani nationals. Clearly, neither President Asif Ali Zardari nor Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is willing to admit Pakistan's responsibility for fear of attracting jihadi wrath.

While many believe Army chief Ashfaq Kayani is Pakistan's uncrowned king, Yazid's reappearance only proves what the world has long believed - that Pakistan is in the vice-like grip of Al Qaeda ideology; that its so-called establishment's posturing is directed and monitored by a non-state actor. As and when Pakistan responds to the Indian dossier it will come with the jihadi seal. Also, Yazid's threat to the Indian establishment proves beyond doubt that Pakistan's soil is being protected from external attack not only by its military but also by Al Qaeda.

Three, Yazid's comments are significant for their timing. They come at a time when India is laboriously reiterating its "all options are open" policy and the United States is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terror. While warning India of dire consequences, Yazid has also ensured that his comments receive due attention from Washington. To that end, he coincided the release of his video with the visit of US special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke to the region.

Mr Holbrooke inaugurated his sub-continent visit with Pakistan, indicating the flight path of US President Barack Obama's anti-terror policy. Determined to fight the 'right war', Mr Obama wants a winding down of America's Iraq operations by taking the terror war to its original theatre, Afghanistan, and by extension Pakistan. In a clear shift from the Bush formula of using the US military to 'establish' credible democracies in scattered parts of the world, Mr Obama's is a realistic approach, focused on the more concrete and indeed far more urgent task of weeding out international terror groups thriving in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While the success of such an approach depends on how things unfold on the ground in these two countries, it is clear which way the US is headed. "We are not going to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy," Mr Obama has admitted and instead decided to "make sure that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for Al Qaeda". He wants to "make sure that it is not destabilising neighbouring Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons". Clearly, Mr Obama is aware of the Pakistani establishment's fragile hold on the country's nuclear arsenal and with the sudden release of nuclear smuggler AQ Khan the threat of it passing on to non-state actors has only become more credible.

This assessment informs Mr Holbrooke's visit to the region. Mr Obama has said, "My bottom line is that we cannot allow Al Qaeda to operate. We cannot have those safe havens in that region. We're going to have to work both smartly and effectively, but with consistency in order to make sure that those safe havens don't exist." To that end Mr Holbrooke has been mandated to "evaluate a regional approach", and work out "a more effective coordination of our military efforts with diplomatic efforts, with development efforts, with more effective coordination with our allies in order for us to be successful".

Admittedly, Mr Obama has his finger on the pulse. However, his prescription has not been put to the test yet. While he would like to proactively engage Pakistan in dealing with terrorism, and perhaps make it accountable for attacks like Mumbai, Pakistan on its part is bound to rake up tensions and disputes with India to justify its own 'threat perceptions' and claim victimhood. The Pakistani establishment has been bound to this diversionary rhetoric for decades and will remain so.

What is infinitely more disturbing is that Islamabad's writ is shrinking alarmingly. Most of Pakistan stands brutally Talibanised today. This entity is reflected in videos like Yazid's or that of a Polish engineer minutes before he is ruthlessly beheaded. This is not a Pakistan that can be engaged with diplomatically. This is a Pakistan that cannot be bought over with development work (the engineer was working on an infrastructure project). This Pakistan can brazen out a military attack. This Pakistan speaks the insane language of hate and terror. Unfortunately, means to successfully snuff this Pakistan out remain elusive.


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