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Pakistan slips into anarchy

Pakistan slips into anarchy

Author: G Parthasarathy
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 16, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/169842/Pakistan-slips-into-anarchy.html

The American Special Representative for 'AfPak', Mr Richard Holbrooke, while expressing appreciation for India's "full support" for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, noted in Delhi on April 8 that "for the first time since partition India, Pakistan and the US face a common threat" and "we must work together and at the centre of the problem, which is Pakistan". Mr Holbrooke was in Delhi with America's most senior military official, Admiral Mike Mullen, who is regarded as a thorough professional.

Mr Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen arrived in Delhi after an unusually tempestuous visit to Pakistan, where they got a taste of Pakistani duplicity and doublespeak. True to form, the Pakistanis denied Admiral Mullen's assertion that the ISI was providing haven and support to the Taliban leadership in Quetta and to Taliban commanders like Jalaluddin Haqqani. The American delegation was also subjected to the strange spectacle of President Asif Ali Zardari virtually holding out the begging bowl for more economic assistance, while Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureishi pontificated about his country refusing to accept aid with any strings attached!

The Americans now openly refer to Pakistani 'paranoia' about India. The Pakistanis make no bones about justifying support for the Taliban on the grounds that every one of the 4,000 Indians involved in economic assistance in Afghanistan is a 'spy', out to undermine Pakistan's security. While Admiral Mullen claims periodically that Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is sincere in his determination to root out Taliban extremism, other reports suggest that the CIA has evidence of Gen Kayani describing Jalaluddin Haqqani as a "strategic asset".

Moreover, the Americans know that the July 2007 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul was executed by the 'Haqqani network' with clearance and support from the highest levels of the Pakistani Army and the ISI. The Americans can no longer ignore the close nexus that exists between the Taliban, on the one hand, and Jihadi groups operating against India from Pakistan's Punjab Province, on the other. Hence, one now hears louder American insistence that Pakistan must end support to all terrorist groups, whether operating against Afghanistan or India.

The question that is being asked internationally is whether US President Barak Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan will work. The main military elements in this strategy are a 'surge' in American troop strength to deal with an expected summer offensive by the Taliban, while making it clear to the Taliban leadership that they cannot win militarily. This is to be supplemented by boosting the strength of the Afghan National Army from 80,000 to 134,000 men and equipping and training it for effective counter-insurgency.

This could pave the way for a gradual reduction in the American military role before the next US presidential election though a long-term American military presence in places like Kandahar appears likely. Politically, the aim is to take development projects to the grassroots with substantial increase in international economic assistance. Diplomatically, the process of restoring peace in Afghanistan is to be facilitated by bringing in key regional and neighbouring countries like Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Russia, China and India to ensure full international support for the effort. Hopefully the US will avoid the temptation of interfering in the coming election in Afghanistan.

The Americans seem to have curbed their earlier enthusiasm for involving the so-called 'moderate Taliban' in a process of reconciliation. They have found that the entire Taliban leadership, under Pakistani protection, has no interest in joining a process in which they have to renounce violence and sit together with other Afghans who do not share their virulently extremist views.

But the real difficulty the international community is going to face is that despite its professions of innocence, the Pakistani military establishment has no intention of giving up either its quest for 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan by backing the Taliban, or its determination to continue to 'bleed India' by backing groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed that make no secret of their support for the Taliban and their belief that "Hindus, Jews and Christians are enemies of Islam".

The Americans are taking several steps to deal with Pakistani obduracy. The proposed five-year economic assistance package of $ 7.5 billion is being linked to Pakistan ending its support to terrorist groups, with the US House of Representatives asking for access to Dr AQ Khan and his associates who were involved in the transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea. The US is also likely to insist that other aid donors place similar conditions. Military assistance will be largely provided for enhancing anti-insurgency capabilities and not for items like F16 fighters for deployment against India.

Will this strategy work, given Pakistan's propensity to blackmail the world by claiming that its economy will collapse and its nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of Islamic extremists if foreign assistance ends? Will threats to cut off US military assistance have any effect when China continues to provide Pakistan not just conventional weapons like JF17 and J10 fighters and naval frigates but also assistance for plutonium warheads and cruise missiles?

Even as Pakistan plays these diplomatic games, the situation within that country is spiralling out of control. The ISI-backed jihadi groups allied to the Taliban have indulged in attacks on Shia mosques and even eliminated the leadership of the Sufi-oriented Bareilvi sect. With virtually the entire North-West Frontier Province under Taliban control, Islamic radicalism is spreading through southern Punjab into towns from where officers and soldiers of the Pakistani Army are recruited.

The Pakistani Army itself is getting radicalised, reflecting sociological trends within the Punjabi heartland. Moreover, the Punjabi military elite in Pakistan do not relish the prospect of fighting Pashtuns. It is, therefore, unrealistic for the Americans to expect the Pakistani Army to have either the will or the inclination to deal with the Pashtun Taliban.

The Americans now appear to better understand the fragilities and failings of the Pakistani state. With American supply convoys being regularly attacked within Pakistan, the US and its NATO allies are finalising agreements with Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and even Iran to provide alternate supply routes to Afghanistan, thus eroding the strategic salience of Pakistan.

However, with the Pakistani Army bent on retaining its jihadi infrastructure, would the US have any choice but to permit the Afghan Army, which is being built up, to play a more pro-active role in guarding Afghanistan's border against Taliban incursions from Pakistani soil? In this volatile scenario, India will have to devise new and more effective strategies to guarantee national security.

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