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Wages of Incoherence

Wages of Incoherence

Author: K Subrahmanyam
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 22, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Opinion/Editorial/TOP-ARTICLE--Wages-Of-Incoherence/articleshow/4561298.cms

Introduction: US must read the real nature of the threat from Pakistan

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has astonished the world with her rare candour. She has described US policy towards Pakistan in the last 30 years as incoherent. She has bemoaned that, after accepting Pakistan's support in the Afghanistan war in the 1980s, the US imposed all kinds of sanctions on it. True, US policy was incoherent. But Clinton should be cautioned against accepting an incoherent explanation for it and overlooking what led to US sanctions. It would also help if the US came clean on the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) relationship with notorious proliferator A Q Khan.

According to former Dutch prime minister Rudd Lubbers, this relationship dated back to 1975. The CIA had intervened twice with Dutch authorities to let Khan go when he was detained by them. The US's role in Pakistan's nuclear proliferation was not exactly a passive one. The Pressler amendment was not meant to discourage Pakistan's nuclear weapons build-up but to outmanoeuvre the proposed Glenn-Cranston amendment imposing a 20 per cent limit on uranium enrichment. The Reagan administration enabled Pakistan to go up to building a weapon. The tacit agreement was that it would stop short of testing.

The Pakistanis broke that understanding and got their weapon tested by the Chinese at their Lop Nor site on May 26, 1990. This has been disclosed in a book, The Nuclear Express, by two US scientists, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman, associated with Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos nuclear establishments. In the third week of May 1990, a US delegation headed by Robert Gates, currently defence secretary, rushed to Islamabad presumably to persuade Pakistan not to test. It failed. George Bush Sr was left with no alternative but to invoke the Pressler amendment. Clinton, therefore, need not feel guilty about the sanctions. Rather, it would do her and the world a lot of good if the US came clean on the events of 1990.

That doesn't mean other aspects of US policy were not incoherent. The US helped promote the worst form of Wahhabi extremism among the mujahideen. It is now paying the price since Wahhabi conditioning spawned al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) learnt the tricks it is displaying visa-vis the US from CIA trainers. In the years to follow, the CIA could not correctly assess what its former pupils would be up to. Even after the Taliban's extremism became known, Bill Clinton's assistant secretary of state Robin Raphael tried to negotiate with it. Hillary Clinton would dismiss that as part of incoherent policy. But many who were responsible for it are still around her in the present administration.

No doubt Barack Obama's policy has a certain coherence. It recognises the Taliban/al-Qaeda and their Wahhabi extremism as the enemy and no longer talks about the war on terror overlooking the fact terrorism was a strategy to spread an extremist cult. It also recognises the ISI's links with some extremist organisations. Clinton has spoken of Pakistan's government and civil society abdicating their responsibility to fight extremists posing an existential threat to them, and of Pakistan in its present state posing a mortal threat to the US. Yet she now talks approvingly of action against the Taliban by Pakistan's army and democratically elected government. Has she noticed that Pakistan's national assembly has not yet been able to pass a resolution by consensus endorsing army operations against the Taliban?

A coherent policy would depend on assessing the nature of the threat Pakistan's situation poses to US and international security. The threat is not merely the Taliban and al-Qaeda, It is an extremist cult under which hundreds of thousands of children from age seven upwards are being robotised to become suicide bombers and cannon fodder in hundreds of madrassas. This did not happen in Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia. Even as the army, government and some sections of civil society in Pakistan have fallen in line with the US demand to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda, significant sections of the population still view this as an American war. There is no evidence of the beginning of any ideological transformation against Wahhabi extremism.

Policy incoherence arose from the US's inability to understand that Pakistan was a religious ideological state and had a conflict of interest with the US on that account. While both parties in pursuit of tactical gains tried out an opportunistic alliance, Pakistan emerged the gainer. Nuclear weapons made it immune to international punitive action. Plus it had an expansionist ideological cult from which the US now feels a threat.

While the US is trying to use Pakistan's army and state apparatus to fight the most organised expression of the extremist cult in the form of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the ideology pervading the madrassas remains untouched. No doubt a programme for building schools and reforming education exists on paper. If the US is not to make the mistake of leaving Pakistan once the anti-Taliban/al-Qaeda campaigns end, it must recognise that there is a fundamental ideological conflict with the prevalent extremist cult. There has to be a de-jihadisation of Pakistan and Afghanistan, just as once there was de-Nazification in Europe.


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