Dec 23, 2009

Options for Pakistan

By Ijaz Ul Haq

The Obama administration seems to act as if it can no longer be responsive, decisive and swift. The decision to close the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba, so vehemently announced by President Obama, has been put on the backburner. The administration seems to be less enthusiastic about following its words by action and deeds as witnessed by the time taken by the president to approve and order the surge in soldiers for Afghanistan. The shortest possible sentences announcing the exit strategy and withdrawal by July 2011 went almost un-cheered even in the United States. A couple of voices from Washington favouring a review of the strategy have further diluted its impact.

The situation on the ground clouds its prospects and possibility. The questions that are are: (1) Have the Americans achieved their goals? (2) Has Osama bin Laden been killed or captured? (3) Has Al-Qaeda become history? (4) Has terror or terrorism ended and the terrorists eliminated? (5) Has Afghanistan been stabilised as a democratic and viable society with political and economic sustainability? (6) Have the NATO armies from 34 countries led by the US army comprising over 100,000 soldiers, with all the weaponry, munitions and firepower, been able to subdue or rein in the Taliban in eight years? (7) Will the government of President Karazai be able to become strong enough to stand on in its own feet in a short period of time?

As I said long ago, US intentions and designs in the region (though un-stated so far) are: a. prolonged military presence for the containment of China; b. exploitation of the region's natural resources for the United States' own economic gains; c. de-nuclearisation of Pakistan and thwarting of Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Incidentally, I continue to hold the same view, with the earnest hope that the "crusade" part of Mr Bush's expedition has been eliminated from White House policy.

In the absence of any higher direction of war on terror at the political level, policy statements issuing from Multan instead of Islamabad, the complexities of the situation seemingly have been left for the generals to solve. The frequent, successive and unending arrivals and departures of Generals McChrystal, Mullen and Patraeus are a case in point.

It is said: "War is too serious a business to be left to generals alone." Wars are fought at national level. And at the national level we do not have the leadership worth its salt. Contrary to sloganeering by political nonentities Pakistan, a US ally against terror, has certainly not been taken into confidence. It was not consulted, or even intimated, about the impending US exit or surge strategy. This has caused serious implications for us and the region.

President Obama's speech at West Point on Dec 1 has been under scrutiny and analysis in important capitals. The government of Pakistan and the prime minister have commented on the need for further clarity. Opposites cannot be combined. The announcement in the speech of both a surge and a withdrawal sounded strange. Seasoned diplomats assert that what has been said is not the important aspect. Of more importance is what has not been said. There have been no words like "hot pursuit" or "increased and expanded drone attacks" inside Pakistan. And this is what one is a serious cause of apprehension. Increased "cooperation" being sought from us means more military actions, more deaths and more arrests. The term "cooperation" implies and includes action by our own security forces as well as unilateral action by the US and NATO armies.

President Obama has only differed with or resisted the idea of an increase in drone attacks inside Pakistan (covering more targets and more areas like Balochistan). It has not expressed outright rejection of or aversion to the intended increase. This air war, therefore, may expand and enlarge in intensity to include areas in Balochistan with the reported existence of the Quetta Shoora (admitted only recently by the government). The "do more" mantra has been refined and replaced in recent days by "cooperate more"-- as rightly observed by a former prime minister. "Cooperate more" or "do more" for us means "die more."

Mr Karzai's corruption-stained government's weak writ does not extend beyond Kabul. Imposition of the Northern Alliance on the majority Pakhtun has turned the struggle for power into a national movement. The raising, training and motivation of the Afghan National Army in a short period and its transformation into a disciplined, potent force capable of quelling internal strife and turmoil is an uphill task. An army comprising other ethnic groups will not be acceptable to the Pakhtun populace.

Pakistan has failed to evolve its own indigenous Afghan policy based on national interests and popular aspirations. We have instead been able to formalise only a counterterrorism policy. We seem happy at being bracketed with Afghanistan as "Af-Pak." Does it imply that, like Afghanistan, Pakistan is also under US military occupation? Is this attitude befitting a nuclear-armed sovereign state? At best we have been able to create the NCTA (National Counter-Terrorism Authority) without credible capacity, capability, qualified manpower, equipment, structure and even terms of reference. It will be sheer waste of effort and money, like so many other such undertakings.

The mere announcement of a surge has maddened terrorists, who are playing havoc even in previously areas peaceful in southern Punjab. Attacks to take over the GHQ and sensitive installations are meant to announce that the terrorists can traverse the most difficult terrain and territory. They are far ahead of our Intelligence mechanism and security apparatus. With relative ease they penetrate into highly protected zones and cordons. The government claims they are on the run. Instead, with amazing ability and perfect precision, they locate, identify, and engage high-profile targets and disappear at their leisure, leaving a lot of blood behind but no tracks for them to be traced. The surge in US forces will send further fatal shockwaves inside Pakistan.

Despite being UN-backed, the war against terror has turned into a US war on Afghanistan. The fight being put up inside Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban has acquired dimensions of a resistance or a liberation movement against the occupation of their country by US-led foreign forces. The Afghan Taliban are deeply religious and deplore the killing of innocent Muslims. They have publicly distanced and dissociated themselves from the TTP fighting against Pakistani security forces. They have an agenda altogether different. Mulla Omar, Haqqani and Hikamatyar, wherever are they hiding, are all sympathetic to Pakistan.

Then, who is providing the TTP weapons, resources and replenishments for years to wage war against our valiant soldiers? Who is providing them sophisticated weapons, communication devices, gadgetry, intelligence and guidance to our nerve centres and sensitive targets? The weapons seized by security forces have been found to be of Indian origin. A planeload of weapons meant for some unspecified destination in South Asia was seized recently by Thai authorities at Bangkok Airport.

Despite concoctions, India has failed to implicate Pakistan and prove to the world that the bombing of Taj Hotel in Mumbai was state-sponsored.

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