Bottomline | Spectre of the Stone Age

US needs to pressurise Pak Army to seriously act against the terrorists

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

It is difficult to agree with the prominent US strategist Richard N. Haass, who is at variance with his own president, Barack Obama on the war in Afghanistan. Haass calls the war as one of choice and not necessity. According to him, wars of necessity should meet two tests: they should involve vital national interest, and there should be no alternative to them. He argues that once the Taliban regime was ousted after 9/11, the war in Afghanistan transformed from necessity to choice. The US has the friendly President Hamid Karzai’s regime in Afghanistan, and there are numerous alternatives, like building regional and global counter-terrorism efforts and further strengthening homeland security, available to it. His both arguments are factitious. Karzai’s regime is at best limited to Kabul. The rest of Afghanistan is governed by warlords with whom Karzai has sought truce on their terms; allowing them to prosper from opium cultivation and drug trade. Yet, most warlords would not like to displease Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence which provides sanctuaries to the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership, than they would care for Karzai. This position will remain unaltered till most of the top Taliban and al Qaeda leadership are decimated decisively. This is also the only way for the US and Karzai to win over the Taliban fence-sitters and sympathisers, and for peace to return to Afghanistan. This, of course, does not suit Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani whose strategy for Kashmir and Afghanistan would collapse without the Taliban support.

Herein lies the rub. While Obama is correct in calling the conflict in Afghanistan, a ‘war of necessity’, his approach to winning it is inappropriate. The centre of gravity of this war is not chasing the Taliban and al Qaeda cadres up to the Durand line. It is General Kayani himself; he should be compelled to choose to be against them (the global terrorists) rather than be with them. This is not impossible, but would be extremely difficult. Considering that the future of the Obama presidency and the peace process between India and Pakistan depends on making this happen, the US and India should, to begin with, come on the same page. The crumbling US’ Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) strategy suggests that time is running out. Notwithstanding the new US top commander, General Stanley A. McChrystal (Special Forces’ expert) and a surge in the US forces, US field commanders are finding it difficult to operate in south and east Afghanistan where the Taliban sway continues to hold. Media reports suggest that just when the Americans are losing interest in Afghanistan, McCrystal is expected to soon ask for more troops for task at hand. Unfortunately, this will not help. President Obama, Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen should listen to the straight and simple message from their field commanders: Pakistan is not doing enough against terrorists based on its soil. Why is it so? Because Kayani knows that he can get away with it. The US is more worried about instability in Pakistan, which may lead to terrorists getting its nuclear weapons. Thus, in Kayani’s assessment, the US will do nothing to overrule the Pakistan Army which is the sole custodian of the nukes. The US has even allowed the Pakistan Army to enhance its fissile material stocks, has agreed to give over USD nine billion which includes military aid over next five years, and is doing nothing more than regularly urge Kayani to do more against al Qaeda. (The killing of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has helped Kayani more that the US). Mullen has even opened a Pakistan-Afghanistan cell in the Pentagon to ensure that he stays connected with the developments there.

All this is kowtowing to Kayani, who has his cake and is eating it too. This should change. Remember what happened after 9/11. President George Bush gave the public ultimatum to Pakistan: you are either with us or against us. Within hours, General Musharraf changed sides because he knew that Bush was dead serious and he was not thinking at all about Pakistan Army’s instability leading to lose nukes. This was probably the only moment in the last three decades, since 1989 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, when the US did not appease Pakistan to do its bidding. If Kayani does not hit terrorist bases on his soil, the US forces should cross the Durand line into Pakistan. As long as terrorists continue to find safe havens, they will not be eliminated or displaced permanently. The present US drone attacks inside Pakistan directed by a few CIA operatives on the ground are both insufficient and counter-productive.

If this indeed happens, what will Kayani do? Contrary to traditional thinking, he will further tighten his control through trusted lieutenants on the nuclear arsenal. Even a single nuke slipping away from him will render him powerless. Kayani has more stakes than the US in ensuring that all nukes remain firmly under his umbrella. If Obama were to further tighten screws and renege on the promised monumental aid, Kayani will be under pressure from Pakistan’s parliamentarians, who will benefit most from the US largesse, to re-consider genuine support to the global war. Just in case more is needed, remember what the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage had told Musharraf post 9/11. (Quoted by General Musharraf in his book, ‘In the Line of Fire’), ‘We (Pakistan) should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age.’ It was not a bluff because the US homeland had been hit for the first time in modern history. If Washington is to prevent the second time, it should say what makes Kayani sit up and listen carefully. India can advise the US on this.


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