Notwithstanding all evidences against it, Pakistan continues to be in denial mode. Neither has it stopped attacks in Afghanistan by its proxy, the Haqqani network, nor is it relenting in its anti-India pursuit of sending armed infiltrators across the line of control (LOC). Lately, even China is perturbed by its friends’ clandestine support to militants in the Xinjiang region. However it is for America that Pakistan has become a constant headache since it is using American equipment against American soldiers. The situation becomes all the more intriguing if we look at it from a Pakistani viewpoint. Here is a country which is dependent on the United States, (in 2010 alone, it received an aid package of $ 4.4 billion). It is besieged by Jihadis from within who are encouraged not only to attack neighbours like India but also its principal benefactor, the US.
In New Delhi, there is an inevitable sense of `déjà vu’ as it watches the meltdown of US coziness with Pakistan. Since the mid 1950s, the gullible Americans had been fooled to be a party to Islamabad’s project of maintaining strategic parity with India. Now, as American officials directly accuse the Pakistan Army of being involved in attacks on their troops in Afghanistan, the chickens are truly coming home to roost. Yet, the Americans continue to be forbearing and gracious. In clear cut bail outs for the infamous ISI, analysts’ like Fred Kaplan do not allow its clandestine role in perpetrating terrorism to be discussed openly. He claimed that Admiral Mike Mullen only noted that the September, 13 attack on the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters in Kabul was carried out “with ISI support”. However, the fact remains that targeting Indians and Afghans is one thing, hitting the headquarters of your long time ally and aid giver, quite another. Till now the US has swallowed its bile and sought to keep peace, given the fact that 60 per cent of the supplies for the ISAF and US forces go through Pakistan. To offset this weakness, the US has opened up the northern route through Russia and the Central Asian Republics.
On its part, Pakistan has been playing the hide- and- seek game for too long now. It was shamelessly exposed in the midnight raid to kill Osama bin laden, Musharraf’s admission of diversion of US aid to build military capability was another `Black-eye’ for Pakistan’s media managers; numerous Al- Qaeda and Taliban leaders are being hunted out from hiding places in the border belt of Pakistan by US drones. In Afghanistan, where the stakes have suddenly increased post the decision to withdraw NATO forces, instead of facilitating negotiations, Pakistan has gone all hog to foil every attempt by the Taliban to negotiate with the Karzai government. The recent assassination of the former Afghan President Rabbani, is a clear indicator that Pakistan does not practice what it preaches. It wants its proxy, the Haqqani network, to become a dominant actor in the region.
As regards India’s role, Pakistani concern is even more extreme, as it fears that any Indian influence in Kabul is the start point of its eventual encirclement. The India educated Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is seen as “viscerally anti Pakistan and profoundly pro – India”, to quote the former British ambassador S C Cowles. Karzai, on his part, is playing a balanced role, possibly under US advice that any pro-India tilt will exacerbate Pakistani animosity. This is the reason why India has been kept away from training the Afghan security forces or directly dabbling in other forms of security assistance.
Is there any requirement of more evidence to act against Pakistan? America surely does not think so, as was exemplified by Hillary Clintons recent warnings, muted in diplomatic jargon for the sake of cordial relations. The question now is – what if the US gives Pakistan an ultimatum on the Haqqani issue by saying that if Islamabad does not act, it would, and very visibly begin building up forces for the purpose near North Waziristan? What if it obtains a UN sanction to pursue that goal? Pakistan may think China will pull it chestnuts out of the fire, but given its past track record, and its generally ruthlessly pragmatic role, Beijing could well step aside and let Islamabad stew in its own juice.
Pakistan’s leaders, especially the military should understand that their devious plans have backfired. If they are buying time under the illusion that it is only a matter of a year and the US will pull out of the region, they may be in for a nasty surprise. The US would not like to repeat a “departure from Saigon” like situation, with the Haqqani’s firing AK 47s in celebration at departing helicopters from Bagram, nor will it allow Afghanistan to be run by to a motley Taliban crew or a puppet of Pakistan.
A great deal of responsibility for bringing Pakistan down to a soft landing rests with the US. After decades of pandering to Pakistan’s fantasies, it is the US which has to apply its military might and financial clout to bring the political process back on track in Pakistan.
As the US- Pak stand-off worsened, we saw Karzai visiting India recently, purportedly for signing of some agreements. Actually, it was a sounding board to see if India is ready to play a new role as US vacates space in Afghanistan. Though India should wish the Americans well, it is best for us to watch this bout from the sidelines. The US is two continents and an ocean away, but Pakistan is our neighbour, so we must pursue a policy which will not lead to any self defeating long term bitterness.