Friday, January 19, 2007

Another Conundrum

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to converse with several former foreign secretaries and senior ambassadors and during these conversations (some lengthy, some brief) I have habitually made it a point of asking each of them one simple question: Who has dictated Pakistan’s foreign policy over the past few decades?

The answer, without fail, has always been the same: The GHQ.

The last civilian to have controlled the country’s foreign policy was clearly Z.A. Bhutto. So ever since his ouster Pakistan’s foreign policy has been largely dictated by a handful of generals.

From cadet school onwards the thinking of the Pakistan military mind remains sharply focussed on one country: India – our ‘perpetual enemy’. It therefore doesn’t take much to figure that any foreign policy devised by the GHQ would have to be entirely India-centric.

In his latest Friday Times editorial Two Options for Pak Military Najam Sethi quite pithily summed up the army’s national security doctrine pertaining to Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, he insists, that “the root of its Afghanistan policies on its western border…is the Pakistan military’s obsession with India on its eastern border.”

According to Sethi the GHQ’s doctrine on Afghanistan is as follows:
(1) Afghanistan must not be allowed to fall into the hands of pro-India elements, like the Northern Alliance Uzbek-Tajik ethnic combine
(2) It should therefore be dominated by pro-Pakistan Pakhtuns who have historically straddled both Pakistan and Afghanistan
(3) These Pakhtuns should not be secular, or pro-Russia or pro-India like earlier Pakhtun regimes until 1990 and the current Karzai regime
(4) The Islamic Pakhtun Taliban should be supported as the least objectionable option.

He then points out:
It is this doctrine that has spawned sectarian violence and fundamentalism in Pakistan and enabled Al Qaeda to take root in Afghanistan.

…Until now, the price of this doctrine was paid by Pakistanis because the military is all powerful and unaccountable. But the Al-Qaeda-Taliban nexus has sucked the US into the region and pitted the Pakistani military’s regional interests against the American military-industrial complex’s global ambitions.

And while the military had to take a step backwards when a bigger armed force threatened to ‘bomb it back to the Stone Age’, their thinking apparently essentially remains the same. As Sethi remarks:
The Pakistani military’s assessment is that the Americans have no long term staying power in the region, as demonstrated by their impending retreat from Iraq, and that Pakistan is sure to rebound as the key player in Afghanistan, hence the need to retain its Taliban assets.

But now tribulations appear to be on the way.
Until now the US has nudged the international media to accuse Pakistan of “hosting” the Taliban. It has also played “good cop” in Islamabad who praises General Musharraf and bad cop in Kabul who clucks sympathetically with President Hamid Karzai when he blasts Pakistan. But that “soft” approach may be changing. Recent statements by top US officials and generals claiming that Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders are holed out in sanctuaries inside Pakistan are meant to signal that if Pakistan doesn’t stop the Taliban then America will conduct pre-emptive strikes against them inside Pakistan.

Islamabad’s ambiguous response lacks credibility. It denies Taliban and Al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan but cracks down on foreign or Pakistani journalists who try to verify its claim… Mr Bush wants an outright “victory” over the Taliban while Mr Musharraf means to deny him exactly that… We should therefore expect a chorus of foreign and local calls for “democracy” and taming of the Pak army by Democrats and Republicans alike.

According to Sethi, faced with growing US hostility, Musharraf and his GHQ will have only two options left:
The Pakistan military establishment can continue to play devious “power games” at home and abroad, deepen ethnic and religious fissures in the country, demean and weaken the democratic impulse of the people and lead Pakistan into isolation and despair.

Or it can bury its obsession with India, allow Afghanistan to acquire an autonomous, moderate, pro-West centre of gravity, focus on rolling back the tide of religious extremism and build a stable and sustainable economy.


In the event of such happenings your Blogger’s guess is that Musharraf will instinctively go for the ‘Kursi’ option – i.e. whichever option that better safeguards his grip on power (his old slogan of 'Pakistan First' doesn't count for much these days).


A Different Drum said...

The Financial Times is also of the opinion that US is stepping up the pressure on Pakistan on the Taliban issue.

What your Blogger was unaware of is the ­estimate "that the Pentagon is providing Pakistan with about $80m a month – 25 per cent of Pakistani military expenditure – for counter-terrorism operations.

Anyhow here is the FT piece in full:

US presses Pakistan over Taliban

By Demetri Sevastopulo and Farhan Bokhari

Published: January 17 2007

The US is stepping up pressure on Islamabad to clamp down on Taliban havens inside Pakistan as US and Nato forces prepare for a tough spring campaign by the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan.

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, this week laid down clear markers that the US wanted General ­Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, to crack down on Taliban militants inside Pakistan.

“There are more attacks coming across the border, there are al-Qaeda networks operating on the Pakistan side of the border, and these are issues that we clearly will have to pursue with the Pakistani government,” Mr Gates said in Kabul.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad improved significantly in the wake of the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the US after Gen Musharraf pledged full co-operation in defeating extremism. Washington has since been careful to calibrate its public criticism of Islamabad because of the co-operation Pakistani forces have provided the US military and Central Intelligence Agency in hunting down al-Qaeda operatives in the ungoverned border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But as the pace of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan has picked up over the past year – and with a tough spring offensive expected – US commanders are frustrated that Pakistan is not doing more to help.

John Negroponte, the US intelligence chief, told Congress last week in harsher than normal language that while Pakistan was a partner in the “war on terror” it was also a “major source of Islamic extremism”.

Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, says Washington wavers between complimenting the regime of Gen Musharraf and unleashing criticism. “Its a very difficult balancing act,” he says. “

Pakistani analysts say that US policy towards the country is inherently flawed, driven mainly by continuing support for an unpopular military-led regime while failing to press harder for a return to full democracy, more than six years after a bloodless coup brought Gen Musharraf to power.

Lisa Curtis, a former CIA analyst now at the Heritage Foundation, says increased rhetoric from Washington is partly aimed at eliminating doubts among some members of the Pakistani government and armed forces that the US is committed to the operations in Afghanistan.

“I think there is probably a serious debate within the Pakistani security establishment on this issue and that is why we need to be clear on what the US commitment and goals are in the region so that this debate can stop and Pakistanis can put their full force behind reining in the Taliban.”

One senior US official said part of the problem was that Pakistan’s co-operation had been “episodic”. Pakistan has helped the US capture members of al-Qaeda, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but, the official says, Islamabad’s reluctance to crack down on the Taliban is partly responsible for the US’s failure to kill or capture no more than five or six of the Taliban operatives on its top 100 list.

Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the US is particularly concerned that Islamabad has allowed the northern tribal area of Waziristan to become a de facto independent province where the Taliban can operate freely.

The senior US official said the US was frustrated with tribal deals under which Islamabad agreed to withdraw Pakistani troops from the ungoverned areas in return for tribal leaders agreeing to stop co-operating with al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives. But the official said the deal ended up helping the Taliban become more dominant in the tribal areas.

“Pakistan had options but chose the easy way out,” says Mr Luttwak. “They thought they would get away with it. They are not because the Americans are reacting. I think they will bite the bullet.”

Stephen Cohen, an expert on Pakistan at the Brookings Institution, says Gen Musharraf may have over-estimated the strength of the US-Pakistan relationship in deciding not to crack down on the Taliban.

“[The Pakistanis] are aware that the Pakistan-US relationship broke once before over the nuclear programme and perhaps it might break again over Pakistan’s support for the Taliban,” says Mr Cohen. “But their calculation is that they have support at the top of the US government so don’t need to worry much about what the Afghans and Indians are saying.”

While US officials are stepping up pressure on Islamabad, Democrats in Congress are likely to urge George W. Bush, US president, to tackle Pakistani support for the Taliban. One piece of legislation before Congress would tie US aid to Pakistan to a presidential certification that Pakistan was co-operating in the struggle against the Taliban.

If passed, the legislation would have a very sobering effect on Islamabad. Alan ­Kronstadt, a South Asia expert at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, ­estimates that the Pentagon is providing Pakistan with about $80m (€62m, £41m) a month – 25 per cent of Pakistani military expenditure – for counter-terrorism operations.

“The Americans think they have struck a great bargain with having Musharraf support,” says Ghazi Salahuddin, a political columnist for The News, Pakistan’s English language newspaper. “The reality is, they have struck what appears to be a very poor bargain.”

Anonymous said...

As an Indian, I think the reason why the US has been so openhanded and unstinting with weapons and military aid to Pakistan is because Bin Laden is in Pak military custody/supervision. It is like blood money, to stave off terrorist attacks on the US mainland. This US-Pak secret understanding is eroding because Pak military now also wants the Taliban in power in Kabul as part of it.

Anonymous said...

All evidence points to the presence of senior Taleban leadership in Pashtun dominated areas of Pakistan. This is another example of the strategic myopia and miscalculation of Pakistani generals: while the support for US presence in Iraq may be waning, Afghanistan is an entirely different ball game. Both the Congress and ordinary americans are fully behind their government on Afghanistan. So it should have been obvious to our top honchos that their double-game is not gonna work for long. However, apart from Pakistani double game, US has not shown enough committment and intent in Afghanistan: deploying only some 22,000 troops as opposed to more than 100,000 in Iraq and hand over much of the hard work to the Brits. This, more than any games by Pakistan, has allowed the Taleban to regroup. Sean Lagan's first hand account gives a very good idea of the predicament the British troops find themselves in in Afghanistan and the extent of Taleban's resurgence.

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libertarian said...

The India fixation of the Pak military is fascinating - but not surprising. The Pak military is congenitally warped from broadening its world-view. The people of Pakistan are its only hope.

Anonymous said...

hey onlooker,

long time, no see. hope your absence is not permanent.

Anonymous said...

Onlooker - My previous comments on your Iran post notwithstanding, yours is one of the best blog on Pakistan, I have come across.
Mountainman - I couldn't agree with you more. Pakistani honchos did overplay their hand in Afghanistan.

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