WASHINGTON DIARY: Two weeks notice
by Dr Manzur Ejaz, USA
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy- Wichaar.com, May 5th, 2009
The US is clear on the point that the Pakistan Army, and not the civilian government, is the one to decide about the war against the Taliban. If the army can manifest its sincerity, the US will support Pakistan’s security, integrity and viability as a country.
On his one-hundredth day presidential address, President Barack Obama commented that Pakistan’s civilian government is ‘fragile’ and unable to deliver any services, and hence cannot win the hearts and minds of common Pakistanis. As Obama delivered these remarks, General David Petraeus issued a thinly veiled deadline of two weeks in which Pakistan’s existence would be determined.
What can one make of these seemingly inconsistent statements?
First of all, to clarify President Obama’s statement, one should realise that he did not intend to slight the civilian government in Pakistan. The thrust of his statement was more descriptive of the lack of resources to fulfil people’s demands in Pakistan. This also implied that, given the circumstances, no Pakistani civilian government could do much for the people.
Probably, the US knows that even Nawaz Sharif cannot do much under these circumstances. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that President Obama would have sent any anti-government messages when he had already invited President Asif Zardari for parleys.
President Obama’s statement was tailored for the domestic US audience, explaining why the Pakistani civilian government cannot deliver much in the war against the Taliban. He was preparing the US public to give more financial assistance to Pakistan if needed. US officials have also increased the frequency of their meetings with Nawaz Sharif, which are meant to make sure that he does not try to exploit the anti-US sentiment in Pakistan against the fragile present government.
In this backdrop, the US is also clear on the point that the Pakistan Army, and not the civilian government, is the one to decide about the war against the Taliban. If the army can manifest its sincerity, the US will support Pakistan’s security, integrity and viability as a country. However, if the US determines that the Pakistan Army is allegedly playing the same old duplicitous game then it will not bother about Pakistan’s security and interests.
This means that under those circumstances, the US will disregard the sovereignty of Pakistan and take steps to safeguard its own interests. This is what Gen Petraeus has indicated in his statement; that the next two weeks will determine Pakistan’s survival.
If the US concludes that the Pakistan Army is not serious in fighting the Taliban, it will send its own troops into FATA, occupy it and make it a part of the Afghan war theatre. Furthermore, some believe that the matter will not end there. The borders of Pakistan will be redrawn, where large parts of Balochistan will be taken away from Pakistan. Some further state that the US will also construct a new highway from Gwadar and Pasni to Afghanistan and establish a new supply route, ending its dependence on Pakistan.
Rumours are also abuzz that if the US gets very disappointed with Pakistan, it will invite the Indian army to take part in the Afghan campaign. Sources also indicate that India is willing to send 20,000 troops into FATA. It should be kept in mind that India is already running most of Afghanistan’s electricity and other infrastructure. Therefore, by infusing a large number of troops India will enhance its prevailing influence in Afghanistan. Probably, Gen Petraeus’ two-week deadline also implies such an eventuality.
In this background, though much of this is based on rumour and speculation, the military action in Buner and Swat is crucial. Some cynical observers have already concluded that the Pakistan Army is making noise but not doing much on the ground. However, the US is portraying the new military initiative as a hopeful sign. The prevailing view in Washington is that the Pakistan Army has come to its senses and realised that, at present, the country’s existence is threatened by Taliban and not by India.
President Asif Ali Zardari will be visiting the White House by the time this column is published. However, his visit will not change much. The US will remain focused on military action, knowing fully well that the civilian government cannot deliver much in the present circumstances.