Courtesy: Wichaar Dec 17/09
Despite tall claims, extremism and Talibanisation kept on expanding during the Musharraf era. The trend was reversed only when the civilian government was installed in Islamabad.
Pakistan and the US have put themselves in such a tight corner that both countries are not left with many choices. President Barack Obama made winning the Afghan war his priority even during his election campaign. Furthermore, his expected increase of troops in Afghanistan has put his credibility on line where he has to show, at least, as much success as George Bush achieved in the most unpopular Iraq war. On the other hand, the Pakistan military does not seem ready to go all the way against all kinds of jihadis because of its apprehensions, real or perceived, about India.
President Obama and most of the US policy circles are convinced that it is not only the Taliban of the tribal areas but all kinds of jihadis that are potential threats for the overall American interests in the area. For starters, improving Pak-Indian relations, a key component of US policy for South Asia, correlates directly to the elimination of anti-India jihadis is pertinent. In addition, the US cannot run different systems and departments without Indian help: practically, the Indians are managing everything from mail to communication systems in Afghanistan. A stable democratic system in Pakistan, taken to be part of the US strategy, is considered impossible if Islamisation is not reversed.
To achieve these goals, President Obama has taken a risk to alienate the Democrats and other important segments of his constituency by increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. He won a vote in the Senate on increasing the troops because of the overwhelming Republican support: it seemed like a Republican rather than a left-liberal agenda that seated him in the White House.
President Obama and independent analysts know fully well that the US casualties are going to increase by increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. It is anticipated that Pakistan is going to be blamed for increasing casualties. Therefore, President Obama will come under extreme pressure to take some kind of action against Pakistan or at least send troops to Pakistan’s tribal areas.
There is a section of historians and war analysts who believe that the Soviet Union made a big mistake by not going into the tribal belt. They believe that if the Soviets had made the tribal belt as part of the war theatre they may have avoided a humiliating retreat. Therefore, the US should not repeat the mistake and take direct action in Pakistan’s tribal belt if the Pakistan Army does not do its part. Probably, the US has communicated its intentions to Pakistan through its military leaders.
The Obama administration is also apprehensive about Pakistani military’s political ambitions. The feeling is that the military keeps calling the shots while it should be fully under civilian control. Unlike the Cold War era, the US did not get desired cooperation from Pakistan military in Afghanistan. Despite tall claims, extremism and Talibanisation kept on expanding during the Musharraf era. The trend was reversed only when the civilian government was installed in Islamabad. Therefore, for the first time, the US recognised that its interests are better served during civilian rule in Pakistan. The Kerry-Lugar Bill was recognition of this new approach that was resented by the Pakistan military, its supporters and proxies.
Pakistan’s military is apprehensive about the US-Indian nexus and American pressure to surrender its traditional supremacy over the civilian government. The military is obsessed that India poses a threat to country’s security and therefore, the proxy fighters, i.e. certain kind of jihadi groups, have to be supported. This is where the core of the Pak-US conflict lies and cannot be easily resolved.
The military is also accused of picking and choosing between good and bad Taliban in the tribal belt. The drone attacks and threat to send forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas are triggered by such a US perception. Pakistan military denies these allegations and claims that it is doing its utmost to eliminate jihadis. These ongoing conflicting perceptions are complicating the situation, to say the least.
However, it is clear that the US, run by President Obama or someone else, can hardly run away from Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, China and Russia cannot afford a Taliban-run Afghanistan either. Therefore, all the international powers, actively fighting or by-standing, are united against the Taliban rule. Therefore, Pakistan’s military cannot sustain its jihadi proxies by any means and should adopt alternative approaches by strengthening economy and democratic rule in the country.
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