Monday, Aug 08, 2022

The Hyphenated Half

The Pakistan factor in Indo-US relations -- based on my impressions during a visit to Washington DC from March 29 to April 4, 2004, to attend a conference on Indo-US Strategic Co-operation and a study of subsequent developments.

The Hyphenated Half
The Hyphenated Half

Till the forthcoming US presidential elections are over in November and the present Bush Administration gets re-elected or is replaced by a new Democratic Administration headed by Senator John Kerry, India is likely to figure much less than Pakistan in the political calculations of the Bush Administration or even its opponents.

President Bush is already under electoral compulsions to show that his so-called war against international terrorism, which, in the eyes of the man in the street in the US, is the war against Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, is showing results by placing the US Government in a better position to protect American lives and property in US territory and that his government is capable of bringing its intervention in Iraq to a successful culmination in a manner which would serve US national interests. These compulsions would continue to increase as the US approaches the elections.

There is widespread, though often  not publicly-admitted, recognition in policy-influencing circles in the US that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran  cannot escape a major share of responsibility for the growth of the cancer of international terrorism and that the successful outcome of the present war would depend upon the effectiveness of the Pervez Musharraf Government in Pakistan in removing the lingering roots of this cancer in Pakistani territory.

There is a convergence of perceptions between India and the US that Musharraf has not done or is not trying to do all that needs to be done to eradicate the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban still operating from Pakistani territory. The divergence relates to their respective perceptions of the sincerity of his oft-proclaimed determination to root out this cancer.

While many of us in India feel strongly that his commitment to the war against terrorism is half-hearted and that  he is playing a tactical game to retain the increasing support of the US Administration for his continued rule without impairing Pakistan's ability to make strategic use of the various terrorist groups to serve its  national interests vis-a-vis India and Afghanistan, many in the US policy-influencing circles are convinced that he is trying to do all that he could in the prevailing circumstances without endangering his own administration.

There is recognition that Musharraf's democracy in olive green (OG) is not the best option the US has for prevailing over the new brand of international jihadi terrorism spreading from this region, but, at the same time, there is a conviction that this is the only option it has, however imperfect, and that it would be ill-advised to discard it unless and until a better option is available.

In the ongoing examination at various levels  as to why the US failed to foresee and prevent 9/11, it has been admitted by many that the ambivalence which had marked the policies of different US Administrations towards the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and its supporters in Pakistan's military and intelligence establishments was an important factor in the failure.

Dr. Condoleeza Rice, the National Security Adviser, herself admitted this ambivalence in her testimony before the National Commission enquiring into the 9/11 terrorist strikes on April 8, 2004. To quote from her prepared testimony:

"More importantly, we recognized that no counter-terrorism  strategy could succeed in isolation. As you know from the  Pakistan and Afghanistan strategy documents that we made  available to the Commission, our counter- terrorism strategy  was part of a broader package of strategies that addressed  the complexities of the region.


"Integrating our counter-terrorism and regional strategies was  the most difficult and the most important aspect of the new  strategy to get right. Al-Qaida was both client of and patron  to the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan.  Those relationships provided al-Qaida with a powerful  umbrella of protection, and we had to sever them. This was  not easy.

 "Not that we hadn't tried. Within a month of taking office,  President Bush sent a strong, private message to President  Musharraf urging him to use his influence with the Taliban  to bring Bin Laden to justice and to close down al-Qaida  training camps. Secretary Powell actively urged the  Pakistanis, including Musharraf himself, to abandon  support for the Taliban. I met with Pakistan's Foreign  Minister in my office in June of 2001. I delivered a very  tough message, which was met with a rote, expressionless  response.

 "America's al-Qaida policy wasn't working because our  Afghanistan policy wasn't working. And our Afghanistan  policy wasn't working because our Pakistan policy wasn't  working. We recognized that America's counter-terrorism  policy had to be connected to our regional strategies and to our overall foreign policy.

 "To address these problems, I made sure to involve key  regional experts. I brought in Zalmay Khalilzad, an expert on  Afghanistan who, as a senior diplomat in the 1980s, had  worked closely with the Afghan Mujahedeen, helping them  to turn back the Soviet invasion. I also ensured the  participation of the NSC experts on South Asia, as well as  the Secretary of State and his regional specialists. Together,  we developed a new strategic approach to Afghanistan.  Instead of the intense focus on the Northern Alliance, we  emphasized the importance of the south - - the social and  political heartland of the country. Our new approach to  Pakistan combined the use of carrots and sticks to persuade  Pakistan to drop its support for the Taliban. And we began  to change our approach to India, to preserve stability on the subcontinent." 

(Citation ends)

This ambivalence and the consequent reluctance to act tough against Pakistan were due to the following factors: 

  • Pakistan's long history of collaboration with the US against the USSR during the Cold War. Gratitude for the past and current assistance of Pakistan in promoting US national interests in the region has been an important component of the US policies in the region.

  • The initial US backing to Pakistan's creation and use of the Taliban between 1994 and 1996 to restore law and order in Afghanistan and thereby pave the way for the implementation of US plans for the exit of the oil and gas resources of Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan instead of through Iran or Russia. Even though the de jure Burhanuddin Rabbani Government was in power in Kabul till September 1996, the creation of an alternate de facto power capable of restoring law and order to serve the interests of the US oil lobby enjoyed the tacit backing of the Clinton Administration.

  • The nod of approval given by the Clinton Administration to the Benazir Bhutto Government's decision in 1996 to let  bin Laden and his bodyguards in the so-called 055 Brigade of Al Qaeda  shift from Khartoum in the Sudan to Jalalabad in Afghanistan. It is often forgotten that it was not the Taliban, but the Rabbani Government backed by the late Ahmed Shah Masood which admitted bin Laden into Afghanistan and protected him at Jalalabad. It did so with the concurrence of the Benazir Government, which, in turn, obtained the approval of the Clinton Administration to his shift.It was only after its capture of Jalalabad and Kabul in September,1996, that the Taliban shifted bin Laden to Kandahar and took him under its protection. The US agreed to his shifting to Afghanistan because John Deutch, the then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), felt that the CIA would be better able to keep on eye on him in Afghanistan than in the Sudan.

  • Between 1996 and February 1998, the US was content to keep an eye on bin Laden and his followers instead of pressuring Pakistan and the Taliban to hand them over to the US for investigation and trial. The Clinton Administration started taking the Al Qaeda threat seriously only after the formation of the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad against the Crusaders and the Jewish People by Al Qaeda in February,1998, and the subsequent explosions in August, 1998, outside the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzaniya, which were attributed by the US to Al Qaeda.

  • US efforts towards a strategy for the elimination of Al Qaeda and bin Laden thus became discernible only after the failure of the Cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda's bases in Afghanistan in August,1998, failed to kill bin Laden and destroy his infrastructure.
A careful study of the debates relating to the strategy would indicate that all these debates agreed that any campaign against Al Qaeda would have to start with the elimination of the Taliban, but there were differences as to how to bring this about, with three points of view emerging: 
  • Through a commando operation mounted by the US Special Forces from Pakistani territory with the concurrence of the Nawaz Sharif Government then in power. Or

  • By exercising pressure on the Pakistan Government to bring about the end of the Taliban; Or

  • By backing the Northern Alliance led by Massod to defeat the Taliban and re-capture power in the whole of Afghanistan.
The first option was discussed with Nawaz Sharif and Lt.Gen.Ziauddin, then Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), after the end of the Kargil conflict in July,1999, but was discarded due to the perceived undependability of Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment, whose unqualified support would have been necessary for the success of the operation.

The second option enjoyed the support of the US State Department and figured in the discussions held by Strobe Talbott, the then Deputy Secretary of State, and Karl Inderfurth, the then Assistant Secretary of State, during their visits to Pakistan in 1999 and during the visit of Nawaz to Washington DC  after the Kargil conflict, when Inderfurth held a very long discussion with him on the subject.

The third option, which was favoured by some of the counter-terrorism experts such as Richard Clarke, who was the counter-terrorism co-ordinator in the National Security Council Secretariat, did not have many takers in the State Department.

This debate on a strategy to eliminate Al Qaeda was not confined to the Administration. It also figured in a number of reports and studies on the subject between 1999 and 2001. To quote from some of them: 

    (a) The US National Commission on Terrorism headed by Paul Bremer, who presently heads the US occupational administration in Iraq (June 5,2000): "Afghanistan should be designated a sponsor of terrorism and subjected to all the sanctions applicable to State-sponsors. The President should impose sanctions on countries that, while not direct sponsors of terrorists, are nevertheless not co-operating fully on counter-terrorism. Candidates for consideration include Pakistan and Greece."

    (b) A report of the Heritage Foundation of Washington DC in July 2000:   "Rather than focussing narrowly on bin Laden, the US should focus on uprooting the Taliban regime that sustains him and others like him. Washington should develop a regional strategy to halt Pakistan's support of Taliban, build up Afghan opposition to the Taliban and encourage defections from its ranks. Designate the Taliban as a terrorist organisation to set the stage for declaring Pakistan a State-sponsor of terrorism if it continues to support the Taliban."

    (c) The election manifesto of Bush (August 2000): "Increasingly, terrorists seem to be motivated by amorphous religious causes or simple hatred of America rather than by specific political aims. Terrorism crosses borders easily  and frequently, including US borders, and cannot easily be categorised as either domestic or international. Republicans support a response to terrorism that is resolute, but not impulsive....As with the rest of our defence posture, we must prepare for the most dangerous as well as the most likely ones. Therefore, the US must be extremely vigilant about the possibility that future terrorists might use weapons of mass destruction, which are increasingly available and present an unprecedented threat to America. In many instances, the military will have to rethink its traditional doctrine and begin to focus on counter-terrorism, human intelligence gathering and unconventional warfare."

    (d) A Task Force on Terrorism of the Washington Institute For Near East Policy , of which Christina Rocca, presently Assistant Secretary of State, was a member (January 16,2001): "Work with European and Middle Eastern countries to apply collective pressure on the few remaining States that provide refuge or turn a blind eye to terrorists such as Iran,Pakistan, Yemen and the Taliban in Afghanistan."

    (e) The third and final report on National Security during the 21st Century submitted by a bipartisan commission headed by former Senators Warren B.Rudman and Gary Hart ( February 2001): " The combination  of unconventional weapons proliferation  with the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the US homeland to catastrophic attack. A direct attack on American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century. The risk is not only death and destruction, but also a demoralisation that could undermine US global leadership. In the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental structures." It recommended the establishment of a Homeland Security Agency.

Thus, a recognition  that no war on terrorism can be effective without action against the Taliban and without bringing about a change in the attitude of Pakistan towards counter-terrorism was evident in governmental as well as non-governmental circles and  in the administration as well as among congressional experts from 1999 onwards. And yet, a reluctance to act upon this recognition continued to mark the policies of the Clinton as well as Bush Administrations till 9/11 for two reasons.

The first was the continued hope of the US oil industry that a moderated and softened Taliban would better serve the strategic interests of the US oil industry than a Government dominated by the Northern Alliance, with its linkages to Iran and Russia or any other Government, which might not be able to enforce its authority in the Pashtun belt.

The second was the continued reluctance of the State Department and the Pentagon to take any punitive action against Pakistan for its repeatedly proved role in fomenting jihadi terrorism due to a fear that such action could aggravate the problem instead of solving it and lead to an al Qaedisation  of nuclear Pakistan.

9/11 brought about a realisation of the need for immediate action against the Al Qaeda terrorist infrastructure in Afghan territory and for the overthrow of the Taliban regime, with the co-operation of Pakistan, if possible, and even without it, if necessary. Musharraf's decision to jettison the Pakistan Army's support for the Taliban, at least tactically, and to co-operate with the US in its action to eradicate the Al Qaeda infrastructure from the Afghan territory saved him from any punitive action by the US directed against Pakistan.

Musharraf has been following a two-pronged policy since then. Firstly, to co-operate actively with the US in its operations against Al Qaeda. Secondly, while going along with the US determination to overthrow the Taliban administration, to save it from destruction and allow it to prepare itself from Pakistani territory for another go at a capture of power in Afghanistan at a suitable opportunity.

The double game being played by Musharraf is realised in Washington DC, but one notices a widespread conviction that so long as he is co-operating without reservation against Al Qaeda, which poses a direct threat to American lives and interests in US territory, his continued dalliance with the dregs of the Taliban should be tolerated if  such dalliance does not endanger the Hamid Karzai Government in Kabul.


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