January 12, 2011

Biden’s Mission

C. Raja Mohan

Posted: Wed Jan 12 2011, 01:50 hrs


US Vice-President Joe Biden’s mission to Pakistan this week, according to the Washington Post, has two objectives. One is to get Rawalpindi to “articulate its long-term regional security objectives” and the other is to call “Kayani’s bluff” that the US is not doing enough to help the Pakistan army.
It is indeed amazing that after nearly a decade of occupation in Afghanistan, the US is not aware of Pakistan’s regional security objectives — to win a definitive and long-term say in the running of Afghanistan. It is equally astounding that after showering nearly $20 billion worth of economic and military assistance since 2002, Washington thinks it must do more to propitiate the Pakistan army.

One does not have to be a genius to figure out the basic contradiction between the current US quest to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan’s policy of protecting assets that will ensure an enduring future role for it across the Durand Line. The current debate in Washington is about finding the appropriate means to resolve the contradiction. The military leadership, especially the commander of the forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, thinks that with more resources, time and some real cooperation from Pakistan, the situation can be turned around.

The military leaders are deeply frustrated that the loads of US economic and military assistance have not induced the Pakistan army’s cooperation. They think the time has come to try the stick against Pakistan. The military wants increased use of drones on a wider range of targets, and expansion of special forces raids against extremist safe havens in Pakistan.

The civilian leaders want none of this. Vice-President Biden has been deeply sceptical of the military’s counter-insurgency approach to the war and would like to find an early exit out of Afghanistan. Washington’s politicos are afraid of waving a stick, let alone using it against Pakistan.

The civilian leaders fear that military pressure would further destabilise Pakistan. They would prefer a peace deal, brokered by the Pakistan army, that would allow the US to leave Afghanistan with a measure of dignity and a pretence of success.

After ruling out militarily coercing Pakistan into cooperation, Barack Obama has now ordered Biden to tease out more cooperation from Kayani. With only carrots in his quiver, Biden will bargain with Kayani on Afghanistan’s future.

Kayani would want the US to accept Pakistan’s terms for the process of reintegration and reconciliation in Afghanistan; who the main Pashtun interlocutors of the international community should be; and what the eventual political arrangement in Kabul should look like.

Kayani also apparently wants to reduce the Indian influence in Afghanistan and get India to make concessions on Kashmir. If Kayani’s wishlist is long, it is by no means clear that Biden can get what the US wants from the Pakistan army.

The only thing redeeming about the Biden mission is that it might not be the last American diplomatic move on Afghanistan. For Washington is a long way from building an internal consensus on how to move forward or out of Afghanistan.

Nuclear Blackmail

One big advantage of being a crazy state is that every step down the slippery slope turns into leverage. Take, for example, one of the main reasons being cited in Washington on why it should not press the Pakistan army too hard on Afghanistan — the fear of loose nukes.

The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration is concerned that the pursuit of immediate objectives — the disruption and defeat of Al-Qaeda and other extremist organisations — might lead to uncontrollable anarchy in Pakistan and result in nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremist forces.

The murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer last week by one of his security guards has apparently shaken the assumptions in Washington about how secure Pakistan’s arsenal is. Kayani should be smiling; for no blackmail is more effective than the nuclear one.


As Taliban and its Pakistani patrons in Pakistan celebrate the US discomfort in Afghanistan, they might also mourn the death of Naseerullah Babar, the man who helped create the Taliban in the mid-1990s.

Babar is a stalwart of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and was minister of the interior in the first government of Benazir Bhutto. When the Pakistan-backed insurgent groups could not gain control of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops at the turn of the 1990s, Babar apparently convinced the Pakistan army to use a new instrument — the Taliban.

That the PPP had a hand in the creation of the Taliban should offer a caution to those who want to view the current situation in Pakistan in terms of a contest between liberals and religious extremists.


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