September 30, 2011

America loses patience with Pakistan

Relations between the US and Pakistan have reached a breaking point.

By Shashank Joshi 8:34PM BST 29 Sep 2011284 Comments

Pakistan’s deposed military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, told The Daily Telegraph yesterday that “the United States must accept the compulsions of Pakistan” in using terrorist groups as instruments of foreign policy.

For a decade, the US did just that, even in the face of mounting evidence that Pakistan was responsible for derailing the war in Afghanistan and killing allied forces. But America’s top military officer has now taken the gloves off.
Admiral Mike Mullen, regarded as one of the most pro-Pakistan officials in the US government, has informed the Senate that the Haqqani network – a Taliban-linked insurgent group – is a “veritable arm” of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service. “With ISI support,” said Mullen, the Haqqanis had bombed the US embassy in Kabul earlier this month. For the first time in history, an ally – one which has taken $22 billion of American money since 2002 – stands accused of committing an effective act of war against the US.

We are witnessing the death spasms of an alliance that has been in meltdown from the day it began. Pakistan helped ferry al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan after 9/11, and spent the following years helping the Taliban to build up their strength. In 2009, the US tried to repair this by promising billions of dollars and a “strategic partnership” of equals. But a series of incidents this year – from the imprisonment of an American spy to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden – underscores the profound disillusionment felt by a generation of US officials.

There is a dawning realisation that no amount of money will compel Pakistan’s out-of-control army to stop aiding insurgents like the Haqqani network and international terrorists like Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Even as jihadi outfits tear apart the Pakistani state, the generals can’t give up their addiction to proxy warriors. But if they keep acting like an enemy, the Americans have no choice but to treat them like one.

So what next? The US will tread carefully, conscious that anything dramatic could give General Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, the pretext to seize power from the civilians. Pakistan’s self-appointed guardians have never dealt especially well with crises of legitimacy, and could lash out in desperation rather than slink back to the barracks.

But in the face of overwhelming Pakistani obstinacy, the US will have no choice but to gradually increase the pressure. We’re likely to see more drone strikes and special forces raids in Pakistan’s tribal areas. One option is to use Afghan militias backed by the CIA – these counterterrorism pursuit teams have conducted numerous secret raids over the years.

Pakistan won’t take this lying down. There will be more public spats, a greater squeeze on US and British intelligence officers inside the country, and an escalation of violence inside Afghanistan.

That’s because Pakistan’s military is just as likely to ramp up its use of terrorists as it is to reverse course. Kayani and his fellow officers assume that they hold all the good cards. Their thinking goes that if Pakistan can hold its nerve until the US withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014, things can go on as normal. They’re gambling that President Obama can’t threaten to bring out the big guns, as it would damage his chances in next year’s elections.

That’s wrong – not just because other states like Iran and Russia will not sit by as Afghanistan burns, but also because the issue is so dramatically public. Mullen may be on the cusp of retirement, but he has made sure that his successors cannot ignore this provocation from Pakistan without taking a blow to their reputation. For 30 years, Pakistan has taken on India in covert wars stretching from Punjab to Kashmir to Afghanistan. But taking on the US is a different matter.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, responding to Mullen, warned that “you will lose an ally… you cannot afford to alienate Pakistan”. But more and more policymakers are calling Pakistan’s bluff. It’s no longer tenable that the fulcrum of US strategy in central Asia is also the world’s most egregious state sponsor of terrorism. I call this a case of duelling fictions: Pakistan pretends to care about counterterrorism, and the US pretends to care for Pakistani sovereignty.

To assume that we’re unavoidably and perpetually locked into an abusive relationship with Pakistan is to underestimate the scale of US anger, but also the ways in which each side’s leverage over the other is changing.

As long as 130,000 Nato troops in Afghanistan need feeding and fuelling through Pakistan, there are limits to how tightly the screws can be turned. But Pakistan’s influence is falling every month, as we shift to northern supply lines. In 2010, 70 per cent of supplies travelled through Pakistan. Today, that figure has fallen to 35 per cent.

General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s military ruler from 1978 to 1988, was always concerned that his secret war against the Soviet Union would tempt Moscow to hit back. He was fond of telling the CIA that “the water in Afghanistan must boil at the right temperature”. It looks as though his successors have turned the heat up too far.

Shashank Joshi is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London


Anonymous said...

the correct link to this news article is


Anonymous said...

Build a long-term strategic partnership between US and Afghanistan, use Northern supply routes, defend Afghanistan border with Pak with iron hand, stop all civilian and military aid to Pak. If so, Pak will be on the verge of its unnatural death in five years and then it will have no option but to beg US for its survival.

Manoj Ambat said...

Pakistan is playing a dangerous game. But what the international community should ensure that if Pakistan becomes a failed state, then time is not far when it will slip into the extremist fold. That thing should not happen as Pakistan has nuclear weapons and the same should never fall into wrong hands. Having said that the world cannot turn a blind eye to the ongoing double game played out by Pakistan. What is the need of the hour is a prudent but iron handed approach by which Pakistan can effectively be tackled.