By C Uday Bhaskar
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a little publicized visit
to Pakistan on Friday (Oct 21) after visiting Kabul in the wake of
increasing tension in the US-Pak bi-lateral relationship and provided
the most emphatic reiteration of what the Obama administration
expects from the Kayani led Pak military. The US looked to
Pakistan “to take strong steps to deny Afghan insurgents safe
havens and to encourage the Taliban to enter negotiations in good
faith.” Thus a reasonably acceptable political resolution to the long
drawn out US military operations in Afghanistan is the principal
objective and Ms. Clinton admitted that the US has been exploring some
kind of quiet contact with the Taliban groups – again with the
assistance of the Pak ISI.
But lest there be any misperception in Rawalpindi – the GHQ of the Pak
Army – where the actual security and foreign policy decisions are
taken – Ms. Clinton also added in her Islamabad remarks: “ Pakistan
for a variety of reasons has the capacity encourage, push, to
‘squeeze’ in Gen. Kayani’s terms, terrorists including the Haqqanis
and the Afghan Taliban to be willing to engage in the peace process.
This is what we are looking for.”
Will the Pak army ‘deliver’ what the US is expecting of them ? The
short answer seems to be in the negative. It is this sense that was
conveyed by General Kayani, who while adressing members of the
Pakistani parliament's defence committee ( Oct 18 ) made the
distinction as to why the US could not treat them like they did Saddam
Husain’s Iraq. The sub-text is that Pakistan has nuclear weapons.
This statement by the Pak Army chief has received extensive comment in
India and abroad and in some instances misinterpreted to imply that
the Pak military is threatening to use it nuclear assets in an
operational mode against the USA – meaning an all out nuclear war.
This is totally invalid.
Yes, Pakistan has been using its nuclear weapons for decades – but in
a covert, poltico-diplomatic manner against the whole world – and
India in particular. The subtle threat of use of nuclear assets –
however nuanced – to my mind constitutes the ‘use’ of the nuclear
weapon and it is perhaps this aspect that was being underlined by the
Pak Army Chief to his parliamentarians – a constituency that the Pak ‘
fauj ‘ has little respect for.
The Pak army has used its nuclear capability to create a firewall that
would insulate it, even as it supported terror groups as part of a
strategic policy against India, Afghanistan – and by extension, the
USA. But Ms. Hillary Clinton cautioned the Pak ‘fauj’, in public to
sever these links - and there were shades of what her husband – US
President Bill Clinton had conveyed to the Pak establishment in March
2000 (with Gen. Musharraf at the helm ) during his brief five hour
visit to Islamabad.
On this visit, Ms. Clinton used a powerful analogy when she told her
Pakistani hosts: “You cannot keep snakes in your backyard and expect
they will only bite the neighbors.”
But will Pakistan’s military heed this advice from the USA ? My
sense is that this is unlikely, given the deep linkages between the
Pak military’s hard-line faction and the terror groups , who perceive
the support to such Islamist extremist ideology as an investment
of strategic depth against India – and paradoxically – a moderate
Afghanistan that wishes to dilute the Taliban influence.
And this is where the nuclear factor becomes relevant and more by
coincidence than design, the events in Libya that led to the removal
of colonel Gadhafi acquire salience. The Libyan dictator was captured
and killed on the same day – Friday, Oct 21 – when Ms. Clinton was in
Islamabad – and while comparisons were being drawn with the fate of
the former Iraqi dictator President Saddam Hussain – the nuclear
factor provides an instructive backdrop.
The US attacked Iraq in early 2003 on the assumption that Baghdad ,
perceived to be a deviant regime was a supporter of terror groups –
and was on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons. If this happened –
the Bush team argued – then it would be impossible to deal with Iraq.
The Saddam regime was destroyed by US military might – though it was
later accepted that Baghdad had no nuclear capability worth the name.
In December 2003, Libya under Colonel Gadhafi made a dramatic
announcement when it renounced its nuclear and chemical arsenal.
Progressively, Libya was brought out of the the axis of evil category
- those nations that were perceived to be acquiring nuclear weapons
through clandestine means (the Pakistan- AQ Khan network ) – and
subsequent events such as the Arab spring and the Jasmine revolution
that swept the Maghreb led to the final removal of Colonel Gadhafi.
Pakistan is the reality with nuclear weapons that Iraq and Libya were
not. How defiant can the Pakistan army remain about its support to
terror groups ? Again, my reading is - to a considerable extent. This
columnist has maintained for years that Rawalpindi has been using its
nuclear capability since May 1990 to support terror activities – and
that both China and the USA were aware of this pattern – and their
support ranged from direct WMD transfers (Beijing) to tacit
endorsement (Washington) The USA has made a radical change in its
Pakistan policies – but China is yet to arrive at a similar
conclusion. Till then , I believe that the Pak Army will reject the US
pressure to act against the terror groups.
In the interim, the people of Pakistan will remain angry and
anguished about America and the (Pak) Army – even as they seek solace
in the third A – Allah. India will have to monitor the US-Pak
developments closely and envisage various outcomes, so as to calibrate
its own post 2014 regional policy.