April 30, 2012

A year after: Osama's ideology remains alive in Af-Pak region

SOUTH ASIA MONITOR APRIL 30, 2012 Spotlight By C Uday Bhaskar 2 May 2012 marks one year since the dramatic US SEALS-led Abbotabad operation which led to the neutralization of Osama bin Laden and there is an unstated anxiety in the run-up to this anniversary that there could be an attempt by the al-Qaeda and its affiliates to attack American assets– either in the Af-Pak region or elsewhere in the world. Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has now claimed that it had provided the original tip-off to US intelligence that led to Osama's elimination but this delayed claim has been rejected by Washington. The diplomatic stand-off between the US and Pakistan continues and the visit of US special envoy Marc Grossman to Islamabad ended inconclusively on Friday and the Karachi-Kandahar supply routes remain closed. Concurrently on Friday (27 April), Pakistan announced that two of bin Laden’s widows and other family members who were in Pakistan were being flown to Saudi Arabia and this final act, it is hoped, will bring the curtain down on the long OBL saga that began in September 2001. Since the Abbotabad operation of May 2011, the Pakistan military has been discredited in the eyes of its own citizens for a combination of duplicity and lack of integrity; and the General Head Quarters in Rawalpindi has had a strained relationship with Islamabad, the seat of the civilian leadership of Pakistan , the White House in Washington DC and the Hamid Karzai led government in Kabul. Yet it is instructive that on the same day (Friday, 27 April), senior officials of these three nations – the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan - met in Islamabad and came to a tentative agreement on arranging a ‘safe passage’ for Taliban militants wanting to join the Afghan reconciliation process. This initiative is part of the stalled effort towards finding a consensual endgame for what began with the OBL planned al-Qaeda attack of 9/11 in September 2001. The fact that these peace talks came in the wake of the 15 April Taliban attacks on Kabul provides an indicator about the fragility of the political process and the elusive nature of the Af-Pak ‘endgame.’ The orientation of the Pakistan military and its support base within the domestic religious right-wing, which in turn reaches into Afghanistan, remains the key to how the internal situation in Kabul will resolve itself. On current indication it appears that the GHQ in Rawalpindi led by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani still believe that there are good and bad terror groups. Hence the Haqqanis and the LeT can be supported or tacitly endorsed by Pindi, but the Pakistan Taliban whose representatives made an attempt on General Pervez Musharraf’s life, and have wreaked havoc within Pakistan in abetting sectarian violence and targetting Pakistani security forces need to be eliminated. However, this selective approach to the groups that espouse the terror option is not viable– and the US has finally come to accept this reality in the aftermath of the Bin Laden Abbotabad operation, wherein the perfidy of the Pakistani military was exposed. Can the Pakistan military be compelled to sever its links with ‘good’ terror groups such as the LeT led by Hafeez Saeed or for that matter the Haqqanis ? But the divisions within Pakistan on this issue run deep, and the ongoing controversy over judicial strictures passed against Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani may be seen as part of this cleavage within Pakistan's polity. It may be recalled that the ‘Memogate’ scandal involving former Pakistan Ambassador Husain Haqqani centred around how the civilian government in Islamabad could rein in and curb the Pakistani military. The mater is still unresolved but the perception about a collusion between the Pakistan military and the judiciary to intimidate the Zardari-Gilani team is palpable. Paradoxically Pakistan is also going through another seminal judicial enquiry– which has been termed Mehrangate- which pertains to a case filed by Air Marshal (rtd) Asghar Khan in 1996. This case which accused the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, of distributing slush money to the religious right wing party, the IJI (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad), to defeat the Benazir Bhutto led PPP in the 1990 elections has brought into the public domain what was common knowledge on the Pakistani street. In an embarrassing turn of events, former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt General Asad Durrani has admitted under oath that he had indeed distributed funds to selected politicians ahead of the 1990 polls under instructions from his boss, the Pakistan army chief. In many ways the Mehrangate affair epitomizes the root of the institutional disequilibrium which afflicts Pakistan– a malignancy which has now spread to Afghanistan: namely that the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies – the ‘deep-state’- will use money, muscle and madrassa through any means to control the levers of power in Islamabad and hopefully- Kabul. The US which has supported the Rawalpindi General Head Quarters for over half a century through its deception and duplicity has to confront the true nature of the internal damage an uncritical White House regional policy has done to the body-politic of Pakistan and now Afghanistan. Thus it is appropriate that US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will be in India on 7-8 May to meet with her Indian counterpart Foreign Minister S M Krishna in preparation of the next US-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington. The unscheduled Clinton visit to Delhi will come after she concludes a visit to Beijing on 3–4 May and it is evident that there are many issues that will need to be reviewed as part of the nascent strategic dialogue process. Iran and Afghanistan loom large and the US plan to reduce its military commitment to the region by 2014 will have many interpretations and implications. One year after the removal of Bin Laden physically, his presence and the ideology associated with him remain robust in the Af-Pak region and Delhi will have to read the complex patterns and contradictory undercurrents very astutely to protect its own vital interests. (C Uday Bhaskar is a leading Indian strategic analyst. He can be contacted at cudayb@gmail.com)

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