Pakistani perfidy dawns on US
There has been a spate of damning reports about Pakistan this past week, each one of them reinforcing the perception, long held in India but only now beginning to dawn upon the Americans, that there is a wide gulf which separates Islamabad's word from its deed. The New York Times has informed us that on July 7 US President George W Bush secretly instructed the American special forces in Afghanistan to launch ground assaults inside Pakistan 'without the prior consent' of that country's Government. The decision to enhance the American response to the hit-and-run tactics of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters with camps on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line from 'hot pursuit' to 'ground assault' follows Washington's grim realisation that the war on terror, seven years after being launched, is going nowhere.
The Taliban may have been neutralised in Iraq and the surge in the deployment of American troops may have fetched a sort of peace in Saddam land with Shia radicals calling a temporary truce with Sunni insurgents, but the Taliban and Al Qaeda continue to confound and frustrate the mighty American military in the mountainous, inhospitable terrain of Afghanistan, just as the straw-hat clad Vietcong had in the paddy fields of Vietnam. Shifting tribal loyalties and mounting collateral damage have only made the task that much more difficult for American and Nato troops in Afghanistan. Bodybags and war casualties have virtually stopped arriving in the US from Iraq, but the number of those arriving from Afghanistan has increased by leaps and bounds.
As if this were not bad enough, there is now unimpeachable evidence to show that Pakistan has been far less than honest in reporting its contribution to the war on terror. The ISI has been assiduously pursuing its pernicious policy of promoting the Taliban and Al Qaeda with the purpose of regaining what it lost after 9/11: Strategic depth through a puppet regime in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai has been making this point for the past couple of years, but the Bush Administration chose to ignore his complaints in the mistaken belief that American interests were better served by pandering to Gen Pervez Musharraf. In a sense, if there was deceit in Pakistan's actions, there was equal deceit in America's response. Now that American blood is being shed, Mr Bush has decided to change his policy. It is possible that the US Army has let it be known that Washington cannot continue to pamper Islamabad at the cost of American soldiers. Last Wednesday's statement to the House Armed Services Committee by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, reflects the hardening of Pentagon's views.
Just to let Pakistan know what it is getting into by playing a double game, US forces have begun to make their gunpower felt in the frontier tribal areas. This has predictably led to a hue and cry about Pakistan's sovereignty being violated and revived the mullahs' demand that there should be no cooperation with the Americans in what they insist is a 'war on Islam'. Faith is a convenient cover for jihadi fervour. Pakistan's Army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is not known to make too many statements or public appearances, has indulged in sabre-rattling of the variety meant to enthuse demoralised soldiers. President Asif Ali Zardari, who even in his wildest imagination couldn't have dreamt of becoming the head of state till last December's assassination of Benazir Bhutto changed the course of politics and opened new vistas of opportunity for a person till recently reviled as 'Mr Ten Per Cent', has also made the right threatening noises. But he knows, more than anybody else, that of the three 'A's that guide Pakistan's destiny - Allah, Army and America - the third should not be made to feel cross and upset.
But all this is unlikely to bring about any tectonic shift in Pakistan's policy of exporting terror to further its foreign policy and strategic objectives. The ISI's powers remain uncurbed and the 'state within the state' has substantial support in the military to browbeat the political leadership and the civilian Government. In any event, the PPP Government, which is in office but clearly not in power, is too effete to tell the ISI and its sponsors in Rawalpindi where they get off. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani tried to tame the ISI and make it accountable to the political leadership but, tail firmly between his legs, had to beat a hasty retreat.
It is unlikely Gen Kayani, who has served as Director- General of the ISI, will try to rein in the rogue 'state within the state'. On the contrary, there is now evidence which suggests that he has been fully aware of, if not a complicit partner in, the ISI's activities in Afghanistan, including the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The suicide bomber who wreaked havoc on July 7, killing two mission officers, two security guards and 54 Afghans, was a Pakistani from Manshera; the explosives were from the Pakistan Ordnance Factory in Wah. All this could not have happened without Gen Kayani's knowledge -- information may be highly restricted in Pakistan, but it does flow to the right people at the right time.
For the moment, American action is likely to force the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to stay put in their camps and the ISI to keep a low profile. But sooner than later, it will be back to business as usual. Mr Bush, in the dying days of his presidency, can only push the envelope thus far and no further; his successor will have to take a call on how to deal with the festering problem called Pakistan. Mr Barack Obama has been particularly harsh in berating Islamabad and shown little or no circumspection while threatening tough action. Indeed, while the Bush Administration has tried to gloss over the siphoning of American military aid running into billions of dollars by the Pakistani Army as revealed by US oversight and audit reports, Mr Obama has gone on record to suggest that the aid and assistance meant for fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda are being diverted to fuel Pakistan's military ambitions against India.
It is likely that Mr Bush's successor will be less well disposed towards Pakistan. But there is a small, niggling doubt. Previous US Administrations that have fulminated against Pakistani perfidy and belligerence have gone on to mollycoddle those in power, whether in civvies or in khaki. Let us also not forget that the CIA has happily collaborated with the ISI in the past and will do so again if it serves America's interests at that moment.