Bitter US-Pakistan truths
Almost all significant events of the last one and a half year in South Asia have put a laser-like focus on Pakistan’s “politics of deception and disinformation” and its accompanying military strategy of nurturing and deploying Jihad-oriented terrorist outfits to attain its goals with regard to Kashmir/India and Afghanistan.
From the very day of my arrival at Srinagar for my second term in January, 1990, I had been pin-pointing the diabolical threads with which Pakistan, in pursuance of the said politics and military strategy, had woven a vast network of subversion and terrorism in Kashmir. But neither the Indian nor the American authorities paid any attention. Both, in their own way, were led astray by their short-term approach.
The Indian decision- and opinion-makers were known for their soft and superficial outlook and their disposition to live in a world of their own make-believe. They woke up to the brutal truth only when the terrorists’ bombs started exploding in the busy streets of Delhi and seven-star hotels of Mumbai. But even the hard-headed leaders of America and its well-endowed think tanks of long standing, who were envisioning the “end of history” and laying down a roadmap for a New American Century, failed to read in time the sinister Pakistani gameplan. Today, “my Kashmir truth”, ignored by all concerned, speaks through the silent voices of about 50,000 dead Indians and also through the dilemma and discomfiture which American authorities are presently facing in Afghanistan after discovering that Pakistan had all along been serving as a breeding ground for frenzied terrorists and acting as a deceitful ally. While introducing the Pakistan Terrorism and Accountability Bill in the House of Representatives in May 2012, veteran Californian Congressman, Dan Rohrabacher, who was once a staunch supporter of Pakistan, said: “Pakistan helped to create the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence service hid Osama bin Laden from the US for years. Today, one of the most dangerous and sophisticated groups killing American troops in Afghanistan is the Haqqani network, which is closely operated by the Pakistani government.”
A 2011 report published by the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, an American think tank, states that during the 1980s: “[T]he Pakistani state has long been a core sponsor and beneficiary of the Haqqani network. During the 1980s Jalaluddin [Haqqani] quickly rose to be one of the ISI’s most-favoured field commanders and the support he provided would have a significant impact upon Pakistan’s security establishment and the jihad in Kashmir in the years to follow...”
For quite some time, a section of the US administration had held the view that Pakistan was resorting to “deception and disinformation” on an extensive scale. This view gained near total acceptability amongst American decision and opinion-makers, when it was found that Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was hiding in the garrison town of Abbottabad. He was killed in the early morning of May 2, 2011, by way of a commando action of the US Navy Seals. No one in the Pakistan establishment was informed showing how distrustful American authorities had become of the Pakistani state.
Pakistan’s perfidy became all the more glaring by the treatment it meted out to Dr Shakeel Afridi who had helped CIA in verifying the identity of Bin Laden by way of an American-sponsored scheme to vaccinate the residents of the locality against Hepatitis B and collecting their DNA in the process. Dr Afridi was arrested, tried under a primitive Tribal Code of Khyber Agency, declared guilty of treason and sentenced to imprisonment for 33 years. It was not taken into account that Dr Afridi was acting against Al Qaeda, and not against the state of Pakistan, which in fact, was an ally of the US in its “war on terror”.
The harsh and legally untenable punishment awarded to Dr Afridi by Pakistan have embittered the US and caused further deterioration in their relations. A few other incidents have added sparks to this tension.
In November 2011, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a Nato strike at Pakistan’s Salala military checkpost. The killing was unintentional and a result of confusion in the messages transmitted between Nato forces and Pakistani soldiers. But Pakistan overreacted, albeit with a calculated mind. It closed the only available land route for providing supplies to the Nato troops in Afghanistan. It also withdrew the airbase facility granted to the Americans for flying drones from Shamshi Airfield in Balochistan. To cap it all, Pakistan demanded apology from US President Barack Obama. Understandably, Mr Obama refused. He also made his displeasure at Pakistan’s attitude known by cold-shouldering President Zardari at the Nato Summit, held at Chicago in May 2012.
Though the US badly needed Pakistan’s cooperation for maintaining a supply line to Nato’s troops in Afghanistan, without incurring heavy costs which the alternative route through the Central Asian Republics and Russia involved, it sent clear signals to Pakistan that there was a limit to its patience. It started curtailing aid and slashing Pakistan’s claim for reimbursement from Coalition Support Fund. It also refused to consider Pakistan’s demand for stopping drone attacks, and declared that the US would take whatever steps were required to protect its forces in Afghanistan. It even increased the frequency of the drone attacks. In the month following the Chicago Summit, eight drone attacks were carried out, killing at least 30 members of Al Qaeda, including Abu Yaha al Libi, who was believed to be next in command to Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Sensing that this time the US was determined to rely more on stick than on carrot, Pakistan, after seven months of obduracy, thought it expedient to beat a retreat under the cover of semantics and reopen the land-route for transporting military supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan. Referring to Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s telephonic talk, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said: “Foreign minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives… We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.” This climbdown shows once again that Pakistan understands the attitude of firmness better than that of softness.
The resumption of supplies to the Nato troops in Afghanistan has warded off a crisis and eased the tension between the US and Pakistan. But bitterness remains. And American mistrust of its “difficult partner” has increased to such an extent that it is considering a fundamental reorientation of its policy towards Pakistan and subjecting it to “malign neglect” or “active isolation”.
Practically, all the energy and resources of the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence have, for two decades, been directed at stage-managing the terror theatre along its western border, which has now got out of control. Significantly for India, there are now some sure signs that the US authorities are beginning to realise how deceptive Pakistan has been in its real plan of wresting Kashmir through religion-propelled terror and subversion, and how unwise they have been in not foreseeing the dangers inherent in such a design for liberal democracies all over the world.
The writer is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister