US plays truth and consequences in Pak

US is no longer ready to take at face value the contention of Pak Army that it is the final line of defence between order and chaos

In the late 1970s, the Jimmy Carter administration in the United States was split down the middle between Cyrus Vance, then secretary of state, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, then national security adviser. Vance was a foreign policy conservative and preferred negotiation with the Soviet Union, arguing for greater engagement.
Brzezinski, on the other hand, was a hawk. He advocated using a variety of mechanisms — human rights, a propaganda offensive, a military build-up, encouraging domestic dissidents such as the Solidarity movement in Poland — to weaken the Soviet bloc.

Brzezinski’s rivals thought he was a wild risk-taker. They felt he was provoking the Soviet establishment rather than living with reality. If he succeeded in weakening Moscow and its satellite states, a whole set of imponderables would result. The successor situation would be dangerous and volatile.
Eventually, the Brzezinski line won. It was adopted by Ronald Reagan’s Republican administration as well, bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan and discrediting their military allies in Poland, for instance. In a sense, Brzezinski contributed to the end of the Cold War. He wrote the opening lines of its final chapter.
It is tempting to see the US relationship with the Pakistani military as having entered just such a climactic phase. This is not to suggest America wants Pakistan to implode. It does, however, want the salience of the military within the Pakistani nation-state, such as it is, to be significantly reduced. It is willing to use the big stick to achieve that goal, and is doing so more aggressively than at any stage in the post-9/11 period.
The turning point, of course, was the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in the cantonment town of Abbottabad. To the Americans, it was beyond belief that the Pakistani Army was not protecting Bin Laden or did not know of his hideout. This destroyed any residual trust. In recent weeks, the belligerence of the Haqqani network — the Pakistani Taliban collective led by the Haqqani family — had added to the problem. The Haqqanis have been charged with attacking the US embassy in Kabul as well as a Nato military base in Afghanistan.
This has escalated a war of words between Washington D.C. and Rawalpindi, seat of the Pakistani Army. On September 22, 2011, Admiral Michael Mullen, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top-ranking US military officer, told a committee of the US Senate that the Haqqani network “long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)”.
“In supporting these groups”, Mullen said, “the government of Pakistan, particularly the Pakistani Army, continues to jeopardise Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected and prosperous nation.”
This past week, secretary of state Hillary Clinton repeated the message in Islamabad. She pointed out that it was the ISI that had initiated contact between the Haqqani network and American officials. “It was the Pakistani intelligence services that brought a Haqqani member to a meeting with an American team,” she said, “so you have to know where to call them.”
What is it all adding up to? Using the prism of security of Americans’ assets in Afghanistan, the US is pressing the Pakistani Army to deliver on specifics. It has demanded action against the Haqqani network but will obviously not stop there. It will inevitably move to other terror groups. It is also questioning the commanding role of the Pakistani Army in setting foreign, strategic and even economic goals for its country.
Uncle Sam is not doing this out of charity. Its priority is the safeguarding of American interests and lives in Afghanistan, in the American homeland and anywhere. If this calls for a “reframing” — again a word much heard in recent weeks — of the equation with the Pakistani Army, so be it.
For instance, Ms Clinton spoke about the need to curb improvised explosive devices (IEDs) like the type used by the Haqqanis to execute a truck bomb attack on the Nato military base. “We have shared information,” she said, “to help the Pakistani government deal with the ingredients that go into these IEDs… We realised it was common fertiliser being used.”
This may be seen as a general warning. In Pakistan, where the largest chemical fertiliser company is run by the Army-backed Fauji Foundation, it acquires another meaning. It means the Army could have insider information on the fertiliser industry and on possible points of leakage.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was much talk of America helping create a new, modern Pakistan. Today, there is a cynical realism. More than nation-building, Washington D.C. is looking at containment as a strategic goal. In short: Pakistan may or may not succeed as a nation, but it needs to be less of a threat to the US.
To achieve this end, the Barack Obama administration is willing to shake up — though perhaps not entirely destabilise — the Army’s role and standing within Pakistan. It is no longer ready to take at face value the contention of the generals in Rawalpindi that they represent the only rational and predictable agency in the Pakistani establishment, and that they are the final line of defence between order and chaos.
It is not as if the Pakistani military elite has not faced American pressure earlier. Yet, on each occasion — other than the “with us or against us” moment just after 9/11 — Washington’s goal was to promote some civilian politician or a form of democracy. This time there are no such expectations.
This also makes the stakes that much higher. What if the Pakistani Army plays hardball? Is America ready for the consequences? On the other hand, what if the US snubs Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and intensifies drone attacks and possible Special Forces excursions in the Pakistani heartland? Can Gen. Kayani swallow that, knowing it could irretrievably
damage the Army’s carefully cultivated public image as the ultimate guarantor of Pakistani
sovereignty?
Like Brzezinski 30 years ago, we may be onto something bigger than we imagine.

The writer can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

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