Defusing Af-Pak:

American Stick, Indian Carrot

There are indications that American policy towards Pakistan is going to harden. The court case against Pakistan filed by the relatives of the Jewish American victims of 26/11 is just one complication. The US court will summon the ISI Chief and leading masterminds of Pakistan’s terrorist network to the US for questioning. How will Pakistan respond? This move is initiated by US citizens. More worrying for Pakistan’s military establishment is the change introduced by Pakistan’s civilian government cooperating with the US government regarding procedures allowing US defence personnel visiting Pakistan. 
According to responsible Pakistan media sources Islamabad has lifted all scrutiny of US defence officials visiting Pakistan. Officials are now granted visas in 24 hours. Previously it was the Pakistan army that prevailed, allowing visas of defense officials to be cleared only by Pakistan's Ministry of Defense after scrutiny by the directorate of Military Intelligence. As a result visas were granted or denied after months of waiting. The new procedures were introduced by President Zardari to oblige Washington. These will facilitate direct intervention in counter-terrorism operations by the US army in Pakistan’s tribal regions. The US aims to reduce Pakistan army’s role in dealing with the insurgents.
A conflict between the Pakistani military establishment and Washington is brewing. Whether Pakistan will bear the cost of curtailed military and economic aid if it continues to defy Washington remains to be seen. Pakistan is enhancing its already large arms procurement from China. Clearly, the Pakistani generals are seeking to render US support superfluous by creating a full fledged alternative through China. How China responds remains to be seen. But the escalation of direct US military intervention inside Pakistan is foreseeable. That America was preparing to brandish the big stick became apparent when former President Bush criticized President Obama during his visit to India for not stepping up bomb attacks in Pakistan. This followed closely Senator McCain’s strong endorsement of India when Obama started his Asian tour. The Republicans were signaling a strong bipartisan approach towards Pakistan.
If this trend does lead to stronger US military intervention in Pakistan, what then? It will at best achieve only half the task. Reducing the clout of the Pakistan army is one aspect. But to stabilize Pakistan it will be equally necessary to strengthen Islamabad’s civilian government. That is where India can play a role. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani are not free agents. At each step they have to watch Rawalpindi for its nod. To take on even a weakened army they would have to contend with a large section of Pakistan’s public opinion that supports the army’s hard line against India on Kashmir. The paranoia about India justifies Pakistan’s policy of subverting Afghanistan to render it a client state. But there are positive aspects related to Afghanistan that India can exploit.
As mentioned several times earlier in these columns Indian attitude to the Pashtuns, including the Taliban should not be conditioned by the US. Historically the Pashtuns have always adopted a friendly attitude towards India. Pashtuns on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border refuse to abandon the Durand Line Treaty by which all Pashtuns would be united. The president of the provincial party of Pakhtunwa is Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s grandson, Afsandiyar Wali Khan. Even Mullah Omar seeks Pashtun independence, not global jihad. Is it without significance that Pervez Musharraf who among Pakistan’s leaders made the strongest bid for Indo-Pak peace will contest his election from a constituency in Pakhtunwa?
New Delhi should take active and early steps to reach out to all sections of the Pashtuns on both sides of the border through track two diplomacy promising full support to the spirit of the Durand Line Treaty. If Pashtuns are to live as a united people without change of international borders it can only happen if Pakistan and Afghanistan agree to a form of confederation allowing soft borders, common security and free movement of people. To facilitate this and to persuade Pakistan’s public opinion New Delhi should be prepared to support a similar arrangement on Kashmir that would extend the form of confederation from Kashmir to Kabul provided of course Pakistan’s army accepts common security with India. If America wields the big stick it might soften the attitude of Pakistan’s generals. If India offers a soft carrot it might help Pakistan’s public opinion prevail over the army. There is need for a pincer move by the American stick and the Indian carrot.              


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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