Pakistan will Remain a Threat, Despite US Surge

President Barack Obama's letter to Asif Ali Zardari is probably one of the sternest written by one head of state to another. It isn't often that a president tells his counterpart in a supposedly friendly country that unless he ends his government's "ambiguity" in certain policy matters, in this case the "war on terror", then the US will have to do the job itself.

The "unusually blunt" missive signals a u-turn in Washington's stance towards a longstanding ally. Considering that one of Zardari's predecessors, Ayub Khan, was described as "a Solon or Lycurgus or Great Legislator on the Platonic or Rousseauian model" by Samuel P. Huntingdon of the Crisis-of-Civilizations fame, the turnaround is nothing short of dramatic.

Evidently, there is finally a realization in Washington that America's support for successive dictators from Ayub to Pervez Musharraf has only aided the growth of vicious fundamentalist elements in Pakistan. A time has come, therefore, when the US will have to intervene directly to eliminate the poisonous weeds by sending more troops to the region.

Thankfully the US has changed its early decision to withdraw its forces by the middle of 2011. It is possibly India's intervention which made it change its mind. India's misgivings were based on the belief that an American deadline will merely make the jehadis wait for the US to withdraw before resuming their terrorist activity.

Right from the time of the first dictator, Ayub Khan, American policy has followed this flawed course of brief intensive engagement and then standing back disinterestedly to watch the resultant turbulence.

If America checked itself in time before making the same mistake, the reason was Washington's inability to understand the depth of the Pakistani establishment's hostility towards India born of a strange mixture of superiority and inferiority complex.

The feeling of superiority stems from the period of history when the Muslims were the foremost rulers of the subcontinent. Hence, Islamabad's belief about reviving the glorious past. Yet, the dismal present-day realities tell them that it is Hindu India which is forging ahead while the supposed homeland of South Asian Muslims is falling behind.

It is to rectify this growing imbalance that Zulfiqur Ali Bhutto took the nuclear path "even if we have to eat grass" while, now, the Pakistani establishment, viz the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have apparently decided to use terrorism as a tool to bleed India with a thousand cuts.

Although the US has understood this deadly game plan, it believes that the "surge" of deploying 30,000 extra troops in Afghanistan will be enough to inflict such a crippling blow on the jehadis that the Pakistan army and the ISI will not be able to use them effectively again.

Besides, by imposing several restrictive conditions on Pakistan via the Kerry-Lugar legislation, Washington hopes that Pakistan will be forced to abandon its adventurism. Among the conditions is "periodic assessments" by the US to check whether the Pakistan army is undermining the political and judicial processes. In addition, the legislation calls upon the civilian authorities in Islamabad to oversee and approve the military budget, the chain of command etc. if they wish to continue to receive the promised $7.5 billion aid over five years.

In a way, President Obama's letter is as much a follow-up of this Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (which Islamabad claims is not binding on it) as of the observations of the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, that the Pakistan army maintains a "relationship" with the terrorists "as a hedge because of their uncertainty whether the US would be a reliable partner ... and whether we would
remain in Afghanistan

The whole of the next few years, therefore, will see one of the most concentrated attacks on the terrorists in the Af-Pak region since 2002-03 when America lost interest in the Afghan war and became involved in Iraq. The expectation in India will be that the US will either complete the job this time or at least degrade the terrorist infrastructure sufficiently to defang the jehadis for a considerable period of time.

Yet, the threat will not go away for two reasons. One is that the Pakistan army and the ISI will remain unreconciled to India's growing stature.

The second reason is that notwithstanding the hammering which the terrorists will receive, the American action will provide fresh impetus to the thesis prevalent in the Islamic world, linking the "war on terror" to the medieval crusades of the Christians in Europe against Muslims.

Even if this belief reflects a sense of paranoia, there is little doubt that the longstanding American policy of mollycoddling dictators has stymied the growth of a liberal middle class in Muslim societies from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to Egypt to North Africa and enabled the bigoted mullahs to rule the roost.

It is India's misfortune that while the Saudi, Egyptian and other Muslim authorities are against terrorism, the Pakistani establishment is not since the latter continues to 'use' the militant groups against India, as President Obama's letter has pointed out. In fact, Pakistan is perhaps the only country which is suspected to be officially in league with the jehadis.

Since there is little likelihood of Islamabad taming the army and the ISI in the near future and insulating them from the fundamentalist influences encouraged by Zia ul Haq, the only solution lies in a prolonged presence of the US and NATO forces in the region and an intensive effort by India and other countries, including Iran, to develop Afghanistan social and political infrastructure. 

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at


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