US Blowing Hot and Cold?

Countdown is not always smooth. It has its teething troubles. Necessarily, it cannot go on the expected lines. The war of words that has been going on between Washington and Islamabad for over past one week needs to be seen in the light of drawdown announcement made by President Obama in June this year.

In his nationally televised address he had stated that ten thousand of “surge” forces would withdraw by December 2011, the other 23000 would leave Afghanistan by September 2012 and by 2014 the US and other allied troops will be completely out of Afghanistan. Calling withdrawal as “one of the most difficult decisions that he had made, Obama had asserted the US ‘military campaign was ‘meeting its goals’ and it would be withdrawing from Afghanistan ‘from a position of strength’.

Now when the countdown has started Washington, notwithstanding it engaging with Taliban, contrary to its expectations there has been escalation in violence and things don’t seem going on as envisaged by the White House.
The US military top brass has been seeing Haqqani Network behind the attacks and against any reconciliation. ‘The United States’ as put by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in his article ‘What is Behind US Pakistan Rift’ September 30,    ‘wants the Pakistani military’s help in isolating and destroying these “unreconcilable” elements of the network.’ He has also said that Pakistan spy agency had   ‘also facilitated a secret meeting during the last several months between the United States and a representative of the Haqqani clan. And as very rightly put by David, ‘the sparring with Pakistan illustrates the wider dilemma of the Afghan war.’

The United States is caught in catch-22 situation in Afghanistan. The war of attrition that has been going on since September 8, and that touched its peak after Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “rebuked” intelligence wing of Pakistan army    for using the Haqqani network as its “veritable arm” in Afghanistan. It did not end there; notwithstanding Pakistan persistently denying the allegations US continued to take the point further, “warning that it intended to keep its options open in retaliation for the recent attacks on its well-fortified mission in Kabul.”

On domestic turf Islamabad by organizing all parties meeting used the opportunity to rally people’s support against any US moves against Pakistan and at the same time President Asif Zardari made a reconciliatory move by writing an article in Washington Post on October, stating that ‘it is time for the rhetoric to cool and for serious dialogue between allies to resume,”

The week-long belligerent posturing that has sent alarm bells ringing across Pakistan had an almost an anti-climatic end when Washington on Friday said that it had no plans for cross border raids into Pakistan tribal regions. And what could be seen as significant development was that President Obama did not endorse the accusation made by General Mullen by stating that    US intelligence was not entirely clear on links between Haqqani operatives and Pakistani spy agencies.
Despite trading of allegations and accusation there has been a persistent thinking in Washington that without Islamabad involvement there can be no solutions in the region. It had been this thinking that had made many think tanks even aids of Obama to see Kashmir as gateway for bringing peace in the region. Has Kashmir lost that importance or centrality   in the post- Holbrook dispensations and Washington’s changing equation in the region is an important question.

Ostensibly, it seems with establishment of stronger ever ties between New Delhi and Washington, US priorities in the region have undergone a paradigm shift.

 Islamabad retains the key, it is this belief that despite creating a row with his remarks   General Mike Mullen reiterated at a ceremony where he stood down from the post, handing it over to the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey that “I continue to believe that there is no solution in the region without Pakistan, and no stable future in the region without a partnership”.

The United States wants an exit from Afghanistan- and it wants to leave with sense of victory and leaving behind a mechanism that would watch its interests in the region. But, what has been Pakistan looking for in Afghanistan after US and NATO troops depart from the war ravaged country. To know about Pakistan’s outlook towards the evolving situation in Afghanistan, its interests and strategy in impending end game, and the implications of its policies towards Afghanistan for US Pak relations the United States Institute of Peace, (USIP) Washington and Jinnah Institute conducted a very comprehensive study after BL’s death in Abbotabad.

The study provides an insight into understanding dilemmas that Pakistan policy faces vis-à-vis US, it tries to look into issues as  how ‘US military operation are believed to be causing backlash in terms of militancy and deepening the State –society rift in Pakistan. In terms of end game the Pakistan policy elite see some definite objectives, one, settlement in Afghanistan should not lead to negative spillover such that it contributes to further instability in Pakistan; the government in Kabul should not be antagonistic to Pakistan and should not allow its territory to be used against Pakistan state interests.

The major concern with Pakistan policy elite is Washington’s ‘decisive’ tilt towards India and it sees “the decision to isolate the India-Pakistan equation from US-Af-Pak policy as evidence in this regard.’ The study sees India’s presence in Afghanistan as part of US of regional strategy to counter China and in that sense it complements long-term US in the region. One of the major concerns for Pakistan future of Afghanistan National Security Forces, it sees the force as threat to Pakistan on two counts, one, its ethnic composition and second, India training a section of them.

Given to   the trust deficit between Washington-Islamabad and New Delhi and the scenario that is building as end game date nears it would be naïve to think of stability in the region.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)