Tuesday, March 6, 2007


From The Statesman

Why is Bush failing in Pakistan?

On a desperate unannounced diplomatic mission to Pakistan, a week ago on Monday, Vice-President Dick Chaney told President Pervez Musharraf that he was not doing enough to prevent Al Qaida and Taliban from rebuilding and strengthening the infrastructure of terrorism in the safety of tribal areas from where they have been operating to carry out terrorist attacks against Afghan and Nato troops.

While on a visit to the USA last year, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan publicly accused Pakistan of not controlling across-the-border terrorists attacks carried out by the resurgent Taliban and Al Qaida. Mutual hostility and contempt between Mr Karzai and Gen. Musharraf is well known. The suicide bomber attack at the main gate of the US Air Base in Bagram in Afghanistan during Cheney’s visit last Tuesday that killed 23 people provided enough evidence that the Taliban and Al Qaida are back in business.

Spring is around the corner and more attacks should be expected. How a proud military man like Gen. Musharraf would have listened patiently to Mr Cheney is difficult to say; but the word got out that Mr Cheney had issued a blunt warning that aid to Pakistan might be curtailed if Gen. Musharraf did not do much more to be effective, which of course brought about an expected response from the country’s foreign minister that Pakistan would not take dictation from anyone (unless, of course, the price is right).

Mr Cheney is not known for his diplomatic finesse but since he is the closest to President George W. Bush, the Pakistani ruler should have got the message. Besides, the deliberately-leaked conversation had a very important audience back home ~ members of the US Congress ~ some of whom are contemplating linking aid to Pakistan with measurable success in the elimination of terrorist camps from Pakistani soil. One might say that Mr Cheney’s blunt warning had an impact because only a few hours after the unannounced visit, the news media reported the arrest of Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, former defence minister of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and a member of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s inner circle. Which is quite misleading because the pursuit and arrest of a top Taliban leader must have taken long planning and complicated maneouvers. Moreover, there is no gainsaying the fact that Pakistan has arrested hundreds of Taliban and Al Qaida members, including Khalid Sheikh Mohamed and Ramzi bin al Shibh, the plotters of 11 September attacks. It belittles Gen. Musharraf to give the impression that he is yielding to American pressure taking into account that Pakistanis do not think much about the USA. Anti-American sentiment is widespread.

Pakistanis have never been enamoured of how Gen. Musharraf was forced into an alliance with the USA after the September 11 terrorist attacks. But in order to cooperate with the USA in its struggle against terrorism, Pakistan has turned itself into a country warring against the very elements, Islamic extremism and militancy, that its super intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), nurtured as tools of foreign policy.

Gen. Musharraf has not been able, or may be he is not willing, to make a total break from the forces that have supported him in his hold on power and hence the minimalist approach towards helping the USA. Consequently, in spite of all the efforts by the Musharraf government, Al Qaida leadership has re-established its network of training camps in Pakistan’s tribal region of North Waziristan and other areas bordering Afghanistan. Once again, especially after Gen. Musharraf cut a deal last year with tribal leaders virtually relinquishing sovereign authority over the tribal territory, Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al Qaida and the Taliban. From these camps, Talibans have been launching attacks against Nato and Afghan troops in Afghanistan. But there is more to these attacks.

Mr John D. Negroponte, former director of national intelligence and now deputy US secretary of state told Congress last month that Al Qaida was “cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.” Neither President Karzai of Afghanistan nor President Musharraf of Pakistan is in full control of the forces operating in their fractured countries.

Since failure is not an option, what can the USA do about it?

First of all, the USA and Nato forces should not hesitate to cross into the tribal territories in pursuit of the Taliban, since Pakistan has virtually given up control over them. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, chief operations officer for the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that “we have all the authorities we need to pursue, either with (artillery) fire or on the ground, across the border.” Since the USA and Pakistan are officially partners in the war against terrorism, Pakistan should not mind US troops crossing into the territory over which it has no control.

The USA should think of establishing direct relations with tribal leaders in order to wean them away from the Taliban and Al Qaida.

Again, the USA must persuade Gen. Musharraf to break the nexus between ISI and the militants including the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other sectarian extremist groups. In many ways ISI works much like an independent entity within Pakistan and it may become necessary for the US intelligence to establish direct relations with it since nothing happens in Pakistan without its acquiescence.

And, finally, the USA needs to do much more aggressive public and business diplomacy in Pakistan to reach out to the middle classes, who have the same global aspirations as other countries with growing economies. The prospects of rapid economic growth and rising prosperity would present Pakistanis with an alternative future where the USA would look a friendly nation.

Instead of depending upon the questionable political strength and commitment of President Musharraf for war against terrorism, the USA should reach out to a wide variety of constituencies in Pakistan including universities, businesses, non-profit organizations, tribal leaders and intelligence communities.

(ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University and is the author of the forthcoming book Digital Freedom to be published by Rowman & Littlefield)

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