Friday, December 18, 2009

The problem in Af-Pak is Pak

The problem in Af-Pak is Pak

By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 11.12.2009


How President Obama’s Af-Pak policy plays itself out may become clearer against a backdrop.

Since President Musharraf’s reputation had sunk after Lal Masjid, sacking of the Chief Justice, declaration of emergency, Washington and London began to encourage Benazir Bhutto’s candidature as Prime Minister because she had promised to give the US a free hand in directing the war against terror. President Musharraf could not have been dispensed with immediately because President Bush’s incantation of his great qualities as an ally against terrorism.

When Benazir Bhutto landed in Karachi on October 18, 2007, a bomb blast very nearly killed her. She told her close advisers that she had not anticipated such anti Americanism before returning to Pakistan. She soon realized the unpopularity of the war against terror with which Musharraf and the Americans were associated. She began to change her tune. This did not prevent her assassination on December 27.

The deal to have a troika – President, Army Chief, Prime Minister – was struck between the Americans, Gen. Kayani, President Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. After Benazir’s death and Musharraf’s departure the power structure in Islamabad was a quick improvisation having neither legitimacy nor acceptability with the people – a burden America carries to this day.

This is the real American dilemma as it embarks on an Af-Pak policy just spelt out: to find allies in Islamabad who reduce not multiply anti Americanism.

The “surge” will be concentrated in the Pushtun areas – Helmand and Kandahar. But US drones, in co-ordination with the Pak Army, will target the extensive Pushtun areas across the Af-Pak border.

There will be a blowback which will aggravate anti Americanism. What will help Washington at some stage is a civilian government in Islamabad which is not seen to be an American lap dog.

Since the Pakistan Army has in recent months taken casualties in the war, the blowback may not be as severe.

Look at the complexity. Anti Americanism continues to grow because of the war on terror. And yet we are being told that the Pak Army’s participation in the war no longer has such a negative echo among the people, that the “blowback” has weakened. We have to wait and see.

There is another piece of confusion. The US clearly makes a distinction between the Al Qaeda and the Taleban which New Delhi does not. The distinction has the effect of leaving the door open for a dialogue with “good Taleban”. This also leaves the Pakistan establishment with its “assets” in the Pushtun areas of Afghanistan in tact.

Yes, it is true that various Islamic groups – Uighurs, Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs of various descriptions did descend on Afghanistan to join the “holy” war against the Soviet Union and later, in response the Osama bin Laden’s call.

But most of these have apparently raised families in the FATA areas. Drone attacks on them will cause this obvious collateral damage. More crucially, how is a Taleban to be separated from an ordinary Pushtun?

Under these circumstances how will Pushtun nationalism on both sides of the border be contained? (This writer has been pessimistic on this score)

There have been in recent months facile comparisons with Iraq where the “surge” is believed to have worked.

No two situations are more dissimilar. US occupation of Iraq brought into the world’s focus for the first time a new reality: that (sixty five) 65 per cent of the Iraqi population is Shia. This majority population was so relieved of Baathist repression that, barring exceptions, they welcomed the US.

Also, US occupation has more or less secured Kurdish de facto autonomy in the north.

There are no such welcoming groups in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

For the first time in years there is an escalation in decibel level from Pakistan seeking Indian toning down of development work in Afghanistan and resolution of Kashmir to normalize bilateral relations. This possibly betrays a misreading of statements made by US military officers as hints from US government.

New Delhi’s position is fairly straightforward. As soon as the perpetrators of Mumbai are brought before credible judicial authority, the composite dialogue can be resumed. In this framework all issues, including Kashmir, will be on the table.

What Islamabad must realize is this: New Delhi sees balkanization of Pakistan a frightful prospect and will go any distance to normalize with Pakistan provided Islamabad resiles from its unreasonable, maximalist positions on Kashmir and Afghanistan.

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