Conflicting Perceptions of Estranged Allies


by Asif Haroon Raja

Till 2004, Pakistan was a peaceful country and suicide bombing was unheard of. The figure of terrorism afflicted casualties began to rise from 2005 onwards and by 2007 the number rose to 3599 killed. The death toll has now jumped to 35000. While the total fatalities of ISAF in Afghanistan from 2001 till 30 September were 2670, which includes 1800 US soldiers, Pak Army alone has suffered 3500 deaths and injuries to 10,000 soldiers. Wear and tear of weapons, tanks, APCs, helicopters, guns and vehicles is substantial. Given the acute resource constraints, it is very difficult for Pak Army to replace them or get them overhauled. The Army and Frontier Corps have been provided very limited counter terror equipment by USA and have not been paid their dues for the services rendered and for deploying 147000 troops in FATA and Swat region in deference to the wishes of USA.

Had the US been able to contain terrorism in Afghanistan, the wave of terrorism would not have entered Pakistan. Ironically, the US and its strategic partners rather than helping Pakistan in controlling terrorism have been fomenting terrorism. Failing to make any headway, White House belatedly realized that military option will not solve the Afghan tangle. It therefore decided to give a push to the political prong and to earnestly work towards political settlement through negotiations with irreconcilable Taliban and move out.

After jointly fighting the war on terror for a decade and suffering a lot, the two allies USA and Pakistan are cross with each other. Both are not on the same page and their perceptions on several issues are at variance. Setbacks of US in Afghanistan are principally the main cause of its frustration, edginess and resentment against their foes as well as Pakistan. Its military as well as political prongs have failed to make any worthwhile progress. Neither the Taliban been defeated in the battlefield nor have Taliban agreed to hold talks. Failing to do anything against the Taliban who are on rampage, the US gives vent to its impotent rage by blaming Pakistan for all its failures. Spin doctors of ISAF have been continuously churning out fabricated anti-Pakistan stories and allegations to cover up US blunders. In the aftermath of Raymond Davis incident and raid in Abbottabad to get OBL, trust deficit between the two allies has widened. While the US is behaving tough and trying to cow down Pakistan, the latter for a change is courageously facing its media and diplomatic blitz and economic and military coercion.

The US military not favorably inclined to the idea of dialogue with Taliban or drawdown of troops continues to apply force against the Taliban and also threatens Pakistan to launch an operation in North Waziristan (NW) despite Pakistan expressing its regrets. Having declared that al-Qaeda has been sufficiently emasculated and that it is no more a major threat to US interests in Afghanistan, the US has now come up with Haqqani Network (HN) allegedly based in safe havens in NW and is projecting it as the most dangerous group. After the 13 September attacks in Kabul and murder of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the US has started accusing ISI that it is linked with HN and is using it as its proxy in Afghanistan. Last week of September saw US military and civil officials in bad temper. They expressed their resentment against Pakistan openly and threatened to intervene if Pakistan didn’t proceed against HN. The US has now deployed hundreds of troops to seal NW border and also to multiply pressure on Pakistan.

The US officials are cribbing that $20 billion assistance provided to Pakistan has gone down the drain since returns made by Pakistan are not commensurate to the quantum of aid given. The US and India think that the US military aid to Pakistan instead of being utilized on fighting anti-US and anti-India militants in Pakistan is being used to enhance its military capacity against India. The two suspects that the Army and ISI are covertly sponsoring four militant groups HN in NW, Mullah Omar’s Shura in Quetta region, al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and will not abandon any of them for any amount of US money since these groups act as proxies against India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan argues that sacrifices it rendered to fight US dictated war are far in excess than any other country and it has suffered three times more economic loss rather than making gains. It maintains that to what good is the US aid when its socio-politico-economic health has deteriorated and become much worse than pre-September 2001. It complains that the US aid has neither strengthened democracy nor institutions, or helped in reducing poverty, or in overcoming its energy crisis, or in reducing fiscal deficit and inflation. Pakistan rightly grieves that the US has all along selfishly remained focused on war on terror and paid scant attention to the problems of people. It says that India and not Pakistan has hugely benefited from the US assistance.

Pakistan has rejected the allegation that ISI in cahoots with HN is using violent extremism as an instrument of policy and exporting violence in Afghanistan. It categorically denied having had anything to do with attacks in Wardak and Kabul or murder of Rabbani. Pakistan counters the US tirade by asserting that Pakistan is the biggest victim of terrorism, which is promoted by RAW and several other intelligence agencies including CIA using Afghan soil. It has been furnishing evidence of involvement of RAW in Balochistan and FATA but so far no step has been taken by USA to restrain its strategic partner since both have common objectives. Pakistan is also the biggest sufferer of drone war.

Pakistan Army feels insulted to be called an unreliable ally and accused of its linkage with al-Qaeda affiliated with Taliban after it lost so many lives of its brave hearts and playing a key role in shrinking their capacity to fight. It is sickened over the incendiary language used by US officials. It shoots back that the comparative casualty rate of security forces of Pakistan vis-à-vis that of ISAF, ANA and India will give a clear picture to a neutral onlooker as to who is aligned and who is fighting them. Moreover, the US has so far not provided any proof to substantiate its allegations. With its high tech intelligence gathering resources and presence of CIA network and Blackwater inside Pakistan, it can easily gather evidence to indict Pakistan.

Interestingly, the US after demonizing the HN and charging that the ISI is using HN as its strategic arm against US targets in Afghanistan and trying to bully Pakistan and making it comply with its demand to go after HN in NW, Hillary Clinton had the brashness to say that the US would like to open dialogue with HN. The US has so far not declared it as a terrorist group. Sirajuddin Haqqani son of Jalauddin Haqqani, heading a small wing of Haqqani force and till recent based in NW, gave an interview to BBC on 3 October. He revealed that the US officials as well as emissaries from other Muslim and non-Muslim countries have been in contact with him and convincing him to abandon Mullah Omar and join Karzai’s government, but he rejected their offers saying that he would do as told by his leader Mullah Omar. He dispelled the widely held misperception that HN is an independent group and clarified that Haqqani’s were part of Mullah Omar led Taliban.

All Taliban groups in Afghanistan have denied their involvement in Rabbani’s murder and have unanimously opined that Indian lobby in Afghanistan planned the assassination since it was averse to peace talks and wanted to disrupt it. This revelation has further degraded India in the eyes of Taliban and they have now become more determined to expel them from their country. Gen McChrystal was right in his assessment that Indian presence in Afghanistan is part of the problem. Gen Dempsey and Gen Allen should mull over McChrystal’s observation.

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