Seen from any angle, relations between the US and Pakistan are a compound of pretensions, feigned courtesy and overlooking of bad manners. All in all, a situation that breeds frustration. Once in a while it leads to a yell.
Last Thursday was one such occasion. In his testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of US’ Joint Chiefs of Staff clearly stated what is an open secret. Mullen said the Haqqani network, a terrorist group operating in eastern Afghanistan, had the support and protection of the Pakistan government and it was “in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency”. The Haqqanis are in reality proxies of Pakistan, whom the latter wants to use as a tool in Afghanistan to create a government of its choice there after Nato forces leave. These terrorists have attacked US troops and were responsible for the July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul.
The statement was made at a time when relations between the two countries have already cooled quite a bit. It also comes against a backdrop of realization that Afghanistan’s problems are not wholly located in its territory but emanate to a great extent from across the Durand Line.
As always in such cases, Pakistan’s first reaction has been denial and the second, intransigence. On Monday, an AFP story said that Islamabad will take no action against the Haqqanis, who operate from North Waziristan in the country’s lawless border with Afghanistan. To expect them to do so would be naïve. As the Afghan endgame approaches, it is least likely that Islamabad will hurt assets it has nurtured with blood and treasure. Its cooperation for any peaceful outcome in Kabul—except one of its choice—will diminish in geometric proportion in months ahead.
In realistic terms, American ability to radically alter the situation is quite limited. Any effort to do so requires “boots on the ground”, a scarce commodity during any US electoral season. Drone attacks, to be sure, help eliminate individual terrorists. But history shows that any campaign in this area requires sustained military presence. This has always been an expensive proposition. If anything, time is on Pakistan’s side. The cost, however, will have to be borne by India which is likely to face Islamabad’s malevolent attention after it has gained strategic depth in Afghanistan.
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