All friends and not masters! – the game

US –Pak relationship came under some scrutiny and suspicion immediately and weeks after OBL was taken out by US Navy seals. The issue is going to become redundant sooner or later. The 23rd May issue of the Time magazine, carries an article by Aryn Baker titled ‘Frenemies’. There is such a word! This somewhat corroborates the idea that the creation of Pakistan was for definite US interests in the middle east and the basis of the relationship was never one of trust. ‘A strategic alliance founded on complimentary interest’, says the article.  This is now common knowledge and for those who dream to see peace in the region, strategic issues mean little. Unfortunately Pakistani society is in a helpless situation with the military, the elite and the ‘have nots’ forming corners of a polygon with the US. OK, throw the ISI and CIA into the mix.

The ISI is the most powerful agency, so it appears, and is controlled by the military. It seems to have both intelligence and a counter intelligence role, despite there being other counter intelligence outfits. The key is who has control. Late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the former PM tried to establish an intelligence outfit, headed by a police chief to be one up over the ISI. His death on the gallows bears testimony to the fact that no one can mess with the establishment, of which ISI is a powerful part. One has to read Sujah Nawaz’s Cross Swords to know the palace intrigues in the Pakistani establishment.

Compare this to what is happening in the US. Obama now has a General as the head of the CIA. Intelligence fed to the battlefield will have no intermediaries and the realities on the ground are best understood by the military, but there is lurking danger. In statecraft, intelligence is a powerful tool and can be used to run a state with more authority and in this case influence the US foreign policy especially with regard to military intervention. The ISI has many sources of funding, coming from the Middle East and the US. They have become habituated to receiving funds to be given to the frontline be it the Taliban or the US.

Aryn Baker’s article mentions the India factor, which is effectively used by the Pakistani junta to remain in power. It is interesting to note that Indian reactions and troop deployments, perhaps unintentionally help fuel the anti-India hysteria, almost as a service to the ISI and the military in Pakistan. Troop build ups do create tension.The Indo-Pak border though heavily patrolled, is also a socially porous one. Marriages take place across the borders; farmers plough right till the demarcating lines and step across to turn their ploughs not to lose an inch of cultivable land. There are many other such examples, after all this was one country. There aren’t many posts where there is eyeball contact. There are flag meetings and exchange of greetings. The larger troop deployments are triggered by political reasons and perhaps serve some purpose on both sides of the border.

Pakistani establishment’s hatred for India has been explained in Sujah Nawaz’s writings. One of them is the perceived guilt that Ayub Khan carried, when muslims were massacred on a train, which was on his watch when he was part of the undivided Indian Army. This and the pressure from splinter groups within the Army led to the first Pakistani incursion into Kashmir immediately after independence.

There are several other reasons such as the perception that the Hindus are not martial enough to fight or are weak leaders. It reflects on the fact that the Moghuls and many Islamic invasions dominated the sub continent. Then there is the thought that India as a country rightly belonged to Islamic rulers, almost to the extent that it was India that was created out of Pakistan.  This is an impression fed to the terrorists who carry out cross border activities. I did meet an academic from Pakistan and asked her about what is taught in the schools regarding Indian history. All aspects concerning non-muslim periods in Indian history have been omitted. So the anti-India aspect is almost endemic.

The other reasons are the humiliation caused by the creation of Bangladesh. It hit Pakistani military pride. Bhutto was more interested in bargaining for territory lost in the 71 war than in the return of 90,000 prisoners. It still intrigues me why India could not have insisted on the war crimes of the Pakistani military. Alas, every nation in the region was a pawn in the cold war of the time.

Even if we ignore reasons triggered by events in history, one of the first reactions of Pakistan after the elimination of OBL, was to warn India not to attempt a US type surgical operation. This could be very strange if one considers that if India had to make such military incursions, it could have done so several times in history. So this Pakistani shot across the bows appears to be some code or sign language to its own people or a rattling of the sabres, that happens every so often in the region.

The region’s alliances and re alliances between armed tribes and the powers that be are unpredictable. Then there is the Haqanni network. The ISI supports it more than fighting it. The US attacks the Northwest sanctuaries of this group with drones. Pakistan will not like to make enemies of the network simply because one doesn’t like to shoot ones toes! So the US may be backing or fighting the wrong guys, so it appears. This naivety can be overcome by the sheer military might that the US possesses, only to leave the place in shambles, should they withdraw.

Pakistan wants a friendly Afghanistan, so do the US and Indians, all for different reasons. The Pakistani one, is to ensure a strategic reserve (also called the Islamic reserve), in the case of an onslaught with India where it loses territory in the plains. India wants influence in the region, to deny this strategic reserve to Pakistan and keep its influence in the Central Asian region. India’s foreign policy in this westward direction is perhaps coloured by facts of history. The Indo-Gangetic plain has had several invasions from the west. (Jaswanth Singh’s book on a foreign policy for India, outlines these aspects). As long as this mutual fear remains, there can be no peace in the region. India has to acknowledge the role it plays in fomenting the situation, which is perhaps reactive, despite confidence building measures. It is a tough call as there is a “rogue” element in the region.

The US, needs Afghanistan to pursue its middle east policy and of course, continuing the great game. This may be a simple analysis of it, but it underscores the alliances in the region. The third actor in this is the non-state terrorist groups. These groups can only rely on fundamentalism to motivate the asymmetrical war against all the major players. For them to succeed, like in any insurgency they do need a cause, internal popular support, external support, geographical familiarity and last but not the least charismatic leadership.

If one examines these considerations, the non state actors can be contained if one of the factors is missing. Islam or any religion can be a poor cause unless the movement is restricted to a geographical area. See the case of the Tamil tigers insurgency, it was secular in nature and fell because one of the factors diminished. In the case of terrorism, it seeks to overcome the factors required for a successful insurgency through terror attacks. The last stage of any armed movement is a pitched battle with conventional forces. In the likes of the Haqqani network, there is a possibility of a large force ready to take battle to the final stages, bringing all parties to a negotiating table. Terror attacks serve to weaken moral, but takes away sympathies to a cause if there is one.

Cultivating Pakistan is a must to wean them away from any fundamentalist extremism and break any form of support to the non state actors. OBL’s elimination serves a morale body blow to the terrorist organizations and confirms the known weakness in the relationship. It does drive a wedge of distrust between Pakistani establishment and the non-state actors. It will gradually force a change in relationships.

Despite several image setbacks around the world, the US still struggles with ‘you reap, as you sow’. US has to improve its Af Pak approach by its renewed relationship and have to understand that if the Pakistanis knew or did not know of OBL, either way would be guilty. That is the sum of a double game. The Pakistani establishment feels that the US plays a double game too. This is very true, if one considers US-India relations, the nuclear deal etc, and therefore trust is out of the door. It depends how the US wants to play its game in the future, but for now they are locked into the region and have to consider an escalation in the game with perhaps, tactical nuclear weapons on some sides.


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