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Kayani holds the cards

Has the Obama administration succeeded in managing all the key players in Pakistan's ruling matrix? Are Asif Zardari, Premier Gilani, Gen Kayani are all happy because they all can coexist until 2013 under international guarantees?

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times July 30, 2010

Some call it a coincidence, others a coordinated effort, that within 72hours of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani on July 19, the Prime Minister hastened on to state-run television and made an unprecedented announcement. In view of “his excellent services” Gilani “gave” Kayani the three year extension. Never before has a prime minister appeared on national TV to make such an announcement. Nor does the three-year tenure have a precedent.

This meant all elements of the jigsaw puzzle are in place, pretty much in line with the road-map charted out by David Petraeus and Admiral Mullen, both of whom openly displayed their fondness of Kayani on several occasions.

Does this mean the Obama administration succeeded in managing all the key players in Pakistan’s ruling matrix? Are Asif Zardari, Premier Gilani, General Kayani all happy because they all can coexist until 2013 under international guarantees?

Viewed against Obama’s plans from July 2011 onwards, the US weight behind Kayani makes sense. For the first time, both Obama and the Pentagon (represented by Petraeus and Mullen) seem to be in sync as far as the Afghan strategy is concerned. Both civilian and military leadership probably realize, unlike advice by many within the establishment, that the military surge did not use violence, so why speak of eliminating it through another surge?

For easing their troops out of Afghanistan, the US apparently needs a shoulder to rely on. And in the current scenario the Pakistan Army, headed by Gen Kayani, offers that shoulder. Hence, the overwhelming US desire to ensure continuity in command on the eastern side of the Durand Line.

But beyond Gen Kayani’s extension, Clinton and Admiral Mullen’s latest visits (July 19 and July 24, 2010) need to be examined in the backdrop of the ever growing Indo-Afghan-American axis. Within six days, top leaders of these countries – Indian Foreign Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Hillary Clinton, President Hamid Karzai, and Afghan Commerce Minister Anwarul Haq – exchanged notes with Pakistani ministers and officials in Islamabad and Kabul. And on July 20, what stood out was the usual mistrust of Pakistan being the harbourer and promoter of terrorist forces.

S M Krishna and Clinton left no doubt that mistrust remains the biggest thorn in the Indo-Afghan-American-Pakistan relationship. By practically insisting on the presence of Osama Bin Laden and Mulla Omar in Pakistan and asking for access to them, Ms Clinton practically indicted Pakistan for “harbouring terrorists wanted by the United States.”

Clinton’s claims also belied the niceties she showered around in Islamabad, belittling the claims of the desire “for a long-term strategic partnership.”

And this mistrust emanates not only from Washington but also sits deep in India, illustrated by the Deccan Herald on July 22: “Clinton is right in the substance of her allegations, she is downplaying the magnitude of the problem. Knowledge of Bin Laden’s whereabouts might be restricted to elements in the Pakistan government but the support he and others of his ilk are getting is far more widespread from within the Pakistani establishment. In fact, Pakistan has made no shift away from its long-standing use of terrorism to further its foreign policy goals.”

The paper went on to claim that “Recent evidence too has revealed that US aid is being diverted to fund terrorism. So why is Washington then still treating Islamabad with kids gloves?”

As far the Indian external affairs minister S M Krishna is concerned, he may have voiced his displeasure with the home secretary G K Pillai, who in an interview published a day before talks in Islamabad spoke about the alleged role of the ISI in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Yet he diplomatically qualified his criticism of Pillai. Factually, Mr. Pillai was “very much in order” in speaking about the disclosures made by Headley to the FBI and Indian interrogators, but “the timing was something which was very unfortunate,” said Mr Krishna.

Krishna’s criticism of Pillai apart, the latter clearly represented the hard-line approach within the Indian government over engagement with Pakistan. At a seminar in New Delhi, India’s national security adviser Shivshankar Menon openly endorsed Pillai’s stand.

What does this mean for Pakistan?

Firstly, the Indo-Afghan-American axis is unsparing and convinced of the “links between the militants and the establishment” and they are thus closing ranks to politically, if not physically, encircle Pakistan. India’s fixation on the accused Lashkar-e-Taiba members and USA’s insistence on the Pakistani links with the Haqqani network, Laden and Mullah Omar amply underscore that point.

Secondly, until the US and the Indian’s harp on these links, Pakistan will remain stigmatized as a terror-sponsor.

Thirdly, Pakistan’s alleged links with terrorists will always serve as spoiler on issues mentioned above. This will increase suspicion of USA and India in Pakistan, kicking up controversies and stoking the old ones.

Case in point is the emerging Indo-US consensus on the LeT as a threat to global stability (in the words of Admiral Mullen in New Delhi on July 24).

What can Pakistan do?

Pakistan, so it seems, has been on the defensive so far. While explaining its position on people such as Haqqani, Hekmetyar and Mulla Omar, it apparently has not adequately spelt out the socio-political domestic compulsions that are obstructing an all-out war against the people mentioned above.

It also has allowed the debate on its “role” in the Afghan reconciliation process; allegations and insinuations out of Washington and New Delhi say that Pakistan wants a central role in this process.

Strangely, not a single word on these allegations has surfaced in Islamabad or Rawalpindi. Why can it not publicly state its concerns “next door”? If the US, over 13,000 kilometres away, and India, which doesn’t share a border with Afghanistan, are out to safeguard and secure their interest in that volatile country, why shouldn’t the Pakistani government be concerned about it?

Another extremely important issue is US opposition to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline (because of Washington’s conflict with Tehran). Rather than celebrating a couple of hundred million dollars for energy projects, why cant Pakistan press for the removal of the American opposition to this project that it so desperately needs.

The government must make it clear that if Americans want to extract maximum cooperation from it, they must also respect Pakistan’s long-term energy interests.

If the US is keen on the Afghan Transit trade to flow between India and Afghanistan via Pakistan, the quid pro quo would be to persuade India to move beyond its stated position on the Mumbai attack culprits and engage in substantive talks.

Pakistan needs to ask and strive for long term benefits, rather than bargaining for temporal and short term gains.


(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk