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Hichem Karoui: The ‘Indian factor’
July 23, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

 
The relations between the United States and Pakistan have never been easy even at the beginning of Bush’s anti-terrorist campaign, which gave to Pakistan a pivotal role in its plans to wipe Al Qaeda and Taliban out of Afghanistan. In his memoirs, Decision Points, George W. Bush fully acknowledged this role describing Pakistan as the most influential country in Afghanistan. Yet, the nature of sympathy Pakistanis might feel toward the Taliban is not necessarily ideological, as Bush explained. It is related to the primary motive of counterbalancing India. The rivalry between India and Pakistan is therefore the “reason” behind much of Pakistan’s attitudes.

The former US president acknowledged “a troubled history” with Pakistan. After a close cooperation during the Cold War, Congress suspended aid to Pakistan then suspected of working on a nuclear weapons programme. A secret nuclear test has been conducted in 1998, and one years later, a coup led by General Musharraf toppled the democratically elected government. So, when Bush arrived to power, there was not much US aid left to Pakistan.

Despite the bleakness that caught the relationship in its grip, the Americans did not hesitate, two days after 9/11, to call Musharraf and present “a list of non-negotiable demands,” including in Bush’s words, “denying Al Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan, sharing intelligence, granting us overflight rights, and breaking diplomatic relations with the Taliban.”

Musharraf agreed to all these demands and Bush could then think that he succeeded in turning Pakistan from a supporter of the Taliban regime to a partner of its enemies. But the following events showed that the issue is much more complicated than it seems.

Four years after the fall of the Taliban and the election of a president and a parliament, when the Americans thought they have won the war, the killing of 19 men of the Special Forces in an ambush by the Taliban (June 2005) indicated that the mountains were far from being cleaned. Yet, that was only the beginning of a rising rebellion that over the years killed dozens of Americans and destroyed the hope of civil peace in the country. Soon, Bush would realise that the problem was still there.

The colour-coded maps the CIA presented him from 2004 on, revealed the increasing influence of the Taliban. He wrote: “The 2004 map was lightly shaded. The 2005 map had darker areas in the southern and eastern parts of the country. By 2006, the entire south-eastern quadrant was black.” As the increase of suicide-attacks tragically translated the abstract figures of the maps, he would soon reach the conclusion that the strategy they adopted has failed.

It was not clear that when he ordered a troop increase in the fall of 2006 he was aware of all the ramifications of the Taliban problem. However, as the violence continued, he came to thinking that “the trouble did not originate in Afghanistan or, as some suggested, in Iraq. It came from Pakistan.”

Actually, he might have had doubts from the beginning; but he could not confront Musharraf as long as he needed his support for the military operations that would topple the Taliban and pave the way to the reconstruction. For a few months after the fall of the Taliban, he “informed” Musharraf about reports saying that Al Qaeda and Taliban forces were fleeing and taking refuge in the tribal areas of Pakistan and asked him for the permission to go after them. The Pakistani president depicted a gloomy picture following the US intrusion that would be interpreted as a violation of sovereignty, and followed by a revolt against him and his government, whereupon the extremists would take over the country and the nuclear arsenal would fall into their hands. Bush gave up after Musharraf promised him to do the job and clean up the area.

In return for Pakistan’s cooperation during the operations in Afghanistan, the US has lifted the sanctions (related to the nuclear issue), upgraded Pakistan’s statute to a major non-Nato ally, provided $3 billion in economic aid and opened the US market to Pakistani goods and services.

Nonetheless, Bush was disappointed. He said: “over time, it became clear that Musharraf either would not or could not fulfill all his promises.” Such inability or unwillingness was attributed to “Pakistan’s obsession with India.”

Bush revealed that in any conversation with Musharraf, since 9/11, the latter would always find the opportunity of complaining about India’s wrongdoing. Musharraf sought to persuade the Americans, Bush in the first place, that India has no other objective than equating Pakistanis with terrorists. The result of that paranoid cold war between the two countries is that Pakistan devoted much of its resources to preparing an eventual war with India. In Bush’s assessment, Pakistan’s efforts in counter-terrorist operations came only second after preparing troops for conventional battle against India.

Furthermore, he thought that Pakistan was not much interested in chasing the Taliban; anyway not as much as it should or as it did for Al Qaeda. He explained this lack of interest still by the Indian factor. The ISI (Pakistani intelligence service) according to Bush, retained ties to Taliban leaders as “an insurance policy in case America abandoned Afghanistan and India tried to gain influence there.” In other words, the Taliban are the proxy fighters that could be manipulated from Islamabad against any Afghan government or foreign influence that is not satisfying to Pakistan. Result: the Pakistani tribal areas populated by Taliban refugees became the “sanctuaries” of the insurgency against the US and ISAF.

After the elections of February 2008, won by the Congress party, Musharraf stepped down and Asif Ali Zardari (Benazir Bhutto’s widower) took over as president. Pakistani troops returned to the fight in the tribal areas, but a year has elapsed, and the Taliban were able to better organise themselves and increase their influence. Bush recognised that Musharraf was right when he refused to authorise the US troops to go after the Taliban in Pakistan. He said: “No democracy can tolerate violations of its sovereignty.”

Nevertheless, when the Obama administration decided to send special forces to take out Osama Bin Laden, this event conjugated with serious doubts about how much complicity Al Qaeda leader was able to get from the ISI to live undisturbed so close to the capital, caused the uneasy relationship to turn so messy and sour that we can barely qualify it as an alliance any more.
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The author, an expert on US-Middle EAst relations, is based in Paris

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