Originally Published 2011-04-08 00:00:00 Published on Apr 08, 2011
The latest White House assessment of the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan submitted to the US Congress has questioned Pakistan's commitment towards degrading and defeating terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Taliban.
Washington's Pakistan problem
The latest White House assessment of the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan submitted to the US Congress has questioned Pakistan's commitment towards degrading and defeating terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Taliban. Significantly, the report underlines Pakistan's failure, deliberate and otherwise, to create a 'sound strategy' to deny these terrorists a safe haven inside its tribal areas which has become the hotbed of global terrorism. Despite such strong references against its 'strategic ally', the Obama administration, like previous administrations in Washington, remains ambiguous about Pakistan Army's duplicitous policy of using terrorist groups as a leverage to influence events and policies in India and Afghanistan and to extract maximum 'pound of flesh' from the US. What the assessment has deliberately ignored is the Pakistan Army's role in sustaining terrorism in the world. First it was President Pervez Musharraf, and now General Ashfaq Kayani, who hoodwinked the international community in believing that global terrorist movement and its leadership could not be contained or neutralised without the help of Pakistan Army. Reverse is more closer to the truth. Go back to late 2001. The world was aghast at the attack carried out by al Qaeda on New York in September 2011 and the US launched a punishing bombardment of al Qaeda's stronghold in Afghanistan. The terrorist group was uprooted from its base and the leadership began fleeing to safer places. That safest place was Pakistan. Musharraf was the Army chief as well as the Chief Executive of Pakistan at that time. Kayani was his Director General of Military Operations. So when the US leaned on Pakistan, Musharraf was quick to accept the mantle of an ally and he quickly became the 'best bet' in town for the Americans. Two 'accidental consequences' of President George Bush's Global War on Terror, launched in October 2001, went largely unnoticed. These events were to transform al Qaeda and host of its allies and proxies into a global movement creating, in the process, a 'perpetual' threat to the entire world. Pakistan Army had a key role in making these events happen. First was the escape of al Qaeda and Taliban leadership to safe areas in Pakistan. This was facilitated by the Army which, as per the US plan of Operation Hammer and Anvil, were supposed to do exactly the opposite-prevent the terrorists from escaping the US military offensive on the Afghan side. The much hailed 'non-Nato ally' Musharraf had other ideas up his sleeve. Steeped in Pakistan Army's traditional policy of creating and using terrorist groups to complement their strategic as well as tactical objectives, Musharraf decided to let the al Qaeda and Taliban leadership escape and regroup within Pakistan. This would, he thought, would give him a strong leverage to arm-twist the Americans and other western nations in protecting him as well as his army which, by then, had become the most hated entities in Pakistan. Musharraf's Army allowed the terrorist leadership to escape into Pakistan and find secure hideouts in Quetta, Peshawar, Karachi, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and several other smaller cities. Majority of the terrorists, however, found it easy to settle down in the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunwa, turning the vast area into a sanctuary, a virtual Islamic Emirate of Taliban and al Qaeda. What was allowed to happen next was no less grave: Musharraf let the terrorists mingle with the tribal communities; many of the terrorists, both Pashtuns and others, married tribal women, either by force or otherwise, and settled down in the area, erasing whatever differences there could be between the tribal communities and the terrorists. Musharraf was not unaware of this development. In fact, if the number of targeted killings of 'maliks' were to be taken into account, it would be quite easy to understand how the terrorist kingdom was allowed to emerge. Maliks or political agents have traditionally acted as representatives of the federal government in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and kept a tight leash on 'outsiders' in the area. During the British era, these 'maliks' were the de facto administrators in the region and carried immense clout. The al Qaeda and Taliban could not have 'captured' the tribal areas with the 'maliks' in place. So they, with the help of Pakistan Army, managed to wipe out this traditional system of governance in the tribal areas which had kept in check the sectarian and tribal conflicts. General Kayani, who succeeded Musharraf, had other compulsions. His public image was impressive but he was deeply suspicious of the Americans, Afghans and Indians and wanted somehow to control 'Afghanistan'. His instrument to do so was the Taliban and other terrorist groups which his army had spawned and sustained for the past two decades. Like Musharraf, he was able to convince the Americans that the Indians and other regional countries which have equally greater stake in Afghanistan's stability should be firmly shut out of all negotiations on the subject. He was also able to make the Americans believe that there were 'good' and 'bad' among the Taliban and that it was in the greater interest of the US and Pakistan to talk to the Taliban. Some Indians have taken this line recently without realising how dangerous is this distinction. Kayani knew that the Americans were desperate to snatch even the last frayed straw to let them escape from the graveyard of all empires. So Kayani very neatly made distinctions between the terrorist groups. There were Good and Bad Taliban. There were 'enemy' terrorist groups which were a threat to Pakistan and hence they had to be exterminated. There were 'friendly' terrorist groups, like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, spawned and supported to target India, which must be protected from global scrutiny. There were others, like Ilyas Kashmiri, who had escaped from their ' control'. And there were those who conveniently switched roles as and when it suited them, working as drug couriers, kidnapping gangsters and paid assassins, like those who killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Now Kayani is Washington's current flavour. They cannot do without him to decimate the terror groups, and he is doing everything to undermine their 'war ' on al Qaeda and Taliban. Merely look at some of the facts. It was Kayani, as the ISI Chief, allowed regrouping of Taliban and al Qaeda in Khyber Pakhtunwa and the tribal areas. It was under his command that LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad, in 2006, set up new training camps in Dir and Upper Dir in Khyber Pakhtunwa to recruit and train fresh fodder for the Taliban and al Qaeda fighting the Western forces in Afghanistan. It was Kayani who freed 2000 terrorists caught in the wide sweep that took place after 9/11. Many of them returned to the 'killing fields' as trainers, commanders and facilitators, shoring up the Taliban war machinery in Afghanistan. It was Kayani who, as the ISI chief, set up a network of re-employed ISI operatives to run the terrorist machinery in different parts of Pakistan while avoiding global scrutiny and sanction. The two attacks on the Indian mission in Kabul and the Mumbai attack of November 2008 could not have taken place without the knowledge of Kayani and his ISI chief Shuja Pasha. These are known facts and do not need a Wikileaks confirmation. And yet, the White House assessment to the US Congress remains silent on Pakistan Army's role in sustaining al Qaeda and Taliban, and several other terrorist groups, which are capable of making the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a reality in the near future. Wilson John is Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation
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