Pakistan giving nightmares to the US

Pakistan giving nightmares to the US
By H.K. Dua, who was recently in Washington

While the recent violations of the Line of Control demand greater vigil by India on its western front, the US is getting increasingly worried about the way the situation is shaping for it in Pakistan.

In its fading days, the Bush administration’s policy on Pakistan is falling apart and no one in Washington really knows how best to control events or save American interests in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.

The emerging scenario in Pakistan is proving almost nightmarish for some of the well-informed analysts in Washington’s impressive community of think tanks.

What is causing unease bordering on anxiety in the US is Pakistan’s refusal to comply with American wishes for stopping cross-border forays from within Pakistan’s territory by elements of Al-Qaida and the Taliban into Afghanistan where the US-led NATO troops are trying to restore a semblance of order.

The attacks launched from the tribal areas in Pakistan, from where Al-Qaida and the Taliban are operating, have increased in frequency and intensity during the last few months. The United States is now being told by the Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, and other commanders that the Pakistan Army is not equipped to fight in the tribal areas and attack the bases from where the raids are being carried into Afghanistan. Essentially, the generals are unwilling to take on Al-Qaida and the Taliban for America’s convenience.

At the same time, the new government in Islamabad has not only stopped fighting against the extremist groups within Pakistan, but has also opened negotiations to strike a peace deal with them.

These negotiations are being carried out by Mr Asfandyar Wali Khan of the National Awami Party, a partner in the coalition government in Pakistan. These are apparently being held with the concurrence of the Army top brass.

The refusal to strike at Al-Qaida and the Taliban in the tribal areas and talks with the extremists within Pakistan are clearly linked and upsetting the American plans.

What India needs to ponder is the probability that the recent violations of the ceasefire along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and incidents across the Samba border may be connected in a way to the Pakistan’s approach towards Al-Qaida, the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province and the extremists within Pakistan.

General Kiyani may not be immediately interested in interfering in the civilian politics in Pakistan, but it could be that he and other commanders are finding ways to keep their outfits busy along the border with India, while choosing to buy peace with the extremists in Pakistan and Al-Qaida and the Taliban in their sanctuaries in the tribal areas.

The overall political situation in Pakistan cannot bring comfort to those either who have been designing Bush administration’s policy for the troubled region, expecting Islamabad’s active support in the fight against terrorism.

The policy for making Pakistan an ally in the US fight against terrorism, in short, lies scattered in pieces. Coupled with it is the political situation which is becoming uncertain with fissures having developed in the ruling coalition.

Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) has walked out of the government over Asif Zardari’s reluctance to agree on the restoration of the sacked judges. Nawaz Sharif may not bring down the government for the time being, but the mandate of the election, which the Gilani government represented, seems to be coming under strain.

In effect, four centres of power have come into existence in Pakistan – the Pakistan Army led by General Kiyani, the coalition-government led by Asif Zardari’s Peoples’ Party, General Pervez Musharraf and the civil society outside the government.

The US policy on Pakistan and fighting terrorism after 9/11 has anchored on President Pervez Musharraf. And now Washington finds to its dismay that President Musharraf is the weakest link in what essentially is a fragile power structure accommodating conflicting aims and ambitions.

General Musharraf ruled Pakistan for nearly eight years in uniform. His attempt to seek legitimacy through elections while in achkan has failed because of the PML(Q)’s miserable performance at the polls. And in his own ways, General Kiyani has been slowly distancing himself from President Musharraf, indicating that he would like the Army to keep off from any confrontation between the President and the civilian government.

While the Pakistan Army is reluctant to fight terrorism, the Gilani government can never be stable and strong enough to be effectively in command and fight terrorism as Washington would like it to do.

The US cannot ignore the importance of the civil society which whipped up a widespread agitation against Musharraf’s sacking of the Supreme Court. The civil society actually succeeded in creating a new climate in Pakistan, which is opposed to Pervez Musharraf as well as the Pakistan Army.

The civil society and the emergence of democratic sentiment it embodies is, however, not yet strong enough to fight the fundamentalists, extremists Al-Qaida and the Taliban who all have become a serious problem for Pakistan.

The mix of a weakened President, a shaky coalition, an Army inclined to keep aloof – at least for the time being – and a civil society yet to come to full bloom and become an effective force can push Pakistan towards an uncertain political situation and confusion.

In turn, the dangerous drift can cause serious political instability in a country, which is facing enormous problems and whose leaders, in uniform or without, and the institutions have few solutions to offer.

The extremists and fundamentalists, Al-Qaida and the Taliban and their allies, can only relish the further weakening of the Pakistan state.

This grim prospect cannot be ignored by the policy-makers in New Delhi also. There is too much at stake for India to be unconcerned about the dangerous situation developing in its immediate neighbourhood.