By Sajjad Shaukat
Although a number of strategic institutes of international relations and thinktanks play a key role in formulation of external policies of the United States, yet US has been following a confused strategy about Pakistan.
In this regard, contradictory statements of US president, high officials and media reflect an ambivalent approach towards Islamabad, especially in the post-Osama scenario. Let us take a look at their conflicting statements.
In this respect, US Secretary of State Hillary had earlier made it clear on May 2 this year that our “counter-terrorism cooperation over a number of years now with Pakistan contributed greatly to our efforts to dismantle Al-Qaeda…in fact, Pakistan’s intelligence helped lead us to reach Bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding” at Abbottabad. Clinton also remarked on June 23, “Washington did not believe the top levels of the Pakistani government knew that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been hiding in a Pakistani city.” At the same time, She admitted that the “Pakistanis have suffered ‘extraordinary losses’ in the fight against the Taliban and other extremists groups…Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state sitting at the crossroads of a strategic region. We have seen the cost of disengaging from the region.” Ms. Clinton urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee not to lose patience with Pakistan, despite the US perpetually frustrating relationship with the country.
Quite contrary to the statements of Hillary Clinton, on May 17, former Chief of the CIA, Michael F. Walker accused, “he believes people affiliated with the Pakistani government knew Osama bin Laden was hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.”
Besides, on June 24, The New York Times, while citing US officials alleged, “a cell phone used by Osama bin Laden’s courier, captured during the US raid, appears to show that “he was aided by Pakistani militants linked to the country’s powerful intelligence agency, ISI.”
On June 25, Pakistan army spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas stated that the military “rejects the insinuations made in the NYT story…it is part of a well-orchestrated smear campaign against our security organizations.” He further said, “the army has been angered by media reports that elements in the Pakistani security establishment may have helped Bin Laden hide in Pakistan…Pakistan, its security forces have suffered the most at the hands of al Qaeda and have delivered the most against Al Qaeda; our actions on the ground speak louder than the words of the Times.”
US confused strategy towards Islamabad could also be judged from the contradictory statement of CIA Chief Leon Panetta who pointed out on June 9, “continuing cooperation with Pakistan is critical to keep a tremendous amount of pressure on al Qaeda’s leadership and the networks that provide it support and safe havens.” But he warned that Pakistan needed to do more to step up in the fight against terrorism saying, “future requests for security assistance will be informed by Pakistan’s response to the counter-terrorism steps we have proposed.”
However, on June 15, while indicating links between Pakistan’s intelligence agency and Haqqani networks, without naming ISI, Defence Secretary Robert Gates blamed, “Pakistani officials leaked the information to the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani insurgents, saying “such incident must not derail US relations with Islamabad.” But on June 23, while criticising Islamabad, Gates remarked, “success is possible in the war in Afghanistan even if Pakistan fails to fully cooperate in countering militants along its border, emphasising, “we can win without Pakistan.”
Besides, American aid to Islamabad also shows American ambivalent policy towards the latter. In this connection, on June 14, the House Appropriations Committee has approved a defence spending bill that will withhold 75 percent of $1.1 billion in US aid to Pakistan until administration reports to Congress on how it will spend the money. Recently, Ms. Clinton also disclosed, “The United States is not prepared to continue the same levels of military aid to Pakistan unless it sees some changes in the relationship.” Before it, on June 15, a spokesman of the State Department Mark Toner said, “US assistance for Pakistan is in the interests of both countries and Washington remains committed to working with Islamabad on counterterrorism efforts.”
In light of Pak-US strained ties, on June 15, 2011, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has warned that Pakistan could be a much more dangerous place if the US walks out of it, but also accused that the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura were operating “unhindered” from sanctuaries in Pakistan, which were posing a threat to NATO and Afghan forces.
Meanwhile, on June 22, Obama clarified that troops withdrawal from Afghanistan will take place in accordance with the already announced schedule. In blunt language, referring to Pakistan, Obama elaborated, “we will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments…no country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists.” Regarding Islamabad, he repeatedly made it clear, “he was ready to order more assaults against any safe havens harbouring those who aimed to kill Americans.”
Nevertheless, Pakistan which had been granted the status of Non-NATO ally by Washington has now become a complicated and uneasy ally as recently pointed out by President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
If we take cognizance of the US strategy about Pakistan, we observe that American policy goals are quite unclear. Sometimes US high officials admire Pak Army’s action against the Taliban militants including arrests of the top Al Qaeda commanders by the ISI, sometimes they revive their blame game against ISI including its links with the Haqqani network, sometimes they accuse that Al Qaeda Shura has been operating from Pakistan, sometimes they show their determination to maintain ties with Pakistan and sometimes they threaten to stop aid of Islamabad, while sometimes to carry on the same.
It is mentionable that politicians may back out of their statements but it is not the job of statesmen to eat their own words as shown in the ambivalent statements of Obama and other US high officials.
Here, question arises as to why America is acting upon a confused policy towards Pakistan by wavering between fact and skepticism. In this context, the fact of the matter is that US has been playing a double game with Islamabad. On the one side, American CIA with the help of Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad has continuously been weakening Pakistan through subversive events which keep on going in the country which is the only nuclear state in the Islamic World. Washington which signed an agreement of civil nuclear technology with New Delhi in 2008 wants to counterbalance China by India. US-led some western countries also have tilt towards India as they consider it their larger market at the cost of Pakistan.
Notably, after the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops from Afghanistan, the puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai will be toppled by the stiff resistance of Afghan Taliban. Even India will also not be in a position to maintain its influence and anti-Pakistan networks in Afghanistan.
It is of particular attention that America has also been shifting Afghan war in Pakistan, and after leaving Afghanistan, it wants to totally entangle this country in an allout war with the Taliban and Al Qaeda-related fighters. In this regard, without bothering for internal backlash and rapidly growing resentment against America, CIA-operated drone attacks continue inside Pakistan coupled with the threat of high-value targets in this country. Following such an ill-conceived policy, on the one hand, the US is propagating that Pak nuclear weapons could become unsafe, while on the other, it itself is trying to make them insecure.
American must think that if they throw Pakistan in anarchy by exporting Afghan war, a vast territory from Afghanistan to the Indian-Held Kashmir will be radicalised. As non-state actors like Al Qaeda militants are likely to develop links with each other, shifting Afghan war not only in Pakistan, but also in India. Thus American dream to strengthen India—also making it market for the west will badly be jeopardised. Such a drastic phenomenon is likely to sabotage the US regional and global interests, giving a greater setback to especially American economy which is already facing severe financial crisis.
Nonetheless after abandoning its confused policy about Pakistan, Washington must follow a clear and realistic strategy towards Islamabad by stabilising the latter through more economic and military aid as a stable Pakistan is essential for American interests in connection with Afghanistan and India.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations