America and the Pakistani Army

Indulging Pakistan is a mistake. But can the United States stop it?
Two recent articles quote from Strobe Talbott’s recent book and focus on America’s dubious relationship with Pakistan. Kaushik Kapisthalam argues that America’s policy of equating the interests of the Pakistani army with that of Pakistan itself has had rather disastrous consequences.

K Subrahmanyam writes that America’s preoccupation with cold war era foreign policy dogmas resulted in Strobe Talbott’s inability to make any headway with Jaswant Singh soon India’s 1998 nuclear tests.

Another new book by Strobe Talbott, who was then deputy secretary of State and Washington’s point man for South Asia, sheds light on the Sharif-Clinton meeting. Talbott claims that it was President Clinton who disclosed to Sharif that Pakistani forces were preparing to deploy nuclear weapons in anticipation of an Indian retaliation across the border away from Kashmir. Clinton essentially arm-twisted Sharif to agree to a withdrawal, per Talbott.

But Talbott’s book creates more questions than answers. Why was Clinton speaking to Sharif if he believed that the Pakistan army was deploying nukes without Sharif’s knowledge? Why not speak to Musharraf himself, if the United States knew he was the one holding the cards? Did the Americans work with the Pakistan army to make Sharif the fall guy in order to save the Pakistan army’s face?

The answer to the last question is critical because if the United States tried to “solve” Kargil with the aim of protecting the Pakistan army, it would be yet another example that betrays the bottom-line in U.S.-Pakistani relations – namely, the Americans equate the Pakistan army’s interests with Pakistan’s interests and always strive to protect the “honor and dignity” of the Pakistan army when it comes to the crunch.

For instance, consider the events near the Afghan town of Kunduz in late 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. As the Northern Alliance forces were ready to overrun a huge Taliban and al-Qaida encampment near Kunduz, the Americans called for a tactical halt. When the town fell later, there were hardly any fighters left. Some reports pointed to mysterious aircrafts landing and flying out of Kunduz.

Insider accounts by journalist Seymour Hersh and others revealed that most of the “Taliban” in Kunduz were actually senior Pakistan army and intelligence officers and troops. Hersh added that the United States had secretly allowed Pakistan to airlift its troops and officers to prevent them from being arrested and humiliated in a place where they were not supposed to be present.

Once again the United States stepped in to preserve the Pakistan army’s “honor,” but it was at a terrible cost. Hersh quoted U.S officials as saying that many al-Qaida figures, perhaps even top leaders, were able to flee to Pakistan along with the Pakistani troops. Perhaps this explains how so many al-Qaida figures were arrested in Pakistani cities and military cantonments.[Washington Times]

2 thoughts on “America and the Pakistani Army”

  1. The grand strategy post-9/11 was to “fruitfully engage” the most virulent hotbeds like Saudi and Pak, while attempting to establish a model regime in the relatively benign Iraq. Afghanistan was almost a compulsion so we can ignore that for now. The fruitful engagement would ensure that terrorists cannot use those places as safe havens, though the waves of resentment against America would not stop. Once Iraq had a stable democratic progressive regime and it developed like a huge Dubai, it would serve as a model state that the youth in other Arab countries could yearn for. This would show them a far more productive way of engaging with the US, and eventually peace could ensue.

  2. Engaging the hotbed that is Saudi will be easier said than done – home to Mecca and floating on lakes of oil (the world’s largest oil reserves, apparently). But Pakistan, having burgled and proliferated WMD tech, home to the islamic bomb, the notorious ISI, the madrassas that midwifed the taliban and haven for the worst terrorists on the planet (count Osama, Al-Zawahiri, Mulla Omar and Shamil basayev among them) isn’t so difficult to tackle is it? Especially since not many in the world (EU and China included) are likley to protest too loudly since no oil contracts are at stake. Besides which tacit support from Afghanistan, ISrael and India making taking out Pakistan very ‘take-able’, so to say.

Comments are closed.