Actually, the military establishment that can say No
“Pakistan,” Hamid Mir writes, “suffered a loss of more than US$34 billion and received only US$11 billion as aid in the last seven years for participating in the war against terror.” Ahmed Quraishi, another commentator, contends that Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud is really a proxy of the CIA (thereby contradicting Graham Usher who gives credence to the allegation that Mr Mehsud is backed by India). And Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen are out to ‘malign the ISI and the Pakistan army’, which, presumably, were hitherto unmaligned. Pakistan, you see, is just an innocent victim of American foreign policy.
During the Holbrooke-Mullen visit, the issue of unpopular drone strikes was made the centrepiece of the “gap” that exists between the US and Pakistani governments [see Chidanand Rajghatta’s report].This allowed the Zardari-Gilani-Kayani government to score some points in the media and among the people. It won’t be long before some commentators will compare it, favourably, to General Musharraf’s famous post-9/11 U-turn when he quickly acceded to US demands.
But the real “gap” is the rather obvious fact that the US government has dropped the pretence of suggesting that the top leaders of the Pakistani army are well-meaning folks doing their best to stamp out the ‘renegade’ and ‘rogue elements’ of the military establishment. The US State Department, Mr Mir reveals, even played an intercepted audio conversation between General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani to journalist Mary Anne Weaver.
Soon after President Barack Obama’s announced his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, this blog argued that the main issue “boils down to this: just how is the United States going to ensure that the Pakistani military establishment plays ball?” There is money, of course, but there is a limit to which the United States can avoid or delay disbursing the financial aid, as the conventional wisdom in Washington is that the collapse of the Pakistani state is imminent. In any case, to the extent that the civilian channeling, extra oversight and ‘benchmarks’ keep the military establishment’s hands out of the cookie jar, it is unlikely to be motivated by the moolah. Pakistan cannot afford to say No. But the military establishment can.
In coming days, expect the military-jihadi complex to ratchet up the tensions with India, in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere. Even the pretence of supporting a freedom struggle in Kashmir will be discarded in favour of justifying the escalation as indicated by ‘legitimate security concerns’ in the face of rising Indian influence in Afghanistan and mischief in Balochistan. The ground for this has already been prepared by the prominence (via Jengnameh, a noteworthy new blog) given to the opinions of Ahmed Rashid, Barnett Rubin and Shuja Nawaz by the Obama administration circles. It will only grow by mindless repetition. Indians should expect a tense summer.
So, regardless of how desperate President Zardari (or any civilian leader) is for foreign aid flows, General Kayani will say No. The good news is that we don’t have to suffer the pretence. The bad news is that because Mr Holbrooke drew those red lines so quickly, he’s trapped in a red circle of his own making. Mr Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen would do well to to back to Washington and address the main issue. The solution does not involve giving Pakistan the drones with which to conduct the strikes. It involves doing something about the red lines.