US President Barack Obama's new comprehensive Af-Pak strategy unveiled on March 27, to deal with a mix of problems might impress and enthuse the new Internet generation with which Obama feels comfortable, but not Indian professionals in terrorism with their feet firmly on the ground in this region. These problems arise from the continuing old Islamic insurgency of the 1980s vintage in Afghanistan, the new post-Lal Masjid raid Islamic insurgency in Pakistan, the continuing jihadi terrorism with many faces -- anti- West, anti-Indian, anti-Afghan, anti-Israeli, anti-Russian, anti-Chinese, anti-infidels and anti-apostates -- from sanctuaries and breeding grounds in Pakistan and the continuing spread of radical ideas justifying the use of terrorism from the madrasas of Pakistan
Former President George Bush left for Obama a bleeding stalemate with no end in sight. As a descriptive analysis of the kind of situation in the Af-Pak region inherited by him from Bush, Obama's new strategic broth to which many cooks have contributed, has shown a clear understanding of the problems confronting him in this region. Bush and his advisers were not as articulate as Obama and his advisers are and not as word-smart, but they too had come to a similar conclusion though not in as smart a language.
Their conclusion was: Pakistan is the source of the plethora of problems faced in the region and unless and until that source is tackled effectively the bleeding will continue.
Obama and his advisers suffer from the same prescriptive deficiency as their predecessors. This deficiency arises from their tendency to mix facts with illusions. The facts were as clear to Bush and his advisers as they are now to Obama and his advisers. These are the existence in the Pakistani territory of the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda, the Pashtun Taliban and the Punjabi Taliban organisations with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad in the forefront and the role of the Pakistan army and its Inter-Services Intelligence in nursing them to serve what they perceive as Pakistan's strategic interests.
The prescriptive part of Obama's strategy is as full of illusions as the strategy of Bush was. There is a common root cause for the illusions of the two administrations. The root cause is their inability to understand that the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment has convinced itself that Pakistan, which had lost its strategic relevance in the immediate aftermath of the end of the cold war, has acquired a new strategic importance. This is thanks to the terrorists of various hues operating from its territory and its nuclear arsenal. The continued existence of these terrorists is in its interest. Action against terrorism when unavoidable, support for terrorism when possible. That is its policy.
It has been using its nuclear arsenal not only in an attempt to intimidate India and deter it from retaliating for terrorist strikes in Indian territory, but also to deter the US and the rest of the West from exercising too much pressure on it to deal with the terrorist sanctuaries in its territory.
Unless the mind of the Pakistani military and intelligence officers is disabused of this belief and they are made to co-operate with the international community in destroying the terrorist infrastructure in its territory, no strategy is going to work in ending jihadi terrorism bred in Pakistan. The major deficiency in the prescriptive analysis of Obama arises from his naive assumption that Pakistan can be made to co-operate more effectively against terrorism through a basket of incentives -- more military and economic assistance, more training, an emphasis on the continuing importance of Pakistan even after the war on terrorism is over etc.
Bush too hailed Pakistan as a frontline ally in the war against terrorism and provided it with various lollipops -- over $10 billion in military and economic aid since 9/11, dual-use weapons and equipment which could be used against the terrorists as well as against India and a willingness to close the eyes to Pakistan's sins of commission and omission against India so long as it acted against terrorism directed at the US. These lollipops failed to make the regime of Pervez Musharraf co-operate sincerely against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. These incentives could not prevent the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan from staging a spectacular come-back from sanctuaries in Pakistan and Al Qaeda and its associates from organising acts of terrorism in different parts of the world.
The lessons from the failure of the strategy of Bush were: Firstly, a policy based only on incentives will not work in the case of an insincere state such as Pakistan. Secondly, a policy which makes a distinction between terrorism directed against the US and terrorism directed against India and the rest of the world will be ineffective.
Thirdly, the fear of exercising too much pressure on Pakistan lest the state collapse and its nuclear arsenal fall into jihadi hands is exploited by Pakistan to prevent the ultimate success of the war against terrorism.
One was hoping -- on the basis of the statements by him during his election campaign -- that Obama would have factored these lessons into the formulation of his new strategy. Surprisingly, he has not. The same old policy of incentives and nothing but incentives is sought to be pursued under the garb of a so-called new strategy. The only new feature is the emphasis on the benchmarks of implementation which will determine the continued availability of the incentives to Pakistan at every stage. The only disincentive with which Pakistan has been confronted is the risk of the incentives drying up if it is seen as dragging its feet in its co-operation in the fight against terrorism.
Obama's strategy -- like the one of his predecessor -- is marked by a fear of punishing Pakistan if it does not change its policy of using terrorists to advance its own strategic agenda. The reluctance to punish Pakistan if it continues to be insincere in dealing with terrorism originating from its territory arises from the fear that too much pressure on Pakistan and a policy of punitive measures might push Pakistan into the arms of the jihadis or might result in a collapse of the Pakistani state with unpredictable consequences. The US must rid itself of this fear and make it clear to Pakistan that, if the worst comes to the worst, the world is prepared to face the eventuality of a failed Pakistan. A failed Pakistan may be a disaster for the people of Pakistan, but not necessarily for the rest of the world.
It is important to constitute a contact group to work out alternative strategies with incentives as well as disincentives, with rewards as well as punishments. Such a contact group must be only of the victims of terrorism. A contact group, which seeks to bring together the victims of terrorism as well as the perpetrator, will be a non-starter.
Obama's strategy has three components -- a counter-insurgency component for Afghanistan, a counter- terrorism component for use in Pakistan and a counter-radicalisation component for use in the entire Af-Pak region. It is a mix of military and political measures. While the military measures will be largely implemented by the US and other NATO powers plus Australia, the regional role of countries such as India, China and Iran is sought to be restricted to the political component. They will have no say in the way the military measures are implemented.
The US expectations that the international community will co-operate in implementing the unilaterally worked out US strategy can be belied because the strategy offers no end in sight to the wave of terrorism of Pakistani origin faced by them. This is particularly true of India. Even though the strategy projects Al Qaeda and its associates operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan as posing a threat to the world as a whole, its objective is limited to preventing another 9/11 in US territory mounted from this region. It does not pay equal attention to the concerns of India and other countries. The strategy is, therefore, unlikely to excite professionals in India.