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'Resolve JK row to alleviate Pak crisis'

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: November 06, 2009 13:32 IST
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An influential United States lawmaker, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment, has said that if the Obama Administration can help resolve the Kashmir imbroglio, it may help alleviate Pakistan's continuing security threat perception vis-à-vis India and turn Islamabad from this obsessive focus to confronting the existential terrorist threat from within.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, California Democrat, participating in a seminar on President Obama's policy options in Afghanistan at the Brookings Institution, asked what role India was playing in all of this, said, "We should have mentioned more than we did, in my view, that the Pakistanis continue to be preoccupied with their perceived threat from India."

She argued that "In recent years, they've had an exaggerated idea of this, and they still continue to deploy resources along the border with India that should be spent against the growing threat that they really face, which is the Taliban moving east and affiliating with other unsavoury characters and attacking them in all their population centers."

Harman said, "It has been suggested that our government could be productive by focusing more on resolving the Kashmir dispute," and added, "If we could do that, perhaps that would assist the Pakistanis in getting more comfortable focusing on real threats."

She reiterated that "if we really want to help Pakistan, maybe that's a thing we could do."

Harman acknowledged "the Indians are mindful of this situation and I think have moved, to some degree, to try to reduce the threats".

"But the Pakistanis think they have to hedge their bets in Afghanistan by protecting the Taliban in Afghanistan, because if they don't, somehow India will take over Afghanistan," she said.

Harman said she believed "that is not true, and I wish we could be more adroit in helping them understand that".

Her contention that Pakistan would continue to hedge its bets and continue to protect the Taliban in Afghanistan for strategic depth against India, was supported by Bruce Riedel, the co-author of President Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic review, said, "How we act in Afghanistan is also going to send a powerful message to the Pakistani establishment."

Riedel, former director for South Asia in the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration and an erstwhile CIA official, argued that the "Pakistanis believe we are going to cut and run. Why? Because that's what we've done in Afghanistan over and over again."

As President Obama continues to wrestle with the strong recommendation by his Commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal that more US troops have to be inducted into the theater of war in Afghanistan, Riedel warned that if Pakistan "comes to the conclusion that we're getting ready to cut and run again, under the rubric of redefining mission or whatever it is, they're going to start to change their attitudes and make their own accommodations with jihadists they face."

"The fact that the Taliban, Afghan style, has had such a relationship with Pakistan for so long is one of the great anomalies of this situation," he said, and added, "frankly, something we should not tolerate."

Riedel said, "We need very tough love with the Pakistanis. We should embrace them. We should support them. But we should call them -- and call them in public -- when they do things that we have a problem with. And supporting, either passively or worse, the Quetta Shura is one that we should continue to call them on."

Earlier, he had asserted that "the bottom line is this. We have seen, over the course of the last 30 years -- and especially the last 10 years -- the development of a jihadist state within a state in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and particularly in the Waziristans."

"And that is, in large part, an outgrowth of the instability that puts on both sides of the border. That's certainly how Pakistani leaders increasingly see the situation," he added.

Riedel had also argued that any instability in Afghanistan "seeps across the Duran line and creates instability in Pakistan -- and that's been going on for 30 years. That's the problem that has developed. That's why we see such a degree of instability in Pakistan today."

He said, "Talk to Pakistani leaders and they will tell you, 'We need a stable Afghanistan if we're going to stabilize our country."

And, Riedel said it's a no-brainer as to why a stable Pakistan matters because "this is the country with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. There are more terrorists per square mile in Pakistan than there are in any other country in the world. The future of democracy and Islam comes together in Pakistan in a remarkable way."

Harman however said that while she's all for tough love, "tough love also requires being pretty clear-eyed about what US power can and cannot achieve."

Taking exception to Riedel's contention, she said, "You're talking about some things that we cannot achieve, and in a context where, again, the US is under threat in others parts of the world, our economy has tanked, there are serious homeland security challenges beyond security, such as health care reform and energy security and so forth."

Harman said, "If I were President Obama, I would have a bigger context in mind. And worrying about what the relationship will be over time between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden is not on my personal list of things I'm going to think about over time."

Meanwhile, when questions were raised about Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his relationship with the Pakistani army, Riedel said, "We don't get to pick leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I suspect if we did, we'd do even worse that we've got –although we've got some pretty weak reeds to work with."

He said in the case of Zardari, "we all know his reputation -- Mr 10 percent. Many Pakistanis you talk to will say he never took less than 20. But that's not the point."

Riedel said, "In this conflict right now, President Zardari understands that there is an existential battle within his country between his side and a jihadist Frankenstein that's grown out of control. Why does he understand that? Because his wife was murdered by them, and because he's now number one on the hit list that they're going after."

"We don't have perfect partners," he acknowledged, "but we got what we got, and we got to work with what we got."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC