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US erred in blindly trusting the Pak army

Last updated on: May 14, 2009 15:04 IST

You missed the trick, President Obama. Instead of summoning President Zardari to Washington to read the Riot Act, you should have visited Pakistan and sought the unwavering support of the Pakistani people to vanquish the terrorists.

In the second part of his series on the strife-torn Afghanistan-Pakistan region, M P Anil Kumar, a former Indian Air Force fighter pilot, looks at the AfPak cauldron, the lie of the land and Operation Enduring Freedom 2.0

From afar, the panoramic view of the hills, dales and rills of Afpak might arouse nirvana, that Shangri-La feeling. But up close, it resembles an abscessed, putrefying crust of the earth's layer.

To get a handle on this dark land (ruptured by primal tribalism, clanship and warlordism), let us first dissect the complex terror matrix. Since the militant outfits that operate out of Afpak are numerous, rather flexible and up for outsourcing, for simplicity, let us use geographical markers for easy delineation.

Zone 1: The Afghan territory west of the Durand Line where the NATO-led, UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) aided by the Afghan National Army are slugging it out against an amalgam of Al Qaeda, Taliban and likeminded combatants. The latter consider the 'struggle' as war against foreign occupation.

Zone 2: Tora Bora, adjoining tracts of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Quetta where the scattered rumps of Al Qaeda are locked in a guerrilla war against the ISAF and supposedly the Pakistani military. This hotspot straddles both Afghanistan and Pakistan along the eastern foothills of Hindu Kush Mountains. Yes, the same haven where master terrorist Osama bin Laden and other fugitives took sanctuary.

Zone 3: The land mass east of the Durand Line and west of river Indus in Pakistan. This is where the Pakistani Taliban and cohorts are arrayed against the (weak and effete) government of Pakistan. Over here, the fight is primarily to topple the Pakistani state incrementally, and to impose antiquated Islamic edicts as interpreted by the mullahs.

Zone 4: The geographical area cis-Indus and the Indo-Pak border. Here is where the militants employ hit-and-run strikes repeatedly to terrorise people and cock a snook at the Pakistani state, and thereafter vanish into their hideouts in Zone 3 as well as well-marked bases in Zone 4.

Though different technically, since the clashes in Zones 1 and 3 are primarily to overthrow the governments in Kabul and Islamabad respectively, much like our Maoist-Naxals, I would term these two as insurrection. What's happening in Zone 2 is UN-sanctioned use of force to quell terrorists on the run. And the skirmishes in Zone 4 are a classic case of new age terrorism.

It is the bounden duty of the government of Pakistan to crush the militants in Zones 3 and 4. The ISAF is empowered to drive out the insurrectionists in Zone 1. In Zone 2, since they operate out of an amorphous terrain, the ISAF (read the US) needs the Pakistani military to outgun the Al Qaeda fighters enjoying, ironically, Pakistani hospitality!

Overall, the US immediately needs the Pakistani military support in three areas: Its manpower and firepower in Zone 2, to seal Pakistan's nukes from external forcesĀ and to repress the Taliban fighters running amok in Pakistani territory.

For President Obama, here are some home truths. Once any insurgent movement attains a critical mass, it is well nigh impossible to defeat it militarily (unless you use brute force like in Sri Lanka), and only a political reconciliation can clinch its termination. The well-dug-in Afpak militants do not seem amenable to political rapprochement.

The army chief, the de facto arbiter of Pakistan, is unlikely to do President Obama's bidding wholeheartedly and will continue to handle the militants with kid gloves. Apparently, the Americans have still not grasped the umbilical relationship between the two. For the Pakistan army, these bloodthirsty extremists are stand-by assets to be employed against both India and Afghanistan, at its beck and call.

Further, Islamic blood is thicker than monetary grease, and the Pakistan Army would not want to be perceived as faithless mercenaries spilling the blood of their Muslim brethren (when the terrorists blow up blood-brothers, well, they are rendering a divine service).

In sum, to expect the Pakistan army to go the whole hog to liquidate the terror network, under duress or inducements, is bit like expecting jackbooted China to cede Tibet.

Worse, having lived life king-size during General Musharraf's reign, it is anybody's guess whether the Pak army is fighting fit to demolish well-entrenched, well-humoured, well-armed 'foot soldiers of Islam'.

Above all, the subterranean religious friction is so palpable. Yes, those subtle undercurrents of religious supremacy: My religion is better than yours is; therefore, I am greater than you are. The hostilities could not get murkier.

Do these mean that Commander-in-Chief Obama will perforce have to marshal more American troops to do the job he scripted for the Pakistan Army? This desperate step is a leap in the dark and fraught. Then, besides praying for a cardinal change of heart of the Pakistan army, what can he do to exit Afghanistan 'honourably'?

As long as the ISAF camps in the region, the Afpak ultras will continue to regard them as an occupational force, view Pakistan as fighting America's war and mount attacks. If they leave, the Taliban, like vermin, will overrun Afghanistan in no time.

Moreover, the mere proximity of ISAF will be a convenient excuse for the Pak Army to dodge their end of the bargain. So one cannot emphasise enough the urgent need to rapidly instate an Afghan military, paramilitary and police strong enough to keep the Taliban at bay.

Although the events have snowballed and come to a head, unless the Pakistan army deems this gathering avalanche as an existential threat to Pakistan, they are unlikely to initiate decisive measures to smother the Taliban menace.

Can Barack Obama squeeze out of the Pak army's bearhug? Hmm... a Tartar is not known to loosen his clasp. However, as we have often observed in humans, the right dose of tickling can nudge anybody to let go of even a bodylock. Good luck, President, to win friends and influence people in Pakistan.

(Only with the collective will of the people of Pakistan can the world rout the dark forces of terrorism. The Pak army is only an instrument to carry out that will. Here is where the Americans erred; blindly investing their faith in the Pakistan army.

Instead of summoning President Zardari to Washington to read him the riot act, President Obama should have visited Pakistan, conversed directly with the people of Pakistan, cultivated a rapport and sought their unwavering support to vanquish the terrorists. You missed a trick, Sir.)

Part I of the series: Deceit comes naturally to Pak military!
Part III of the series: ISI's rogue child has turned its guns on Pakistan

M P Anil Kumar