US needs to differentiate between India and Pakistan (Comment)

August 6th, 2010 - 9:46 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Harold A. Gould
Many parallels now exist between how America descended into the Vietnam quagmire and certain trends that are becoming increasingly evident as America commits ever more resources to its endeavor to quell the Taliban-Al Qaida insurgency in Afghanistan.

Losses of life among American forces are dramatically on the rise, and evidence abounds that the jihadi quasi-state which now embraces a significant portion of the tribal-infested mountain region situated between the Afghani and Pakistani heartlands has jelled into a formidable socio-political entity with formidable military capabilities. This quasi-state formation is the reason why no matter how many Taliban leaders are killed by drone attacks and direct military action, insurgent attacks have persisted unabated, and indeed if anything have escalated in number and intensity. The Taliban/Al Qaeda now possess enough institutionally replicable resources to sustain military operations that are viable enough to prevent American and NATO forces from overcoming them. .

Like Vietnam, public opposition to the war is trending toward critical mass. As in the Vietnam case, political defections and public disclosures of hitherto secret documentation which cast doubt on how effectively the war has really been going have surfaced. Dr. Richard Haas, a highly regarded public policy specialist who was director of policy planning in the State Department under Gen. Colin Powell, before becoming president of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, has published a cover article in Newsweek which in effect declares that America’s Afghan War has failed and must be completely re-thought.

Wikileaks has published more than 91,000 heretofore secret documents about the war in Afghanistan. There is one category of these documents that stands out from a policy standpoint: this pertains to the nefarious role that elements in Pakistan have from the outset played in the conflict, viz, working both sides of the street. Pakistan, says the New York Times, has been playing something of a ‘double game,’” allowing “representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.”

The documents charge, among other significant revelations, “that the Pakistanis are providing both supplies and sanctuary to Taliban fighters while objecting to American forces entering Pakistan to clean out the sanctuaries”. Also, that “the ISI has continued to maintain liaison and support for the Taliban in spite of claims by the Pakistani government that pro-Taliban officers had been cleaned out of the ISI years ago”; and finally, that Lt. Gen. Hamid. Gul, “director-general of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, still operates in Pakistan, informally serving the ISI and helping to give the ISI plausible deniability.”

One of the most crucial things that these revelations show is not so much that Pakistan at the official level is playing an ambivalent game in Afghanistan (this is obvious), as that the country’s political society is so structurally fractionalized that in many crucial respects there are actually two ‘governments’ simultaneously in play in the country that are operating at cross-purposes with each other, and that this prevents the official government to live up to expectations which the United States has set for it. The two governments are: (1) The constitutionally based civilian regime, headed by President Asif Ali Zardari, and. (2) The ex-officio or de facto shadow government, ensconced and nurtured within the corpus of the military, which through ISI networks surreptitiously maintains links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda..

The Wikileaks data make it clear that to whatever degree this shadow government remains viable and effective, the de jure, secular, constitutional government of Pakistan with its roots in the modern middle-class can neither effectively cope with the Taliban quasi-state which is embedded in the AfPak tribal region, nor successfully carry out its recently negotiated political and economic agreements with the United States. The legitimate, constitutional government of Pakistan is paralyzed by the consequences of political schizophrenia.

What are the implications of this fact of life for the Obama Administration? I think it implies a need to take the Richard Haas critique seriously, and profit from the wealth of insights emanating from the Wikileaks documents.

The time has come to cut Pakistan loose from the decades long policy of treating her as a “rental state”, to use Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani’s well-worn phrase; this means seriously limiting our military assistance only to that which directly affects Pakistan’s ability to effectively do battle with the jihadi quasi-state in the Hindu Kush if they are so inclined. If they are not so inclined then military assistance should be suspended. On the Afghan side, to quote Haas, “The time has come to scale back US objectives and sharply reduce US involvement on the ground.” The timing of this critique compares remarkably well with its Vietnam counterpart 25 years ago as it reflects the same public war-weariness

Where, then, should the US turn if it leaves Pakistan and Afghanistan more to their own devices than heretofore? The answer, in my opinion, is towards India. The U.S. should materially increase its military collaboration with India, the only genuinely politically stable state in the region, so that together they can form a strategic nexus of stable states confronting a Pakistan that seems poised to descend into socio-political oblivion unless it finds ways to get its political house in order. And above all it must be allowed to solve its own political problems free of American paternalism and overindulgence of its military,

This implies a radical reworkng of the U.S strategic orientation to South Asia. In a sense it implies taking the next step toward differentiating India from Pakistan in the American strategic architecture.and crafting what comes down to a virtual alliance designed to preserve as much peace, secularism and political stability as the considerable resources of the two states working in concert can achieve.

(06.08.2010 - Harold Gould is a Visiting Scholar in the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia. He can be contacted at

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