VIEW: What the US is up to —Mohammad Jamil - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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The US expects from Pakistan to achieve what it could not achieve with all the high-tech arsenal at its disposal — 150,000 US and NATO forces and about 150,000 Afghan army raised by it

From the recent statements of Vice President Joe Biden and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, one is inclined to note that the US administration and the Pentagon are now on the same page so far as their policy towards Pakistan is concerned. Earlier, when members of the US administration showed aversion to Pakistan’s policies, the Pentagon tried to maintain special relations with the Pakistani military. But when Admiral Mike Mullen called Pakistan the ‘epicentre’ of global terrorism it was emblematic of a shift in policy. He said: “I am confident that the Pakistani military knows what it has to do to eliminate the threat. It is absolutely critical that the safe havens in Pakistan get shut down. We cannot succeed in Afghanistan without that.” With regards to the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, senior military officials, including Mullen, say they still are not sure how many troops can leave this summer and from what areas they would be pulled. They also hint that significant drawdown might not happen until closer to 2014. One would not know what happens between now and 2014, as there might be a change of guard in 2012 as a result of the president election, and secondly the situation in Afghanistan may compel them to organise an early exit.

On January 24, 2011, Joe Biden visited Pakistan and according to a local English daily, Biden made it clear that the US’s patience was running out with Pakistan’s indecision on military action against militant hideouts in North Waziristan. He is reported to have told his interlocutors in Pakistan that the US would not wait indefinitely. The US vice president stayed for about six hours in the federal capital during which he separately met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. Before concluding his visit, he called on the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, at the military headquarters. Most of the substantive discussions reportedly centred around an operation in North Waziristan, reconciliation in Afghanistan and other issues pertaining to the coalition force’s operations in Afghanistan. However, the Pakistani military leadership has been resisting US pressure by insisting that it was constrained by operations against militants in other areas, and efforts are needed to consolidate the gains made in the fight against extremists. The Pakistani military has a point there. Despite destroying strongholds of the militants, there are some pockets that need to be cleared.

During his 16-minute press conference alongside Prime Minister Gilani, Mr Biden largely focused on the concerns, which he described as “misconceptions about US actions and even more importantly about US intentions with regard to Pakistan”. He said violent extremists were not a threat only to the US, but also to Pakistan and the entire civilised world. He stressed that al Qaeda and the Taliban continued to pose a threat to the US and its interests from their sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Though Joe Biden did not refer to General Kayani’s letter, there is a perception that while referring to the ‘misgivings’ he tried to dispel the impressions conveyed in the said letter vis-à-vis the impression that the US disrespected Islam; its (US) policies favoured India and sought to weaken, defang and dismantle Pakistan, and that the US would abandon the region leaving Pakistan behind to deal with the mess. The vice president also rejected the notion that the US was inclined to maintaining the transactional nature of its relationship with Pakistan.

To support his contention he pointed to the renewed Strategic Dialogue and the $ 7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, which he reminded was finalised in “very difficult economic times”. First of all, it is not in good taste to remind Pakistan about the US’s ‘generosity’ when it was giving only Pakistan $ 1.5 billion per year, while the US is spending more than $ 100 billion per year in Afghanistan in ‘very difficult times’. The US expects from Pakistan to achieve what it could not achieve with all the high-tech arsenal at its disposal — 150,000 US and NATO forces and about 150,000 Afghan army raised by it. In December 2010 when the Afghan war entered the 10th year, US intelligence reports portrayed a bleak picture of the security conditions in Afghanistan stating that the war could not be won unless Pakistan roots out militants on its side of the border. The reports, known as the National Intelligence Estimates, were prepared by the Director of National Intelligence for policymakers as well as the president to understand trends in a region. The new report on Afghanistan cited progress in “inkspots”, where there were enough US or NATO troops to maintain security, such as Kabul and parts of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Much of the rest of the country remains Taliban-controlled, or at least vulnerable to Taliban infiltration, according to an official, who read the executive summary. The document alleged that the Pakistani government pays lip service to cooperating with US efforts against the militants and still secretly backs the Taliban as a way of hedging its bets in order to influence Afghanistan after a US departure from the region. These conjectures sound absurd as the coalition forces have shown no spine for fighting, and sought in Pakistan the whipping boy for their failure in Afghanistan. Last year, an imposter impersonating as the Taliban’s senior leader Muhammad Akhtar Mansoor negotiated with the US occupiers, and disappeared after taking huge sums of money for bringing the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table, only to leave them behind reeling with embarrassment and shame. Later, they were holding each other responsible for having been taken in by the hoaxer. Does it not speak poorly of MI6? What about the US’s own CIA that pretends to be the know-it-all of the world?

Syndicated columnist George Will, in one of his recent columns, quoted Military historian Max Hastings who said, “Kabul controls only about a third of the country — control is an elastic concept — and Afghans may prove no more viable than were Vietnamese, the Saigon regime.” The recently released UN map of Afghanistan has shown 70 percent of Afghanistan under Taliban control. It is too well known that Afghanistan never had a strong central government; it does not have industry to provide jobs to the unemployed. Second, its entire economy is based on illegal production of poppy, which the US and NATO forces have failed to stop. Anyhow, if the US does not take cognisance of the ground realities in Afghanistan, Pakistan would not like to ‘earn’ Afghan ire. Lastly, what is the guarantee that after Pakistan conducts military operation in North Waziristan that the US and NATO forces would be able to achieve victory. During the first Anglo-Afghan war, 4,500 British and Indian soldiers and 11,500 camp-followers were retreating when Ghilzai warriors attacked and killed all of them and Dr Brydon was the only survivor, who was allowed to go so that he could tell others the outcome of invading Afghanistan.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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