No sooner than the tidings from Rawalpindi reached Washington regarding the Corps Commanders Conference on Thursday, the Barack Obama administration has scrambled for damage control. None other than CIA Director Leon Panetta, hero of the Abbottabad operation killing Osama bin Laden on May 2, has been instructed to rush to Pakistan to mend fences. Curiously, Panetta just finished his ‘nomination hearing’ in the US senate on his appointment as the next Secretary of Defence.
It didn’t matter to Obama that Hamid Karzai was on a visit to Islamabad and would be personally watching all the high drama of the US bending with fright that Pakistan may refuse to cooperate in the war. Panetta could have waited for another day. But time is the essence of the matter. Obama is all set to make his announcement on the troop draw down in Afghanistan, possibly next week, and just then Pak army chief Parvez Kayani makes it clear at the Corps Commanders Conference he has other thoughts on his mind.
So, Panetta dined Friday evening at Rawalpindi with Kayani and Pak ISI chief Shuja Pasha. He stayed overnight for further discussions. Focus is on somehow getting Kayani to agree to instruct Pasha to revive intelligence cooperation with CIA. Panetta brought a proposal that CIA will henceforth work in Pakistan within the framework of a joint intelligence mechanism with ISI. In short, CIA agrees to fall in line with Kayani’s demand. Obama would be reflecting how ‘cooperative’ in comparison Iran was in letting the US off the hook in Iraq. Pakistan is proving far tougher than Iran.
Karzai’s visit has been marginalised. But all is not lost. He getsa rare opportunity to witness at first hand how weak the overall US bargaining capacity has become. He would draw appropriate conclusions, which would have bearing on his equations with Pakistan as well as his negotiating strategy vis-a-vis Washington over the so-called strategic partnership declaration (determining long-term US presence in Afghanistan), which is at a crucial point of mutual consultations. Afghan NSA Dadfar Spanta was in Washington last week for negotiations. Equally, he would note the centrality of Pakistan’s role in any Afghan peace process - lest he needed to know that.