Pakistan passed through a rough patch on Tuesday. Twenty-two Shi’ite pilgrims heading for Iran were ambushed and killed in Baluchistan. Hmm. Who could be desperate to raise dust in Pakistan-Iran ties, which have been perceptibly warming lately? There could be more than one who couldn’t tolerate the winds of change.
Later in the evening, word came from Kabul on the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani. By now, any major terrorist strike in Afghanistan is immediately attributed to the Haqqani group — and by implication to Pakistan’s ISI. Yet, Barack Obama was circumspect about Rabbani’s killing, decrying it as a “senseless act of violence” and a “tragic loss”. Obama wouldn’t be drawn into finger-pointing. Hillary Clinton stated the prevailing view — that the murder was a (futile) attempt to disrupt the peace process.
The restraint in Washington is understandable. ISI chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha was in town for a meeting with CIA counterpart David Petraeus. The White House and State Dept were probably assimilating what Pasha came to say.
However, Pasha’a one-day mission to Washington didn’t deter Pentagon, which is in the frying pan in Afghanistan, from going about its current business of pressuring the Pakistani military leadership to cooperate in the war. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and chairman, joint chiefs of staff Mike Mullen continued with the tongue-lashing on links between ISI and the Haqqani group. The charges are now explicit. No more kid gloves. Both made it clear US patience is wearing thin.
But there were nuances, too. Panetta hinted that Pakistan is now more receptive — “I think they’ve heard the message, but we’ll see.” Mullen needlessly brought in the ‘reciprocity’ that Pakistan always expected by way of US mediation in Kashmir. Empathizing with Pakistan’s perception of India as an ‘existential threat’, Mullen added, “solving Kashmir unlocks the whole place.”
Mullen’s emphasis on regional focus merits attention. He specifically brought in events in Iran, Pakistan, India and China as inseparable from the US’s strategy in Afghanistan. Just as well, perhaps, that Obama didn’t give time to PM Manmohan Singh for a meeting. Although, Delhi is pursuing a Pakistan-policy that meshes with the US strategies and Obama cannot complain. Delhi even broke from the past pretence of POK being ‘our territory’ and allowed the visit by the former POK PM Sultan Mahmood Chaudhury to Srinagar.
Let the US-India dialogue in Washington be conducted by FM Pranab Mukherjee while PM sticks to a fine speech in the UN GA in New York, relaxes for an extra day out there with his family and then returns to the heat and dust of India. Pranabda would know better than anyone else that money speaks compelling language in America.
For Obama, Pakistan is the clincher at the moment — and not India, no matter what the honchos of the Aspen Group would say — as his presidency is on the cross hairs and the news from Afghanistan is ominous. And, Pakistan is vastly experienced at stringing the Americans along, taking ’strategic defiance’ thus far and no further. It is a highly-skilled fine-tuning that is currently going on — which would be the envy of any diplomatist — as is evident from Pakistan expelling the US military advisors and rejecting any further military training programmes, but nonetheless allowing a small American military presence to continue.
Again, Pasha’s visit is evidently a follow-up on the 4-hour meeting on Friday at Seville, Spain, between Mullen and Pak army chief Gen. Parvez Kayani on the sidelines of the NATO defence ministers’ meet. By the way, Kayani was decorated with the highest military award of Spain and given the honour of addressing the NATO defence ministers. The Americans know how to stoop to conquer. The big question is, are the Haqqanis going to be collared, finally? After all, Jalaluddin used to be the CIA’s blue-eyed jihadi commander in the 1980s — under Gen. Zai-ul-Haq’s watchful eyes, of course.