President Barack Obama has stepped into the US-Pakistan fault line for the first time with some personal diplomacy. He has injected a face-saving formula shrouding Pakistan’s alleged links with the Haqqani network with strategic ambiguity, which enables Washington to pick up the threads of business with Islamabad. The mantra now is that the US intelligence isn’t as sure as the former chief of joint chiefs of staff Mike Mullen alleged about Pakistan’s links with the Haqqani network. “The intelligence is not as clear as we [US] might like in terms of what exactly that [Pak-Haqqani] relationship is.”
Brilliant! Obama continued: “But my attitude is, whether there is active engagement with Haqqani on the part of the Pakistanis, or rather just passively allowing them to operate… they’ve got to take care of this problem.”
The crucial point is that Obama spoke on Friday with the full knowledge that the US finally established contact with the Haqqanis 3 days ago, on Tuesday. Now it is known that the US has nabbed Haji Mali Khan
on Tuesday. HMK is no ordinary guy, just any other uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani. He is rated by knowledgeable people as the BRAIN behind the Haqqani network, who masterminded its operations. NATO statement is right in describing him as the “revered leader” of the Haqqani clan.
The fascinating part is that HMK virtually surrendered.
HMK now becomes the US’ intermediary with Siraj. The puzzle is whether Pakistan arranged the ‘arrest’ of HMK or whether the Haqqanis plotted it as the means to establish contact with the US. Possibly, it is a combination of the two and that explains Obama’s appearance on the scene with the conciliatory words toward Pakistan.
My hunch is that ISI chief Shuja Pasha’a sudden dash to the CIA Hqs last Tuesday had more than meets the eye. Pakistani spin claims Pasha did some plain-speaking to David Petraeus. But then, why should he go all the way to Langley to do that? Hm… Funnily, Pakistan President Asif Zardari has scrambled to respond to Obama’s overture
, urging dialogue. Indeed, when he penned the WaPo opinion piece, Zardari also knew what Obama knew and we didn’t know - namely, the CIA was already ‘dialoguing’ with HMK.
The kaleidoscope has shifted. Hamid Karzai finds himself on a tight spot. He knows whenever US and Pakistan get together, he becomes an expendable factor. In the developing scenario, he knows his best chance lies in being a ’spoiler’. After all, he is the Afghan president and his imprimatur is necessary for the fig-leaf of an ‘Afghan-led’ peace process without which the US and Pakistan will be stuck. He has announced that he is done with the reconciliation with Taliban
. Besides, Kabul has publicly accused that Burhanuddin Rabbani’s murder has been planned in Pakistan. Needless to say, Karzai is making his move on Saturday, the day after Obama spoke. Indeed, Karzai also already knew what we came to know only today, ie., that HMK has been talking to the Americans since Tuesday.
Karzai would have a natural ally, indeed - the leaders of the erstwhile Northern Alliance who also would fear a US-Pakistan tradeoff. His visit to New Delhi next week is becoming curiouser and curiouser.