The US special forces strike in Pakistan’s garrison city of Abbotabad killing Al Qaida Amir Osama bin Laden on May 01 morning must raise a very important question the world over. Does a country which has suffered attacks and loss in human lives from the organization has the right to violate the sovereignty of another country where the main target is hiding, especially when evidence exist that elements in the host country have been protecting him? This is an issue the United Nations needs to debate if international terrorist groups are to be isolated and sanctuaries denied to them.
Other related question that the world body needs debate and come to a conclusion include what comprises state sponsored terrorism? Can a country go scot free when its citizen with or without state support launch terrorist attacks on another country? Is a country within legal rights to promote separatism, terrorism and religious extremism in another country with moral and material assistance in the garb of supporting national liberation movement in another country?
The reaction to Osama’s killing in the US precision operation from some government officials in India must be examined properly. On sensitive foreign policy or foreign relations issues, the Prime Minister and his office should lay down the line and tenor of the reaction and others must follow, whatever may be the internal disagreements. Cornered by reporters, Indian army and air chiefs need not have aired their confidence in launching surgical strikes against terrorists in another country, though neither mentioned “Pakistan”. But is obvious which country they were talking about.
The free media and experts outside the government have their responsibilities, too. Although the government has the ultimate responsibility, it cannot claim to be the repository of all wisdom. Governments have has committed errors in the past and will do so in the future, and need to look at outside the government views. A balance need to establish all rounds.
But the bleeding hearts for Pakistan in India who demand that India as a whole should support the Pakistani establishment i.e. the army, the ISI and the government at the time of so-called “distress” appear to be out of their minds. Though this group is very few in number, they are not doing anything for the people of Pakistan who have been pummelled and degraded by the corrupt and lying army, intelligence and politicians who have virtually raped the country intellectually and economically.
Of course, there was some jubilations in India on the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. Not only that Osama had already started operation against India, but that his presence in this highly secure city for five years exposed the Pakistani lies and duplicity on counter-terrorism. This has direct connections with how the Pakistani authorities have shielded the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage, the attack on Indian Parliament and various other incidents of terrorism, and promotion of the bleeding war in Kashmir. Ongoing investigations in Bangladesh has revealed how the ISI brought even Dawood Ibrahim in play to rope in Bangladeshi politicians, bureaucrats and intelligence officers during the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami regime to procure arms from China for insurgents and separatists groups in the north-east Indian states. So much for the Indian apologists for Pakistan.
The Indian government is cognizant of the fact that India alone has to work and reduce the threat from Pakistan through dialogue but with military capability in the holster. The US will help only to the extent that help their own agenda and not be a party in favour of India alone, lest it disturbs their larger strategic interest in the region. They said as much in the aftermath of Osama incident, while also clarifying it was one only operation in America’s history.
The Indian agencies no longer have the covert operation capabilities to take out targets like Dawood Ibrahim in Karachi. Political leaders who sometimes become holier than though dismantled most such capabilities. Prime Minister Morarji Desai told the outgoing legendary chief of RAW, the late R.N. Kao in 1978 that he did not want the agency to do “illegal work” in foreign countries. He also telephoned Gen. Zia-ul-Haq to tell him India knew about Pakistan’s nuclear work and, during the talks, gave enough hints that helped Pakistan to weed out Indian agents. In geopolitical situation that India is in, it would have been unimaginable to destroy capabilities painstakingly developed. Then, the unimaginable can happen only in India. One may not use such capabilities, but if and when they are needed they will not be there.
Whether to resort to a surgical strike on terrorist camps in POK has to be a political decision which in turn, has to take into consideration a wide variety of issues. There have been occasions that international opinions would have been in India’s favour or, at worst, neutral. These can be put in the basket of lost opportunities.
The fear that a surgical strike or a limited war will unleash a nuclear Armageddon in South Asia, is totally misplaced. Let alone the US, even Pakistan’s closest ally and father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, China will not accept a nuclear misadventure by Pakistan. Even if such a scenario takes place India will survive and Pakistan is unlikely to. But Pakistan is not unlikely to use tactical nuclear weapons in a large scale war. Its development of the 60 Kms range nuclear tipped missile, Hatf-9 supports that scenario.
Neutralising Osama had been the top priority of America’s war on terrorism from President Bill Clinton’s second term of presidency. Clinton’s administration offered all possible amelioration to the Taliban government in Kabul including diplomatic recognition, admittance to the United Nations, reconstruction aid, only if they would give up Osama. The Taliban refused saying he was an honoured guest. It was only after “9/11” that the American administration went after Osama “dead or alive”. President Barack Obama promised he will get Osama no matter what it takes (including inside Pakistan), and he lived up to his promise. He brought a closure to this issue, notwithstanding the fact that terrorism and anti-American terrorism is far from having been eradicated.
A close review of evidence given to the Pakistani top leaders of the ISI’s complicity with terrorists from George Bush to Barack Obama were meticulously in detail: to blame elements in the ISI and not the top echelon of the ISI and the army directly. Even Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who was in Islamabad only days before the Osama operation, publicly declared connections between elements of the ISI and the terrorists.
Since the Pak government and the army top brass did little or nothing about the leads one can only infer that the army and ISI top brass were complicit. The civilian government could not but echo the army dictates.
If the US trusted Pakistan’s top army and ISI brass, why did they not inform them of Osama’s location? That would have avoided complications and embarrassments.
Obviously, the Americans did not trust even Gen. Asfaq Kyani and ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Suja Pasha who they felt were either complicit or informing them would leak the plan to those who would compromise the operation. The American line is now turning to absolve the top level of the Pak government and the military-intelligence institutions for a forward agenda. To try to decapitate the military top brass is certainly not in US interests as they have to work with these people on securing Afghanistan to whatever interest possible.
Trying to remove the top Pakistani brass is not a successful model for the US as it will be infructious. Pakistan will turn to China fully even if has to tighten its economic belt. This will go against US strategy in the Af-Pak region to minimise growing Chinese influence, where Beijing has a trust component and waiting for the US to alienate itself even further.
Both US and Pakistan have their domestic pressures to contend with to keep relations running. In the US there is a rising anger over lives lost and money spent while cooperating with a duplicitous ally in prosecuting its war on terrorism. Lawmakers on the capitol Hill are outraged, and want a review of the billions of dollars in US military and civilian assistance to Pakistan since September 2001, especially when Pakistan was declared US major ally outside
the NATO in the war against terrorism. President Obama’s support on the issue of terrorism may have gone up, but he remains way behind where economic and other issues are concerned. He just cannot afford to alienate the US Congress and yet, he cannot withdraw from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Barack Obama and his administration are in a difficult position.
The Americans have thrown a life-line to the top echelon of the Pakistani establishment, obliquely demanding at least some cleansing is done in the ISI and some heads roll.
Fort he first time in many decades the army and the ISI are facing rising public opposition in the country. The lawyers’ agitation that led to the removal of President Pervez Musharraf was something different. Army Chief Gen. Kyani cleverly kept out of it in his own interest. This time it is different. Two questions are being asked (i) how was Osama bin Laden hiding in Abbotabad for five years without being discovered, and (ii) the competence of the army and the ISI to secure the country when the US commandos entered the country, execute an operation, and leave the country without being discovered?
Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani tried to make a spirited defence of Pakistan in Parliament on May 9, mainly accusing the US for creating Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaida. He tried to project Pakistan a victim of policing of “others”, and put full government support behind the ISI. Under the circumstances, Gilani had to speak the dictated words of the military intelligence, even if he thought otherwise. There is no question of ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Pasha to step down – that may raise public pressure to do more and could lead to a domino effect. Separately a day before, Gilani reaffirmed the trust and support from China.
The relationship between the US and Pakistan has been shaken, especially because the Osama operation has thrown mud on the face of the government and the military security establishment. Washington has thrown a life line to the Pakistani leaders, but also has them on a leash. There have been indications that the Abbotabad kind of strikes, not necessarily exactly, is in purview if Pakistan does not act. Taliban Chief Mullah Omar and a few others are on USA’s gun sight. And the US holds the purse strings to Pakistan’s economic survival. Both sides are aware that they have interdependence, and each side holds an edge over the other in different sectors. The Pakistani people have no chance.
Note: Part-II The China Factor is to follow.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent analyst based in New Delhi.Email:email@example.com)