Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Not long ago India was basking in the glow of a new-found strategic partnership with the United States, one that pitched it as a global player. A breakthrough civilian nuclear deal that virtually recognised New Delhi as a nuclear weapon state after decades of isolation was the centrepiece of this new relationship.
But the attacks in Mumbai have tested this partnership and some of the lustre is fading. America has been unequivocally telling the Indians to exercise restraint in responding to the attacks which New Delhi says were orchestrated from Pakistan. (This while U.S. Predator drones
carried out more attacks on the militants in Pakistan’s northwest)
In recent weeks, much to the Indians’ dismay, the mantra of restraint has now moved to the suggestion from some U.S. analysts that both India and Pakistan must resolve their dispute over Kashmir to help bring stability to the region. One U.S. editorial suggested India must let go of Kashmir, thus freeing up Pakistan’s military resources so that it can focus on the war on its western front. And although other analysts are saying the idea – floated long before the Mumbai attacks – is misguided, the American response to the assault on India’s financial capital has left many disappointed.
“India was sold a dream that Washington was determined to make it a first class world power. The dream lies broken. The carpetbaggers who peddled the dream are nowhere to be seen,” wrote M.K.Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat, in Outlook magazine.
U.S. military operations crossed another threshold in Pakistan this week when a Predator ‘drone’ aircraft fired missiles into Bannu area in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), away from the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas where it has conducted raids with impunity.
Attacking the self-governing and semi-autonomous FATA on the Afghan border, considered a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban, is one thing. Targeting the North West Frontier Province, or settled areas as Pakistanis call it, is quite another.
In the dying days of the Bush administration, the United States military has stepped up missile strikes by remotely piloted Predator aircraft against militants in the mountains of Pakistan.
The raids have become deeper – as much as 25 miles into Pakistani territory – and more targeted like the latest one in a compound in South Waziristan where militants had gathered to mourn the victims of a previous strike two days before.
Last week, the Pakistan Army said it had recovered the wreckage of an unmanned aerial vehicle in the South Waziristan region, but it didn’t identify the aircraft.
The United States military, which has stepped up flights of the Predator, its main unmanned aerial vehicle, on the Afghan-Pakistan border and into Pakistan in recent months, said none of its planes had gone down inside Pakistan. One of its aerial vehicles had crashed but that was in Afghanistan, about 60 miles west of the Pakistani border and U.S. forces had immediately recovered the aircraft.
Speculation the United States is preparing to send commandos into Pakistan’s tribal areas to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban militants is gathering momentum. Pakistani fears of a U.S. attack were reinforced by a surprise visit to Pakistan this weekend by the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in which he was reported to have expressed U.S. frustration that Islamabad was not doing enough to tackle militants on its border with Afghanistan.
The Daily Times says in an article from Washington that Mullen had been expected to ”read the riot act” to the government. It quoted an unnamed ”well-informed source” as saying that U.S. patience was close to running out. When it did, the paper said, there would be unilateral US military action, both covert and overt, in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
A story in the Washington Post “U.S. Steps Up Unilateral Strikes in Pakistan has attracted attention worldwide. It says the United States has escalated its unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, partly because of anxieties that Pakistan’s new leaders will insist on scaling back military operations there.
“Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives,” it says. “The moves followed a tacit understanding with (President Pervez) Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban.”
For those who missed, it’s worth looking closely at Barack Obama’s latest comments on Pakistan made in a speech this week in which he repeats a call for the United States to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. ”This is the area where the 9/11 attacks were planned. This is where Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants still hide. This is where extremism poses its greatest threat.”
His plan is to rethink U.S. policy towards Pakistan – which has traditionally depended on cooperation with the military rather than civilian governments — to bolster the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people, condition aid to Pakistan on its action against al Qaeda, and show Pakistan that America is on its side.