Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
from India Insight:
By Annie Banerji
As India and Pakistan begin diplomatic talks between the two countries' foreign secretaries, Pew Research Centre published a survey this week that shows Pakistanis are strongly critical of India and the United States as well.
Even though there has been a slew of attacks by the Taliban on Pakistani targets since Osama bin Laden's killing in May, the Pew Research publication illustrates that three in four Pakistanis find India a greater threat than extremist groups.
In similar fashion, 65 percent of Indians expressed an unfavourable view of Pakistan, seeing it as a bigger threat than the LeT, an active militant Islamic organisation operating mainly from Pakistan and Maoist militants operating in India.
Moreover, a majority of Pakistanis disapproved of the U.S. military operation that killed Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound, located 35 miles from Islamabad. Only 12 percent expressed a positive view of the U.S. and most Pakistanis view the U.S. as an enemy, consider it a potential military threat and oppose American-led anti-terrorism efforts.
If there was one thing the United States might have learned in a decade of war is that military might alone cannot compensate for lack of knowledge about people and conditions on the ground. That was true in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may also turn out to be the case in Libya.
Yet the heated debate about using Predator drones to target militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan – triggered by the spy row between the CIA and the ISI – appears to be falling into a familiar pattern – keep bombing versus stop bombing. Not whether, when and how drones might be effective, based on specific conditions and knowledge of the ground, and when they are counter-productive.
With the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship. It was probably not the worst row — remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.
But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention – an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.
With the U.S.-Pakistan dispute over CIA contractor Raymond Davis stuck in Pakistani courts, newspapers are reporting that the two countries’ common ally, Saudi Arabia, may step in to defuse the deepening crisis between them.
The high court in Lahore, where Davis shot dead two people in what he said was an act of self-defence in January, on Monday declined to rule on whether he has diplomatic immunity. The court referred the question of immunity to a criminal court which is dealing with murder charges against him.
According to the New York Times, Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor arrested in Pakistan for shooting dead two Pakistanis in what he says was an act of self-defence, was working with a CIA team monitoring the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.
The article, by Washington-based Mark Mazzetti, was not the first to make this assertion. The NYT itself had already raised it, while Christine Fair made a similar point in her piece for The AfPak Channel last week (with the intriguing detail that “though the ISI knew of the operation, the agency certainly would not have approved of it.”)
In a rare admission of the effectiveness of drone strikes, a senior Pakistani military officer has said most of those killed are hard-core militants, including foreigners, according to Dawn newspaper.
It quotes Major-General Ghayur Mehmood as telling reporters at a briefing in Miramshah, in North Waziristan, that, “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.”
Given the high-decibel volume of the row over Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, it would be tempting to assume that overall relations between Pakistan and the United States are the worst they have been in years.
At a strategic level, however, there’s actually rather greater convergence of views than there has been for a very long time.
According to Steve Coll in the New Yorker, the United States has begun its first direct talks with the Taliban to see whether it is possible to reach a political settlement to the Afghan war. He writes that after the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington the United States rejected direct talks with Taliban leaders, on the grounds that they were as much to blame for terrorism as Al Qaeda. However, last year, he says, a small number of officials in the Obama administration—among them the late Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again.
“Holbrooke’s final diplomatic achievement, it turns out, was to see this advice accepted. The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation.”
Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.
“… virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy’s other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there,” it says.
The Afghan Taliban would be ready to break with al Qaeda in order to reach a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war, and to ensure Afghanistan is not used as a base for international terrorism, according to a report by Kandahar-based researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, released by New York University.
It says that the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda was strained both before and after the September 11 2001 attacks, partly because of their very different ideological roots. Al Qaeda grew out of militant Islamism in the Middle East, notably in Egypt, which — when fused with the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan — created its own view of global jihad. Taliban leaders grew up in rural southern Afghanistan, isolated from world events. Many were too young to play a big role in the Afghan jihad, and had no close ties to al Qaeda until after they took power in 1996.