Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Jan 27, 2006
India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue There can be no let-up in vigilance
On January 13 a "Predator" remote-controlled aircraft of the CIA let loose a hail of rockets on Damadola village, in the Bajaur tribal agency of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Eighteen persons died in the hail of rocket fire. This was the third attack on Pakistani territory by a CIA "Predator" aircraft in recent days. The death of civilians evoked widespread outrage, with the Musharraf Government being forced to mollify public opinion by summoning American Ambassador Ryan Crocker to lodge a protest.
The Americans were, however, quite unrepentant. The Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice, expressed understanding of how difficult it was for the Pakistan Government to deal with the fallout of the attack. She however emphasised the necessity to deal with underground organisations such as the Taliban and al Qaeda with an iron fist.
"The Al Qaeda and Taliban are not people who could be dealt with lightly" Ms Rice averred. Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain was more forthright. He emphasised the need to pursue operations against the al Qaeda and its Taliban allies relentlessly and, for good measure, added that he could not rule out the possibility of further attacks like the one in Bajaur. Sensing American anger and determination to continue military action against the Taliban and al Qaeda, the Musharraf dispensation soon backed off.
It emerged that American attacks were launched after exchange of information with the ISI. More important, the Chief Administrator of the Bajaur Agency, Fahim Wazir, acknowledged that at least "five foreign terrorists" were among those killed in the "Predator" attack.
Not surprisingly, Gen Musharraf got the ruling Muslim League (QA) to reject a Parliamentary motion in the National Assembly condemning the American attack, and his Prime Minister, Mr Shaukat Aziz, meekly went ahead with a scheduled trip to the United States, vowing that Pakistan remained a loyal ally in the American "war on terrorism".
It was soon revealed that among those killed in the American attack were three Egyptians and one Moroccan, who was the son-in-law of bin Laden's Deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri. All these persons were senior al Qaeda functionaries, actively involved in international terrorism. Determined to avenge the killings of al Qaeda members, the Taliban retaliated on January 16 with a suicide bomb attack that killed several innocent Afghans in the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak. Taliban Spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi promptly claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing.
The next day, hundreds of demonstrators shouting "Death to Pakistan, Death to the al Qaeda, Death to the Taliban," marched through Kandahar. An outraged Governor of Kandahar, Assadullah Khalid, proclaimed: "The suicide bombers are trained and equipped by Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan for sabotage activities. Pakistan is sheltering and allowing senior Taliban officials on its soil and in some cases senior Taliban officials have got their homes in Pakistan and used them as training camps".
Mr Khalid added that Pakistan uses not only Taliban but also its own nationals as suicide bombers. This should come as no surprise for us because suicide attacks in J&K are almost invariably undertaken by Pakistani nationals from groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Pakistan is adopting a policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds in dealing with the situation on its borders with Afghanistan. Every six months or so, a senior al Qaeda leader is "found" and handed over to the Americans.
Not a single senior Taliban leader has, however, yet been killed or captured by the Americans or the Pakistanis ever since the Taliban fled from Kabul in November 2001. The tall and easily recognisable Osama bin Laden, who requires regular dialysis for his kidney ailment, has eluded arrest.
Gen Musharraf knows that American assistance for Pakistan will wind down once Osama is killed or captured. To please the Americans, over 80,000 Pakistani soldiers have been deployed in North and South Waziristan along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. After over 200 Pakistani soldiers were killed by the Waziri tribals and their Taliban supporters, the Pakistan army ended active operations and began operating from secure bases.
The entire tribal belt is now under the effective control of the local allies of the Taliban. The Americans believe that Osama, his Deputy Al Zawahiri, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yuldashev, and Taliban military commander Jalaluddin Haqqani are all ensconced in this area, carrying out cross-border raids into neighbouring Afghanistan.
While the hunt for Osama proceeds in Waziristan, the Americans evidently know that Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his close associates have slipped across the border from Spin Boldak into Baluchistan and are living comfortably in cities like Quetta and in Peshawar in the Northwest Frontier Province.
Ominously for the Americans and their NATO allies, the Taliban is replicating the tactics of suicide bombing that its al Qaeda allies are resorting to in Iraq.
There have been more than 40 suicide attacks on US-led forces in the past four months in Afghanistan. On January 5, 10 people were killed and 50 wounded in a suicide blast in the Central Uzurgan Province during a visit by American Ambassador Robert Neumann.
With the Americans winding down their troop presence in Afghanistan, their NATO ally Netherlands is now having second thoughts about deploying its soldiers in Southern Afghanistan. It is therefore, not surprising that in his message evidently recorded last month, Osama bin Laden has gloated over what he proclaimed is an inevitable American defeat in Afghanistan.
His interest in seeing the Americans leave Afghanistan coincides with that of Gen Musharraf who would dearly love to see the return of a Taliban-dominated regime in Afghanistan, so that the Pakistan army can regain its cherished "strategic depth" in that country.
It is evident that while there may be a change of tactics from time to time, the strategic objectives of the Pakistan army establishment led by Gen Musharraf of "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and "bleeding India" in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere are not likely to change.
Even as the Composite Dialogue Process continues, New Delhi should be prepared for carefully calculated and calibrated levels of terrorist violence on strategic installations, in Jammu and Kashmir and in places like New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai.
I was amused to hear some learned people recently assert that while rogue elements in the ISI may be responsible for such activities, Gen Musharraf himself was probably unaware of these happenings.
The Pakistan army is a highly disciplined force in which decisions taken by the Army Chief after consulting his Corps Commanders are not challenged, or undermined. The bomb explosions and terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and India do not occur by accident. They are part of a carefully considered strategy by Pakistan's military establishment.
History, however, shows that such strategies crafted by Pakistan's military rulers invariably backfire, with disastrous consequences for Pakistan itself.
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