The Afghan warlogs made public by the website Wikileaks only reconfirms what has been known for years now – the complicity of the Pakistan army and intelligence agencies in supporting, funding, providing safe havens, and even directing the actions of Islamist terror groups operating in Afghanistan. To this extent there is hardly any novelty in these documents. The real value of the warlogs lies in their exposing the scale and extent of the Pakistani military establishment's links with Islamist terror groups and corroborating the recent report of the London School of Economics that has laid bare the fact that the ISI was hand-in-glove with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
The Pakistanis of course went into paroxysms of rage over the LSE report and some columnists even wanted the Pakistani government to sue the author of the LSE report for ‘maligning’ the name of Pakistan. The reaction in Pakistan over the wikileaks is once again predictable – “it’s old hat”, “it is unprocessed and raw information”, “it is tainted information because it has been provided by the Afghan intelligence which is under Indian influence” etc. But clearly, to argue that the warlogs don’t really count as a smoking gun – as most Pakistanis and their American apologists are doing – is nothing but a refusal to acknowledge reality for what it is.
While the Pakistani denials were to be expected, what is really shocking is that despite having full knowledge of Pakistan’s complicity and connivance with Islamist terror groups, the US administration and army have done precious little about it. Not only have they continued to let US soldiers get targeted by Pakistan’s proxies; they have rewarded Pakistan for this duplicity with military and economic assistance amounting to billions of dollars. In other words, the US taxpayers, who are reeling under the worst economic crisis in living memory, are funding a country whose army and intelligence agency not only plans the killing of US soldiers but also directs the attacks. And all this under the utterly misplaced, if not self-serving, belief that the US is ‘encouraging’ Pakistan to do the right thing and has over the last year or so been successful in bringing about a change in the strategic direction of the ISI and Pakistan army.
Strangely enough, the fact that the ‘strategic shift’ in the ISI’s thinking has coincided with the Taliban insurgents gathering greater strength and causing ever greater casualties of American soldiers doesn’t seem to have registered either with US President Barack Obama or the US Chairman Joints Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. While Obama doesn’t want the warlogs to derail his strategy (what is it?), Mullen has said that the intelligence over Pakistani links with the Taliban was taken into account in the ‘strategic review’. But if, in the face of all the evidence and intelligence pointing to Pakistan's double game, the ‘strategic review’ is all that the so-called best brains in the US strategic community could come up with, then clearly the US is fighting a lost war for a lost cause.
The American administration however defends its policy on Pakistan by singing paeans in praise about Pakistan's partnership in the war on terror. Quite aside the fact that Pakistan was and is more of a partner of the Taliban than the Americans, it raises the important question as to who is fooling whom. From the warlogs it is clear that it isn’t so much Pakistan fooling the Americans (who after all knew what the Pakistanis were up to) as the US officials fooling not just themselves but also their own people. And in their desperation to prove that this pusillanimous approach is working, they point to the ‘sacrifices and casualties’ of the Pakistan army in the war on terror. But they conveniently gloss over one critical fact: Pakistan has so far suffered casualties only in military operations against Taliban elements who were targeting Pakistan. They are yet to undertake any major military operation against safe havens of the Taliban groups that are targeting the NATO troops in Afghanistan.
For instance, in South Waziristan, the area of military operations was limited to only those places where the TTP faction of Baitullah Mehsud was dominant. The area under the control of Maulvi Nazir, an ally of the Pakistan army whose fighters are active only in Afghanistan was completely untouched. In Swat too, the Pakistan army moved only against the Mullah Fazlullah group after it started posing a direct challenge to the army. The clamour within Pakistan and pressure from without – Hillary Clinton accusing the Pakistan government of abdicating its responsibility –forced the Pakistan army to move against the Taliban. But despite the Pakistan army conducted operations, almost the entire leadership of the terrorist groups disappeared, or was allowed to disappear. Many of these people have now taken refuge in areas controlled by the ‘strategic assets’ of the Pakistan army, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that just as the Americans are turning a blind eye to the double game that Pakistan is playing, the Pakistanis are turning a blind eye to the double game that the Taliban are playing.
The US strategy, or rather the lack of it, in Afghanistan clearly shows the sheer helplessness and cluelessness of the US army and administration in the face of the duplicitous game that the Pakistanis have been playing with them since 9/11. There are three possible explanations for such impuissance. The first is that the Americans simply cannot comprehend that they are being taken for a ride. But with all the information that they have of Pakistan's involvement in providing support, sanctuary, sponsorship, training, direction of the Taliban war effort, this sounds rather implausible.
The second reason could be the very real possibility that some very pivotal players in charge of formulating US policy are on the take of the Pakistanis and are therefore constantly providing a justification and covering up for Pakistani acts of omission and commission in the war on terror. This is not as unthinkable or bizarre as it may sound. After all, the Pakistanis are known to have spent millions of dollars to bribe members of the 9/11 commission to water down the scathing references to Pakistan in their report. Incidentally, one of the members of the 9/11 commission piloted the bill in the US congress tripling aid to Pakistan and another is arguably the most Pakistan friendly US ambassador ever to be posted in India. The person in charge of managing the aid under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill is another inveterate India-baiter in the US establishment and is known to have been a favourite of the Pakistanis.
The third reason could be that the US feels that it really doesn’t have any option except to try and ‘encourage’ Pakistan to give up its double-game. Quite aside the fact that the US still has plenty of teeth left to force compliance on a weak, vulnerable and fragile state like Pakistan, this pathetic lament by the Americans over the lack of options has not only ‘encouraged’ but also emboldened the Pakistanis to give up their double game. Only, the Pakistanis have not quite done this in the way the Americans wanted. The Pakistanis have now shed the double game and are now openly playing a single game, one which aims to bring the Taliban and terrorist groups like the Haqqani network to power in Kabul.
Facing almost certain defeat in Afghanistan, the Americans seem to be veering around to the view that they must try and stabilise Pakistan and avoid taking any action that could severely destabilise Pakistan. While this objective is laudable, the strategy that the Americans are following – turning a blind eye to Pakistan’s connivance with Islamist groups in Afghanistan – is hardly going to help achieve that objective. Not only will tolerating Pakistan's double game not win the war in Afghanistan, it will also not help stabilise Pakistan. If the US is forced to withdraw from Afghanistan without vanquishing the Taliban, which is what is likely to happen if the current non-strategy continues, then not only will a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan be inevitable, it will have a deeply destabilising effect on Pakistan where the Islamists will run riot, eventually taking over the Pakistani state. Even if Afghanistan descends into civil war resulting in a de facto partition, the Taliban controlled Pashtun south and east will pull Pakistan into the vortex. Therefore, anyone who imagines that Pakistan will be able to resist the onslaught of the Islamists is only hallucinating.
Clearly, the time for soft options is over for the US. The only alternative before the US is to start cracking the whip on Pakistan to compel it to fall in line. This means the US must start micro-managing Pakistan army operations and force Pakistan to clean up its act. To sweeten the blow the US, along with rest of the international community, can offer $10 billion per annum in purely economic assistance for the next ten years to rebuild Pakistan – i.e. the Marshal Plan that President Zardari keeps talking about. But if Pakistan doesn’t agree, the US should be willing to use the big stick, promising to inflict such terrible pain on Pakistan that it will devastate that country. This could include Iraq-like sanctions, naval blockade, assisting separatist movements inside Pakistan – the list is long.
Many of these measures can be taken under the rubric of the UN because of Pakistan's failure to follow the various UN resolutions against terrorism. If anything, there is much greater justification to use sanctions against Pakistan than against Iran. But if the Chinese block UN sanctions against Pakistan, the US should be ready to act unilaterally against what is currently an ‘international migraine’, but will almost certainly become a brain tumour unless the cancer is removed. While there is no doubt about the serious risks of this ‘operation’ killing the patient (read Pakistan), the failure to undertake such an operation will also kill the patient. The question now is will the US continue with its current symptomatic treatment of the cancer of Islamic terrorism, or will it administer the necessary, if risky, treatment required to save the world, and also Pakistan, from this galloping cancer of radical Islamism.