Whose Terrorists if Not of US?

Pakistan has been served notice to choose between the Haqqani network and the United States. No ambiguity here that depending upon our ‘real future actions against the Haqqani network’, the US would accordingly shape its own future response. They are bad people killing good Americans and if you are a sincere friend and a loyal ally then you better not have anything going on with them, we (Pakistan) have been warned.

Think American and this demand makes sense, but think rationally and one cannot ignore the mockery of such an indignant American huff. I have no sympathy for the Haqqanis and if the Haqqani network is indeed nothing but a criminal terrorist outfit murdering innocent Americans as being claimed by Washington, then why in heavens’ name has US still not formally and legally declared the Haqqani network a terrorist outfit?

To date, only a handful of Haqqani network leaders have been declared terrorists but that too purely in their individual capacity. There is no such entity as a Haqqani Network on the state department’s list of terrorist outfits. Could there be a more interesting discrimination causing placement of some ‘terrorists’ on the terrorist list while their network itself is spared the honour?

By avoiding designating the network a terrorist outfit, the United States has endorsed Pakistan’s stance of Haqqanis being the most relevant party to any viable future power settlement in Afghanistan and one that cannot be wished away. By refusing demands of its own senators to place the network on the terrorist list, the US government has tacitly acknowledged Pakistan’s inevitable compulsion to remain engaged with the most important piece in the Afghan jigsaw puzzle. Contrary to what they say publicly, the US policy makers privately concede that while the US remains a transitory part of the Afghan equation, the Haqqanis have been around almost forever and will still be here long after the last American C-130 takes off with its final troops and cargo.

It is now evident that while Pakistan is being threatened with military action, the US itself desperately wants to be in Pakistan’s shoes and be able to engage and involve the Haqqani network in the coming months, if not weeks, and hence the latest pressure on Pakistan to force it into ‘sharing’ its influence with the Haqqanis. If the US is genuinely angry at Pakistan for not going after the Haqqani network then it must prove the genuineness of its claim of Pakistan’s betrayal by first legally declaring the Haqqani network as a terrorist outfit. But that won’t happen.

The US duplicitous approach stands further exposed in a recent report in the Washington Post. It states: “American military officers, who have spent years urging Washington to take action against the Haqqanis, express anger that the Obama administration has still not put the group on the State Department’s list of terrorist organisations out of concern that such a move would scuttle any chances that the group might make peace with Afghanistan’s government.”

Whoever is in power in Kabul will have to make a deal with the Haqqanis,” said Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer who served in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. “It won’t be us. We’re going to leave, and those guys know it.”

The report further states: “The new urgency for a political settlement in Afghanistan has further limited Washington’s options for fighting the Haqqani network. During high-level discussions last year, Obama administration’s officials debated listing the group as a “Foreign Terrorist Organisation,” which allows for some assets to be frozen and could dissuade donors from supporting the group. While some military commanders pushed for the designation, the administration ultimately decided that such a move might alienate the Haqqanis and drive them away from future negotiations. Officials chose to take the more incremental step of naming individual Haqqani leaders as terrorists, including Badruddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani. Senior American officials said there was once again a fierce debate inside the Obama administration about whether to put the entire group on the terrorist list. But as Washington struggles to broker an endgame for the Afghan war, there is widespread doubt about whether the Haqqanis will negotiate, and whether their patrons in Islamabad will even let them. After a decade of war, there is a growing sense among America’s diplomats, soldiers and spies that the United States is getting out of Afghanistan without ever figuring out how a maddeningly complex game is played.

The US has been unable to fully comprehend the Afghan conundrum and blaming its failures on Pakistan may make good news copy, but not a fact. Pakistan has been accused at times by US of hunting with the hounds and running with the hare and it may rightfully appear so on some occasions, but having said that, Pakistan’s flirting with the goons (from US perspective at least) on the block is not altogether without plausible reasons. Surely Pakistan may have been less than forthcoming on some counts but what has the US done to mitigate Pakistan’s legitimate concerns siring such arguably ‘questionable’ behaviour?

Much to Pakistan’s consternation, the US carved an unjustifiably large role for India in the Afghanistan theatre. A fact bemoaned by none other than its own former military commander, Gen Mac Crystal. The US did nothing to lessen Pakistan’s genuine security concerns vis-à-vis its eastern borders. The US was furnished with detailed reports, with evidence, about Indian involvement in stoking the Baluchistan strife, but it did not even ask its newfound friend to back off even if slightly. It also played dirty by turning the screws through IMF, WB etc, not to talk of trying to scuttle the Pak-Iran gas pipeline deal. It’s a long and ugly list but griping about such actions, or non-actions, doesn’t help anyone. We need to develop a workable relationship based on pragmatic deliverables.

Neither side has to like everything the other does, or the friends either may keep as long as both understand each other’s compulsions and imperatives and are willing to make affordable compromises. Pakistan must not be expected to abandon its safeguards against legitimate concerns unless the elimination, or lessening, of such threats. Sorry to disappoint Bruce Riedel and others of his ilk, but US cannot bomb Pakistan into oblivion so let’s cut the chase and get down to serious readjustment of relationship parameters and firming up of realistic expectations on both sides.

Nothing would be more disastrous than for the Obama administration to engage – in a desperate bid to shore up its dismal 38 percent approval rating – in some ill-advised high profile foreign ‘patriotic endeavour’. Widening the strike area of drones or any surgical strike following a lame nuclear sting operation or any such stupid military foray may yield a fleeting short term rating boost but in the long term, the consequences would be horrendous and not-so fleeting, to say the least.

For their part, Islamabad and Rawalpindi need to abandon their false bravado (they are fooling nobody except their own people) and redefine their priorities and retool the definition of the country’s national strategic interests. They must stop lying and tell the US plainly what can be done and what cannot, and who we need to have a working relationship with and why. As long it’s in our legitimate national interest we don’t have to care whether the Americans like it or not. But whatever little I know of the Americans, it’s far easier for them to adjust to a blunt truth than a crafty evasive response. At the end of the day, if the US makes a big mistake, at worst it loses a big war in a distant land. If we make a big mistake however, we jeopardise our very homeland. The Yanks may afford an error of judgement, we cannot.

By: Muhammad Malick


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