WASHINGTON: The United States and India face tactics bordering on blackmail from a militarized Pakistan - where civilian control is still verydodgy - as they coordinate efforts to eliminate terrorism in the region, according to analysts and officials on both sides.
In what is turning out to be an elaborate chess game in the region, Islamabad on Saturday made its "Afghan move" to counter the US-India pincer, telling Washington that it will have to withdraw some 100,000 Pakistani troops posted on its western borders to fight the al-Qaida-Taliban and move them east to the Indian front if New Delhi makes any aggressive moves.
In Washington, Pakistan's ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani said there is no movement of Pakistani troops right now, but if India makes any aggressive moves, "Pakistan will have no choice but to take appropriate measures."
Stripped of complexities, Pakistan is conveying the following message to the US: If you don't get India to back down, Pakistan will stop cooperating with US in the war against terror. Consequently, this also means Pakistan will use US dependence on its cooperation to wage a low-grade, asymmetric, terrorism-backed war against India.
Pakistan's withdrawal of troops from the Afghan front would obviously undermine the US/Nato battle in Afghanistan and allow breathing space for Taliban and al-Qaida. It would also ratchet up confrontation with India, which is at low ebb right now because Islamabad has been forced to engage on its western front and this minimizes Pakistan-backed infiltration into Kashmir, allowing India to tackle the insurgency in the state.
In fact, some experts surmise that the terror strike on Mumbai may have been aimed at precisely this - taking the pressure off Pakistan on its Afghan front, where it is getting a battering from US predators and causing a civilian uprising on its border, and allowing Islamabad to return to its traditional hostile posture against India on its eastern front.
The US-India-Pakistan tangle was the subject of intense debate among analysts on Sunday talk shows, with some analysts like former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin expressing apprehension that al-Qaida could be achieving its objective of getting some relief through such proxy attacks.
Vexed US officials have been in constant communication with their Indian counterparts to deal with the complex situation arising from what both sides privately agree has become a chaotic country dominated by rogue elements from its military and intelligence services.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been speaking with India's External Affairs Minister regularly to get a sense of India's mood and moves, worried that any overtly aggressive response by New Delhi will undermine US effort in Afghanistan.
President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama have also spoken to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to show US support, but also to moderate Indian response. Both Washington and New Delhi are starting to realise that the Pakistani military still calls the shots in Islamabad behind the civilian façade, officials here concede privately.
The weakness of Pakistan's civilian leadership was fully exposed on Saturday when the country's army chief once again overruled a civilian government decision - this time to send the Director General of its spy agency ISI to India to coordinate the investigation into the latest terror attack on Mumbai.
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari explained it away saying there was a miscommunication and Islamabad only meant to send a ''Director'' and not Director-General, at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's request. But no one was fooled by the ''clarification'' -- the reversal of the earlier decision came after a midnight meeting Pakistan's Army Chief Pervez Kiyani, a former ISI chief himself, had with Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani.
Pakistan�s threat about troop withdrawals from the Afghan front also followed the Zardari-Kiyani-Gilani meeting, leaving little doubt about the real power center in Islamabad despite the recent return to democratic rule.
The situation is made even more complex by the transition process in the US where President Bush is winding down from the White House and President-elect Obama is readying to take charge. Both sides have made the Pakistan problem a top priority as they coordinate response, tactics, and communication relating to developments in the region.
The latest attacks on Mumbai also threatens to torpedo Obama's stated objective of promoting good ties between New Delhi and Islamabad, so that Pakistan can focus its energy on the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan that are controlled by Islamic extremists.
But hardliners in Pakistan's military and strategic circles, who resent what they see as the country's civilian government doing Washington's bidding and fighting what they argue is a US war, are against this. The terror strike on Mumbai evidently has several objectives - one of them being to cause a rift between Washington and New Delhi and damage US-India ties.
While Pakistan's fledgling civilian government has made all the right moves and noises about cooperation with India, officials here reckon it is being continuously undermined by the hard-line military whose importance, and lavish funding, depends on keeping up a hostile posture against India.
Even in the political sphere, Pakistan's continued existence as a single entity is premised on enmity with India, the glue which keeps the country together. Some Pakistanis have suggested in recent months that take away animosity against India, then Pakistan's founding itself becomes questionable.
Already, many Pakistanis are starting to question the relevance of a country where more people are killed in intra-religious warfare between Shias and Sunnis than in Hindu-Muslim communal riots in India. Two of Pakistan's four territories are wracked by insurgencies, and the intelligence community's reading is that resurrecting the hostile posture against India is one way the hard-line lements in Pakistan hope to contain this domestic conflagration.
While Pakistan is playing its one desperate Afghan card, both India and US can separately bring Pakistan to its knees in no time. The US and its allies are dependent on Pakistan for supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, but they can also plug the economic plug on the country and cause it to collapse in no time. India controls Pakistan's lifeline and jugular with river waters that originate in India and flow into Pakistan.
But punishing Pakistan with this levers would also throw the country into absolute chaos and bring extremists elements to the fore leading to a Somalia kind of situation -- with nuclear weapons in the mix. This is the fear that Pakistan is exploiting to stay afloat and stave off sanctions from the west and punishment from India.
The solution, analysts say, is to get Pakistan's civilian leadership to exert control over its hard-line military and intelligence which functions on its own existential agenda.
This is easier said than done. America's foremost strategic guru Henry Kissinger told Fareed Zakaria's GPS program on CNN, which devoted an entire hour to the crisis, that Pakistan's civilian government had made good statements vis-à-vis ties with India,"but its capacity to implement them is questionable."
Source: -TOI 1 Dec 2008, 0054 hrs IST, Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN
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