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'Lashkar is not just India's problem'

November 23, 2009 20:40 IST
South Asia expert Christine Fair believes this week's President Barack Obama-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summit will accomplish little in terms of getting Pakistan to rein in terrorist groups using its soil to mount attacks on India.

"The US is completely obsessed with this Af-Pak problem and there are some differences of opinion about how to move forward with Pakistan -- that is an absolute reality," said Fair who teaches at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. "Meanwhile, the Indians kind of want everything from the Americans --not all of which is possible."

"They want us to be in Afghanistan while also squeezing Pakistan's lemons, which I find very amusing, but which means nothing because you can't put pressure on Pakistan when you need them to move your logistical supplies into Afghanistan -- it's just not possible. So I find that logic frustrating, especially if we end up putting more troops through -- which I hope we don't, incidentally."

Fair believes the US need for Pakistan is going to get more pressing, not less; therefore, India's desire that the US arm-twist Islamabad to do something about terrorism is inconsistent with ground reality.

The Obama administration's new policy towards India, she believes, has nothing new to offer; at best it will be a "kind of refashioning programmes that didn't necessarily work very well, like re-launching a new and improved agricultural programme. The more interesting stuff at least in my point of view, is the law enforcement and counter-terrorism cooperation which could be on the table."

With reference to the symbolic significance of Prime Minister Singh being picked for the first State visit of the Obama administration, Fair points out that Obama had gone to China just ahead of Dr Singh's visit, escalating Indian anxiety about "the formulation of a US-China condominium formulated by (former US national security adviser Zbigniew) Brzezinski, now an Obama adviser. So, (Dr Singh's visit) is kind of a hand-holding exercise, trying to get the relationship back on some kind of track -- but I don't see any big idea on the table."

Fair, who has done extensive research on terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, believes the real transformation lies in the fact that since 26/11, the US has finally begun to understand the Lashkar. "When Mumbai first happened, I thought it was Jaish-e-Mohammed because Jaish had attacked international targets" including the Indian Parliament in December 2001. "So, the idea that Lashkar, an ISI asset, would do this just seemed crazy -- but obviously, that's exactly what happened."

"Post-Mumbai, the US really began appreciating that Lashkar is not just India's problem. Why they didn't think of this in the first instance I don't know, because they had been attacking US troops in Afghanistan for a while."

Hence, Fair says, the US is now working with India to counter the Lashkar, and "India and the US have a much greater consensus on how they view the Pakistan-based militant groups, though we don't agree on the best way forward."

"The Indians think the Americans can kick the Pakistanis around and make them relinquish their links to Lashkar and other groups, but the Americans are like, the Pakistanis are doing a lot right now and we don't want to interrupt it, and we don't think they can go after Lashkar even if they wanted to."

Fair believes the aid bill authored by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, that provides a five-year $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan, "is the dumbest thing in the world right now."

The Americans, she argues, think their mistake was giving aid to the wrong people in the past; "and, the Indians are like, why are you rewarding them -- a view that I support."

"We are paying them to fight the war on terrorism, but they are support the Afghan Taliban and meanwhile, we are having to build a 400,000-man Afghan national security force to defeat the Taliban, which Pakistan is supporting. In my view, this is insane. But that's the reality of it."

The bottomline, Fair says, is that Dr Singh's visit has one central significance: It furthers the maturing of the bilateral relationship to the point "where we shouldn't actually have to be consistently engaging each other" to reassure one another of the commitment."

Aziz Haniffa Nikhil Lakshman