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'Pakistan is taking advantage of US stupidity'

Last updated on: November 04, 2011 11:47 IST

Dr Christine Fair, a noted South Asia expert, has told the United States Congress that the idea of Pakistan being an avowed strategic partner of the US is a total farce, and argued that over the years Islamabad has been taking advantage of 'our stupidity, our gullibility', to help itself to massive American military and economic largesse.

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs South Asia Subcommittee, Fair, assistant professor at the Centre for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, said, "I think what the Pakistanis are taking advantage of historical events -- and this has been true of every single period of engaging them -- saying that they support our strategic interests while taking advantage of our stupidity, our gullibility to take the massive aid that they get and funnel it into systems that really target their security interests, which have always been and always will be India-centric."

"And I believe that is how the Pakistani establishment sees it. I think we've been fools in trying to think that we could have a strategic relationship when our strategic interests differ. What they want is the goods without the obligation. That's firmly what I believe," she said.

Fair, who is also a senior Fellow with the Counterterrorism Centre at West Point, said all of Pakistan's strategic and security threat perceptions have always centered around India and all of the military aid and weapons systems it has received from the US has been to beef up its arsenal vis-a-vis New Delhi.

She said that Islamabad's paranoia over India had increased exponentially in the wake of the burgeoning India-US strategic partnership.

"They see our relationship with India -- and, indeed, we have basically said India is not only the regional power; it is a rising global power of significant consequence -- what  Pakistan sees in that is that we expect them to acquiesce to Indian hegemony," she said.

Thus, according to Fair, "Pakistan's interests vis-a-vis India no longer simply focus around Kashmir; it centres around resisting India's rise. Pakistan can't change that fact militarily; no one diplomatically in the world -- with the exception of possibly the Chinese, although they're kind of a declining asset in some sense."

She said, "The only tool Pakistan has is militancy. And this means Pakistan becomes more dangerous, not less. And that's why we have to find some way of productively engaging Pakistan while also holding it accountable."

Fair also slammed the US for providing Pakistan with F-16s and falling for the line that these were assets to be used to counter terrorism and the insurgency in its border regions.

"Let's be very clear about the F-16 canard. We didn't give them the F-16s because we thought it would enhance their counterterrorism or their counterinsurgency capabilities. We did it to placate (former military leader Pervez) Musharraf. We did it to placate (current Pakistani Army chief Ashfaq) Kayani. And it hasn't gotten us anywhere."

Fair said, "If the Pakistanis want helicopters, they can buy helicopters. So far, what they have wanted are weapons systems that can deal more effectively with India and have very little utility for their domestic threat."

"And we have -- and, quite frankly, in our efforts to placate GHQ and to continue making the director general of the ISI happy, we've continued to go this path. And it completely undermines our regional interests in every possible way, be it democratisation of Pakistan, be it regional stability vis-a-vis India and Pakistan."

Meanwhile, another witness, Dr Ashley Tellis, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said what Pakistan was practicing in the region was "managed jihadism."

He explained that he considers "managed jihadism as the Pakistani strategy of supporting some terrorist groups while fighting other terrorist groups simultaneously."

"In effect, Pakistan's strategy since 2001 has been a highly differentiated counterterrorism strategy. They've identified groups that threaten the Pakistani state, and they have gone after them with a great deal of energy and concentration. And they have solicited assistance from the United States in support of that campaign," he said.

But even as they do so, Tellis told lawmakers 'they have been quite liberal in continuing assistance and support to other terrorist groups that don't necessarily threaten the Pakistani state but threaten Afghanistan, threaten India and, by extension, threaten the United States. And they believe that they are able to, in a sense, manage the contradiction in this policy quite well; that is, as long as the threats that they sustain don't ricochet, don't come back to haunt them, they think the policy serves its purpose.'

He said this also "keeps India on a tight leash and it keeps Afghanistan deferential to Pakistan. And it keeps the United States in a continuing payoff mode trying to bribe Pakistan to do the right thing."

Asked by the subcommittee chairman Steve Chabot whether it doesn't matter to the Pakistanis that this strategy is inimical to the US, because these groups kill American troops, Tellis said, "They have made the calculation, and they find that the strategy still serves their interests. That is, even though the end result of the strategy is that US  troops are threatened, they believe that Pakistan is so important that the United States will simply not call their bluff, will simply not call them on the impact of the strategy."

"And if you look at the record over the last 10 years, I regret to say that they have turned out to be right," Tellis added.

Fair chimed in and said, "Let me give you a really good example of their cold-hearted calculation that they can get away with this impunity."

She said, "Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the group we've already heard about that did the 2008 massacre, they've been attacking our troops in Afghanistan since at least 2006 and probably, according to my interlocutors, maybe as early as 2004. And we've done very well, if anything, about it, not even raising this publicly."

Fair said, "Another problem, actually, our understanding of their strategy is that many of the militant groups serve important domestic purposes for Pakistan. So for example, Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- I've written a piece recently in Survival -- where I lay out Lashkar-e-Tayiba's important domestic strategy and the importance of Lashkar to the ISI."

She argued that "even groups that they are going after decisively, they're ultimately strained because, particularly the Deobandi groups, they have these overlapping networks which means that part of those networks are in the Punjab. And as long as they stay in the Punjab, that is, useful to kill Indians, they won't go in and rid them out. But those Punjab-based groups are actually some of the most lethal parts of the Pakistan Taliban."

Fair said, "Finally, the Pakistanis, deliberately take advantage of the confusion between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban. They will say we've lost X-thousand troops fighting them; we've lost 35,000 Pakistani lives. I want to point out to you that the Pakistan Taliban itself is -- in the same way the Afghan Taliban are not coherent -- there are actually some Pakistan Taliban commanders that are allies of the Pakistan state because they have agreed to not target the Pakistani state but target us. And $23 billion later, this is where we are."

Fair said, "We really need to think hard about what it means to contain the threat that emanates from Pakistan. We have considerable tools, and there's no reason why this Congress couldn't make more -- designating persons in the ISI and military, where there's credible evidence that they've participated in supporting terrorism or nuclear proliferation, denying them and their families visas, enforcing current laws, rooting out Pakistan counterintelligence efforts in this country."

"Waivers are always preferable to simply misrepresenting Pakistan's record in terms of certification requirements, and, in extrema, stating clearly that Pakistan is a state that supports terrorism. This requires political courage, which can only be done when our posture in Afghanistan begins to change," she said.

Fair, however, argued that "we do have to remember that our ultimate goal vis- a-vis Pakistan is that it should not become a North Korea, one that's removed and disengaged from the international community with no incentive to change. So there is a need to engage, but there's also a need to hold Pakistan accountable for its actions."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC