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'US can't handle Pak without dealing with India'

January 17, 2011 11:58 IST

Erstwhile Central Intelligence Agency veteran Bruce Riedel, who was the co-chair of the first Af-Pak (Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategic Review) of the Obama administration, had said that the US Af-Pak policy has got in only half right, because while you can't deal with Afghanistan without dealing with Pakistan, by the same token you can't deal with Pakistan without dealing with India -- meaning you've got to address Islamabad's paranoia over New Delhi.

Riedel, currently a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, whose new book Deadly Embrace, which is a primer on the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is expected to be released this week, said, "Af-Pak -- a term I never liked -- got half the problem right."

"It understood that you can't deal with Afghanistan without dealing with Pakistan, (but) it misses the other half of the problem. You can't deal with Pakistan without dealing with India. And it's that kind of regional diplomacy that has been absent so far."

Riedel, who was part of a panel discussion on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Future of US Policy in the Region, organised by the Brookings Institution, however acknowledged that "this is really, really hard to do. The Indians have made it abundantly clear that they don't want to pay the price for our failures in Afghanistan, in their relationship with Pakistan, and particularly not in Kashmir."

"The good news here," he argued, "is that President Obama understands the complexity of this problem and he's spent the last two years putting money in the bank with Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh," and noted that during his recent visit to India both leaders had "talked about this problem at some considerable length."

Riedel reiterated that "putting that money in the bank in the last two years was smart thing to do," but noted that "now he's got to try to capitalise on that and get India and Pakistan back to some kind of dialogue that begins to change Pakistan's strategic calculations about where its long-term future is going."

He said, "This is really, really hard stuff to do. You're talking about a diplomatic challenge that is monumental, but we're not going to solve or come to a happy ending in Afghanistan without dealing with Pakistan. And we're not going to get to a happy ending with Pakistan without dealing with the issue that motivates Pakistani behaviour."

Instead of Af-Pak, Riedel suggested in terms of restructuring the policy following the demise of US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, "What we really need to think about is South Asia or maybe South Central Asia."

"I would try to find a way to fold this problem back into a kind of traditional bureaucratic approach where we have holistic approach to South Asia, and I wouldn't do it just in the State Department. I'm of the view that we need to create a separate United States military command for dealing with South Asia. You can call it SAC-COM or whatever you want to call it."

Riedel bemoaned the current way the US deals with South Asia, saying the Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command) and the Commander of PACCOM(Pacific Command) has one going to Pakistan all the time and the other going to India. "And instead of trying to think of them as one problem, our military is completely dysfunctional on this and seeing them as two different problems."

He asserted that "the only way, in my judgment, we're going to have a successful diplomacy in this part of the world is if we see it holistically as one integrated region and then start playing all the parts of the billiard table in one overall strategy."

Vanda Felbab-Brown, also a Senior Fellow at Brookings, another of the panelists who has done considerable research on the ground in Afghanistan, particularly looking at the role of narcotics and how it funds the Taliban, said Pakistan is the Achilles' heel of the most recent Af-Pak review released by the White House.

She said, "The review talks about strategy engagement of Pakistan and mainly focuses on the input. Unfortunately, we have not seen much substantial input on the part of Pakistan in military and government."

"They still continue to differentiate between Salafi groups that are oriented toward attacking Pakistan, and they have taken those on, and groups that are oriented toward Afghanistan, they continue to coddle and support those groups, and they have not really made a significant change in their mindset about what kind of resolution they want to see in Afghanistan and continue to support those groups."

Felbab-Brown added: "Unfortunately, Washington has not been able to develop much leverage with Pakistan. We keep offering them aid, including long-term aid, that's meant to support a strategic framework and engagement, that's meant to give Pakistan a sense that it won't be abandoned by the United States again, and yet the delivery that we see in minimal."

"At the same time," she said, "that we try to use more pressure, Pakistan resorts to a policy of suggesting that any pressure will unravel Pakistan and then we back away."

Ronald Neumann, former US ambassador to Afghanistan and now president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, argued that "as we seek a strategic change in Pakistan, one of the big questions for the Pakistanis is, are we going to stick with this or are we going to bolt and leave them hanging."

"Part of the reality is that the Pakistanis have very good reasons not to trust us, just as we have very good reasons not to trust them. And neither side can really come up with a convincing case why the other should actually trust them," he said.

Neumann said in such a circumstance "you have to keep elbowing and rewarding -- making it clear that we're not going to bail out quickly and give them an easy run and that continued support for the radicals is going to be costly to them. But also, that they have an alternative."

Meanwhile, Riedel rubbished the much-ballyhooed US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, saying that it's "mostly form and process."

He said, "That's pretty hard to spin into much of a success at all. Dialogue is certainly what we need, but so far that dialogue hasn't produced a whole lot in Pakistan that you could look at in some success."

He also warned against any reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban that is backed by the Pakistani intelligence, the Inter Services Intelligence, saying they simply cannot be trusted.

Riedel acknowledged that as the US continues to pound the Afghan Taliban, it may realise it's not going win "and perhaps more importantly, their Pakistani patrons -- particularly the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service -- begins to see that this is an asset whose future may be behind it. At that point they may come forward and say we're interested in a political process. That's the reconciliation theory."

But he said there are a plethora of problems with this because "first of all, there's not a lot in the history of the Taliban that suggests that these are reconcilers or negotiators," and recalled that he's negotiated with "the Taliban before 9/11 and their whole concept of give and take and compromise was pretty alien to their worldview. Pushed hard enough by the ISI, that might change, but it's still an unknown."

Riedel also said the terrorist safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not simply in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan but in Pakistan proper. "This is not about Northern Waziristan and it's not about going into Quetta. The safe haven in Pakistan is Pakistan."

He said, "If you are going to ask me where is Mullah Omar, I'd put my money he's in Karachi, the country's biggest city. If you ask me where have significant Qaeda figures been captured over the last eight years, the answer would be Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Faisalabad -- in other words, the major cities of Pakistan."

Riedel asserted that "you get lost in the weeds on this very easily by focusing just on Waziristan and other places. The problem is much bigger than that. It is the syndicate of terror that operates in Pakistan today."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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