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'America should help India, Pak in back-channel talks'

January 15, 2010 12:47 IST

Bruce Riedel, who spearheaded President Barack Obama's strategic review on Afghanistan and Pakistan, believes that aggressive US diplomacy to resolve the differences between India and Pakistan is 'absolutely critical' for the 'long-term chances of stabilising Afghanistan, and even more importantly, Pakistan'.

Riedel, an erstwhile Central Intelligence Agency analyst, also served as a former National Security Council official in the Bill Clinton administration

Riedel, currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said at a Capitol Hill briefing on Implications for US Policy for Afghanistan, "It we want to change Pakistani behaviour, we have to deal with the thing that drives Pakistani behaviour -- and that's India," he said.

He pointed out that "it got a whole lot more difficult," on 26/11 in Mumbai "when Lashkar-e-Tayiba, probably with the assistance of Al Qaeda, carried out that (terror) attack. Why did they do that? Precisely to make it more difficult to reduce tensions between Pakistan and India."

Riedel said, "The Jihadis who we are fighting have understood from the beginning of this conflict that if you want to take the heat off them in Pakistan, heat up the border between India and Pakistan. That's why, after we drove Al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan in 2001, what do they do -- they attack the Indian Parliament. It was a brilliant tactical move that resulted in strategic space for them."

He said, "In order to try to improve relations between Pakistan and India, we have to do something that American diplomacy is not good at -- not talk about it, (but) operate under the radar screen, be supportive of others, not try to have the stage all to ourselves."

Riedel added "Is the administration working on that? As I said at the beginning, I'm not a spokesman for the administration, but I would point you to one fact. The first State Visit dinner of this administration was with the Indian leadership, because I think this administration understands exactly how important that is."

Riedel believes that US diplomatic engagement -- to bring about a rapprochement between India and Pakistan -- is not impossible.

"Steve Coll pointed out in The New Yorker about the back channel that India and Pakistan have actually come a long way, over the last several years, in finding the basis for a solution to their long-standing problems," he recalled.

Riedel asserted that "American diplomacy should be trying to help Indians and Pakistanis get back to that back channel and to try to put this back on track."

Earlier, in his opening remarks, Riedel said that "Pakistan is in the midst of an extraordinarily difficult transition from military dictatorship to democracy," and that the US "should support this transition enthusiastically."

But, he made clear that "we should recognise this is Pakistan's fourth attempt at doing so and you have to believe in the triumph of hope over expectation to expect Pakistan will get there."

However, he reiterated that "it is in our interest to encourage them to do so because the Pakistani military establishment over the years has proven incapable of running the country and has developed extensive, intimate ties with the syndicate of terror."

Riedel said that "for a variety of reasons, mostly dealing with India, the Pakistani military establishment believes it must maintain at least parts of those relationships."

"In the last year, we have seen part of the Jihadi Frankenstein in Pakistan actually turn against its old master and today, Pakistan is witnessing the most serious political violence in the country's history -- it's bordering on civil war in many ways."

But, Riedel said "the good news here is that the Pakistani people seem to have increasingly come to the conclusion that their freedoms and their way of life are truly threatened by this Jihadi monster. That wake-up is the best news we've seen in Pakistan in a long time."

However, in the question and answer session, he acknowledged that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's popularity was dipping and predicted that he will not last till the end of the year.

"President Zardari's popularity, which was always based on an accident of matrimony, not on anything that had to do with Mr 10 percent himself, has fallen. I think that we probably will see the end of the Zardari government in 2010."

But, he pointed out, "There is interesting polling in Pakistan that says despite the fact that the country now has an anemic economy, despite the fact that political violence in the country is now at unprecedented levels, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis -- something around 85 percent -- say they do not want to have another military dictatorship."

Aziz Haniffa In Washington, DC