September 30, 2008
WASHINGTON: If the United States forces in Afghanistan continue to suffer casualties inflicted by insurgents crossing over from Pakistan, the next administration, whether Republican or Democratic, will come under tremendous public pressure to make direct strikes on Pakistani targets, according to three South Asia experts.
The observation came at a meeting organised by Khawaja M Ashraf, president of the Pakistani-American Congress, here on Sunday. The three experts who spoke on the prevailing situation in the region were, Walter Andersen of the Johns Hopkins University, Rodney Jones, who runs a local consultancy, and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, who has extensive experience of travelling in and writing about the region.
Andersen said the cross-border movement of insurgents from Pakistan into Afghanistan was a major US concern. As more US troops make their way into Afghanistan from next year, there will be in increase in attacks on them from the insurgents, prompting sharp public reaction in America for strong retaliatory action. The new American policy was no longer going to be confined to hot pursuit but when so warranted, direct military strikes inside the areas from where the attacks were seen to have originated or mounted.
He warned that any US president would come under enormous pressure if US troops continued to be killed by Pakistan-based insurgents and regardless of what party he belonged to, he would order strikes at Pakistan. Andersen added that there cannot be a military solution of the Afghanistan situation in the long term, while proposing a joint US-Pakistan policy to deal with the situation. More importantly, Afghanistan and Pakistan need to build a strong and co-operative relationship to meet the challenge posed by extremism. However, given the level of distrust that has marked their relationship, the new government in Pakistan will have to be willing to consider new policy options. He said India too will have to be taken on board because terrorism is affecting the entire region and requires the adoption of a regional approach.
Jonathan Landay, who spent two years in the region this year, called the situation in Pakistan more serious than that in Iran. He called the Iranian government responsible and its policies logical. Iran may be pursuing nuclear weapons, he added, but Pakistan is already a nuclear state and if it unravelled, it would pose a grave danger to regional and global security. He quoted a recent observation by former Pakistan army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg alleging that the US and India are conspiring against Pakistan and planning to destroy it. Unfortunately, he added, Gen Beg is not alone in holding this view. Many others in Pakistan believe in this ‘risible’ notion. India, he pointed out, is spending $1 billion a year in Afghanistan to build roads and other infrastructure projects. The road it is building along the Balochistan border is being built because Pakistan will not allow Indian goods to move into Afghanistan through Pakistan. He also noted that 80 percent of the goods and equipment needed by NATO forces in Afghanistan move through Pakistan. This flow has not been disrupted because it is bringing great profit to Pakistan and its transportation sector. Landay said it should be borne in mind that New Delhi would not like to live next door to a destabilised Pakistan and that being so, it would like Pakistan to be a stable state. India is a regional power and Pakistan can profit from that. He said Pakistan should make up its mind as to what side it is on. Obviously, it cannot be an ally at the same time of the US and a guerrilla leader like Jalaluddin Haqqani. He said to stabilise the region, an international approach based on co-operation is required, accompanied by a regional security network. He said there is insurgency on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border and a ‘new Great Game’ is going on.
Rodney Jones, who was born before independence in what is now Pakistan, warned that Pakistan and the US are on a collision course. Turning to the region, he said there are Pashtuns living on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border, but their number is greater in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, they form 42 percent of the population, but they are ‘first among equals’. He said the Pakistan Army has been preventing the crossover of insurgents into Afghanistan at the instance of the US, but it has to view the rise of extremism as a Pakistani problem. In a question-answer session that followed the three presentations, Landay pointed out that the people in FATA are caught between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army and they are tired of it all. They will turn against the Taliban if they are sure of being backed by the Pakistani government. Andersen in reply to a question said terrorism is a Pakistani problem now and should be so viewed by the Pakistanis and dealt with accordingly.