By Lt Gen P.C. Katoch*
Speaking at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, in Washington DC recently, US Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin said: “We continue to urge our partners in Pakistan to go after all terrorist networks operating in their country. We stand ready to help them. But there should be no doubt that while we remain committed to working with Pakistan to confront ongoing terrorist financing and operations, the US will not hesitate to act alone, when necessary, to disrupt and destroy these networks.”
“The problem is that there are forces within the Pakistani government — specifically in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI — that refuse to take similar steps against all the terrorist groups active in Pakistan, tolerating some groups — or even worse,” he added.
At the same time, he said Pakistan has been, and remains, a critical counter-terrorism partner in many respects.
General John Nicholson, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, also said last month: “There is not adequate pressure being put on the Haqqanis.” (The Haqqani network is an Afghan guerrilla insurgent group using asymmetric warfare to fight against US-led NATO forces and the government of Afghanistan.)
But is Pakistan worried about such periodic ‘warnings’.
Szubin’s statement is well timed — perhaps targeting the Indian Diaspora in the US with respect to the November 8 Presidential election. It certainly is not taken seriously in India — it is not front-page news.
The US stance in recent years is that Pakistan is a big country and also nuclear but they forget that when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in President Barack Obama’s first administration threatened Pakistan to join the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) or be prepared to be bombed into oblivion, Pakistan was as big a country and also nuclear.
The bill introduced by the US Senate Panel to declare Pakistan a terrorist state is also timed in a manner that by the time the deadline comes for Obama to respond, he will only be a caretaker President.
Sure, the US repeatedly exhorts Pakistan to go after the Haqqanis but what about all the other Pakistani proxies attacking India and Afghanistan? All that the US needs to do is put a couple of cruise missiles in the terror hatcheries in Pakistan, as Russian President Vladimir Putin did in Syria, and stop the billions of dollars of aid. Pakistan will be forced to reform unless it wants to continue its nuclear clinging on to China and become impoverished like North Korea.
The US-China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Quadrilateral Coordination Group, seeking to bring the Taliban to join the peace process and the Afghan Government, has been a farce from the very beginning, with Pakistan insincere to the core and China and the US playing along.
At the same time, the recent US-brokered deal with Hezb-e-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Kabul raises many questions — he has well known ISI links and has been recipient of western arms in the past; the timing of him being brought centre stage and what role he is to play.
At the recent Herat Security Dialogue (October 14-15, 2016), the Taliban panelist said the Taliban has no enmity with the Afghan public, only with the US — but then when the US is only in a ‘support’ role to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), why are the Taliban attacking Kunduz and Lashkar Gah so viciously sending hundreds and hundreds of Afghan families fleeing from their homes? Are the Taliban not going for mineral rich areas, playing the China-Pak game, and/or the US game to threaten Russia by posing to take the proxy war into Central Asia?
The undercurrents of the US-Iran détente too are obvious. It is not only Iranian President Hassan Rouhani slamming US presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump calling them a choice between “bad and worse”. The development of Chahabar port is facing hurdles with the US and European banks not easing investments in Iran, which appears to be on design. The international north-south transportation corridor would surely benefit Europe but it certainly is more vital to India, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia.
Then there is news of a third round in a week of Iranian C-802 shore-to-ship missiles targeting US Navy ships in the Red Sea from the Yemeni coast — three vessels patrolling the Bab al-Mandeb strait. As per US officials, in response to a previous C-802 attack, the US flotilla hit back with Tomahawk cruise missiles against the Yemen-based radar stations reportedly being operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Iran has recently supplied the Yemeni Houthi rebels with C-802 missiles for asserting control over the Bab al-Mandeb strait, as per Israeli intelligence.
As disclosed in 2012 by General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander, NATO, the US had decided in 2001 to take out 7 countries in the next five years — Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off with Iran. So, what form the US-Iran détente will take and how long it will last is anyone’s guess. That Iran supports Hezbollah and has trained Afghans to fight alongside the Syrian Government is already well known.
The China-Pakistan backing to Taliban is having a mixed fallout for China. Amidst much fanfare, the first cargo train from China’s Jiangsu Province arrived at Hairatan, in Balkh Province of Afghanistan, on September 7, 2016, chugging over the Afghan-Uzbek Dosti Bridge — built in 1988 by the USSR linking Afghanistan with China and Russia.
But the same train is now returning empty from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan on its way back to China because Uzbek authorities — citing security concerns — have forbidden cargo to arrive into their country from Afghanistan via the railway. Uzbekistan wants goods to leave the Afghan border city of Hairatan on ships instead of rail, and cross the Uzbek border via the Amu River, where it can be screened by Uzbek security forces. Only then can the cargo be reloaded onto trains enroute to China.
China has a $3 billion contract to mine copper from Aynak mines in Afghanistan and wants to transport the mined copper through this rail route. But that is the price China has to pay for abetting Pakistani terrorism and itself supporting the Taliban. In terms of trade, Afghanistan too suffers since it wants to export saffron, dried fruit and other goods to China. The agreement for a separate China-Kyrgyztan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran rail link too was signed in the Tajik capital Dushanbe in December 2014 but this will take time and may also be affected by terrorism.
Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, recently said that Pakistan views the Taliban as an effective proxy to ensure Pakistani dominance over Afghanistan — Islamabad believes continuing the war in Afghanistan will lead to US withdrawal which would change the balance of power against the current government and in favour of its (Pakistan’s) proxies.
Ultimately, Pakistan seeks the overthrow of the current government in Afghanistan because it is not compliant — and Pakistan knows its double-game is risky, but it believes that the risk is manageable.
Meanwhile, the Great Game in Af-Pak continues — the US countering Chinese and Russian influence in the region and China with her strategic pivot in Gilgit-Baltistan and CPEC (the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor forming a strategic highway to the Indian Ocean) wanting US-NATO out, and to build her energy-based Eurasian Security Architecture linking Turkey and integrate Af-Pak region with China.
Michel Chossudovsky, Professor at University of Ottawa, wrote in his article ‘The Destabilization of Pakistan’ in 2005 that Washington had been planning a scenario of disintegration and civil war in Pakistan for more than five years, US intelligence using Pakistan’s ISI as a go-between had supported Al Qaeda and its various affiliated organizations and “Talibanisation” was the direct result of US-led covert operations.
He went on to say that the US course consisted of fomenting social, ethnic and factional divisions and political fragmentation, including the territorial breakup of Pakistan, dictated by US war plans in relation to both Afghanistan and Iran. Chossudovsky’s analysis may not be entirely relevant with decade-plus having gone by but China’s over-aggressive moves will surely accelerate the Great Game.
So, is there a pattern to the abovementioned obscure dots?
*Lt Gen P.C. Katoch (Retd) is a veteran, Special Forces officer, of the Indian Army.
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