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America two-timed

The Afghan war leaks give India a chance to influence Obama’s Pakistan strategy.

india Updated: Jul 27, 2010 22:51 IST

There is an acceptance in Washington that the present role it has allowed Pakistan to assume in the Afghanistan war has to change. The dozens of US military intelligence documents leaked on the internet reporting that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence was assisting and guiding the Afghan Taliban have helped confirm what has long been suspected. And it comes soon after the US was already showing public impatience with Pakistan’s Janus-faced policies regarding militancy. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently spoke of sections of the Pakistani establishment having knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. Other US officials have recently said that Pakistan must take action against the largest Afghan Taliban faction, that of Sirajuddin Haqqani, and against the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the perpetrators of the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks. At least rhetorically, Islamabad’s feet are being placed to the fire.

Pakistan’s sympathies for the Afghan Taliban have been known for many years, as has Rawalpindi’s long association with the Lashkar. In private, the US has long agreed with the broad accusations made by India that large swathes of the Taliban and groups like Lashkar survive only because of military patronage. However, Pakistan has been able to ensure this knowledge never translated into action because of two-fold leverage it had over the US. First, 70 per cent of the supplies supporting the US military in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. Second, Pakistan’s response to any threat of aid being cut or diplomatic isolation was, in effect, to aim a gun to its own head and warn that this could push their country over the brink. Washington has thus lavished weapons and aid on Pakistan, helped it militarily against the anti-Islamabad Tehreek-e-Taliban, but used only verbal suasion when it came to action against the Haqqani network or the Lashkar.

The US is now realising that when it comes to Pakistan, it can’t have its cake and eat it too. Washington once believed that it could win the battle for Afghanistan even while allowing Islamabad to give haven to the Afghan Taliban and destabilise the Kabul regime. Today it’s struggling to persuade Pakistan that the US won’t allow the Afghan Taliban to return to power in Kabul. Washington has also found that Lashkar, once seen as an Indian concern, is now targeting western troops and operating on US soil. There is now a greater US awareness of what Pakistan is all about. There is no evidence, however, that Washington has worked out a strategy on how to armtwist a country that believes it has the US in a half-nelson. This provides New Delhi an opportunity to propose ways — other than a crude cessation of all aid — by which the US can put together a more coercive strategy towards Pakistan.

First Published: Jul 27, 2010 22:50 IST