WASHINGTON: President Barrack Obama’s strategy of offering Pakistan a partnership to defeat the insurgency here calls for a virtual remaking of this nation’s institutions and even of the national psyche, an ambitious agenda that Pakistan’s politicians and people appear unprepared to take up, the New York Times reported on Monday.
In a news analysis, the Times said though officially Pakistan’s government welcomed Obama’s strategy, with its hefty infusions of American money, hailing it as a “positive change”, yet large parts of the public, the political class and the military have brushed off the plan, rebuffing the idea that the threat from Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which Washington calls a common enemy, is so urgent.
As ground situation indicates, some, including the Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and President Asif Ali Zardari, may be coming around. But for the military, at least, India remains priority No. 1, as it has for the 61 years of country’s existence.
How to shift that focus in time for Pakistan to defeat a fast-expanding insurgency is the challenge facing Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to the region, as they are expected to arrive in Islamabad for talks early this week.
The Times reports that analysts from Pakistan and the US are already putting forward apocalyptic timetables for the country. “We are running out of time to help Pakistan change its present course toward increasing economic and political instability, and even ultimate failure,” said a recent report by a task force of the Atlantic Council that was led by former Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. The report, released in February, gave the Pakistani government 6 to 12 months before things went from bad to dangerous.
A specialist in guerrilla warfare, David Kilcullen, who advised Gen. David H. Petraeus when General Petraeus was the American commander in Iraq, offered a more dire assessment. Pakistan could be facing internal collapse within six months, he said.
General Petraeus, in Congressional testimony last week, called the insurgency one that could “take down” the country, which is home to Qaeda militants and has nuclear arms.
Even before the insurgency has been fully engaged, however, many Pakistanis have concluded that reaching an accommodation with the militants is preferable to fighting them. Some, including mid-ranking soldiers, choose to see the militants not as the enemy, but as fellow Muslims who are deserving of greater sympathy than are the American aims.
It is problematic whether the backing of Mr. Zardari, and the Obama’s administration’s promise of $1.5 billion in aid for each of the next five years, can change the mood in the country, said former interior minister, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao.
Fighting the insurgency is commonly seen in Pakistan as an American cause, not a Pakistani one, he said.
The distrust has been heightened by charges from American officials, including General Petraeus and Mr. Holbrooke, that Pakistan’s spy agency is still supporting militants who pour over the border to fight American troops in Afghanistan.
A former director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf, said the American opinions, long held but now publicly stated, did not augur well. A spokesman for the Pakistani military called them “baseless” and part of a “malicious campaign.”
“You can’t start a successful operation with a trust deficit,” General Ashraf said.
“Predator strikes are not a strategy, not even part of a strategy,” former army chief of staff and ambassador to Washington, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, said. “They are tactical actions to ratchet up body counts.”
According to the paper, the Americans have been stingy on even the more basic tools for guerrilla warfare, like helicopter gunships and night-vision goggles, which Pakistan has requested for the past three years, Pakistani military officials say. There are still doubts that Washington will deliver such equipment speedily, they say.
Then there is India. Its growing presence in Afghanistan, the building of roads; the opening since 2001 of two consulates in two cities close to Pakistan, makes Pakistan believe it is being encircled, said Ishaq Khan Khakwani, former senator from the Pakistan Muslim League-Q.
The deep questioning about why the Pakistani Army should fight the Taliban reaches well down into the ranks of the soldiers and their families. Dissent on that goal has become increasingly prevalent among rank-and-file soldiers, and even in the officer corps, said Dr. Riffat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.
In Jhelum, a town 100 miles south of Islamabad and a place with a proud military history, one village had shown in the boldest terms the anger about the situation in tribal areas, said Enver Baig, former senator with the Pakistan People’s Party.
When the body of a soldier killed in the tribal areas was taken home to his family last year, the father refused to accept his son’s coffin, Baig said.