May 252008

Alizeh Haider

In one of the observations made about my article, “I beg to differ, Madam, Ambassador” printed in this space last week, I was chastised for my haste in castigating America and overlooking the ‘Pakistani state policy of “strategic depth”… which was not laid down by America but in Rawalpindi in consequence of which Pakistan suffered the trauma of 9/11’.

Firstly, let me clarify that Pakistan did not suffer the trauma of 9/11- the United States of America did. We suffered the repercussions of an ill-conceived policy called strategic depth and supporting a US-funded jihad in Afghanistan, which was expected to turn the dream of US Imperialism and capitalism into a reality. Strategic depth was our justification for aligning with the US. Today, Pakistan is paying a heavy price, both on account of its own fanciful aspirations, as well as for supporting American-sponsored fundamentalism in the region.

Loosely put, “strategic depth” is the glorified name given to the policy of westward expansion by the Pakistan army in order to counter India. The idea was that if Pakistan had significant influence over Afghanistan and central Asia (not to mention Kashmir) then it would be secure enough to fight India economically, politically and militarily.

America’s interest on the other hand was to use Afghanistan mostly as a means to an end. Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan were believed to have proven natural gas reserves of more than 236 trillion cubic feet and the region was bubbling under surface with unexploited oil reserves. By the mid-1992 oil companies, in particular Unocal from the US began to negotiate the prospects of building a pipeline that would transport oil from Central Asia through Afghanistan and ending at the Makran coast in Pakistan.

However, the pre-condition for such a billion-dollar project was a ‘stable’ Afghanistan- a task the Taliban were expected to accomplish. The Wall Street Journal of 23 May 1997 declared “the main interests of American and other economic elites is making Afghanistan a prime trans- shipment route for the exporting of Central Asia’s vast oil, gas and other natural resources……like them or not….the Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan at this moment in history”.

In April 1999, US Republican Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher himself involved with policy in Afghanistan for 20 years, gave this testimony to a Senate subcommittee: “There is and has been a covert policy by this administration to support the Taliban movement’s control of Afghanistan…. This amoral or immoral policy is based on the assumption that the Taliban would bring stability to Afghanistan and permit the building of oil pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan… I believe the administration has maintained this covert goal”.

Stability – the Taliban created not. But in their shortsightedness what America and Pakistan succeeded in creating was their very own Frankenstein. Clearly, Pakistan acted unwisely. Clearly we are being damned for our own stupidity. And clearly, we have to take responsibility for it. But even if we were to assume that Pakistan had no misplaced ambitions of ‘strategic depth’ and that Pakistan and America did not share a common use for the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Would Pakistan have refused cooperation to America vis-a-vis its ambitions in Afghanistan and Central Asia? I doubt it.

Over the years, Pakistan’s successive military governments have established a particular tone in their relationship with America. As one would expect in a donor-donee association – this tone is pliant, accommodating and often overly obliging. But now, with a democratic government which is accountable to the people who voted for them, there is a dire need for Pakistan to change that tone and make itself heard. Appearing in a popular talk show, Lt. General (r) Asad Durrani (ex-DG, ISI) summarized the point by saying that , as a coalition partner, Pakistan never used its right to assert its own views and was willingly taking diktats from America. Therefore, now, we are having problems in re-establishing the terms of our relationship with the West.

Thus, the problem is not that “because everyone hates America, any confluence of policy with America is not necessarily good for Pakistan”. Rather, as I have argued before, anti-American sentiments amongst the people of Pakistan are stoked because there is no confluence of policy between America and Pakistan and whilst dealing with America, Pakistan is not seen to be asserting itself.

At a special hearing on Fata at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee this past week, Senator John Kerry reportedly said that during his meetings with Pakistan’s new leaders in February he realized that they had a very different understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat in FATA than the US. An overview of recent statements made by American and Pakistani officials on the issue of terrorism and militancy reveals the frighteningly wide chasm between the two country’s understanding and preferred way of dealing with this problem.

On the 22nd of May, the front page of a daily newspaper carried the story of the government striking an agreement with the Swat militant Fazlullah to restore peace in the region. Right below this, we see the following headline: “US wants Baitullah arrested, talks abandoned”. According to this report, “both US administration and Congress have increased pressure on Pakistan to abandon talks with militants and demonstrate sincerity to the war on terror”. Yet another story on the same page in the adjoining column read ” Britain backs negotiations with terrorists”.

Congruence of policy? I see utter confusion here!

Furthermore, while appearing before the said Senate committee, John Negroponte commented that “we are not advocates of negotiations with terrorists” and that “we have real reservations about negotiated agreements” with terrorists.

One wonders that when America is ready to talk with non- Muslim militants (for example, in Nepal) then why are they so unwilling to negotiate with the so-called Muslim militants in Pakistan.

Perhaps the reason is that in the past nine years Pakistan’s military government failed miserably in countering extremism and jihadi-ism in the region. On one extreme, Musharraf showed characteristic recklessness in launching counter productive military operations and on the other extreme he openly adopted a policy of appeasement towards militants like Sufi Mohammad and Maulana Masood Azhar in the name of negotiations. The so-called ‘peace-treaty’ between the Musharraf regime and militants in the tribal areas backfired miserably and provided militants with a window of opportunity to re- organize, re-arm and re-launch themselves. As a consequence, terrorism grew many folds and spread towards many settled areas of Pakistan.

One wonders then, that if during Musharraf’s era, terrorism saw an upward, and not exactly a downward, trend and if his policies patronized rather than contained religious militancy, then why on earth America continues to support him so vehemently.

Perhaps Musharraf has succeeded in making America believe in the false dichotomy of the mullah and the military and with its blinkers on, America has intently fixed its glare on just these two options, oblivious to some real opportunities that are passing it by.

The writer is a barrister and human-rights activist currently based in the UAE. Email:

 Posted by at 4:44 pm

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