As Pakistan was rocked by bomb blasts, from Lahore to Peshawar to Kohat, Hakimullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, issued a statement threatening to dispatch Islamic militants to India once an Islamic state had been established in Pakistan. In his statement Hakimullah said: “We want an Islamic state, if we get that then we will go to the borders and fight the Indians.”
Hakimullah’s statement is noteworthy for a variety of reasons. First, included among the volley of blasts that have hit the region in the past fortnight was one that targeted the Indian Embassy in Kabul for the second time. The blast, on October 9, 2009, killed 17 people including a top Indian diplomat and brought attention again to the extent of Indian involvement in Afghanistan.
The blast came days before the Indians completed a electric transmission line from Phul-e-Khumri to Kabul, one of several projects worth $1.6 billion, making India the fifth largest donor to Afghanistan. In addition to the electric transmission line, India has also helped construct the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, which was inaugurated in January of this year. They have also funded a hundred small development projects in rural Afghanistan, designed to provide quick respite to rural populations, and five medical missions that dispense medicines to over 1,000 people a day.
However, as the caustic debate over the Kerry-Lugar Bill has illustrated here in Pakistan, no amount of good deeds and development projects come without the aid grantors expecting geo-strategic advantages. India has constructed several consulates in Afghanistan, including ones in Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar. In the fallout from the second attack on their embassy in Kabul, Indian officials have also re-engaged in the debate over whether India needs to send troops to Afghanistan to take care of its investments. While the consensus in India is still against such drastic action, the Indian government and its allies within the Afghan government have made no bones about pointing their fingers at the ISI as possible perpetrators of the attack.
In turn, of course, Pakistani security agencies, in the aftermath of the bombings in Lahore on October 15, 2009, have begun pointing fingers at possible Indian involvement in the attacks, instead of blaming the more obvious Taliban. Lahore Commissioner Khusro Pervez blamed the Indian agency RAW for attacks in different parts of Pakistan. Interior Minister Rehman Malik cautioned that no speculation regarding Indian involvement should be engaged in without evidence.
Indeed, in the world of allegations and counter allegations that defines the India-Pakistan relationship, evidence may be the hardest thing to come by. What cannot be denied, however, is the fact that the Taliban and the Indians are currently engaged in a grotesque competition to be crowned Pakistan’s worst enemy. In other words, the choice before Pakistan’s security agencies is to pick one of the two on which to focus its limited security resources. As is well known, the United States is pressurising Pakistan to pick the Taliban and go on all out offensive against them in both the tribal areas as well as Afghanistan. Given the merciless targeting of security forces in Lahore and the recent attack on the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, this seems undoubtedly the reasonable option to stem the seemingly irrepressible tide of bombings that is currently plaguing the country.
The argument posited by the Americans, substantiated as it is by the bloodthirstiness of the Taliban is a good one: in the era of terrorism Pakistan should get over its obsessive fear of an Indian takeover and concentrate instead on eliminating the Taliban who pose an urgent and existential threat.
Yet while the argument is convincing from a normative standpoint, its naiveté represents the biggest hole in American strategy toward the region. This was pointed out in General McChrystal’s leaked report which clearly states that increasing Indian involvement in Afghanistan a hurdle in getting Pakistan to fight the Taliban. Despite this acknowledgement, the United States refuses to take sides between India and Pakistan, continuing on one hand to maintain a close and amicable relationship with India while also expecting full co-operation from Pakistan on the war on terror.
In turn, Pakistan equally doggedly wants assurances from the United States that if it did indeed eliminate the Taliban from Afghanistan with the help of the United States, some guarantee would be provided against encirclement by India on the majority of its borders. It is this missing assurance, one that the United States cannot and will not give, that is the root of its crucial failure in both Afghanistan and Pakistan today. The Americans simply continue to hope that the mayhem caused by the Taliban will be so debilitating that Pakistan will forget about its foes on the eastern border and concentrate on the mess to the west.
Pakistanis for better or worse realise that both choices before them are inherently bad ones. They can either choose to unequivocally support the United States against the Taliban even if a pro-Indian government is installed in Kabul, encircling the country on its eastern and western borders by hostile forces. Or, they can wait and hedge their bets that some of the Taliban can be co-opted into some form of pseudo-Islamic state that appeases both their lust for power and their zeal for literalist faith.
With the Americans refusing to take sides in any part of the conflict that doesn’t suit their own national interests, little incentive remains for the Pakistanis to construct a strategy that would leave them without options after American withdrawal. Morality and reason aside, it is difficult to trust an ally that refuses to take sides against your enemy and hence the tragic reality that in a contest for most hated enemy, India may still win.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at email@example.com
Reproduced by permission of the Author and DT