By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

By and large, Hillary Clinton has a balanced approach towards Pakistan. Her comprehension of Pakistan’s difficulties is fairly accurate. But, these days, American foreign policy is being run by a puppeteers’ mafia comprising; Pentagon, Wall Street, Military Industrial Compel and above all re-election campaign managers. Former defence secretary, Robert Gates, once scornfully commented that budget of even American military bands is more than State Department’s budget. These days Hillary hardly has a manoeuvring space to herself. No wonders she began firing salvoes at Islamabad right from Kabul. While in Pakistan, she maintained a pragmatic facade, while accompanying generals did the hard talk with their professional counterparts.

Hillary’s trip to Islamabad was neither expected to lift the siege around PAK-US relations, nor did it do so. It did create an impression of a patch work to display a semblance of re-railing the relationship. However, the prevalent American mindset points in the opposite direction. Her visit came as a part of posturing amidst unusual American military build-up in the Middle East and massing of NATO/ISAF troops along Pakistan’s border, opposite North Waziristan. Alongside, there had been relatively soft talks by Marc Grossman and Ambassador Cameron Munter. During the joint press conference, only the previous positions were restated with just one change that reference to safe heavens clubbed Afghanistan with Pakistan.

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Recent All Parties’ Conference and military leadership’s briefing to Parliament’s Defence Committee had already radiated a message of unanimity of opinion amongst the political and military levels of national leadership. This had restricted the extent to which Hillary could pressurise Pakistan, at least publicly.

While NATO/ISAF continue to look the other way, attacks on Pakistani soil by ‘militant boys from Afghanistan’ are going on as part of greater scheme to stretch out Pakistan’s security forces. Final showdown could come through false flag operations involving a stage managed nuclear related incident. Upping the ante against Iran may just be a smoke screen.

The team that coaxed President Obama to commit cardinal errors in the context of Asia policy is working overtime to lure him into a fatal error of confronting with Pakistan directly, short of elections. While democrats were in the process of selecting their candidate for 2008 election, Republicans were clandestinely working to prop up Obama. They thought this way presidency would come back to them within four years. They were not off the mark in their calculation. 

First manifestation of Obama’s weak leadership was that he got mesmerized by Bush era war team and retained it. That team pursued Obama’s war policy with a hangover of Republican mindset.  Republicans are the direct beneficiaries of mess that Obama has put himself into.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer, has a pathological anti-Pakistan bias; nevertheless his recent views represent the current American mindset.  Riedel was a senior advisor to three US presidents on Middle East and South Asian issues. He chaired an interagency review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009.

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In his op-ed piece, ‘A new Pakistan policy: Containment’, carried by ‘International Herald Tribune’, on 17 October, Riedel opined that, “America needs a new policy for dealing with Pakistan. First, we must recognize that the two countries’ strategic interests are in conflict, not in harmony, and will remain that way as long as Pakistan’s army controls the strategic policies… the generals who run Pakistan think time is on their side—that NATO is doomed to give up in Afghanistan….We must contain the Pakistan Army’s ambition until civilian rule returns and Pakistanis set a new direction for their foreign policy”.

This read in the context of an earlier London based ‘Financial Times’ report regarding a memorandum handed over to President Obama through Admiral Mike Mullen portraying a fragile Civil-Military relationship in Pakistan, whereby civilian leadership is depicted as bargaining for its survival even at the cost of vital national interests, like dissolution of the S-Wing of the ISI, points towards a sinister campaign to create fissures amongst various tiers of national leadership. Even if such memo was actually delivered, its leakage to media is part of a carefully orchestrated psychological warfare campaign. 

Riedel further states that “The generals who run Pakistan have not abandoned their obsession with challenging India… they have sidelined and intimidated civilian leaders elected in 2008. They seem to think that Pakistan is invulnerable because they control NATO’s supply lines…and have nuclear weapons”…It is time to move to a policy of containment which would mean hostile relationship…holding its army and its intelligence branches accountable…”  Riedel forgot to comment whether America has given up its obsession with China!

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Likes of Riedel are grinding their own axe, and doing the bidding of American Industrial complex to expand the ongoing conflicts through mission creep and by triggering new ones. Pakistan’s ambassador to America, Hussian Haqqani has aptly identified the underlying rot that keeps Pak-US relations in a flux; “Handling of two parallel narratives is the biggest challenge for Pak-US ties”.

Putting the jigsaw pieces together, Pakistan has a real military threat from America to counter; and the onus to defend rests on the armed forces of Pakistan. Chances of full blown invasion of Pakistani land are remote. Sporadic fireworks are the more likely facet of operations to embarrass the military leadership. Mainstay of American operations would be the air component of its armed forces. Hence, Pakistan Air Force needs to harness all its resources to thwart airspace violations.

Pakistan’s political leadership should continue to strive for bridging the gap between the Haqqanis and America, for a smooth transition between the two. Pakistan stands committed to an Afghan led and Afghan owned political process for stability and peace in Afghanistan. No other country than Pakistan has greater stakes in fomenting a stable and secure Afghanistan. However, Pakistan needs to improve its credibility by shedding the impression that it is fighting an American war. This could be done by detaching our Afghan policy from that of America. In the context of Afghanistan, Pakistan and America are certainly on a point of strategic divergence; nevertheless common grounds should be explored in the areas of tactical convergence.

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