Friday, August 6, 2010

Pakistan under US and UK attacks: A look at history

Published in The Daily Star, August 7th., 2010
M. Seraju Islam

(This is the 200th article carried in this blog)

Pakistan has suddenly become the scapegoat for what is going wrong in Afghanistan. The latest documents released on WikiLeaks (92,000 documents in total) reveal that in Afghanistan USA is losing the war and the truth is far removed from what the Obama administration has been telling the people. The documents also show Pakistan's intelligence agency (Inter Services Intelligence) ISI's close collusion with the Talibans and other terrorist groups. In line with the leaks, British Prime Minister David Cameron has caused a major controversy by stating bluntly that his country and allies cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that Pakistan is allowed to look both ways and is able in any way, to promote the export of terror to India, Afghanistan or any other country. Quite understandably, Pakistan protested furiously but David Cameron did not recant his statement rather he came up with free advise about what Pakistan should do, which was like adding insult to injury.

A current view in Washington is that the US administration may have leaked the WikiLeaks documents to shift the responsibility of losing the war in Afghanistan on Pakistan's shoulders. As the latest WikiLeaks documents revealed it is therefore not very surprising that the Prime Minister of Britain, the country that along with the USA had brought Pakistan into the team as a strategic partner of the West in their war against terrorism, had to blame Pakistan as a country that exports terrorism to its neighbouring regions. It is not just this that makes the latest US-UK offensive against Pakistan so ironic. A look at history would make the current attacks on Pakistan by the USA and UK even more so because both have in the past betrayed Pakistan's interests at critical times.

It was the US that had encouraged Pakistan to get involved in the Afghan war after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Again, it was the US that had given Pakistan the moral and material support needed to build the Taliban resistance and then abandoned it as soon as the Soviet Union disintegrated. It is again the USA which is now seeking Pakistan's assistance to negotiate agreement with moderate Talibans to weaken the Taliban resurgence. At the same time, it is the US that is bombing Pakistan's northwest regions with drones in pursuit of taking out Talibans and when such attacks end killing innocent Pakistanis and blaming Pakistan's intelligence for the failure.

History makes David Cameron's accusation more ironic than the US's accusations of Pakistan. It was British policy of divide and rule that sowed the seeds of discord between the Hindus and the Muslims that created Pakistan. It was the British indulgence while leaving India after 200 years of colonial rule that divided Kashmir that as a Muslim majority princely state should have gone to Pakistan under the principles of partition. It is the Kashmir conflict that has been at the cause of tension between Pakistan and India that has forced these nations to fight two wars and turn into nuclear states. It is the same conflict that has encouraged Pakistan to get involved in the jihad over Kashmir and actively assist groups fighting for freeing Kashmir from India, groups that are using terrorism as a strategy for their goal. It is again the Kashmir dispute that has led Indian security and police to commit human rights violations to keep control over its part of Kashmir that in turn has given terrorist groups like the Laskar e Taiyaba; Jaish e Mohammed and Harakat ul Mujahadeen the cause to survive and thrive.

The British Prime Minister could perhaps have taken a look at history before making the statement in public against Pakistan. In doing so, he has also shown scant respect to diplomatic norms where it is most unusual to accuse a third country while on a bilateral visit. The fact that David Cameron chose to accuse Pakistan while on an official visit to India is what makes his act a difficult one to understand. Only recently, the Pakistani and the Indian Foreign Ministers had met to open dialogue between their countries that ended abruptly with the Indian Foreign Minister failing to make the point on Pakistan's tryst with terrorism that was so well articulated by David Cameron. Pakistan High Commissioner in London regretted that David Cameron failed to see “Pakistan's immense role in the war on terror and sacrifices made since 9/11”. He went on to say that the British Prime Minister should have pursued his goal of attracting Indian investments to his country without “damaging the prospects of regional peace”.

Pakistan has reacted furiously at the attempts by Great Britain and the US to link it officially to terrorist groups. Its disapproval to the US administration is being communicated through the many diplomatic and official channels at its disposal. In case of its reaction to David Cameron's accusation, the Pakistanis are protesting pro-actively and angrily. It has cancelled a very important visit by an intelligence team to London. After actively considering cancelling an official visit to London, President Zardari eventually decided perhaps to take the opportunity to communicate first hand with the British Prime Minister about his country's indignation.

The latest WikiLeaks and the British Prime Minister's comments have come for Pakistan at a very inappropriate time. It is facing India in Afghanistan where the Indians are gaining upper hand with the Karzai administration. In recent times, India has opened four regional consulates in Afghanistan and has given Afghanistan US $ 662 million as aid, with a promise of more and even an offer to send troops. It has found favour with the Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tagiks who are behind the Karzai administration although the President himself is a Pastun. The Pakistanis were hoping to balance and perhaps gain the upper hand in Afghanistan by its contacts with the Talibans. It will now be under intense scrutiny to keep its distance from the Talibans, allowing the Indians a better negotiation of Afghan affairs. It should convince Pakistan that in international politics, there are no permanent friends but only permanent interests. US's interest at the moment is to come out of Afghanistan by blaming it on someone else, perhaps Pakistan; whereas Britain's interest is to benefit from India's new-found status as a world economic power for which Pakistan-bashing may not be a bad strategy.

The author is a former Ambassador to Japan and a Director of Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies.

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