For over a month now the attention of television viewers across the world has been riveted on General Tommy Franks unleashing his 'Cobra' attack helicopters and Abrams tanks across Iraq. They have then watched American negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad trying to persuade reluctant and indeed rebellious Iraqis to accept an American installed interim administration.
Few people have noted that in the midst of their strenuous exertions in Iraq, both Franks and Khalilzad paid sudden and unscheduled visits to Afghanistan -- a country where the United States is finding itself embroiled in a low intensity conflict, after a quick military victory.
It is obvious that the Americans had not bargained for the sort of hostile public reaction their presence is evoking in Iraq. They are finding both in Iraq and Afghanistan that consolidating peace is far more difficult than winning wars against weak adversaries.
Franks' unscheduled visit to Afghanistan during the height of the Central Command's operations in Iraq signals growing concern in the Pentagon at the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban has joined hands with the favourite son of the ISI and the Jamat-e-Islami -- the rabidly fundamentalist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- to pose a growing security challenge to American forces and the Hamid Karzai government in the Pashtun-dominated areas of Afghanistan.
The Americans know the Taliban and Hekmatyar are challenging them and the Karzai dispensation with ISI support. Anti-Karzai forces that operate out of Baluchistan or the tribal areas of the NWFP are now challenging American patrols and posts across Afghanistan. The Americans are itching for 'hot pursuit' of Taliban and Al Qaeda supporters across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
On April 16 a joint American-Afghan patrol entered the village of Ghulam Khan in Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency. They were forced back after an exchange of fire with Pakistani forces of the Tochi scouts. Barely two days later, an American attack helicopter operating from its base in Jacobabad was shot at when flying over Baluchistan. Three American soldiers were injured.
There has been a long-standing dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan over Pakistani occupation of the Ghulam Khan village. Pakistan has suggested that a joint commission could study this territorial dispute. It should be noted that no Afghan government has accepted the Durand Line as the legal frontier with Pakistan. Unlike India that seems prepared to accept unlimited damage from Pakistani-sponsored low intensity conflict and cross-border terrorism, the Americans are not going to show the same forbearance or patience. Khalilzad paid a brief visit to Islamabad and met Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri before proceeding to Afghanistan.
Referring to the increasing incursions and anti-government activities across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border Khalilzad said: 'This not helpful, this is not good.' He then issued a thinly veiled warning to Pakistan saying: 'Success of the new Afghanistan's stability is in American interests and any effort that undermines that stability, that threatens it, is a challenge to America's interests.'
Khalilzad acknowledged that the anti-Karzai forces had stepped up their activities after commencement of the conflict in Iraq on the presumption that American attention was no longer focused on developments in Afghanistan. But it would be wishful thinking to presume that the Americans are going to ditch General Musharraf or apply meaningful pressure on him to cease support for terrorism directed against India.
The links that the ISI has with the Taliban and Hekmatyar in Afghanistan and fundamentalist parties of the MMA and jihadi groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir are mutually reinforcing. After having helped parties of the MMA like the Jamat-e-Islami and the Jamat Ulema-e-Islam to perform strongly in recent parliamentary and provincial assembly elections, the ISI is not going to stop them from cross border activity in Afghanistan or J&K.
But should these parties continue to embarrass him in Parliament, Musharraf may well move to dissolve Parliament -- an action that the United States would welcome, despite protestations of its love for democracy. But any such action by Musharraf will only lead to increasing public support for right wing religious and fundamentalist forces in Pakistan. Such a turn of events, could create problems within the army high command, where Musharraf has recently transferred corps commanders whose personal loyalty was suspect. Even the four-star army vice-chief, General Mohammad Yousuf Khan who is ostensibly Musharraf's successor as army chief, is now viewed with suspicion.
New Delhi's response to these developments has oscillated between Yashwant Sinha's strident advocacy of Pakistan being a fit case for pre-emptive strikes, to Prime Minister Vajpayee's statements in Srinagar that problems can only be resolved through dialogue and not by war or violence.
Given the fact that Sinha is an astute politician and capable administrator, it is difficult to believe that his advocacy of pre-emption was without support and encouragement from senior colleagues. It is also astonishing that the country's foreign minister should find his statements contradicted and, in effect, disowned first by the defence minister and then the prime minister.
There is therefore a widespread belief that after a phase of empty rhetoric, New Delhi has yet again yielded to American 'reasoning.' But New Delhi cannot ignore the reality that Musharraf is now under siege domestically from political opponents shouting the slogans: 'No LFO (Legal Framework Order), no; Go Musharraf go.'
At the same time Musharraf realises his army colleagues are increasingly feeling that by clinging on to power he is discrediting the army in the eyes of the people. He also knows unlike India that has shown in recent years that it is incapable of matching rhetoric with action, American demands to stop destabilising the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan cannot be ignored.
When Brajesh Misra and later Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani visit Washington and Richard Armitage comes to India, we will be subjected to endless American sermons about why we should not press Musharraf too much in getting him to fulfill promises made last year that he would unconditionally and irrevocably end cross-border terrorism.
The redoubtable Colin Powell no longer describes Pakistan's support for its jihadis as support for 'terrorism' but as 'infiltration.' He no longer insists that 'infiltration' has to end. He wants us to be satisfied if it has been 'reduced.' One hopes that our representatives will make it clear that India will be satisfied by nothing short of Musharraf fulfilling the assurances he gave last year. Half measures to bailout the beleaguered Musharraf will simply not do.
Given his problems domestically and tensions with the Americans in Afghanistan, Musharraf is not likely to alienate his jihadi friends by ending support for terrorism against India. Prime Minister Vajpayee has ruled out the use of force and appears to have placed his faith in dialogue. What do we propose to do if we are confronted with further terrorist outrages like those in Kaluchak and Nadimarg?
Are we proposing to weep again on American shoulders, while issuing empty threats that no one takes seriously any longer? The 'healing touch' in dealing with problems of the long-suffering people of Jammu and Kashmir is imperative. Will it work with a hard-boiled military dictator who regards conciliatory gestures by us as manifestations of weakness?
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