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Analysis: Why US is losing patience with Pakistan

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
August 09, 2008 01:42 IST
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Even as the Pakistan government readies itself to impeach President Pervez Musharraf, the Bush administration apparently is losing its patience with the Pakistan People's Party-led government. It is nostalgically harking back to the days it dealt directly with Musharraf and not with a rag-tag coalition.

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What has peeved the administration most is the civilian government's lack of control of its border areas and failed peace deals with extremist elements. These failed efforts by Islamabad have led to exponential growth of these jihadis. The mounting evidence of the collusion of Pakistani intelligence with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, in launching attacks against American forces in Afghanistan, is worrying the Bush administration.

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Last month, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's visit to the United States and his meeting with President Bush, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials was virtually overshadowed by the reports in the New York Times that the Central Intelligence Agency had confronted Pakistan with new evidence about the ties between the ISI and jihadi groups. Even the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul was being attributed to elements within the ISI.

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Consequently, according to sources, the Pentagon and the CIA were now circumventing the civilian government and developing their own strategy and intelligence, with senior officials in the Pakistan army and longtime contacts with Pakistan's intelligence.

They were trying to step up the war on terror against the resurgent Al Qaeda and Taliban forces, and wean out elements in the ISI that have taken on a deliberate anti-American posture.

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But a senior intelligence analyst working on South Asia for decades told that this most recent strategy of circumventing the civilian administration and working with the military establishment, as it did during Musharraf's tenure, was 'terribly flawed' and showed a 'lack of a strategic policy review' of Pakistan.
"I don't believe there is any strategic direction here," the analyst said.

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He argued that if the US loses patience with the civilian government and refuses to give massive doses of economic aid as proposed by Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar, "then you can give up hope of helping to sustain a democracy in Pakistan."
According to this source, "The PPP represents the only coherent political party in Pakistan and if they fail or they are dumped, then you can give up hopes in terms of reviving a civilian government."

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"The PPP is the only one that has strength in more than one province and it has an intellectual leadership that the other parties don't have. And there's no way the Army would accept (former Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif back as Prime Minister. They dumped him once and they are not going to allow him again."
But the analyst acknowledged, "There is a concerted ISI assault on the whole US relationship and it's very powerful. So the ISI and the Army feels that this government can be bullied around. But I don't believe they want to assume power themselves. I just don't see that."

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"They need a weak but pliable leader to stand up and get berated by the Americans and that Gilani did perfectly, and they are not going to see him dumped in favour of a guy like Nawaz Sharif. In fact, the most popular coup in Pakistan was against Nawaz Sharif."
The analyst argued that there was a failure to understand that "the ISI and the Army cannot be separated—and there is no such thing as a rogue ISI. That's just wishful thinking on their part."

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"The Army and the ISI have very strong views about the chief threat to Pakistan and it is not from the jihadis—it is from India—and the only person who has picked up on this is (Democratic President nominee Senator Barack) Obama."
The analyst, who is part of the intelligence and research bureau in the administration and a bureaucrat with decades of experience, bemoans the fact that the disjointed Pakistan policy is sometimes driven from the White House National Security Council and sometimes from a coterie of Rice's advisers.

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"Obama said at one point that if we want to work with Pakistan and if we think that Pakistan is important, we have to understand Pakistan's fears and concerns and that we may not agree with them.  I believe he was implying India at that point."
"I have always maintained that the key to stable politics in Pakistan is India," he said, and disputing the contention by the likes of military strategists like Ayesha Siddiqui contended that "the Pakistan army's goal is not wealth and money and perks—their goal is power and to defend Pakistan and they see India as their chief threat."

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Thus, the analyst asserted,  "Until you get the Pakistanis reoriented and the army reoriented, we are just going to be spinning our wheels, and the Pentagon or anyone else would be pretty naïve to try to develop a relationship with the army sans the ISI because they are in many ways, the one and the same."
In echoing the sentiments of this analyst in many ways, and alluding to the paranoia among the Pakistani army and the ISI, Lisa Curtis, an erstwhile South Asia analyst at the CIA and former senior Congressional staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "The US accusations of official Pakistan links to the Indian embassy bombing has raised temperatures even higher, fueling concern within Pakistan's security establishment that the US is colluding with Kabul and New Delhi to pressure Pakistan."

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However, Curtis, now a senior research fellow for South Asia at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, "These Pakistani suspicions reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of US priorities in the region."

She argued that the US wanted to "promote a stable democracy in Afghanistan and deny the Taliban and Al Qaeda a safe haven from which to launch deadly international attacks."

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She said that it is imperative that Islamabad, "Accept that regarding terrorism, a convergence of US interests with those of Kabul and New Delhi does not translate into a wider conspiracy to undermine core Pakistani national security interests."
Former longtime diplomat and one of the most experienced South Asia hands, Teresita Schaffer, who now heads the South Asia Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told that the civilian government, four months into its tenure, was certainly 'in serious trouble'.

                                     Rice admits elements in Pak working with Al Qaeda                                                       

"The biggest problem is its inability to deal effectively either with the issues that threaten the coalition or with the major governance issues that Pakistan confronts," she observed.
Schaffer said, "The government has devoted most of its attention to the 'coalition' issues—the restoration of the federal judges and the proposal to restrict the powers of the president—but has been unable to agree on a specific way to move forward, and mistrust between the coalition partners, the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League- N has reached new heights."

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She said, "Because of its preoccupation with the coalition issues, the government has done practically nothing about the other major issues. It has tried to address the internal insurgency, but the negotiations it authorised seem to have had little effect."
"Controlling the border with Afghanistan is the top priority of the United States," she said, but argued that while "there have been some limited agreement on procedural issues, the fundamental problem remains unchanged."

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Schaffer said that even though Gilani had promised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during their meeting on the fringes of the SAARC summit in Colombo recently, that Pakistan would investigate the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul, "the benefits of that meeting are reduced by persistent reports that the ISI is acting outside of government control."
"And, this is reinforced by the awkward back-and-forth about which government office is in charge of supervising the ISI," she added.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC