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US-Pakistan: Are the allies headed for war?

Sep 27, 2011 11:41 AM IST India India

Hello and welcome to this week's edition of World View with me, Suhasini Haidar. Tonight the question, are those war clouds that are gathering over US-Pakistan ties hitting a new low with relation between the two countries that have been going down hill all year now?

Just when it looks like relation between US and Pakistan can't get any worse, they do. Deep divisions over Pakistan's support to the Haqqani network aren't new. But the latest rifts come on the back of a series of flashpoints this year alone. In February Washington practically called off talks on diplomatic ties over the arrest of CIA operative Raymond Davis. In the next few months growing anger in Pakistan over continued drone attacks led to mob attacks on NATO convoys carrying supplies at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the biggest blow to their relations came when the American Naval Seals found and killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. U.S. officials angry that Pakistan had betrayed them by harbouring their worst enemy, Pakistan protesting the American ground assault on its territory. Clearly the easy bonhomie of the past decade between the two militaries with Pakistan as US's best non-NATO ally and the recipient of more than 20 billion dollars in aid since 9/11 is all gone. But with American politicians and strategists both now calling for tough action against Pakistan if it doesn't stop supporting groups that target US troops in Afghanistan including sanctions, canceling aids, even strikes on Pakistan. The question: How much worse could ties between them get now and are the allies headed for war?

Suhasini Haidar: And with me to discuss that is C Raja Mohan from the Centre of Policy and Research also there in Rawalpindi joining us General Mahmoud Durani, he is former National Security Advisor for Pakistan, also the former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States there in Washington, thanks so much for joining us. Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation. And Raja I would like to come to you first, are those remarks coming from Admiral Malyn, from Hillary Clinton talking about a foreign terrorist organization, how seriously should we really see what the US is saying.

C Raja Mohan (Senior Fellow CPR): I think the importance is not of what he said, because what he said the Americans knew all along, the big question is why he said it and whether United States I prepared for the consequences of what he said that the ISI is a veritable arm, sorry the Haqqani network is a veritable arm of the ISI. Question is where does the US take it from here? Clearly there is defiance in the United States, in Pakistan and its not clear whether the US can actually munch its words now, deal with its implications in the coming weeks because it seems quite clearly that some divisions in Washington whether they should punish Pakistan or walk back and find a compromise…..

Suhasini Haidar: And try and go back to diplomacy. General Durani there in Rawalpindi as you watch what Admiral Merlin in particular said, are you alarmed?

Gen Mahmud Durrani (former Pak envoy to US): I am alarmed, I am worried because I think this is an important relationship Pakistan and the US and we need to keep this going. We need the Americans, they need us and I have been saying this since when I was the ambassador in Washington that the problem is that we don't talk to each other very openly. We misperceive each other's intentions, so unless we talk frankly, openly, I was expecting it in 2006 and 7 that this relationship is not going to proceed unless we have a better understanding of each other and get over these misperceptions.

Suhasini Haidar: All right, General Durrani some would say perhaps there is too much frankness in the relationship right now. Lisa Curtis you have had some very strong words in the last few days talking about the option for the US. Let's just list out some of your prescriptions of what the US can do if it feels that Pakistan has not done enough on the Haqqani network. The first really to suspend military would be the first, followed by suspending civilian aid; of course Pakistan has been the recipient of about 20 billion dollars and more in the last ten years. The next really diplomatic relations suspend ties, recall the US ambassador rot Pakistan and finally may be to cut off supply routes that go through Pakistan. We saw those NATO convoys as well. Lisa I would like to ask you, what is your worst case scenario? Do you see the US actually taking stronger action may be air strikes on Pakistan?

Lisa Curtis (The Heritage Foundation): Well, I don't foresee any large scale attacks on Pakistan, nothing like that. What I see happening is you know a freezing of the assistance, probably not even a complete cut off, probably a freeze on the assistance with provided you know that Pakistan must take certain steps and if it takes certain aids would be instituted. But I do see the possibility for increased drone strikes against the Haqqani network to this point the US has been conducting drone strikes against Al- Qaeda very aggressively but one can see that the US would get more aggressive in North Waziristan may be in parts of the core agency where some of the Haqqani network has fled. One can definitely see that happening.

Suhasini Haidar: All right, General Durrani the question that comes back. In India we are asking about the Lashkar-e-Toiba, in America they are asking why is it so important for Pakistan to continue its links with the Haqqani network right now.

General Durrani: Listen, I don't want to go into history and I don't want to say what we did and what we didn't do but the point is that we were involved, we were involved witht these groups, the Haqqani group and so was the US. You know there was a time for these things and there was a place for these things. It is not there anymore, Pakistan is, does not believe. I am 100% sure in using terrorism as an instrument, it doesn't work anymore. Yes, at certain point in time we called it the Jihad or whatever. It worked or maybe it didn't work but we were involved but today I am sure 100% that the ISI is not involved.

Suhasini Haidar: Lisa, your response, General Durrani there saying well it is the US that in fact started the support to the Haqqani group, it's a case they have made with Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda as well.

Lisa Curtis: This is a red herring that Pakistan always raises when they are put on the spot. This was twenty years ago, yes Pakistan and the US worked together to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan but there has been a lot of water under the bridge, not to mention the 9/11 attacks which bought the US into Afghanistan. The US had made clear that it needed Pakistan to stop supporting these groups, to support the US and it's been Pakistan's choice to maintain the links and support to these groups, so it's simply does not hold any water with US officials with Pakistan tries to argue that you know, you started the problem because Pakistan has now had a decade to cut these links, to change its course and we simply have not seen the government do all that it can.

Suhasini Haidar: All right, um... Raja Mohan the question really there we have heard Lisa and General Durrani's more or less repeating as what we have heard as the US and Pakistan discourse over decades in the sense. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani addressing that all party conference began by saying we are at a cross roads very much like 1979. In fact after 1989 the US was pretty much at the same place. Promising sanctions against Pakistan saying they must cut down support on terror groups. Is there truth really that despite all the bravado, despite everything we hear from the US, they don't have many options.

Raja Mohan: I think the three potential ways in which the current tension can be resolved. One, I think the US takes its words to the logical extent that it sees the threat from the Haqqani network and sees the relationship between the Haqqani network and the Pakistan army then they will have to escalate along the lines that Lisa talked about. The second option is to recognizing how important Pakistan is for them that is every supply today goes to the American armed forces trough Pakistani territory, they still need Pakistani co-operation so to walk back a little bit try and finesse this and get some solution so that they can continue what they were doing for the last ten years. The third option is inside Pakistan, inside Pakistan there is always been a mounting external pressure, this always led to some internal change. So the interesting thing to watch would be the current situation lead to a change within Pakistan. Shall we say a civilian coup, if that's a dream it's not going to happen or with changes in the military itself.

Suhasini Haidar: Or is there an upside for India as well? Do we see US taking the threat from the Lashkar more seriously now?

Raja Mohan: I don't think we should dream on anything and I think we should keep on open eyes, a clear head and not to expect, uh express any preferences at this point because we are not in control of the events. The main players are the United States and Pakistan and it is their internal dynamics. I think we should watch very carefully and not jump with elation or of depression at this point.

Suhasini Haidar: All right, Lisa Curtis if I would ask you that because in India many of the things the US has been saying in the past about the Haqqani group the fact that ISI operatives were on the telephone with Haqqani operatives when they carried out the attack in the US embassy in Kabul for example. These are things that India has documented about the Lashkar-e-Toiba but we don't see Washington pushing in quite the same way against the Lashkar-e-Toiba, of course the case of Hafiz Sayeed, well isn't that just double standard.

Lisa Curtis: The US has in the past seen the Lashkar-e-Toiba more through a India-Pakistan regional focus and therefore has not been willing to sort of priorities actually against the LeT as much as it has focused on Al-Qaeda. Really it has not focused much on Pakistan cracking down on the Taliban or the Haqqani network to this point which simply makes no sense. I think it has been a weakness of US policy and we are now seeing that things have simply gone out of hand and it's unfortunate that things have gone to this point because one can't look back and say, well, had the US been more consistent, demanded a more comprehensive policy against militancy against Pakistan using terrorism as a strategist policy. Had the US known about that several years ago maybe we wouldn't be in the position we are today.

Suhasini Haidar: But you are at that position, General Durrani do we see a change, you said you do speak to those right at the top of the military establishment. Do you see Pakistan now beginning to act against the Haqqani group, against the Lashkar?

General Durrani: I think that Pakistan today, I beg to disagree with you Suhasini, they are doing the best that they can within their capacity and capability. Are you, you think we are on a hari-kari or hara-kiri mission, do we want to kill ourselves? They are enemies; we want to get rid of them. And we will do what we can, of course this is limited, there is limitation of our capacity, that is there. And we have to take them on not simultaneously but one after the other or three after or after three another one, something like that.

Suhasini Haidar: General Durrani hara-kiri may not certainly in a sense of denial. You yourself as National Security Advisor were removed for saying that Ajmal Kasab may be a Pakistani national. Do you think that situation has changed inside Pakistan's military establishment that sense of denial?

General Durrani: No, I agree that was a... again I don't want to go and dig up history but we were slow on acknowledging that, it took us time to find out if Kasab was in fact Pakistani. I don't think this is totally correct that Pakistan is putting things under the carpet and doesn't want to face reality. I think we are one country which is facing reality more than anybody else. You know I don't want to go recounting all the causalities we have, the bomb blasts we have. You know the Americans had one bomb blast in Afghanistan, we have one every second day. And of a worse intensity, so you know people accusing Pakistan of not doing enough and being in bed with the Taliban or terrorist groups is grossly unfair and I think incorrect.

Suhasini Haidar: And unfortunately all too familiar, we are going to take a short break and when we return much more of this discussion. We are going to talk about what India needs to do and what India needs to know in the weeks ahead, stay with us.

Suhasini Haidar: Welcome back, we are with that topic on Worldview here, is the US and Pakistan headed for war. With me still here is Raja Mohan also there in Rawalpindi General Mahmud Durrani and in Washington we have Lisa Curtis. And I would like to come to you straight General Durrani in the sense everyone in this region always asks about zero sum game. That zero sum game involves US, India, Pakistan and China. We already heard from Prime Minister Gilani that US's closeness to India wasw perhaps the reason for the rift with Pakistan today how do you see that playing out?

General Durrani: Well, that's Mr. Gilani's point of view that's not my point of view. I think, we will try and bridge this gap and I am hopeful that within the next few days, within the next one or two weeks we will climb down from here and we will resume our relationship. You know all whether long term friend, and its got nothing to do with the present situation as far as I am concerned. And this should not be held out as a threat by any Pakistani or anybody that if you did play ball we will go into their lap. I think that's not quite mature as far as I am concerned. China as a good friend, period, we want America to be a good friend, period; we want to work with the US to fight terrorism, period.

Suhasini Haidar: All right, Lisa do you want to respond to that, is the US worried that really this rift is going to come to China's game?

Lisa Curtis: I don't think China wants sole responsibility for Pakistan at this particular moment. And I think the Pakistanis are overplaying their hand, I think that its partly for their domestic audience when they say that China is our saviour, China's going to be there, we don't need the US. I think they tell the Pakistani people that but I don't think it's the reality, I think that China is concerned about some of the same things the US is concerned about Pakistan and that is the growing level of militancy, fundamentalism and safety Pakistan's nuclear weapons. So I think Pakistan is overplaying its hand when it thinks it can rely on China. The US you know has a lot of friends still in the world and a lot of influence and I think Pakistan would be in a lot of trouble if it finds itself internationally isolated from the Western regimes.

Suhasini Haidar: We also have a lot of viewer questions coming in, so I would like to put them all together to you, Vishal writing in to say, Is the US really serious this time? In a sense we also have Ravinder Vij writing in to us question in the war of US and Pakistan is India really going to be the sufferer. The fact that the US may in fact go back to diplomacy with Pakistan and the fact that Pakistan may feel that it doesn't need to work as hard on the terror that confronts India today.

Raja Mohan: In any case Pakistan never really gave us satisfaction in the Mumbai case so I don't think there are any expectations in Delhi that you can get satisfaction. For us see the long term question is can the calculations of the Pakistan army be changed. Until now the US has sought to work with on a bilateral fashion saying that look the co-operation and aid, you know this whole helping Pakistan economy would lead to results but quite clearly that has not worked, so I think the tension between the US and Pakistan is real. When American boys are being killed off from a country that has taken 20 billion dollars is going to resonate politically in the United States so while the administration might want to finesse, it also has to deal with its domestic constituencies. For us I think it's not a question of, for us we need to see where this relationship goes, for nearly sixty years India has always been concerned about the US-Pak security relationship. There have been crisis before but this is a more serious crisis but I don't think we should be rushing in and making judgments because as General Durrani said they might still compromise but as Lisa said that look there is serious possibility for escalation. So at this point I think we need to step back, look at it objectively rather than trying to put ourselves in the middle of this because there are too many players, there are too many contradictions that are being played out. For us on the longer term the US is not going to solve our problem unless there is fundamental change in Pakistan that is going to be the real thing we need to work for that at this point looks like a dream.

Suhasini Haidar: All right, and on that note I would like to leave it there, Raja Mohan thanks so much for joining us also on Washington Lisa Curtis and General Mahmud Durrani in Rawalpindi. Of course the debate continues on our website ibnlive.com/worldview. You can also write in, post your blog there. Vote on the issue of the week and take a look this week, the vote more than 75% saying that this is the lowest that relations between the US and Pakistan had reached. The problem perhaps for the United States is not so much the new challenges it faces in the Af-Pak region but the ones that it has failed to deal with in the past repeatedly and of course the saying, "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it" is true for the US as it is for Pakistan. From the team at World View, thanks for watching.