How not to fight international terrorism

A Cursed Partnership


U.S. and India are miles apart on counterterrorism


Brahma Chellaney

The Times of India, May 15, 2009


As the situation in Pakistan has worsened, U.S. intelligence officials have made a beeline to India in recent months, including the National Intelligence, CIA and FBI chiefs. But even as these visits suggest America is seeking a stronger counterterrorism partnership with India, U.S. policy moves have run counter to Indian interests. How far apart the two countries are in the fight against terror can be gauged from eight facets.


First, U.S. policy keeps up the pretence that the real terrorist threat springs from Al Qaeda, even though the published U.S. intelligence assessment admits Al Qaeda has been weakened to the extent that its remnants are holed up in mountain caves and thus are in no position to seriously endanger U.S. homeland security. While there may be no proof to back the Pakistani president’s intelligence-derived opinion that Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is dead, the fact is there is no trace of him for years now. It, however, politically suits U.S. policy to retain Al Qaeda as the monster plotter and international bugbear.


Second, Washington draws a specious distinction between Al Qaeda and the Taliban to treat the former as inveterate foes of America and the latter as made up of many “reconciliables”. Another deceptive distinction is to tie the Taliban with Islamist ideology, rather than directly with terrorism. President Barack Obama repeatedly has labelled the Taliban militia as obscurantist rather than terrorist — a tag he reserves exclusively for Al Qaida.


Third, U.S. policy has split the Taliban into the Afghan and Pakistani parts. The U.S. is going after the Pakistani Taliban, led by Baitullah Mehsud, while it encourages the Pakistani intelligence to continue to shelter the entire top Afghan Taliban leadership in Baluchistan province. Mullah Muhammad Omar and other members of the Taliban’s inner shura (council) have been ensconced for years in the Quetta area. Yet, U.S. drones have targeted militants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but not the Afghan Taliban leadership operating with impunity from Baluchistan. U.S. ground-commando raids also have spared the Taliban’s command-and-control network in Baluchistan.


While employing the Saudi, Afghan and Pakistani intelligence for back-channel negotiations with the Afghan Taliban shura over a political deal, the Obama administration is dramatizing the Pakistani Taliban threat at a time when it is pushing Congress to fast-track approval of record-level $10.5 billion aid to Pakistan without imposing any rigid condition.


Fourth, U.S. attempts to draw distinctions between good and bad terrorists extend even to the private Afghan armies. For example, America treats Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami as good terrorists and has offered a deal to Hekmatyar, even as U.S. forces target another Afghan private army led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son.


Fifth, Washington continues to pretend that terrorist safe havens exist only along Pakistan’s western frontier. To this day, no senior U.S. official has admitted that terrorist sanctuaries and training camps are present along Pakistan’s border with India. Farcically, Obama’s special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, has claimed terrorists operating out of Pakistan’s western belt are carrying out attacks like in Mumbai. The 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai last November came not from the tribal belt but from Pakistan’s heartland.


Sixth, U.S. policy refuses to deal with Islamabad’s infrastructure of terror against India. Washington has neither acknowledged Pakistan’s role in staging terrorist strikes in India nor sought to bring the Pakistan-based planners of the Mumbai attacks to justice. The detailed, inter-agency “Afpak” strategy paper makes not even a passing mention of Pakistan’s terror war against India. It pretends Pakistani terrorism emanates from non-state actors and if the state or some state component is involved, it is only in providing militant sanctuaries along the western front. Surely, this squinted portrayal is not due to ignorance.


India is being targeted by military-backed Punjabi terror groups, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, that are of little interest to U.S. policy. Instead, Washington intends to goad New Delhi post-election to reduce border troop deployments — a step that would help Pakistan to infiltrate more armed terrorists into India.


Seventh, the more brazen the Pakistani-scripted terror attacks in India have become, the more America has plied Islamabad with funds and weapons. At least $12.3 billion in U.S. aid was disbursed to Pakistan in the period from the December 2001 Parliament attack to the most-recent Mumbai strikes. Pakistan now is being made the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, permitting it to reap an ever-growing terrorist dividend. The fact that America has helped amass $23.6 billion in international aid for Pakistan in the past six months (not counting the Chinese assistance) shows it will not allow its long-established pawn to become a failed state. But when Pakistan is most vulnerable to external pressure, Washington refuses to exercise leverage to snap its ties to terror.


Eighth, the U.S. has exerted undue pressure on victim India. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has disclosed the reason why New Delhi did not take the mildest diplomatic action against Pakistan after Mumbai: “We worked very hard, as did the prior administration, to prevent India from reacting”. She indeed wants India to suffer more Mumbais silently, saying America has “a lot of work to do with the Indian government, to make sure they continue to exercise the kind of restraint they showed after Mumbai…”


Doing deals with militants and paying growing amounts of ransom money to Pakistan are no way to fight terror.


The writer is a strategic affairs analyst.


(c) The Times of India, 2009.

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