Frustrated by Pakistan's continuing support for terrorist groups, US policymakers are turning up the heat on Pakistan.
On the face of it, this frustration over Pakistan's duplicity closely resembles the typical hand-wringing Indian responses to repeated acts of Pakistan-backed terror. A security analyst in Washington, for instance, says that although the US administration "has thrown everything" at Pakistan – including billions of dollars in aid – the US only had "so little leverage."
But that same absence of leverage is leading the US to turn the screws on Pakistan even harder.
On Wednesday, US lawmakers sent Pakistan the bluntest message in the only language Pakistan understands: they voted to cut off economic and security aid unless Pakistan cracks down on the Haqqani network, the Taliban group which the US says is Pakistan's sword arm in fighting NATO operations in Afghanistan.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees foreign aid, did not specify any amount for economic aid to Pakistan for fiscal 2012 and left it to the Obama administration to decide how much it wanted to provide the troublesome ally.
"If the administration wants to provide zero, that'd be OK with us," said Republican Senator Mark Kirk, one of the more vocal critics of Pakistan on the panel.
It was the most recent sign of back-room arm-twisting under way to get Pakistan to stop using the Haqqani network, which operates from the Afghan-Pakistan border areas, as a "strategic asset" and wage "proxy war" on NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Just two days ago, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm Mike Mullen called on the Inter-Services Intelligence to stop using "proxies". Just last week, he drilled home the same message when he met Pakistan's Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani at a NATO conference.
That was only one of a flurry of meetings between the two sides – all of which had at its core the message that Pakistan would have to go after the Haqqani network. ISI chief Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha met CIA chief David Petraeus during a short-notice flying visit to Washington; again the talks revolved around the Haqqani network.
And when Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was in New York for the UN General Assembly summit – as a stand-in for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who opted out because he was miffed that he would not get a one-on-one photo-op meeting with US President Barack Obama – the Haqqani network again figured in her talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
A Pakistan Foreign Office statement described the Khar-Clinton talks as being characterised by "candour" – a diplomatic euphemism for sharp-edged. State Department officials said the Haqqani network was "the first and last thing" that was discussed in the meeting.
Panetta had warned last week that the US would "do everything we can" to defend US forces from the Pakisan-based Haqqani network's attacks in Afghanistan. As if on cue, the leader of the militant group said his men were no longer based in Pakistan, but felt they were safer on the Afghanistan side of the border.
The sharpened US focus on the Haqqani network is explained by the fact that it is Pakistan's most prized instrument for proxy war against US troops in Afghanistan and against India.
Positioning itself as the "fountainhead of jihad", the Haqqani network "has historically functioned as a nexus and key enabler for local, regional and global (jihadi) groups," note researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Al Qaeda's global jihad and elements of Kashmir's regional jihad, they claim, have been "shaped by the safe-haven, training, combat experience, propaganda support, resource mobilisation, and networking opportunities facilitated by the Haqqani network."
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US needs Pakistan a lot less
If the US is pushing harder today, it's also because its reliance on NATO supply routes through Pakistan have been reduced after a string of attacks on NATO trucks and facilities within Pakistan.
Today, almost half of the "non-lethal" equipment supplies into Afghanistan are brought in through the so-called Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The NDN is made up of a variety of channels that take a circuitous route from Europe across Central Asia, and into Afghanistan from the north – but critically avoiding Pakistan.
Particularly after the 2 May US commando raid on Abbottabad in which Osama bin Laden was killed, US distrust of Pakistan has only deepened. Attempts by Pakistan to play China against the US failed after China pointedly declined to step up its aid to its "all weather" friend and neighbour.
The diplomatic isolation of Pakistan was compounded when the leader of a Chinese region alleged that Uighur terrorists had received training in Pakistan.
Clamour for a coup
Yet, faced with an escalation in home-grown terrorist attacks, which the government has been unable to control, there is increasing clamour from within the ranks of the Pakistani army for a military takeover of the administration. Pakistani media reported that at a recent conference of army commanders, there were demands from officers for a coup in the interest of national security.
Businessmen in terror-ravaged Karachi are looking to Kayani to establish law and order, and a meeting on Wednesday with Kayani is being read as an unspoken entreaty to the Army to intervene to combat terror.
With pressure mounting both from the US and from within Pakistan civil society for the Army to step in, Pakistan appears fated to face some fireworks.
First Published On : Sep 22, 2011 15:55 IST