US sows discord in South Asia
Two templates in the regional politics are seri- ously debilitating the United States cam- paign to bring Pakistan down on its knees in
the Afghan endgame.
One is that New Delhi has distanced itself from
the US campaign and pursues an independent
policy toward Islamabad.
The Pakistan-Iran bonhomie works as the second factor, frustrating US policies to isolate
Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan would have been pretty much isolated had there been an acute rivalry
with Iran over the Afghan endgame. The current
level of cordiality in the relationship enables
Islamabad to focus on the rift with the US and
even draw encouragement from Tehran.
The recent statement by Indian External Affairs
Minister S M Krishna on the US-Pakistan rift
underscored that India does not see eye to eye
with the US approach. It was carefully timed to
signal to Washington (and Islamabad) that Delhi
strongly disfavored any form of US military action
A string of evidence would suggest that the
Pakistani leadership appreciates the Indian
stance. The army headquarters in Rawalpindi
acted swiftly October 23 to return to India within
hours its helicopter with three senior military officers on board, which strayed into Pakistani territory in bad weather in the highly sensitive Siachen
The official spokesman in Delhi went on record
conveying India’s appreciation of the Pakistani
gesture. Such conciliatory gestures are rare (for
both sides) in the chronicle of Pakistan-India relationship. Looking ahead, the prime ministers of India and
Pakistan are likely to meet on the sidelines of the South
Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in
Male, the Maldives, November 10-11.
Washington would have been quick to insist that it acted
as ‘facilitator’ in fostering the improving climate in India-Pakistan relations. But the US is instead watching with a
degree of discomfort that its complicated South Asian symphony is throwing up ‘jarring’ notes.
Calibrating the India-Pakistan tensions traditionally constituted a key element of the US’ regional diplomacy.
Washington has ‘retaliated’ to Krishna’s statement by
clamping down a travel ‘advisory,’ cautioning American
nationals from visiting India because of heightened terrorist threats. Delhi, in turn, ticked off Washington saying it
considered the US move ‘disproportionate’ — a cute way of
saying it is baloney.
Jundullah in retreat
What is happening in the Pakistan-Iran relationship is
even more galling for the US. There has been a spate of
high-level visits between Islamabad and Tehran, and the
two capitals have reached mutual understanding on a range
of security interests.
Last week, Tehran acknowledged that there has not been
a single attack by the terrorist group Jundullah from the
Pakistani side of the border in the Baluchistan region during the past 10-month period.
Tehran has accused the US of masterminding Jundullah
terrorists to stage covert operations to destabilize Iran.
However, during the period since the detention of Central
Intelligence Agency operative Raymond Davis in Lahore in
January, Islamabad clamped down on hundreds of US intelligence operatives functioning on Pakistani soil. This has
seriously cramped the US’ capacity to dispatch Jundullah
terrorists into Iran.
Tehran is satisfied that the Pakistani security establishment is finally acting purposively to smash up the US-backed Jundullah network. It reciprocates Pakistan’s goodwill by trying to harmonize its Afghan policy and it scrupu-
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, front left, with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, front right, in Tehran, September 12. The Pakistan-Iran bonhomie is frustrating US policies to isolate Pakistan
lously avoided pointing fingers at Pakistan for the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was closely allied with
Essentially, Iran appreciates that Pakistan’s ‘strategic defiance’ of the US will be in the interest of regional stability, the
bottom line being that Tehran is keen to force the American
troops to leave the region.
Tehran succeeded in the pursuit of a similar objective in
Iraq by prevailing upon the Shi’ite political elites in
Baghdad not to accede to the desperate pleas by the US to
allow US troops to continue even after the stipulated deadline of withdrawal in December under the status of forces
agreement. But Afghanistan is a different kettle of fish and
a common strategy with Pakistan will help.
Pakistan keeps an ambivalent stance on the issue of long-term US military presence in Afghanistan, but it can count
on the Taliban to robustly oppose the US plans apropos military bases. Unsurprisingly, Tehran purses a multi-pronged
approach toward the Taliban.
In sum, the overall regional scenario is becoming rather
unfavorable to the US. The easing of tensions in Pakistan’s
relations with India and Iran undermines the US strategy to
get embedded in the region.
The US’s travel ‘advisory’ was intended to raise hackles in
India about the imminent possibility of Pakistan-supported
terrorist activities. Again, US-sponsored disinformation is
reappearing that China and Pakistan are conspiring against
India by setting Chinese military
bases in the Northern Areas of
Pakistan, which form part of Kashmir.