On April 1, 2009, a pilotless plane (Drone) of the USA's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) attacked with a missile the house of Hakimullah Mehsud in the Khadezai area of the Orakzai Agency in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Twelve persons were killed -- six of them followers of Hakimullah, who is the head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Orakzai Agency, which has no common border with Afghanistan, two women and four other unidentified persons. Hakimullah himself, who was apparently one of the targets, escaped unhurt and warned of a retaliatory strike by the Taliban in Islamabad.
The retaliation through a suicide bomber came within three days. Late on the evening of April 4,2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of the barracks of a company of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which is deployed in Islamabad on VIP security duties. At least eight members of the FC were killed by the explosion. The FC consists almost entirely of Pashtuns recruited in the NWFP, the FATA and the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan. The FC has been in the forefront of the operations against the TTP in the Pashtun belt and one of the proposals initiated by the US Government provides for funding for upgrading the anti-terrorism capabilities of the FC.
The rapidity with which the TTP planned and carried out its threatened act of retaliation speaks volumes of the number of suicide bombers at its disposal and their fierce motivation. It also speaks disturbingly of their willingness to die when called upon to strike by Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP. The billions of dollars, which the US has already spent in the so-called war on terrorism, have not dented this motivation. It is doubtful whether the additional billions of dollars, which President Barack Obama proposes to spend for giving assistance to Pakistan, will make any dent either. What one saw in Islamabad on April 4 was not an act of desperation. It was an act of defiance
Pakistan is in the process of being gobbled by a Frankenstein's Monster of its own creation. To save Pakistan from being gobbled, it requires a leader of tremendous moral courage, who is prepared to admit the Himalayan folly of past Pakistani political and military leaders in creating this monster in the hope of using it to serve the Pakistani agenda against India and in Afghanistan and has the courage to act against it and rid Pakistan of the effects of this folly. Such a leader Pakistan has not produced since its independence in 1947 and it is unlikely to produce one in the near and mid-term future.
Can Pakistan be saved despite itself from the jaws of this monster? That is the question that President Barack Obama and his advisers should pose to themselves and seek an answer. The recent statements and comments of Obama himself and of his advisers and the Congressional testimonies of his officials as well as of non-governmental US experts do not give cause for hope that the Obama administration will be able to find a coherent strategy to put an end to terrorism emanating from the Af-Pak region. Conventional and naive beliefs continue to come in the way of the formulation of such a strategy.
Such beliefs are responsible for the disturbing tendency of Obama's advisers--governmental as well as non-governmental-- to rationalise Pakistan's sins of commission and omission rather than confront them head-on and have them eradicated by using the clout which the US still enjoys in Pakistan. These conventional and naive beliefs hold that somehow if Pakistan is assured of peace on the Indo-Pakistan border and the dialogue process between India and Pakistan is resumed, the Pakistani army will concentrate better on its fight against terrorism and that this will be of benefit to the entire international communuity, including India.
The fallacy of this argument would be evident from the fact that between January 2004, when Pervez Musharraf and Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Indian Prime Minister, initiated the dialogue process, and November 26-29,2008, when this was discontinued after the terrorist attack in Mumbai by the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Neo Taliban staged its spectacular come-back in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan, Pakistani-trained suicide bombers carried out their attacks in London in July,2005, an attempt by another group of suspects of Pakistani origin to blow up a number of US-bound flights was foiled by the British police, a group of Pakistan-trained terrorists carried out simultaneous explosions on suburban trains in Mumbai killing over 180 innocent civilians in July,2006, a cell of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was unearthed by the Spanish Police in Barcelona, there was an Inter-Services Intelligence sponsored explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July,2008, suicide terrorism in Pakistan shot up and the ISI and the Pakistan Army avoided acting against the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. Plans for the Mumbai terrorist strike from November 26 to 29,2008, were also drawn up by the LET during this period and the training camps for the perpetrators were organised in Pakistani territory. The Joint Counter-Terrorism mechanism which Musharraf and Dr.Manmohan Singh agreed to set up in September 2006 proved to be a cosmetic exercise due to Pakistan's unwillingness to act against the anti-India terrorist infrastructure.
The significant lessening of tension on the Indo-Pakistan border during this period facilitated by the cease-fire across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the increase in people-to-people contacts between the two countries did not lead to any change in Pakistan's policy of nursing terrorist groups in its territory and using them against India and Afghanistan. Equally fallacious is the argument touted by the governmental and non-Governmental advisers of Obama that a reduction of Indian presence and activities in Afghanistan would give Pakistan a greater sense of security and encourage it to act more vigorously against terrorism emanating from its territory.
Indian presence and activities in Afghanistan ceased after the fall of the Najibullah Government in April,1992. Between April 1992 and September 1996, when different Afghan Mujahideen groups were in power in Kabul and between September 1996 and October 2001, when the ISI-sponsored Taliban was in power in Kabul, there was no Indian activity in Afghanistan. There was no reason for Pakistan to feel insecure during this period. And yet, the ISI kept meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, raised, trained and armed the Taliban in 1994, helped it to capture power in Kabul in September,1996, allowed Osama bin Laden to shift from the Sudan to Afghanistan in July,1996, and maintained close contacts with Al Qaeda in its sanctuaries in the Jalalabad-Kandahar region. Between April 1992 and September 2001 was the time when there was maximum Pakistani interference in Afghanistan, which became a virtual Pakistani colony. That was also the time when all the jihadi terrorist groups of the world gravitated to the Af-Pak region, which became the Mecca of jihadi terrorist groups. To say that Pakistan's reluctance to act against terrorist groups in its territory is due to its feelings of insecurity vis-à-vis India shows a total lack of understanding of Pakistan.
Everytime the US makes an attempt to rationalise Pakistan's sins of commission and omission under the pretext of its feelings of insecurity vis-à-vis India, it strengthens the belief of the Pakistani leadership--political as well as military-- that so far as India is concerned it can do anything and get away with it. Many of the anti-US and anti-West terrorist groups of today such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) started as anti-India terrorists trained and armed by the ISI yesterday.
Unless and until the governmental and non-governmental advisers of Obama rid their minds and policy-making of wrong ideas and pre-conceived notions about Pakistan and its military-intelligence establishment, their so-called new strategy is not going to succeed. The US through its Drone strikes may succeed in eliminating individual jihadi terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Baitullah Mehsud, but the terrorist infrastructure set up by them in the tribal belt with the complicity of the ISI and the Pakistani Army will continue to pose threats to peace and security in the world.
How to destroy those sanctuaries-- with the co-operation of Pakistan, if forthcoming, or without its co-operation, if necessary? That should be the starting point of any new strategy. It is evident that no adviser of Obama is thinking on these lines. The entire strategy as it has come out is based on the pathetic assumption that somehow Pakistan can be coaxed into acting against the terrorists despite the bitter experience to the contrary since 9/11. Without an effective coercive element, the strategy is unlikely to succeed.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.