The comments were part of a wide-ranging briefing given to editors, anchors and columnists on Sunday. The timing of the briefing appeared to be a coincidence, having been scheduled before the WikiLeaks information became public. All comments were made strictly on the condition of anonymity being maintained.
Detailing frank exchanges between the uppermost echelons of the Pakistan military and the Obama administration, the senior military official listed a catalogue of complaints the ‘people of Pakistan’ have against the US.
These include: the US still has a ‘transactional’ relationship with Pakistan; the US is interested in perpetuating a state of ‘controlled chaos’ in Pakistan; and, perhaps most explosively given the WikiLeaks’ revelations, the “real aim of US strategy is to de-nuclearise Pakistan”.
The official also repeatedly stressed that the ‘frames of reference’ of the US and Pakistan with regard to regional security matters “can never be the same and this must be acknowledged”. Furthermore, the official claimed, the dichotomy between short-term US interests and long-term Pakistani security interests needs to be kept in mind at all times.
When asked about the outlook for relations between the US and Pakistan in the year ahead, the military commander gave a downbeat assessment: “I see difficulties and pitfalls. Things are so complex (in the region).”
On Afghanistan, the official suggested the Americans need to “clearly identify and state the end conditions in Afghanistan”. The commander also claimed the lack of clarity on the Americans’ part was because “either they aren’t willing to state them (the desired ‘end conditions’) or they don’t know themselves”.
Giving a personal assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, the senior official suggested what is needed in the neighbouring country is a “minimum agenda with broad public support”.
Elaborating on that minimum agenda, the official said there “are indicators that the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan can renounce Al Qaeda and ask it to leave Afghanistan”.
Stressing that in Afghanistan the “peace may never be complete, there may be no permanent stability and uncontested power may never establish itself”, the official suggested a minimalist, three-step sequential process towards a “peaceful and stable” Afghanistan.
First, violence in Afghanistan will need to be brought down, and for this “some concessions may have to be made”. Next, all parties would have to renounce Al Qaeda. And finally, some kind of consensus on a future Afghan constitution would have to be negotiated keeping in mind the “history, culture and geography” of the country.
The official rejected the possibility of Pakistan intensifying efforts to interdict militants crossing into Afghanistan: “If we have to look after the border as well as settled areas, the valleys (in the tribal areas), well, that’s mutually exclusive…. Helmand and Kandahar are hundreds of kilometres from the (Pak-Afghan) border. Kabul is far away from North Waziristan. If they (troops in Afghanistan) want to catch them, why don’t they?”
The senior army official had harsh comments for the Afghan government. Recounting the frequent Afghan accusations against this country — Pakistan is keeping the Taliban as ‘an option’; Pakistan is ‘shielding the Quetta Shura’; Pakistan is ‘harbouring and supporting the Haqqanis’, etc — the senior officer responded with a list of Pakistani grievances.
“Pakistan is deliberately being kept in the dark regarding peace efforts…. Pakistan has suffered because of Afghanistan the most…. Many Afghans in leadership role continue to hold malice against Pakistan,” the official claimed.
However, the official added “the bottom line is, destinies of Pakistan and Afghanistan are intertwined and must be seen as one…. An early end to conflict in Afghanistan is key to Pakistan.”
Inevitably, India featured in the comments on both Afghanistan and the US.
Regarding Afghan-India relations, the official said, “Pakistan has no right or desire to dictate Afghanistan’s relations with any country, including India. But Pakistan expects Afghanistan will be mindful of legitimate security concerns (of Pakistan).”
On the triangle of US-Pak-India relations, the commander had this to offer: “The people of Pakistan measure the strength of US-Pak relations on the scale of US-India partnership.”
The commander went on to argue that while Pakistan could not afford to be in a “state of perpetual conflict with India” and has to “strike a balance between defence and development”, “we cannot afford to ignore our basic defence needs.”In sum, the comments on Afghanistan, India and the US suggest the Pakistan Army’s ‘India-centric’ approach to strategic issues is still very much in place, with only minor adjustments made to accommodate the changed regional security environment in the 21st century.
In detailed comments on the military’s approach to North Waziristan Agency, the senior official said, “(The US) has an increased focus on North Waziristan for understandable reasons.”
But the official added there was serious domestic cause for concern, too: “Most terrorist attacks inside Pakistan originate from North Waziristan. So the question is not if but when and how to tackle it militarily.”
Nevertheless, citing three factors, the official downplayed the possibility of an imminent operation in NWA. First, the official said, South Waziristan needs to be resettled. Second, the country had to prepare for the ‘serious blowback’ of an operation in NWA, which would include terrorist attacks in the cities and a fresh wave of Internally Displaced Persons.
Third, the official stressed the need for the “creation of a political consensus”. Referring to a similar consensus developed in the run-up to Operation Rah-i-Rast in Swat, the official suggested politicians, the media and the Pakistani public would have to demonstrate their support for a military operation in NWA before the army would undertake one.
When told of Prime Minister Gilani’s comment that there is no need for a fresh consensus because the support for the operation in South Waziristan also extends to North Waziristan, the official responded sharply: “I will not do it unless there is a political consensus on North Waziristan.”
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