As a new ISI chief takes in over in Pakistan, a 2008 paper written by him tells us that India’s growing ties with the United States has deepened insecurity in his country
By Vishwas Kumar
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s highly publicized US visit must have unnerved the Pakistan military establishment, especially since it led to a joint agreement with US Presi-dent Barack Obama on terrorism. Both the leaders committed “themselves to joint and concerted efforts to disrupt all financial and tactical support to Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Haqqani network and the D-company”.
This would have had a disquieting effect on the ISI (Inter Service Intelligence), which has, supposedly, been nurturing and financing these organizations to fight proxy wars with India and Afgha-nistan. But with a new ISI chief, Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, at the helm now, how will matters play out between India and Pakistan?
Akhtar, a professional soldier, has been credited with leading the battle against terrorists on the Afghan-Pakistan border. He is known as a no-nonsense, hard taskmaster, who has cracked down on criminal and terror networks in Karachi.
PREOCCUPIED WITH INDIA
However, it is his views on Pakistan’s relationship with the US and India that need careful understanding. This can be gleaned from a 2008 paper Akhtar wrote when he was a brigadier attending a one-year course at the US Army War College. The 6,313-word paper, titled “US-Pakistan trust deficit and the war on terror”, says that the growing US ties with India are the main cause of increasing trust deficit between Pakistan and the US. “A key factor in the current and future US-Pakistan relations is US interactions with India and how they are couched within regional and Indian-Pak-istani contexts,” he wrote.
In the context of the Indo-US nuclear deal, which was signed in 2008-09, he wrote: “Pakistan, however, is concerned about the recent US-Indian nuclear agreement, and also aspires for one itself, and is willing to accept all the associated safeguards and inspections that follow. How this will play out within the region and between the two nuclear-armed antagonists is still uncertain. What is certain is that US-Indian activity has a profound effect on the Pakistani populace and Pakistan’s perceived security, which can disrupt or derail an otherwise positive US-Pakistani relationship.”
It is a common knowledge that Pakistan stoutly opposed the deal and later, demanded that it too should get one like it. The US government, however, rejected this and pointed out that India had an excellent track-record when it came to nuclear safety standards and proliferation, whereas Pakistan’s chief atomic head, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had already confessed to selling nuclear secrets to several countries and even to terror organizations like the LeT.
Akhtar further advocated that US policy “towards Pakistan has to be integrated with broader regional policies, as the relationship between regional actors and the global role of South Asia undergoes rapid changes.” He feels the US is obliged to take care of Pakistan’s interests because it has been an old ally and several of the challenges like “radicalization” and “terrorism” faced by it are due to this tie-up.
He wrote that Pakistan-US ties were sha-ped during three distinct phases, starting with the Cold War era of the 1950s and 1960s, the Afghan jehad (in the 1980s) and the war on terrorism (post-2001).
And like all Pakistani leaders, Kashmir is a major preoccupation with Akhtar. He echoed Pakistan military’s rhetoric by stating that the armed forces were unable to fully commit to counter-terrorism activities due to the pre-occupation with India over the “disputed” Kashmir issue. He further said that if the US was to “intervene” in the bilateral dispute to resolve the Kashmir issue, the Pak-istan army could start a full-fledged war on “home-grown” terror groups, which now not only attack India and Afghanistan, but also the US and Western nations.”
“The resolution of the Kashmir issue and securing a lasting peace with India is vital to the stability of Pakistan and the region. This could free up significant Pakistani military forces for potential employment in other troubled areas for operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” he wrote. Akhtar also said that a stable and secure Pakistan was more likely to focus on its economic well-being and eventually, serve as an example of a successful and democratic Islamic country.
Akhtar also advocated peace during the Kargil conflict. “The on-going dispute between India and Pakistan has continued to be a source of both regional instability and international concern. On a positive note, the US strongly encourages an ongoing Pakistan-India peace initiative. Additionally, several recent confidence-building measures have eased tensions to a level that makes another war unlikely. The US’s proactive mediation has helped diffuse the Kargil incident.”
Akhtar was also critical of the Afghan government and NATO allies of the US, who accused the Pakistan army of allegedly helping terrorist groups in the Afghan-Pakistan border. This is significant, as he will now be dealing with such issues and the new Afghan government there. According to him, such an accusation is not healthy for US-Pakistan ties and causes trust deficit. “The constant barrage of accusations hurled against Pakistan by mainly Afghan leaders and certain coalition force participants that criticize Pakistani efforts to eliminate militant safe-havens and cross-border operations do little to improve relationships….Both the US and Pakistan need to better communicate and coordinate their respective strategies and avoid passing judgment on the efficacy of each. There also needs to be an increased recognition (and assigned culpability) for the many external influences undermining Pakistan operations within the Waziristan Agency, including those emanating from Afghanistan,” he opined. “From the Pakistani perspective, building credibility and legitimacy within the closed and insulated tribal regions requires patience and time.”
Incidentally, Akhtar belongs to the Frontier Force Regiment and was commissioned in September 1982. He was general officer commanding in South Waziristan from 2010 to 2012. His postings in Karachi and South Waziristan provide him a good background in counter-terrorism. Therefore, his differences with the US on conducting operations against terror groups among fiercely-independent tribal populations are significant. He says the US believes in “quick solutions” to the problem, while the Pakistan military thinks in terms of long-term strategy without disturbing the local social fabric.
“The Pakistani government understands the importance of building close ties with tribal chiefs for the long-term strategic success against the Al-Qaeda and Taliban radicals. Conversely, US interests focus more on short-term kinetic operations against the immediate threat….While some of these operations achieve immediate successes, they often times alienate the tribals and result in increased tribal support for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” he claimed, without explaining in the first place why these terror organizations were provided shelter.
He further said that US’s attempt to achieve a quick victory and withdraw rem-ains a contentious issue that can disrupt long-term US-Pakistan relationship. With Indo-US ties growing, Akhtar faces difficult challenges, even as US-Pakistan ties slip further. And with increasing border skirmishes with India, it is a moot question whether Pakistan is acting out on the insecurities voiced by the current ISI chief.