Rhetorical War: revealing the perilous cracks
September 30, 2011
Multiple internal and external challenges have been severely taxing both the people and the government of Pakistan. Although, the latter has been doing its best to resolve the daunting problems, the worsening security situation in Afghanistan and the deteriorating Pakistan-United States bilateral relations have been frustrating the government’s initiatives to cope with these issues.
The American fixation with Haqqani Network and Islamabad’s reluctance to launch a military operation in North Waziristan has increased mistrust and tension between the two sides. This increasing mistrust resulted in a perilous rhetorical war last week. It is obviously exposing the cracks between the partners in a protracted warfare against transnational terrorism. Realistic calculation reveals that this ongoing tussle would be in the advantage of Al Qaeda-led terrorist syndicate. Therefore, both sides should act rationally and chalk out a consensual strategy instead of negative messaging, to combat the menace of transnational terrorism and establish political stability in Afghanistan
Washington, after realizing its ground operations limitation and coalition forces’ failure to control Afghanistan despite having overwhelming sophisticated weaponry advantage, had announced its forces withdrawal plan in July 2011. To facilitate the withdrawal plan, it has started a reconciliation process with different Afghan factions, including Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan.
Theoretically, the declaration of withdrawal plan was a right step in the right direction to end the protracted asymmetrical warfare in Afghanistan. Ironically, the announcement of the withdrawal plan has negative outcome. Instead of lowering the intensity of war, it has boosted the insurgent groups’ resilience to fight. In addition, it activated the internal and external stakeholders to accomplish their selfish or petty objectives in Afghanistan. This unleashed a new cycle of violence in Afghanistan.
The withdrawal of a sole super power from Afghanistan definitely leaves a huge political vacuum, which would be exploited by the regional and domestic actors to their strategic designs. In such a situation, the competition of interests between the sovereign partners is natural. Therefore, the rewriting of the rules of the engagement between the United States and Pakistan is unavoidable, particularly regarding Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan situation became trickier and volatile with the continuity of Taliban and their likeminded groups firm resistance and confrontational approach. They augmented the intensity of war by systematically targeting the US, NATO, ISAF and Afghan forces within their controlled areas, including Kabul. This creates an impression that Washington may have failed to correctly assess the Afghanistan situation in 2010. It questioned President Obama’s (December 16, 2011) claim that the Al Qaeda and its allies were weakened in Afghanistan.
Taliban’s increasing strikes on the coalition forces have enraged Pentagon. Instead of objectively reviewing its counterinsurgency strategy and coalition forces’ mishandling of the asymmetrical warfare in Afghanistan, the American strategic elite have unleashed poisonous propaganda against Pakistan. On September 22, 2011, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen claimed the Haqqani militant network as a veritable arm of the ISI, and accused Pakistan of providing support for the group’s September 13, 2011 attack on the US embassy in Kabul. This blunt accusation exposed the cracks between Islamabad and Washington.
Since last week, Washington has categorically been demanding that Islamabad should do more to crush Haqqani network. On September 22, 2011, Defence Secretary Panetta said: “There has been a very clear message to them and to others that they must take steps to prevent this safe haven that the Haqqanis are using. We simply cannot allow these kinds of terrorists to be able to go into Afghanistan, attack our forces and then return to Pakistan for safe haven and not face any kind of pressure from the Pakistanis.” The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, was further blunt in his demands. He stated: “It is critical that the government of Pakistan breaks any links they have and take strong and immediate action against this network.” These demands united Pakistani political and military forces against the United States.
The military establishment of Pakistan reacted forcefully. It rejected all the Americans allegations and maintained that the Haqqanis had not been hiding in North Waziristan. The Haqqani network has sanctuaries in Nooristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan. On September 25, 2011, in the extraordinary meeting of the corps commanders, the Army high command rejected all the allegations leveled against ISI and expressed its concern over the negative statements emanating from the United States.
The political elite also rejected American allegations and expressed clearly its displeasure. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar drew the attention of the Americans towards the red lines and the rules of engagement between Pakistan and United States. She stressed that these arrangements should not be violated, and cautioned Washington by stating that “if many of your goals are not achieved, you do not make someone a scapegoat.” She also warned that any undesirable act of United States would be ‘risking losing an ally (Pakistan) in the war on terror’. This hardened rejoinder to Washington further widened the gulf of mistrust between Pakistan and United States.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, while strongly rejecting assertions of ISI complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war, stressed on a trilateral coordination on September 24, 2011. He stated that “there is a need for close policy coordination between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. We need to develop a clear and coherent strategy together. A clear roadmap so that all three i.e. Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US, are on the same page and work together for achieving the stated goal of reconciliation and peace.” Though, he was not ready to accept the allegations against ISI and Washington demands to launch military operation in North Waziristan, he believed in partnership with the United States for establishing lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Indeed, Prime Minister Gilani advocated the policy of coordination; he also realized the need for a national unity to deal with the Americans’ rage due to Islamabad’s reluctance to chase the Haqqani network in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. On September 25, 2011, he called for an all parties’ conference (APC) to build a consensus on Pakistan’s stance over US threats regarding Haqqani network. The opposition political parties responded positively. Consequently, the APC was scheduled on September 29, 2011.
Importantly, the Americans have adopted a selective approach. It targeted directly ISI and indirectly the Armed Forces of Pakistan. They tried to create a wedge between the democratically elected civilian government and the armed forces of Pakistan. The Pakistanis, however, responded collectively. It confirmed that both civilian and military elites are on the same page to deal with the foreign and strategic puzzles.
To conclude, the American fixation with Haqqani Network and Islamabad’s reluctance to launch a military operation in North Waziristan has increased mistrust and tension between the two sides. This increasing mistrust resulted in a perilous rhetorical war last week. It is obviously exposing the cracks between the partners in a protracted warfare against transnational terrorism. Realistic calculation reveals that this ongoing tussle would be in the advantage of Al Qaeda-led terrorist syndicate. Therefore, both sides should act rationally and chalk out a consensual strategy instead of negative messaging, to combat the menace of transnational terrorism and establish political stability in Afghanistan.