THE foreign policy of Barack Obama’s presidency has been mired in Asia. Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, to say the least have been on his platter. While Pakistan is draining America of its dollars in shadow boxing with terrorism, Afghanistan is becoming a lingering headache, threatening to become another Vietnam. China is the latest scarecrow for the Americans.
A very recent book analyses Obama’s handling of the wars, how the US is fighting the Islamic extremists along with an unwilling partner – Pakistan, who is described as a “dishonest partner of the US in the Afghanistan war.” Pulitzer prize winning author and senior journalist Bob Woodward in his latest book, Obama’s wars: The Inside Story, quotes Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence (DNI) in 2008 as saying “They’re living a lie.” “In exchange for reimbursements of about $2 billion a year from the US, Pakistan’s powerful military and its spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), helped the US while giving clandestine aid, weapons and money to the Afghan Taliban. They had an “office of hedging your bets,” McConnell said.
Woodward’s book gives an insight into the transition of power in the US, when Obama took reigns with hopes of ending the Iraqi and Afghan wars soon and recalling the American troops. But the reality was far different from the general perception. America’s biggest ally in the Afghan war is Pakistan, which is giving only less than half hearted support. But the geographic location of Pakistan is important in the war for America.
In almost all the meetings that the Americans – both politicians and defence personnel – had with Pakistanis, at various levels, India was mentioned as the chief concern of our western neighbour. So much so that Woodward comments: “It was hard, perhaps impossible, for a Pakistani general to put his binoculars down, turn his head over his shoulder, and look west to Afghanistan.” Speaking of General Kayani, he says though he graduated from the US Command and General Staff College, “his training, exercises, maps, intelligence focus and the bulk of Pakistani troops were directed towards India.” So much for our peace efforts with Pakistan!
Though the book is not at all India centric, it is mentioned only in the context of Pakistan, it gives us an insight into how the Indo-US relation works under the shadow of Pakistan. The America-Pakistan ties are a classic example of tail wagging the head, with the world’s superpower almost kow-towing to the idiosyncrasies and shenanigans of the men at the helm in Pakistan.
Obama during his campaign had spoken about wrapping up the wars in West Asia and getting the soldiers back. But in office, he had little option but to order more troops to set right the situation in Afghanistan, which was coming under increasing threat from the Taliban, holed up in Pakistan, which was giving all support to the terrorists to cross borders for attacks. Pakistan is using the Taliban to stop a Pashtun government from coming to power in Afghanistan, which it says is pro-India.
At a meeting with president Zardari in May 2009, Obama said, “We do not begrudge you being concerned about India. I know that many Pakistanis are. But we do not want to be part of arming you against India, so let me be very clear about that.” Obama felt that the best way for a quick solution to the Afghan situation was a conflict-free Indo-Pak relation. It is this idea that he expressed in his address to joint session of Parliament. But friendship is never one-way, as he must have realised by now.
In as recent as November 2010, in a letter to the US president, Zardari claimed, without directly mentioning India by name, that “Here I must draw your attention to a proxy war against Pakistan now in full swing in which our neighbouring intelligence agencies are using Afghan soil to perpetrate violence in Pakistan.”
The book recounts an interesting conversation between Pakistani ambassador to the US Haqqani and National Security Advisor Gen J Jones. Haqqani tells Jones “We are a nation of rug merchants” and adds that they pitch for 10,000 so that the deal would settle for 1,200. “You guys have no idea of the proportionality, you know? … So our side now, we’ve asked for the moon, but we’ll get something… we’ll get our helicopters, which the army needs to go into North Waziristan.” When Jones asked how to get real support from Pakistan for the counterterrorism campaign, “A man who is trying to woo a woman,” Haqqani said, was the best analogy. “We all know what he wants from her. Right?” The man wants one thing; “But she has other ideas. She wants to be taken to the theatre. She wants that nice new bottle of perfume. If you get down on one knee and give the ring, that’s the big prize. And boy, you know, it works”. “The ring is, by the way, recognition of Pakistan’s nuclear programme as legitimate.”
Woodward, an associate editor of The Washington Post, gives details of the circumstance on the appointment of Hillary Clinton and takes a few digs at her, quoting her ‘familiar’ line ‘fake it until you make it.’
The US is also worried about the corruption in Pakistan, how the money pumped in by the US for civilian purposes was never reaching the targets. The Americans are even exploring the possibility of reaching the aid directly to the targets, in a bid to improve the image of America. As India and America are perceived as getting closer, the anti-American sentiments are growing in Pakistan.
The book is all about contemporary political intrigue. What appears on the surface is far different from what is deep within, Pakistan being illustrative. Now we know from where the Indian Prime Minister’s line on ‘Pakistan also being a victim of terrorism’ originated. The foreign policy of India under Manmohan Singh is clearly being choreographed elsewhere, to suit the needs of the superpower. The book is relevant for the political watchers and strategists, as it gives a clue on America’s many wars in Asia. Being a journalist, Woodward had more than routine access to documents and the dramatis personae, as is clear from the narration and reconstruction of events.
(Simon & Schuster UK, Ist floor, 222 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8HB)