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Fawning over Pak military, US undermines Delhi talks
WASHINGTON, Feb 17 (Agencies)
Published on 17 Feb. 2010 11:35 PM IST
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India may be wasting its time and energy engaging Pakistan’s civilian set-up in the upcoming talks on February 25, going by the way Washington is primarily dealing with the country’s military and intelligence leadership in Rawalpindi and leaving Islamabad’s democratically-elected government in the lurch over sensitive parleys on terrorism. US recognition of Pakistan’s military as the real power behind the civilian façade has been evident for some time, with American interlocutors, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spending more time with the army brass in Rawalpindi than with the civilian leadership in Islamabad. But it has become glaringly evident this past week when Islamabad was left largely clueless about a CIA-ISI move to engage the Taliban in a move dressed up as the ‘’capture’’ of Taliban No.2, Mullah Birather, in a joint operation. While Washington was agog with the story of Birather’s ‘’capture’’ and its consequences for Taliban and the US war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s civilian leadership was caught flatfooted by the developments. The country’s interior minister Rehman Malik revealed the government’s ignorance when he insisted there had been no such operation, even as analysts in Washington were taking stock of the development. ‘’If the New York Times gives information, it is not a divine truth, it can be wrong. We have joint intelligence sharing and no joint investigation, nor joint raids,’’ Malik told reporters about the story first reported by the US paper. ‘’We are a sovereign state and hence will not allow anybody to come and do any operation. And we will not allow that. So this (report) is propaganda,’’ he added. But US officials, while declining to go into details of the alleged ‘’capture’’ citing ‘’sensitive intelligence matters,’’ appeared pleased with the breakthrough they hope will lead to a convenient exit from Afghanistan. Birather’s ‘’capture’’ was credited by some to Pakistan’s army chief Pervez Ashraf Kiyani’s desire to ensure a key role of his country in the any attempt to mediate with the Taliban. While details of how and why Birather was ‘’captured’’ in Karachi are still murky, regional experts are already suggesting that the story is just a cover for Pakistan facilitating US contacts with the Taliban or interposing itself in US-Taliban engagement. Pakistani intelligence agencies have known his whereabouts for a long time, according to Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid. Others are suggesting that the military-ISI combine has ‘’sacrificed’’ Birather to the Americans to win Washington’s trust and secure for itself a role in Afghanistan. ‘’I think their realization of what was happening within their own country and the threat that it posed also played a big part in changing their actions,’’ White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said cryptically, indicating the Pakistanis had brought in Birather to reflect a change in policy. Still others believe US agencies had cornered Birather in Karachi and the joint operation story is just a cover-up to save Pakistan from embarrassment, while some are of the view that the US and/or Pakistan have engaged Birather for a long time and the capture story was drummed up after news of the secret parlays leaked. No matter which explanation is correct, it shows Pakistan’s civilian dispensation in poor light. In fact, locked in a confrontation with the country’s judiciary, the civilian quartet of President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and interior minister Malik have ceded foreign policy to the country’s pugnacious military. This raises the question as to how seriously India should take the upcoming foreign secretary level talks on February 25, an engagement that is credited to Washington’s persuasive hand. While the Islamabad quartet has largely acted as stooges for Rawalpindi brass, which cracks the whip whenever the four step out of line, US recognition of the military’s primacy appears to have undermined not just Pakistan’s civilian government, but also this engagement with New Delhi. During her last visit to the country, Hillary Clinton spent three hours with General Kayani, for more than any of her engagements with the civilian leadership. The attention did not go unnoticed. Other US interlocutors have also invariably called on Kiyani. Meanwhile, Birather’s presence in Karachi has also focused attention on the gradual dispersal of extremist elements from the region’s badlands, now under the scrutiny of drones and other US ‘’eyes in the sky,’’ to Pakistan’s urban centers, home to the India-centric jihadi crowd. Last week, the much-wanted extremist Hakimullah Mehsud was reported to have died in Multan in Southern Punjab, where he was reportedly brought for treatment for injuries suffered in a drone attack. ISI elements, possibly renegades, are thought to facilitate such movements into urban centers as US pressure on the border regions make it unsafe for terrorists. Pakistan’s civilian government appears to have little control over all this and Washington keeping Islamabad in the dark over its dealing with the Army-ISI isn’t helping.

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