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Link Aid To ISI Reforms, Democracy In Pakistan

27 March 2009 No Comment

By Roberts Denwar

As the Obama administration is fine tuning its strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, indications are that Washington is tilting towards the usual prescription of more aid. Non-military assistance is expected to be tripled.

Like the British Government’s new counter-terrorism strategy unveiled on March 24, the American approach seeks to enlist the cooperation of ISI and other Pak government agencies like the army.  It glosses over the fact that cooperation from Pakistan is always demonstratively timed to coincide with high-level visits to London and Washington for more military and economic aid.

Like this week’s tip off to London that more than 20 Britons trained with radical militant groups inside tribal areas, have returned to UK.  The Sky News reports that Pakistan has told the Brown Government that the suspects, aged between 17 and 23, and that at least four of them had seen ‘action’ in Afghanistan.

Cooperation with Pakistan is a one-way street, according to Jeremy Page, the South Asia correspondent of The Times. In his view, the new British approach doesn’t address the core of the problem – the ISI sympathy for and nexus with terrorist groups and the lack of any State control in the tribal areas on the Afghan border.  Also, its ‘less helpful’ approach in tracking down Pakistanis involved in home –grown militant groups.

Yet, the British counter terrorism strategy depends ‘largely on the ISI, which helped to create Taliban and has long used militant groups as a proxy to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and offset Indian influence in Afghanistan’, Jeremy Page points out.

He has a point. President Musharraf had always managed to find an al-Qaeda element to be given as a `gift’ on the eve of his visits to the US or when senior American leaders visited Islamabad. His regime, nevertheless, allowed Rashid Rauf, a British Pakistani suspected of planning to blow up a Trans-Atlantic passenger flight (2006) to escape from police custody in December 2007.

A large numbers of British Pakistanis are travelling to their home country and many of then are returning radicalised. The number of such ‘returnees’ is put at about 4000. They account for three quarters of serious terrorist plots in Britain, according to security officials, who view with alarm the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM).  All these groups have expanded their influence in the Punjab province. LeT is blamed for the Mumbai attack; LeJ is suspected in attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on March 22 said an economically stable Pakistan would fight terrorism better.  There can be no dispute with him. Only an economically strong and democrat Pakistan can deal with terrorist menace. It needs generous international aid and assistance in accomplishing the mission. Such help should be linked to realistic goal posts and closely monitored. The practice of providing substantial economic and military aid and depending entirely on Pakistani agencies for results must be given a go-by. It did not work in the past, and there is no reason to believe that the practice would work in the future.

The West, particularly Washington, always looks out for short cuts. It has no patience for a long term play. What is more, it always finds it easy to deal with one individual in Pakistan, the dictator in uniform, to ‘deliver’ on the dotted line. Like Gen. Zia-ul-Haq in the 80s and Gen. Musharraf till recently.   Except for short flirts with democratic experiments, the Americans have never shown any interest or patience to build institutional mechanisms to strengthen democracy in Pakistan. They have frittered away many opportunities that came their way during and after the cold war.

Now the question is: Does US have a demonstrative influence over Pakistan? In my considered view it doesn’t have any. Neither in the past nor now after providing more than $11 billion in aid after 9/11.

Consider these facts.

US could not stop Gen. Zia’s programme of radicalization of the army, his military coup and subsequent execution of the then Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto, the 1978 nuclear explosions, Gen. Musharraf’s coup deposing Nawaz Sharif , and his rigged referendum and sacking of the chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.  The US was also unable to prevent the Army and the ISI from creating and supporting many home-grown terrorist outfits. America may think it is part of ‘A’ triumvirate that guides the destiny of Pakistan but an overwhelming majority of people of Pakistan have nothing but contempt for the US.

Surprisingly, successive American Presidents and their Secretaries of State were unwilling to take a reality check. So the White House and the State Department still tend to believe they have an influence over Pakistan.  But in reality, this influence is as deep as the American purse. And that influence is grudgingly granted as long as it suits the Pakistani military and political leaders.

President Obama’s talk of `exit’ policy will not do any good. It will only embolden the `jihadi’ groups which have proved to the world that they are long term players with abundance of patience and energy.  The US and its allies must match them in stamina. And the only way to demonstrate the resolve is to dangle aid as a carrot. Islamabad must be told that only targeted aid would be provided. Washington and its allies must supervise directly how the aid is spent.  Roping in the UN forces and agencies will be a good idea.

As reporters and experts covering Pakistan for years are saying Army and ISI are the core of the problem. Dependency on them would not help in rooting out the al-Qaeda or the innumerable jihadi outfits dotting the entire length and breadth of the country.

One area that the Bush administration had set out to address but could not pursue must be given a new look.  It is `reform’ of the ISI.  Benazir Bhutto too openly spoke of ISI reforms before her life was cut short by still an unknown hand.  Retired army and ISI generals have cleverly scuttled the plan through a media blitzkrieg projecting the ISI as the first line of defence against foreign attacks and arousing popular sentiment against downsizing the agency.

We have it on the authority of French diplomat and academic, Frederic Grare that that ending cooperation with ISI would not increase terrorist threat to the western countries.  In a Carnegie project policy paper, he argues, ‘the threat of terrorism will persist as long as the ISI continues nurturing a number of extremist groups operating within and beyond Pakistan’s borders’.

Grare points out that most of the countries involved in the region are now aware of the double-dealing of the ISI and are asking the Pakistan government to better control its intelligence apparatus. He argues that like Chile and Indonesia, Pakistan too should transform itself from dictatorships to a democracy. Pakistani government must strive to establish civilian control over army and intelligence agencies, the French expert advices.

The Grare principle is unlikely to work in Pakistan as long as international aid is not conditioned on progress in civilian control over the instruments of the State.  In the early days of his presidency, Asif Ali Zardari had tried to transfer the ISI to the control of the Interior Ministry. But his order was shot down by the Army chief.  Zardari issued the order while visiting the US, but Washington remained a mute spectator thus emboldening Gen. Kayani further.

As long as the US does not want to annoy the Pak Army and is unwilling to nurture the nascent democracy, it may rather work out a `exit’ policy to return home immediately.  If there is no American aid flowing to the Army, which has business and real estate interests cutting across the entire spectrum of Pak economy, the civilian authorities may try taking things into their own control since the army is unprepared to come upfront to face people’s wrath.

We, the Good Samaritans from the West, should remember one truism. Simple transfer of funds from our bank accounts to the Pakistani treasury will not remove poverty in the tribal areas and make prospective terrorist recruits to turn to the mainstream for livelihood. Certainly when the government has completely withdrawn from the area, NGOs are banished, and Taliban-brand of `Sharia’ (justice) is being implemented at the militants’ gun point.

There is reason to believe, according to me, that  majority of Pakistanis believe that the war against terrorism is their own war and they can be persuaded for larger involvement of international agencies under the UN aegis in fund utilisation and fund monitoring besides a coordinated campaign  to root out the jihadi forces. There are no short cuts; no easy exit policies.

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