Pakistan’s ambitions run far beyond Afghanistan

By Rajiv Dogra, IANS,

Throughout its short history, Pakistan has bewildered its critics by lurching from crisis to crisis and yet somehow not only surviving but seeming to emerge militarily charged after every trial.

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While Pakistan’s army chiefs and its military dictators have invariably exercised unbridled control over the country, current army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has gone a step beyond his predecessors. Like them, he has absolute power within the country, but he adds to that with an awesome aura over the Americans too. They address their most important appeals to him rather than the civilian government.

Former US president George W. Bush, in Mumbai recently, said American patience with Pakistan is wearing thin. But so far as Pakistan is concerned, that does not deter its current ambitions.

Pakistan’s army, because nothing else is crucial to strategy making there, is determined not to miss its big chance. It is convinced that its moment in Afghanistan has arrived, that its success there is directly proportional to American withdrawal. They may not be wrong in this assessment.

After the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan there was a time when the average Pakistani truly believed that it was responsible for the defeat and subsequent disintegration of a super power.

As and when America withdraws, largely or completely, from Afghanistan, the Pakistani people might take it as the final proof that they were directly, or indirectly, responsible for the defeat of two superpowers and their eventual decline.

That would spur Pakistan on to further glory. In that case, Afghanistan may turn out to be just the first step in Pakistan’s larger and more ambitious agenda. Its Taliban surrogates had set their eyes on domination of Central Asia when they had first installed their regime in Kabul, and may even have succeeded then but for 9/11.

The Central Asian regimes and their security systems have gathered strength since then, but the message of radical Islam is potent among the masses.

Pakistan’s interest in Central Asia is not just religion driven, but the domination of raw material and energy resources figures prominently in its calculations.

China has already established a wide network there that ensures large amounts of oil and gas supply to it. Once Pakistan is established there too, the region may well transform into their joint strategic backyard.

But why should anyone grudge Pakistan its desire to control fully or partially the energy and raw material resources in its neighbourhood. After all it will only be putting into practice the tactics that it has learnt from the US.

That indeed is the irony of the relationship. The US may set the agenda, but Pakistan invariably manoeuvres the results. Despite an outward show of compliance, Pakistan is the decisive factor in the relationship and has invariably determined the direction in which America should turn.

In fact, in every collaboration it has extracted the maximum; financially, materially and militarily.

During their joint operations in the 1980s against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Pakistan ensured that the US flooded it with military equipment of all types and helped in building up a highly motivated cadre which the world would later come to know as Taliban.

Since then Pakistan has been in denial: of producing cadres of terror as in a hatchery, of funding them, of selecting targets for them to attack, of nuclear proliferation and of running drugs internationally.

Iraq was bombed mercilessly for far less and Libya’s Muammar Gadaffi consigned to brutal death for reasons that remain opaque. Now Iran is on watch for its supposed nuclear status.

But Pakistan manages consistently to escape censure. It has crossed and re-crossed the nuclear rubicon at will, it has broken almost every norm of diplomatic behaviour and it stonewalls all queries about the misdoings of its ISI. Yet it faces no opprobrium.

However, now Pakistan’s current attention is focussed fully on Afghanistan and all terror activity is concentrated there with the single objective of making life difficult for ISAF.

Though Bush has warned about American patience wearing thin, the harsh reality is that Pakistan doesn’t care. It knows that with the presidential elections in the US drawing near, Barack Obama can’t escalate the war in Afghanistan or simply be able to justify an increase in body bags to America.

More crucially, Pakistan is convinced that America won’t be able to take it on militarily. The Pakistan army has been so richly equipped and trained by the US that its soldiers may prove to be an equal match for any military force.

Whether the world likes it or not, Pakistani governorship of Afghanistan is more or less a given. The point to ponder is what thereafter? Will a Pakistani-Chinese axis lead to further military adventures? Alas, in its current state of financial helplessness the western world may have neither the resources nor the will to confront the Pakistani-Chinese juggernaut.

Pakistan would be on a confrontational high consequently, crushing dissent internally and menacing all outside. Bush’s assertion that “Pakistan is a dangerous place” may seem like an understatement then.

(05.12.2011 – Rajiv Dogra is a former ambassador and the last Indian consul general in Karachi. He can be reached at [email protected])