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18 November 2011, Gateway House

Hope-to-despair-to-hope policy on Pakistan doesn’t work

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the Pakstani deep state role was highlighted. The U.S. has come to realise this reality too. Bilateral information sharing could prove to be vital to combat terrorism - both regionally and globally.

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The whole truth about the Pakistan’s deep state role in harbouring, supporting and periodically unleashing terrorists is now established. A steady torrent of statements, by senior U.S. officials on and off the record to journalists and to the U.S. Congress over the past year, has shredded the last of the pretence that maybe, somehow, the generals who run the increasingly dangerous show, are innocent of what goes on in the country they have turned into an antediluvian jungle. From their machaans in Rawalpindi, they want to control the fate of Afghanistan and the pace of peace making with India.

As India approaches the third anniversary of the horrific Mumbai attacks, during which ISI-linked Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people and injured many more, it is time to take a hard look at the options. It is a given that, in the medium term, the generals next door will continue to shelter ‘snakes’ in their backyard; a term for militants now made famous by Hillary Clinton. They show no signs of changing tack, only of waiting it out until the Americans leave Afghanistan. The Rawalpindi generals have managed to turn their loyal friends, the Pentagon generals, apologetic by repeatedly sticking it in their eyes. Attacks against U.S. troops have become steadily more brazen as trust between the allies has dissipated. The senior brass has leaked U.S. intelligence, helping the terrorists escape.

No amount of pressure or largesse seems to work on the deep state actors. Leaders of the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) are living and prospering in Pakistan, waiting for 2014 when U.S. troops will be gone and Afghanistan will be open ‘business.’ The Pakistan military-ISI combine will ensure the terrorist leaders don’t break ranks. No effective reconciliation process is likely to emerge in Afghanistan because of this dynamic despite Clinton’s energy and efforts.

Recent comments by General Pervez Musharraf, who wants to return and fight elections in Pakistan, are revealing. Last month he told a Washington audience that “Afghanistan always has been anti-Pakistan” because of its closeness to India and the former Soviet Union. “So we must not allow this to continue…One must not begrudge if Pakistan orders the ISI to take countermeasures to protect its own interests.” It can be safely assumed that he reflects the thinking of fellow generals. Afghans themselves are increasingly vocal about Pakistani interference as a destabilizing force. They no longer want to be treated as a province of Pakistan.

Now that Washington has come to the painful realization about the nature and intent of the Pakistani deep state, something that India has lived with for decades, it might be time to take a hard, practical look at how to work around the generals. Both the U.S. and India have a common interest in containing terrorists but they need to cooperate on a grander scale. They also must overcome the trust deficit. The new India-U.S. homeland security dialogue launched this summer can be the vehicle to bolster counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing. But it must deepen and widen to levels that are meaningful.

The United States must stop making a distinction between terrorists who act against it from those who operate against India. The divide is blurring and the sharing is increasing. But there is a sense that U.S. intelligence agencies still withhold information on terrorists operating in Kashmir, because they believe it would adversely impact relations with Pakistan and bolster the feeling that Washington is taking ‘sides’ on the Kashmir dispute. It is unclear if relations with Pakistan – or more precisely – with the Pakistani military could get any worse or improve for that matter by protecting certain terrorists.

Pakistani sensitivities should no longer dictate the level of intelligence sharing between the U.S. and India.  American officials made Indian interrogators wait nine months before allowing them access to David Headley – one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks who became a government witness. Headley’s testimony pointed directly to a Pakistani ISI officer and a naval officer who helped plan and execute the assault. Yet the U.S. administration made no effort to get Pakistan to produce the two men. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had dismissed the three Indian dossiers of evidence against Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba, and other terrorists as ‘literature.’

However, the FBI was granted unfettered access to evidence collected by Indian investigators and was allowed to interview more than 50 people, including Ajmal Kesab, the only Mumbai attacker to survive. The U.S. did provide technical assistance, which shed light on the links to Pakistan the money trail to Spain and the satellite phones used by terrorists. FBI agents also gave testimony in the Mumbai court, which is considered a milestone in bilateral cooperation.

But what’s needed is a clear-eyed view that terrorist groups based in Pakistan are linked and interdependent. It is only this year that the Washington establishment has begun to view LeT as a group that also operates against the U.S. not merely against India. Its game is larger and its footprint is increasingly found in Afghanistan. The attack on the Jewish centre in Mumbai was the most blatant assertion of LeT’s widening net. Its sympathizers and operatives have been arrested in the U.S., one as recently as this year. Jubair Ahmed, a Pakistani American was nabbed in September for spreading LeT propaganda on YouTube.

It could be argued that LeT’s ability to operate freely inside Pakistan ultimately helps al-Qaeda, the group Washington wants to decimate. So when Hafiz Saeed goes firing up crowds with hate and vitriol, he is not just aiming at India. He includes America. The U.S. government has the choice of either continuing to hope that the Pakistan military-ISI-jihadi complex will reform or take measures to force compliance.

Seema Sirohi is a Washington-based Journalist and Analyst.

This article is part of the series “26/11: Reflections”. You can find a compilation of all the articles that are part of the series here.

This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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