Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the US Congress last month—in which he was upfront in defining India’s goals and concerns—should add to the bipartisan understanding of India in America and the convergence of Indo-US views on issues of global security. India has taken an open arm stance towards the US and it is for the American leadership now to measure up to India’s expectations. Modi had on his recent visit to Brussels expressed India’s resolve to lead the second ‘war on terror’ against ISIS. Therefore, one of the first things that the US policymakers have to do is correct the pro-Pakistan tilt they showed at the cost of India during the first war on terror run by the US-led world coalition against the al-Qaeda-Taliban combine for over a decade.
The Pak army unleashed cross-border terrorism against India in that period as it feared no admonishment from the US because of its dependence on the former in the combat against Islamic radicals. Even though Gen. Kayani—taking a lesson from the two unsuccessful attempts made by Taliban on the life of his predecessor, Gen. Musharraf—had virtually reduced the ‘war on terror’ to an outsourced project in which the Pak army would facilitate logistical management of US-ISAF troops for heavy financial recompense, the US policymakers took their time in taking cognisance of the dubious role the Pak army had started playing.
The Abbottabad operation in 2011 to eliminate Osama bin Laden and the killing of Afghan Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, earlier this year in Balochistan show that the US did not trust the Pak army beyond a point. The two operations were carried out without involving the Pak army.
The recent developments in Afghanistan are changing the matrix of geo-politics in this region. It appears that the US leadership has run out of patience with the tactics the Pak army was playing in Afghanistan. Modi’s address at the US Congress made a reference to India’s strategic interest in helping to build a democratic and peaceful Afghanistan. Recognition by the US of India’s role in that country would be a reality check to determine the strength of Indo-US entente on security issues.
It wasn’t too far ago that John Kerry, during his visit to Mumbai after 26/11, stoutly refuted the charge that the attack was carried out by LeT in collusion with the Pak army and ISI. David Coleman Headley’s disclosures prove that the US administration knew all about this collaboration. India may be prepared to take the mature view that the US was earlier responding to what was in the its national interest then, but this certainly puts the onus on the latter to prove that henceforth there would be complete Indo-US convergence on the global problem of faith-based militancy fostered by Pakistan and that no distinction would be made between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’.
It does appear that the Pak army is allowing its country to become the hub of Islamic militancy out of some warped notions of strategic advantage that this would give it in Afghanistan against India and other perceived opponents. In a puerile analysis, US strategists had earlier drawn a line between the revivalist stream of Islamic radicals of ISIS, al-Qaeda and Taliban with their built-in hatred of the West on one hand and the Pak army-ISI controlled and Pak-Saudi funded conglomerate of HuM and LeT on the other. They described the latter as Islamists to make them look moderate in comparison to the radicals—just because these pro-Pak outfits did not target the West.
The memory of the US’s Cold War strategy using the predecessors of latter outfits, such as Muslim Brotherhood and Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami, to bring down the pro-Left republican regimes of Nasser, Hafez al-Assad and Sukarno was still playing out. It was ironic that the US strategists described these forces as practitioners of political Islam to distinguish them from radical Islam—when the real concern should have been to not allow injection of religion into politics and violence into religion by any segment of the Muslim world.
Developments in the Pak-Afghan region amply demonstrate how Pakistan is in a position to act as a common operational link between the revivalists and Islamists, and use the spectrum of religion-based militancy for its perceived national and geo- political advantage. Pakistan had installed Taliban into power in Afghanistan in 1996 and had there been no 9/11, Pak rulers would have had no problem in giving full space to Islamic radicals in their country. The Pak army did not hesitate in giving its protective cover to Mansour, the successor of Mullah Omar as the Afghan Taliban chief.
India and the US should become aware of the possibility of ISI using the radical groups cultivated by it to attack Indian targets and American assets and conveniently blame it all on al-Qaeda-Taliban axis and even on ISIS. Outfits like JeM, HuJI and the Haqqani Network have one leg in the radical camp and Pakistan has used them against both India and the US. Indo-US relations must, therefore, be geared to build the world opinion against faith-based militancy and isolate Pakistan internationally.
The Author is Former director, Intelligence Bureau