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Is Pakistan marginalised?

Is Pakistan marginalised?

Author: C. Raja Mohan
Publication: The Hindu
Date: November 17, 2001

New Delhi, Nov. 16. Has Pakistan been marginalised in the current war against international terrorism? The dramatic advances made by the forces of Northern Alliance into Kabul are no doubt a setback to Islamabad. But India should resist seeing the war in Afghanistan solely through the distorting prism of Pakistan.

The rapid retreat of the Taliban and the gains of the Northern Alliance do not necessarily imply an irreversible decline in Pakistan's fortunes. What they do suggest is that the role of Pakistan in the U.S. war plans has begun to transform in unpredictable ways.

The change of American attitude towards Northern Alliance has indeed compelled Pakistan to come to terms with one of the central ideas in this American war against international terrorism - the emphasis on "floating coalitions."

Fairly quickly after September 11, the U.S. Defence Secretary, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, outlined the principle that the weight of the different partners in the international coalition against terrorism would rise and fall according to circumstances on the ground.

Mr. Rumsfeld declared: "This war will not be waged by a grand alliance united for the single purpose of defeating an axis of hostile powers. Instead, it will involve floating coalitions of countries which may change and evolve."

The American decision not to oppose the entry of Northern Alliance troops into Kabul reflected the U.S. assessment that the war was moving into a different phase, which did not require extra deference to Pakistani sensitivities.

Last Saturday in New York, the U.S. President, Mr. George Bush, concurred with the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, that no single faction should be allowed to control Kabul in the interim. But by Monday night, the U.S. was winking at the Northern Alliance decision to enter Kabul.

As the Alliance gained momentum over the weekend, Washington considered it prudent to let them in. It has produced the much- needed psychological blow against the Taliban, and accelerated the unfolding of contradictions within southern Afghanistan until now the stronghold of the militia.

In the first phase of the war, Pakistan has been absolutely crucial for the U.S.. In closing the sanctuary that the Taliban enjoyed in Pakistan, and in providing physical military access to Afghanistan and gaining ground intelligence, Islamabad had a pivotal role.

It is small wonder then that the U.S. forced Gen. Musharraf to make a 180-degree turn on its Afghanistan policy. It offered some carrots to the General for his support, but there never was any question of letting Pakistan either define the American long-term agenda or its tactical moves on the battlefield.

As the U.S. finds space in Afghanistan itself through the victory of the Northern Alliance, Washington has far more options and its dependence on Pakistan has begun to reduce. In shaping the future outcomes in Afghanistan, the U.S. will have no interest in giving undue importance to Pakistan's goals in Kabul. But geography, if nothing else, makes Pakistan always relevant in Afghanistan. In the immediate context, Pakistan will remain important as a potential spoiler that could delay the defeat of the Taliban or create new problems in Afghanistan through direct or covert intervention. In future, if the Al-Qaeda and other associates of Osama bin Laden move into Pakistan, the U.S. would continue to need Gen. Musharraf's support in tracking them down. Further down the road, the U.S. will need to cleanse Pakistan itself of the sources of international terrorism.

Just as Pakistan figures out the meaning of the concept of a "floating coalition," India too needs to digest it. When Gen. Musharraf joined the international coalition against terrorism in the second week after September 11 and regained the affections of the international community, India seemed surprised.

New Delhi's approach since then to the war against international terrorism, too has been coloured by the sense of relative gains accruing to Pakistan. India needs a measured assessment of the weight of Pakistan in the international coalition that will help avoid extreme reactions - either euphoria at the difficulties of Pakistan or a depression at its apparent gains.

If India works consistently with the international coalition and focuses on ways to return Afghanistan to a future that emphasises political moderation and economic modernisation through cooperation among different factions within that war-torn nation, the Pakistan problem is likely to take care of itself.
 


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