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Two faced Pakistan exposes itself in the US

Publication: Firstpost.com
Date: September 23, 2012
URL: http://www.firstpost.com/blogs/two-faced-pakistan-exposes-itself-in-the-us-465034.html

The two faces of Pakistan were on stark display last week, one with a good make over showing signs of a somewhat healthy diet and the other darkened with twisted logic spouting old falsehoods.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar went through Washington trying to convince audiences that her government was sincere about peace in Afghanistan and ready to cooperate with the Americans. The only price was “respect” not strategic depth. She was public and up front.

Retd Gen Ehsan ul-Haq, former chief of the ISI and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, on the other hand, meandered around Washington, quietly raising old ghosts and undermining faith that the military mindset had changed either towards India or the US. He hinted that it was too late to draw the Taliban into meaningful talks.

The civilians vs. the military-ISI wrestling match in Washington was clearly a ploy to win the referee’s sympathy before the national elections.

But the problem is that Pakistan’s two faces often morph into one another, raising doubts about its seriousness of charting a different course. As Khar was projecting a progressive and changing Pakistan in Washington, mobs were torching cinema halls in Karachi and Peshawar in rage against an anti-Islam film produced in the US. The protesters were enabled by a public holiday granted by her government, specifically to appease the mullahs.

Khar’s pleas to shed “misperceptions” about Pakistan seemed surreal as a fellow minister offered a bounty for the death of the producer of the video.

But I give her marks for trying to make her case against overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Khar declared loudly that it is “not ambition but anxiety” that drives her government’s approach towards Afghanistan. She then went on to claim that the ISI only maintains “contact” with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network just as the CIA does. It does not translate into “control.” Again, evidence to the contrary – Taliban leaders not being allowed to leave Pakistan for meetings – didn’t seem to come in the way of a good speech.

She then made a slip. She called the Haqqani Network a “veritable arm of the United States” — a slip that she laughed was “not Freudian.” Those few words contained the long history of the CIA –ISI patrimony of the various jihadi groups and their murky past. Her aim was to pay the Americans back for Admiral Mike Mullen’s statement that the Haqqani Network was “a veritable arm of the ISI”. And she did, collecting her Rs. 200 as she tried to game the audience of heavy weights at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Except that no one in Washington is buying the old wares anymore. Despite former secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s attempt to protect her ward, Khar had to answer a lot of tough questions in the little time left after the two were through talking. However she either ducked or ignored them, and stayed on message.

Gen Eshan ul-Haq’s mission was rather more crude. Speaking at the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center, Haq summoned the ghosts and djinns used by the military and even civilian governments in the past, but which no longer frighten Washington. He proved that the anti-India mindset within the ISI and the army is alive and well. The general didn’t come here as a loose cannon. He was well prepared and was giving a specific message.

Haq opened grandly with India’s “unrelenting hegemonic ambitions” in the region, and went on to stress how Pakistan was “unfairly maligned” and blamed for terrorism. He claimed that India was the only country comfortable about a continued US presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, because it fits into New Delhi’s regional agenda. All other neighbours would see the US as “destabilizing”, he said.

He reminisced about the good times when the US provided fighter jets and anti-tank missiles to Pakistan, but no more. Only ‘counter terrorism’ help was coming these days. Since the Pakistan military wasn’t getting conventional weapons to face India, it was building nuclear weapons.

He then claimed Pakistan had no ties with the Taliban and went on to blame the civilian government for creating the Taliban. It went all downhill from there, and many in the audience simply stopped listening. Some tables emptied entirely, as soon as he finished his speech. “I thought I was among friends,” he said plaintively when faced with honest, direct questions.

In the end even the moderator, Retd. Gen. Charles Boyd, a four star general of the US Air Force, had had enough. He said Pakistan and the US didn’t have the same view on most things.

US officials are struggling to shape the relationship towards a positive trajectory but so far there is no clear indication on the ground that the establishment mindset is changing. If the military still thinks of the murderous Haqqanis as “true fighters,” what room is there for optimism?
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