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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 1, December 27, 2014 - Annual Number

Plain-speaking with Obama may Help

Saturday 27 December 2014, by M K Bhadrakumar


The remarks by the US deputy spokesperson Marie Harf at the State Department press briefing in Washington on December 5 regarding the terrorist attack on the Indian Army base in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir were rather curious, to say the least.

Harf said the US is concerned about “any type of violence in Kashmir” and routinely took up “these types of incidents [such as Uri] with their respective host governments and certainly encouraged both [India and Pakistan] to continue working together”.

Specifically, with regard to any Pakistani role in the Uri attack, Harf brushed aside the very suggestion and said: “I wouldn’t jump to conclusions here... I wouldn’t assume anything.”

This denial is in marked contrast to the Indian allegation that the Uri attack was staged by terrorists who had received training to operate like Special Forces, and Pakistan’s role in it is obvious. The Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, in fact, promised to give a “befitting reply” to Pakistan for staging the Uri attack.

However, the US’ prevarication in even naming Pakistan is perfectly understandable. The Pakistani Army Chief, General Raheed Sharif, has just had a “productive” visit to the US and the ties between the two countries are most definitely on the mend.

The Afghan-Pakistan relations are also picking up and the entire American regional strategy in the two remaining years of the Obama presidency is critically dependent on Pakistani cooperation in stabilising Afghanistan.

Therefore, nailing Pakistan down for perpet-rating a terrorist strike in India is the least of all in Obama’s priorities, no matter Delhi’s anguish over the Uri attack. Indeed, even on his India visit in January, Obama took care to explain his decision to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif so that the US doesn’t ruffle Pakistani feathers.

Delhi needs to factor in this US doublespeak as regards the issue of terrorism while structuring the ‘talking points’ for the talks with Obama during his forthcoming India visit. Obama is sure to duck by taking to rhetorical heights once again on the US-India relations but it is for us to ask him whether this is what the ‘defining partnership’ of the 21st century is all about.

The ground realities are grim, to say the least. The latest development of the ‘repatriation’ of the dreaded Pakistani Taliban leader, Latifullah Mehsud, who has been in the US-Afghan custody for the past one year, brings home how much of an ‘outsider’ India has become as regards Obama’s Afghan strategies—although India has vital security interests in the Afghan situation.

The Pakistani officials are beside themselves with glee that the US has handed over to them on a platter a terrorist who is a gold mine of information regarding alleged Indian intelligence activities in Kabul directed against Pakistan.

The News has quoted a Pakistani military official as saying Hamid Karzai had been stubbornly resisting the Pakistani demarche to expedite Mehsud. He said: “He [Karzai] was afraid of the repercussions of their release as everybody knew about the nexus of the Pakistani Taliban with NDS [Afghan intelligence] and India’s RAW.”

Some very tricky questions arise here. All indications are that Mehsud was working for the Afghan intelligence when he was nabbed by the US military in Logar, hardly 35 kilometres from Kabul, in October last year as he was travelling in an Afghan security convoy.

Now, Mehsud was in American custody in Bagram base for over a year and everything about him must be known to the American intelligence.

What emerges is that Mehsud’s ‘repatriation’ to the Pakistani military is intended as a ‘confidence-building’ measure on the part of the US and the Kabul Government, signalling to Rawalpindi that the Afghan intelligence is coming clean on its activities in Pakistan.

Most certainly, this sort of thing is possible only because a purge of the Afghan intelligence set-up has been under way under the orders of Ghani (and backed by the US military) so that the covert operations directed against Pakistan are being wound up.

Plainly put, it’s ‘Sayonara’ for Delhi when it comes to intelligence cooperation with Kabul. No doubt, there are serious implications here for regional security—and India’s national security, of course.

While the US’ (and Ghani’s) compunctions to appease the Pakistani military leadership is understandable, what is incomprehensible is why the same goodwill is lacking on the part of Obama Administration with regard to the long-standing Indian request for accessing David Headley.

But then, unlike the Pakistani military, Delhi lacks the grit to tell the Americans on the face, ‘Buddy, it’s all or nothing’. Ironically, yet another billion dollar defence deal has just been awarded to the Americans within the week of Mehsud’s repatriation to Rawalpindi. Didn’t our left hand know that the right hand has just been bitten?

The funny part of the Indian discourses regarding Obama’s forthcoming visit is that our pundits are only asking what Prime Minister Narendra Modi (“man of action”, according to Obama) can do for the US President—be it on climate change, nuclear liability law, defence purchases or the liberalisation of the Indian market for US exports—while they are not in the least concerned about presenting an Indian wish list on what we should expect out of this visit, which we have unilaterally judged to be a “diplomatic coup”.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

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