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Obama's Af-Pak: Bulldozer Diplomacy:

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse April 16, 2009

Pak-US relations are once again strained. The issue of drone strikes is driving them away from each other. On 2nd April a bill named the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement - PEACE Act of 2009 - was also tabled in the US House of Representatives , incorporating new conditions for Pakistan that it would not lend support to any group or person conspiring against India, ahead of a Presidential green signal to the 1.5 billion dollars assistance to it for the next five years.

The Clause ‘J’ of the PEACE Act requires Pakistan not to support any person or group that conducts violence, sabotage, or other activities meant to instill fear or terror in India.” Furthermore, the bill states that Pakistan should ensure access of US investigators to individuals suspected of engaging in worldwide proliferation of nuclear materials, and restrict such individuals from travel or any other activity that could result in further
proliferation.
On 7th April, during the Islamabad visit of Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen, the issue of aid and drone strikes caused quite a stir. Little is available on how the prime minister and the president handled a strident and head-strong Holbrooke but the foreign minister as well the military authorities openly disagreed with the US way of carrying out the anti-terror war. Defense officials said the American visitors were told to stop viewing Pakistan through the Indian prism, or risk losing cooperation. But that seems too late if you look at the mounting Indo-American closeness.

At the heart of the new American policy on Pakistan is Holbrooke; ever since his appointment as the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in January, Richard Holbrooke has harped on a tune that is sweet music to scores of ears in and outside Pakistan. “If the tribal areas of western Pakistan were not a sanctuary, I believe that Afghanistan could take care of itself within a relatively short period of time.” The terrorists who threaten America are in Pakistan, but the US fights the Afghan Taliban, who don’t. Afghanistan’s stability is related with Pakistan’s situation. “If Afghanistan had the best government on earth, a drug-free culture and no corruption, it would still be unstable if the situation in Pakistan remained as today.” (Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2009).

This categorization of Pakistan’s centrality in the questionable war on terror bears the typical hallmarks of Richard Holbrooke, who carries the reputation of being an arrogant and tough negotiator. His presence also raises many questions on the future of Pak-US relations. Will he steer this relationship out of woods with Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and problems in mind, or will he remain focused on “deliver and do more mantra” only?

In fact, several days before President Obama’s 27th March “Af- Pak Policy announcement,” Holbrooke took upon himself to drop broad contours of the new approach. During a NATO security conference at Brussels around March 20, the special envoy began mentioning Quetta, Balochistan and Baitullah Mehsud as prime concerns for the United States. During a string of interviews with BBC, Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor, he came down hard on the ISI and the Pakistan military for their “nexus with militants” operating across the 2560 km Durand Line.

Following on former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s assertion that “ Pakistan is an “international migraine,” both Holbrooke and Defense Secretary Robert Gates unleashed a campaign that clearly ostracized Pakistan’s security establishment.

The Holbrooke style of diplomacy perhaps merits a detailed study to understand the person and to conjecture the possible fallout.

While analyzing Holbrooke, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) quoted Strobe Talbot, former Deputy Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, as saying “Holbrooke is the diplomatic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb.” The same article said “Obama and (Hillary) Clinton chose Holbrooke because of his ability to twist arms as well as hold hands, work closely with the military and improvise inventive solutions to what others write off as insoluble
problems. But no one yet knows how his often pyrotechnical style—he whispers, but also pesters, bluffs, threatens, stages fits and publicizes—will work in an administration that prizes low-key competence or in a region that is dangerously unstable.” Also known as “the Bulldozer” for his hard-hitting style of conducting diplomacy, Holbrooke termed the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan as “extraordinarily dysfunctional” and called that “objectives have to be reviewed.” He first visited the region in early February 2009 to “vacuum up” maximum amount of information about the region, players, situation,
governments and the alternative power players. Former American general Wesley C. Clark noted that Holbrooke saw power “as an artist sees color;” suggesting that he knew as to how much of it should be used and where, in the art of arm-twisting diplomacy. America’s new ambassador to Iraq and a long time colleague of Holbrooke, Christopher Hill, called him a “larger than life” figure because the problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak) itself was “larger than life.” His persistence to remain non-committal on
Pakistan’s concerns over the CIA use of drones to target Pakistanis in talks with Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry officials on April 7, also depicts his personality.

“The Bulldozer” reportedly received a rare shock when a defiant Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke of a “big gap” in perceptions about the drone attacks on April 7. Pakistani military and some civilian leaders also categorically rejected Holbrook’s proposal of joint military operations on Pakistani soil. For the first time since the launch of the questionable war on terror, the Pakistani leadership took a united position over the mounting criticism the Pakistan Army and its affiliated institutions. Both Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen were told to rectify their view of the military and ISI, or face a radical review of the cooperation.

Holbrooke rubbed more salt into Pakistani egos when he snubbed a question on Kashmir. “I have come here to discuss the challenge of extremism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, nothing else,” Holbrooke responded stubbornly. Even a cursory look at the Special Envoy’s statements on Pakistan entails quite a discomforting inference; he displays little understanding for the concerns Pakistan have vis a vis a huge India and its role in Afghanistan and simultaneously expects unquestioned cooperation from Islamabad, without realizing that several of his predecessors and US intellectuals have been urging the Obama administration to help neutralize the Pakistani apprehensions on the India role in Afghanistan as well as the offensive posture of the Indian forces on the eastern border.

People like Peter Tomson, ex US envoy to the anti-Taliban forces, James Dobbins, ex special envoy to Afghanistan, and Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation have touched on this issue on several occasions. Dobbins highlighted the Pakistani “legitimate interests in Afghanistan” before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2007, while Lisa Curtis spoke more or less along the same lines before a Congressional Committee on the
Middle East and South Asia.

That the future aid to Pakistan has been linked to the US access to the nuclear network in Pakistan, and to “denying support to anti-India groups” clearly underscore how Holbrooke and Bruce Riedel have joined to spin a cobweb of conditions around Pakistan to force it into compliance rather than cooperate of free will.

Holbrooke, on the other hand, appears given only to the American- India concerns on the consequences arising out of the wave of terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This obviously kicks up a fundamental question; can the US expect effective cooperation by totally disregarding Pakistan’s legitimate concerns, glossing over its geo-strategic interests and playing up themes that originate in India? The answer to this came from former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Bryzenski in an interview with a Pakistani private TV channel on 11th of April.
”We are unable to find answer to the question that how we could get Pakistan’s help, while Pakistan is sure that it faces threat from India.” Bryzenski most probably suggested that the US cannot win Pakistan over as long as it talks of an ally and at the same time targets its and its institutions. No doubt, the Pak-US relationship is once again on a bumpy and troublesome path.

This warrants a greater unity of command internally. If the military and the civilian leadership could act and speak in unison that would serve as a greater weapon to shield our national interests than any amounts of money.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk