Holbrooke stalks South Asia

Jawed Naqvi

With mediaeval Sheikhdoms as the US role models for a moderate Muslim states, none gets a prize for guessing the precise nature of the assignment given to Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Whatever else he does on his new beat, ushering liberal democracy in the land of the jirgas, or the greatly discussed objective of  sending the girl child to school, is not the priority that the American people and with them the rest of the world are being made to believe to be the purpose of the assignment. So what is Holbrooke’s mission? 
Pakistani analysts, skeptical of US role in the region since decades, say Holbrooke’s mission may not be different from his contributions in Yugoslavia, a country he helped break into several smaller “manageable” pieces along religious and ethnic lines. By that measure Afghanistan and Pakistan offer a rich haul not to speak of India when its turn comes.  Public memory is too short to recall the menacing arrival of the US Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal as recently as 1971.
Like the US invasion of Iraq, plans for covert operations and military strikes against Pakistan have not only circulated for long among influential US groups, they are visibly under implementation, observed Arshad Zaman, veteran analyst for Karachi’s Dawn on Friday. “Again, like Bush, the Obama presidency has provided the opportunity to implement these plans.”
Obama has been elected on a Democratic Party platform that holds that ‘The greatest threat to the security of the Afghan people — and the American people — lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train, plot attacks and strike into Afghanistan and move back across the border. We cannot tolerate a sanctuary for Al Qaeda.”
It defines Pakistan as ‘a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror, extremism and … instability’ and goes on to promise that ‘we will lead a global effort … to secure all nuclear weapons material at vulnerable sites within four years’.
There could not be a clearer statement of US intentions. Nor are the outlines of likely US actions entirely unknown. “The logic of the US action will be provided by Kampuchea; the tactics by Kosovo on our western borders and Palestine on our eastern borders. Naturally, historical analogies are far from exact, but they do merit study,” says Zaman.

People on the Streets in Pakistan

protest in Pakistan

The Pakistani people are making a habit of it. Swamping the streets of their cities, defying military and 'democratic' governments alike to demand the reinstatement of judges, especially Cheif Justice Iftikhar Chaudhury. Two year of long struggle did not tire out the peoples' activism, nor their aspirations for deepening democarcy, and restoration of independent institutions. It is to tbe noted that Justice Chaudhuri had been raising the heat on the question of illegal rendition of thousands of Pakistani youth to the US on charges of terrorism. He had been directing the Musharraf government to produce the disappeared youth in his court. In his autobiography, Musharraf confessed having received a large booty for quietly allowing the US to abduct and smuggle Pakistani youth. Zardari's coalition government headed by the PPP, after having committed to restore the judiciary, betaryed the Pakistani people. But instead of spurning the ideal of democracy, the Pakistani people turned this into a challange. The middle of this March saw another mass mobilisation - the lawyers joined by tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, and members of oppostion parties. This public and militant expression of the peoples's aspirations was described, especially by the gleeful Indian media, as an unprecedented 'crisis' and the sliding of the country into chaos and disintegration. The force of their movement forced Zardari to bow to the demand, finally restoring Chaudhury to the apex position in the judiciary. While certainly, backroom negotiations and changing political alignments within the ruling coalition etc. played a crucial role in the outcome as well as the movement, what will remain with us is the deep desire of ordinary Pakistannis for democracy and their ability to repeatedly take to the streets for securing this. As one senior Pakistani lawyer said, 'Everyone has a little bit of ownership of this victory."

Even though the background of the US bombing of Kampuchea was different from the situation in Pakistan on many points, what is common to the two is that US troops are bogged down in adjacent Afghanistan, the Americans believe that their ‘enemy’ is able to find ‘sanctuaries’ and ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan, and they have been conducting covert bombing operations in Pakistan for some time, which have progressively intensified.
Pakistanis are cautious about diplomatic pleasantries. They point out how in April 1969, Richard Nixon assured Prince Sihanouk that the US respected ‘the sovereignty, neutrality and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia …’ Over the next 14 months the US dropped 2,750,000 tons of bombs on Kampuchea, more than the total dropped by the Allies in the Second World War. In 1970, Prince Sihanouk was deposed by his pro-American prime minister, Lon Nol. The country’s borders were closed, and the US and the Republic of Vietnam Army (ARVN) launched incursions into Kampuchea to attack the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (VPA/NLF) bases.
But fears of an American project to balkanise Pakistan and with it Iran as well presents one side of the picture, one in which India and Israel are assigned no small role. On the other hand at least three recent developments in Pakistan have done little to allay these fears. The atavistic deal with the fanatical Taliban in the Swat valley is of a piece with the old colonial policy – divide et impera. In actual terms it is a variant of Salwa Judum being applied in Indian states against the Naxalites – pit people against people is the mantram. The other accompanying developments were the revival of Saudi protégé Nawaz Sharif as the rallying point of revival of both democracy and restoration of the dignity of the higher judiciary. A third facet of the Holbrooke approach to the Afghan-Pakistan conundrum is to rekindle hopes for a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. An expression of this is the revival of links with the fugitive anti- American rebel Gulbiddin Hekmatyar.
To underscore the primacy of the moment, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani had an unscheduled meeting with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton soon after the governor deposed the provincial government in Punjab on Feb. 25..
US special envoy Holbrooke also attended this meeting, which, according to the sources quoted by Dawn, focused on the political situation in Pakistan.
Before this meeting, the Obama administration had made it a point not to raise politics in its discussions with the army chief. A cursory look at Gen Kayani’s itinerary showed that military and security matters dominated the general’s agenda in Washington.
During his week-long stay in the US, the general met Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and the US Army Chief General George Casey.
He also met CIA Director Leone Panetto, Director National Intelligence Admiral Dennis C Blair and Commander Special Operations Command Admiral Eric T Olson to discuss security matters.
But he was not scheduled to meet those officials who deal with political matters because the Americans wanted to assure the new democratic setup in Islamabad that they were sincere to strengthening democracy in Pakistan.
During Gen. Kayani’s stay in Washington, another important Pakistani delegation was also in town. It was headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and included the ISI chief and Director General Military Operations.
As  Qureshi later said at a news conference, it was the first time that a minister was heading a delegation that included two senior military officials and the purpose was to convey the message that ‘all branches of the Pakistani government were united under the new political setup in Islamabad,’ as the foreign minister said.
Ambassador Holbrooke also stressed this point when he told several US media outlets even before the foreign minister’s delegation arrived in town that this time the ISI chief was coming as a member of a delegation headed by a civilian.
The point was further stressed at a reception Ambassador Husain Haqqani hosted for the foreign minister and the army chief on Feb. 23.
The foreign minister was the guest of honour at the central table, dominated by US lawmakers and political officials. The army chief shared another table with US generals and senior defence and security officials.

But attitudes in Washington changed on Feb. 25, when the Pakistan Supreme Court verdict declared Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif ineligible to contest elections or hold public offices and later the government imposed governor’s rule in Punjab. All that has changed the equation and brought the military back as the key interlocutor in Pakistan. As the Chinese are wont to saying: we are living in interesting times.