Pakistan’s India obsession behind its double game: US experts

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

WASHINGTON - Leading US analysts find nothing shocking or surprising about “revelations” of Pakistani spy agency ISI’s links with Taliban given Islamabad’s India obsession, but they differ on what the US should do in Afghanistan.

Most experts call for a “recalibration” of US policy towards Pakistan after the leak of tens of thousands of documents about the war in Afghanistan, but George Friedman, founder of strategic think tank Stratfor, suggests that the leaks “made the most powerful case yet for withdrawal from Afghanistan sooner rather than later” as the US is headed for defeat there.

The head of the private global intelligence agency, as Stratfor calls itself, goes to the extent of saying the US itself has created a situation for Pakistan to play the double game “of overt opposition to the Taliban and covert support for the Taliban” as it does not want to see the emergence of India as the sole regional power if Pakistan collapses.

“This is duplicitous only if you close your eyes to the Pakistani reality, which the Americans never did,” Friedman said. “There was ample evidence, as the WikiLeaks show, of covert ISI ties to the Taliban. The Americans knew they couldn’t break those ties.”

“They settled for what support Pakistan could give them while constantly pressing them harder and harder until genuine fears in Washington emerged that Pakistan could destabilise altogether,” he said.

“Since a stable Pakistan is more important to the United States than a victory in Afghanistan - which it wasn’t going to get anyway - the United States released pressure and increased aid. If Pakistan collapsed, then India would be the sole regional power, not something the United States wants,” Friedman said.

Afghanistan is a secondary issue for the United States, especially since Al Qaeda has established bases in a number of other countries, particularly Pakistan, making the occupation of Afghanistan irrelevant to fighting Al Qaeda, Friedman said.

But “for Pakistan, an Afghanistan under Pakistani influence or at least a benign Afghanistan is a matter of overriding strategic importance,” he said. “It is therefore irrational to expect the Pakistanis to halt collaboration with the force that they expect to be a major part of the government of Afghanistan when the United States leaves.”

“Given that they don’t expect the Taliban to be defeated, and given that they are not interested in chaos in Afghanistan, it follows that they will maintain close relations with and support for the Taliban.”

“Given that the United States is powerful and is Pakistan’s only lever against India, the Pakistanis will not make this their public policy, however,” he said.

“The United States has thus created a situation in which the only rational policy for Pakistan is two-tiered, consisting of overt opposition to the Taliban and covert support for the Taliban.”

Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation said “the leaked documents do reveal a level of US frustration with Pakistan’s dual policy of fighting some extremists while harbouring others” but suggested only a recalibration to “convince the Pakistanis to shift their strategy toward the Taliban in more fundamental ways.”

Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, too noted that “on numerous occasions the US government has publicly implicated the ISI in terrorist activities, notably in the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul perpetrated by the Haqqani network of Afghan Taliban with ISI support.”

“For decades - in many ways, since Pakistan’s very founding - Islamabad has supported militant groups to pressure Afghanistan and India. That practice persists,” Markey said. “The real question is what the United States ought to do about it.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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