Is Pakistan a friend or foe of the United States (or both?) at the same time as the war in Afghanistan? This issue took an unexpected turn recently as the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared at the end of a bilateral strategic dialogue in Washington that the United States has "no stronger partner when it comes to counter-terrorism" than Pakistan. The US also announced a rise of $2 billion a year in its military aid to Pakistan, which is an increase of $10 billion over five years. However, it seems greatly unlikely that Pakistan would stop aiding and abetting the American sworn-in enemies.
At the backdrop of this extravagance of money give away to Pakistan, very disturbing news is resurfacing that Pakistan's infamous military Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) is killing every Taliban leader who dares to reach out to the Western-backed government in Kabul. Worse still, the spy agency encourages those Afghan Taliban who cross the border and launch deadly attacks on NATO and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
It is an undeniable fact that most of the Taliban leaders are living in Pakistan under ISI protection. Why are Taliban leaders in Pakistan? Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in Kabul in 2001, the ISI managed to beguile the key Taliban leaders and their families to find shelter in Pakistan. This was part of Pakistan's strategy to have the Taliban leadership under its control in order to retain the greatest capacity to influence Afghan internal politics. The Taliban one-eyed leader, Mullah Omar is now virtually a prisoner to the ISI and has no ability to act on his own.
"Do you really think the ISI could pick Mullah Omar if they wanted?" Hillary Clinton asked President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. "They could deliver Mullah Omar like I can pick up this cookie." Karzai answered when he reached over and plucked a chocolate chip cookie from his plate," reports Bob Woodward in his book Obama's War.
The former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Salam Zaeef, who is living in Kabul, said recently that there are about 2,500 Taliban in Pakistani sepulchral prisons across the country. They are kept for future use in Afghanistan. Last year, when I spent time in Kabul, a young journalist from Paktia province, which borders Pakistan, threw his hands in the air and cried out at a conference, "I swear to Allah that Taliban still receive instructions from the ISI."
The ISI, likewise, detained 23 Taliban leaders, including Taliban second-in-command Mullah Ghani Brader in February, who was in secret talks with Karzai without Pakistan being aware of this. Pakistan's drumbeat of claims that every peace effort in Afghanistan will doom to failure without Pakistan's participation self-evidently explains the ISI enormous leverage on the Taliban.
The US is now hoping that Pakistan will launch a military offensive against the Haqqani network in north Waziristan. As reports indicate the ISI has already begun relocating Haqqani network. The Pakistani military might launch a few mock operations in north Waziristan as decoys to ensure the flow of the American cashout. This is Pakistani opus operandi, as Stephen P. Cohen writes in The Idea of Pakistan, "Pakistan's officials like Pakistani beggars, become alert when they see Americans approaching."
To make sense of the secrecy behind the US-Pakistan relationship, every commentator is marching on a slippery slop. Has the US leadership become schizophrenic by throwing borrowed money from China and elsewhere at a country that is helping its enemies in Afghanistan to kill more Americans? Nearly 600 coalition forces, including 400 Americans, have so far been killed this year in Afghanistan.
Perhaps Pakistan's history offers an easy answer -- for this country has traditionally been an American regional tool to promote its global imperial ambitions. Since its creation in 1947, Pakistani state has been an Anglo-American regional espionage cathedral and military cantonment. Thus, the war in Afghanistan may be a side show of the real drama of saving Pakistan.
Right from the day one of its birth, Pakistan has been a basket case. And without the American money, it would have been very hard to survive. The US was against the formation of Bangladesh, as Richard Nixon called it dismemberment of Pakistan. Similarly, Washington was always opposed to the Afghan voice for decolonisation of the Durand Line that was aimed at dividing and weakening Afghanistan. This is one of the most disputed borders in the world. Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, once described it as "the razor's edge on which hang suspended the modern issues of war and peace of life and death to nations". We are now witnessed to the rightfulness of his words. Would the world have the problem of transnational religious terrorism if the British colonial strategists did not give the Pashtuns to Pakistan and its rulers, Punjabi Maharajas?
However, the facts of Pakistan's underhanded way of dealing with the Taliban fly in the face of President Obama's recent statement "We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan... We also need to excise the cancer in Pakistan."
The Western success in Afghanistan hinges on how soon we can excise the cancer from Pakistan. If the West fails to clear Pakistani soil of these terrorist networks and its relevant cancerous ideology, we have to be bracing for a grand strategic failure. Many Western commentators believe that Pakistan's core demand is to make Afghanistan free of India. However, in truth Pakistan wants to perpetuate its control over Afghanistan. By controlling Afghanistan, Pakistan essentially wants to control the Pashtuns, who like Baluchis see the Pakistani military as an occupying force. Pakistan has nuclear weapons to hedge against India, but the demise of Islamic militancy, which will spark Pashtun nationalism, could bring a real doomsday to Pakistan. This is Pakistan's empty nest syndrome.
Dr Ehsan Azari Stanizai is an Adjunct Fellow in University of Western Sydney's Writing & Society Research Group.