US Admiral Mike Mullen rarely smiles. In fact in Pakistan during his 22 visits no one has ever seen him smile. Not that there is very much to smile about. The NATO/ISAF military campaign in Afghanistan is not going well as the Afghans fighting to oust the ‘invader’ spread their actions to Northern Afghanistan and strike in more and more ingenious ways. To make matters worse after spending billions of dollars the capacity of the Afghan Security Forces (ANA) remains poor and recent killings of US/NATO soldiers indicate that the ANA is penetrated by Afghan Taliban sympathizers. The July 2011 deadline for withdrawal is approaching and even in the areas of surges there is no stability. In fact ‘peace and stability’ in Afghanistan remains a pipe dream.
According to his recent statements in Pakistan the Admiral and the US have determined that it is the ‘Haqqani Network’ and the remains of Al Qaeda that stand between an honorable exit for US/NATO from — and it is Pakistan’s military and ISI that is denying them this option. The other bugbear is Lashkar e Taiba(LeT). After pussyfooting around these issues out of respect for Pakistan’s sensitivities the Admiral has gone public with what he thinks are facts. He has also linked the Drone strikes with Pakistani military action in North Waziristan(NWS) thereby putting the ball squarely in Pakistan’s lap-and he did this just when the military, parliament, government and public opinion had all come out strongly against the Drone strikes.
The Admiral did not address the fact that the Davis affair (termed a setback by him) actually whipped up public opinion against the US and put paid to any immediate plans to launch a military operation in NWS. He also did not consider that the Drone strike after Davis’s release (Datta Khel March 17) and the other one after the ISI-CIA meeting in Washington were the main factor behind the public unanimous condemnation of the Drone strikes and covert CIA operations that the CIA has said will continue. Pakistan has to deal with these problems and get over them-the US wants results one way or the other.
Pakistan may rant and rave but the fact is that lawless NWS is a major problem for Pakistan and is fuelling the lawlessness in the rest of the country. Those aligned with the elements in NWS and those responsible for terrorist acts or sponsorship for such acts from Pakistan are also the reason for the ‘epicenter of terror image of Pakistan’. These must be neutralized and Pakistan’s internal security situation should be addressed. This has to be done not because Admiral Mullen says so but because it is in the interest of Pakistan to do so. Pakistan has to be more ‘creative’ to find an advantage in the end game in Afghanistan and to cope with the growing asymmetry with its eastern neighbor. The old simplistic solutions will not work. Pakistan needs the US and the US needs Pakistan. The US needs to note that the wave of anti-American opinion does not become a game changer in the political scenario of Pakistan-as it did post 911. At that time the reason was the forced non-participation of the two major political parties and this time it may be that those parties, especially the incumbent one, may be put at a disadvantage. The broader picture with long term implications needs serious consideration as the focus shifts to the immediate situations.