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October 1, 2011

What Mullen should have said


October 1, 2011

Something must have snapped for Mullen to make the kind of allegations he did, and from which State Department and White House spokespersons are now distancing themselves. Perhaps it was Kayani’s infuriating inscrutability, or a lot of second-hand smoke that envelops Kayani’s guests and induces befuddlement. Alternatively, it could be the pressure of Mullen’s job or just the hangover acquired from his country’s problems in Afghanistan. Whatever it was blasting away at Pakistan is no cure. Mullen must know a false move would add tens of millions more to the already growing pool of jihadis bent on hurting his country.
In view of Mullen’s outrage at the ISI’s ‘double dealing’, it’s worth recalling that dilemmas of conscience have never bothered American policymakers. They are not choosy when it comes to finding reasons for waging war. Almost any will do. A vial containing a concoction of bogus chemicals sufficed for Iraq and a false flag incident in the Gulf of Tonkin for North Vietnam. The ranting of an unhinged dictator prompted a rain of Nato bombs on Libya.
And now, it seems, the recorded conversation of a Taliban attacker with his Afghan Taliban leader (Haqqani) visiting Pakistan’s tribal bad lands at the time, was reason enough to lumber Pakistan with the blame for the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel attack. Just as SIMs containing ‘known ISI numbers’ recovered after the attack the US Embassy in Kabul led to charges of ISI complicity and, what is more, that ‘the Haqqani network is a veritable arm of the ISI’.
Why ISI sleuths should reveal their telephone numbers to Haqqani suicide attackers, or why it escaped the ISI that SIMs containing these numbers could end up in American hands, beggars the imagination. Indeed, what on earth did Pakistan have to gain by helping to kill Americans in Afghanistan while it is expending lives protecting them in Pakistan? None of these questions bothered Mullen. Instead, on the basis of

evidence which would have been thrown out by any court, including from Zimbabwe, as insufficient, he loudly proclaimed Pakistan’s guilt. It’s not surprising that some are agog. One joker passed on Mullen’s allegations to Ripley’s ‘Believe it or not’ series.
Mullen should have used the opportunity of his farewell appearance before the Senate to do, what another soldier (Eisenhower) did, which was to caution his audience of dangerous trends in American policies. He could have said that following the virtual elimination of the Al-Qaeda threat in the Af-Pak region (thanks in the main to Pakistan’s cooperation) unrelenting intervention in other people’s wars should be discarded along with the search for proxies to do America’s dirty work.
But it is less the likes of Mullen than Obama who is to blame. Forgetting Clemenceau’s advice – like we have – that war was too important a matter to be left to generals, Obama too entrusted the conduct of the war to his generals. Not surprisingly, the generals dragged Obama deeper into the Afghan bog and now want to expand the war in order to shut it down. But that too will be of no avail like the ‘surge’ which, while promising victory only presented the Taliban with more targets. Last month’s casualty toll of dead Americans was 71; the largest in any month since the war began 10 years ago.
In his testimony before the Senate, Mullen was selective in his references to history. True, insurgencies that have external support are difficult to defeat but a far more important lesson history reveals is that never has a foreign army of occupation triumphed over a determined national insurgency. Even in the Spanish war against France, Spaniards opted for nationalism rather than the more just society Napoleon promised. So why expect Afghans to be any different? And why forget that history also applies to America?
Mullen complained about Pakistan’s duplicity. I don’t blame him. Our failing has been our inability to candidly confess our limitations, not only to others but also ourselves. In a polity dominated by plot and commission seekers, bhatta collectors, agency and license chasers, flip-flopping politicians, corrupt bureaucrats and sundry political pigmies, there is no one with the gall to tell the Americans what we will not put up with. Or that the overwhelming number of Pakistanis are rooting for the Afghan Taliban and with madressahs and mosques preaching the virtues of jihad, it is now virtually a religious duty to oppose America. Hence, for the Pakistan Army to join hands with the Americans in a kinetic war against the Afghan Taliban would leave them with a revolt on their hands. Turning the occasional blind eye to bands of armed men having a go at a well-equipped professional army on the other side of the border is, therefore, by far the lesser evil for Pakistan.
Of course, that is not to say that the army can collude with the Afghan Taliban to launch attacks against American forces; that’s impermissible and reprehensible, which is why it was important for America to reveal evidence which persuaded Mullen to react in the manner that he did. It now transpires that Mullen did not produce the evidence because he never had it.
America needs a villain to blame for its doomed enterprise in Afghanistan. And Pakistan, with porous, poorly-guarded western frontiers, and a history of befriending the Taliban, is an almost made-in-Hollywood villain. The global proclivity to believe anything contemptible about Pakistan further burnishes our claim as the proverbial fall guy.
Can Pak-US relations recover from the new low to which they have plunged? Although some believe they can and can even become stronger, much like a broken arm once healed, others feel they will wither as they have been doing since 1990, if only because their respective strategic visions are poles apart. Frankly, that’s just as well. We think the worst of each other, at least, at the popular level. We have also discovered the knack of bringing out the worst in each other by taking our respective worsts as reflecting our true selves.
Wilful historical ignorance, a paucity of common sense and a disastrous degree of intellectual hubris have plagued our elites when formulating policy. The degeneration from an ally to a friend, to an adversary to, who knows, an enemy, may yet happen. Perhaps, as one US senator has suggested, both should settle for a transactional relationship. That way we only need to come together when necessary and then part to pursue our different goals.
As for Mullen et al, once the Americans depart, Afghans and Pakistanis will discover the price of America’s obsession with national security and her prolonged and needless presence in Afghanistan, and how disastrous it has proved. It has virtually ensured a bloody civil war once they leave the ring and yet another exodus of refugees. Only, this time, an enfeebled Pakistan, riddled with domestic strife and a faltering economy, will be unable to cope. Surely then it is we, not Mullen, who should be livid.

The writer is a former ambassador.
Email: [email protected]

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