New American NSA Bolton is bad News for Pakistan

New Delhi: During the presidency of George W Bush, a strong cabal of neo-con hawks guided his foreign policy and got the president into all sorts of failures. Prominent among them were Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton and others. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were, however, the true leaders of a hard-line policy on Iraq in 2002-03.

A badly configured and unfinished war in Afghanistan, a foolish misadventure in Iraq, and an inability to control Pakistan in the so-called Global War on Terror, left the United States trying to fend off Iran, a regional power that was becoming strong enough to challenge American interests.

Later, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Bolton would in October 2007, advocate a similar hardline policy against Iran.

Many now expect that President Trump’s next National Security Advisor, Bolton, would pursue similar hardline policies against Iran and North Korea with greater determination and tenacity.

The underlying fear of course being that this could take Washington closer to war than ever before. This naturally depends on two factors – (1) Bolton’s own life expectancy in the Trump uncertain order of things and (2) Trump’s own attention span.

However, handling Afghanistan in Pakistan is an area where Bolton’s hardline policies could bear better results without that risk of war involving American troops.

Some analysts assess that Bolton is not the kind who will spoil for a war in Iran for fear of destabilising the energy-rich West Asia at a time when it is already unstable and Russia and China now having a high profile there.

Nuclear unpredictability of the kind spread by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, would also be a dampener on Bolton’s firebrand policies. Other analysts feel that Bolton is one man who could pressure Pakistan where the United States has no such risks and burnish his reputation as the ultimate hardliner.

If the United States really wants to see peace in Afghanistan, it must stop pursuing mindless dreams like asking religious leaders to pressure the Taliban to talk to the Afghan leaders. Instead, it must pursue where the battle really originates – in Pakistan. Ultimately, Bolton or whoever else will decide what they perceive to be in U.S. interests.

This will not be easy for an America that has usually threatened Pakistan only to deceive itself or promised India stern action only failed to deliver.

One can see differences, if not fissures in U.S. policy. While the U.S. President is all brimstone and fire, new nuclear sanctions have been imposed, the Pentagon is speaking in far more conciliatory terms. Establishments and advisers change in the U.S. in eight, if not four, years. In the present dispensation, this has been much more frequent. The very permanent mindset of GHQ Pakistan will exploit this to their maximum advantage.

The civil administration, politicians and pliable journalists will be let loose on Afghanistan and the U.S. speaking the language of conciliation, peace and brotherhood of Islam. Meanwhile, ISI proxies, the Haqqani Terrorist Network, which is more than just an adjunct of the Taliban, will continue to be marauders in Afghanistan. India-specific terror groups – Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, will be kept well-heeled and deployed at will.

As long as the US soft pedals, Pakistan’s assistance and support to groups like the Haqqani Network, will keep the latter’s life support system intact and the Pakistan Army sees no incentive or urgency to change this.

Pakistan’s rulers (i.e. the military) will make some cosmetic changes of incumbents handling crucial matters, rope in foreign ambassadors, diplomats, military attaches and foreign media based in Islamabad, to sell their sob stories of being victims of terror fighting America’s war.

This is a worn out decades-old script churned out year after year, for president after president and administration after administration. This tactic is effective because there is no new thought in Washington D.C. Despite volumes of analytical reports and literature by experts that the solution to the problem lies in an appropriately hard stance in Pakistan rather than indulgence, the policy has not changed.

At the same time, the tactic would be to threaten the United States indirectly by hinting that the Russians are showing renewed interest in Afghanistan and wooing Pakistan.

The so-called Bajwa Doctrine, which his acolytes laud as new paths to Pakistan strategic thought, is essentially the same that Generals Ayub to Raheel Sharif have believed and practiced, except that Ayub and Musharraf were enlightened moderates and Zia was a useful Islamist.

Pakistan’s military opinion of their politicians varies from condescension to contempt. It would want to restrict their power to dissolve assemblies instead of the president – a power acquired through the 18th Amendment. They want this rolled back. They disapprove of regional autonomy and prefer a strong centralised system. It took Admiral Mullen (considered one of the most influential Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff in history), some time to realise that General Kayani was stringing him along. This is something the Pakistan establishment has done to the Americans for decades.

Those who hope that Bolton will read the riot act to Pakistan may want to pause to see how he understands Pakistan tactics and how his policy evolves. It remains to be seen how much and how soon American policy makers get beguiled into assuming that the Bajwa Doctrine portrayed as being transformational in seeking peace with Afghanistan and Iran while being patient with what has been described as a “stubborn” Modi.

The Deep State has become audacious enough to try to mainstream Hafiz Saeed as a leader of an approved political party that can contest general elections scheduled for mid-year.

All is not well inside the Pashtun regions of Pakistan. Pakistan is seemingly vulnerable in its north-west with Pashtun awakening seeking an end to the decades-old Pakistani policies. The British had divided the Pashtun with the Durand Line, they further divided the Pashtun within what was at that time India, into FATA and NWFP, also within that into tribal and settled areas, and finally, merged southern Pashtun regions into British Balochistan.

Pakistan not only continued these imperial policies of inbuilt discrimination and hardship, but its policies since the Afghan jihad drove many Pashtun out of their traditional homes seeking shelter in alien. and at times, hostile Karachi or other parts of the Pakhtukhwa province. The Pashtun feel they have been exploited and used by the Pakistan establishment and are now seek redemption.

So far, the Pashtuns have been orderly and peaceful in their protests fended off the state’s usual strong-arm tactics of coercion and trying to discredit the movement as anti-national or politicise it through amenable politicians along with media silence.

Enforced disappearances of journalists or open intimidation of those who want to cover the forbidden area of FATA or their contacts are the most common tactics. This is what autocratic or military regimes do – they feel secure once they have blindfolded or gagged their population. Voluntary silence may mean consent but enforced silence can only be sullen and rebellious.

The United States may want to take notice of this development and India must not only remain engaged in Afghanistan but also sharpen its profile there.

The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Vikram Sood. (ANI)