President Barack Obama's Af-Pak policy ----Mark 2 as unveiled by him in his address to US military officer cadets at West Point on December 2,2009, has been marked by critical words for the Afghan Government and soft words for the rulers of Pakistan----- as if evils such as corruption, poor governance, narcotics production and lack of accountability are confined only to Afghanistan and one does not find these evils in Pakistan.
2. It is these evils long tolerated by successive US administrations that have landed Pakistan in the situation in which it finds itself today----- a breeding ground of extremism and sectarianism of every hue. The cancer of extermism and jihadi terrorism did not spread to Pakistan from Afghanistan. It spread from the madrasas of Pakistan to Afghanistan with the encouragement and often at the instance of Pakistan's military and intelligence establishments. The root of this cancer is in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan. The surgery has to start in Pakistan. This harsh reality has been played down in his address.
3. The Taliban, which nourished Al Qaeda and gave it shelter in Afghan territory, was born in Pakistani territory in 1994. Al Qaeda and the leadership of the Afgan Taliban escaped defeat by the US forces post-9/11 by taking shelter in Pakistani territory----- Al Qaeda in the North Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Neo Taliban headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar in the Quetta area of Balochistan.
4. From there, the surviving senior cadres of the two organisations moved to sanctuaries in the non-tribal areas. A recent report of the "Washington Times" has quoted retired US intelligence sources as saying that Mulla Omar and other leaders of the Neo Taliban have shifted to the Karachi area from the Quetta area to escape attacks by US drone (pilotless) planes in the tribal areas.
5. Many senior Al Qaeda leaders operated from the non-tribal areas of Pakistan----some even before 9/11. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) was reported to have orchestrated the 9/11 strikes in the US from Karachi from where he shifted to Quetta and then to Rawalpindi, where he was ultimately arrested. Abu Zubaidah was caught in Faislabad in Punjab and Ramzi Binalshib in Karachi. One should not be surprised if it ultimately turns out that Osama bin Laden and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri have also been sheltered in the non-tribal areas and that is why the US has not been able to get at them so far despite offers of huge rewards and the Drone strikes.
6. The command and control of both the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda are now located in Pakistani territory. Obama said in his address at West Point: "Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future. ...... We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear."
7. Strong words regarding the safehavens for terrorists in Pakistan. As in the past, strong words do not presage strong action to force Pakistan to destroy those safehavens.The Pakistani military operations in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan are meant to counter a threat to Pakistan's internal security from indigenous elements. They are not directed against the external activities of Al Qaeda. Nor are they directed towards facilitating the military operations of the NATO forces and the Afghan National Army in Afghan territory. The safehavens of organisations, which are seen as an asset and not as a threat to Pakistan, are being shifted from place to place to escape detection and action by the US.
8. If Obama is serious about wanting to start withdrawing from Afghanistan in dignity and honour by the middle of 2011, he has only two options. Either force the Pakistani rulers to act against the safehavens whether they are located in tribal or non-tribal areas or act against them with available US capabilities. The Obama Administration like its predecessor lacks the political will to do so.
9. Seeking partnership with a state perpetrator of terrorism is not the way of ending it. That is what Obama has done in his address. That is why his revised Af-Pak policy is unlikely to meet the objectives which he has set for the US and other NATO countries. Obama's West Point address contains the seeds of its pre-destined failure. (2-12-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )