Manzoor Ahmed

+ Al Qaida chief could be in Pakistan: experts caution the U.S. against trusting Islamabad. A repeat of Osama bin Laden saga.
+ Don’t make concessions that could hurt the US interests in Afghanistan.
+ Pakistan has also been an unreliable partner vis a vis China, a renowned American academic warns
ISLAMABAD: A report that Al Qaida chief, Ayman Al-Zawahiri could be hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas has alerted security experts across the world. They are concerned that the United States’ Trump administration, in its anxiety to seek Islamabad’s cooperation to quit Afghanistan, could let it off the hook and make excessive concessions.
This is a repeat of the 2011 saga of US special forces locating Al Qaida founder Osama bin Laden at a well-protected house in Abbottabad, in Pakistan. He was identified and killed with many of his family members.
Pakistan was enraged at the “loss of sovereignty” by the American raid and claimed that its leadership was unaware of bin Laden’s presence. Having got its most-wanted man, the then Obama administration certified that the Pakistani authorities, civil or military, were not involved in that operation. The real story remains elusive.
Some years after bin Laden’s elimination, Egyptian cleric, Dr Ayman Al-Zawahiri became the Al Qaida chief and has remained in hiding.
Now, a report by Associated Press (AP) quotes an Al Qaida statement that the Pakistani authorities had ‘detained’ Al Zawahiri’s wife and two other members of his family for nearly a year.
The “treacherous Pakistani authorities” captured then as they left for Waziristan, the tribal area bordering Afghanistan that was also bin Laden’s hideout for long.
The statement said: “we … hold Pakistan’s government and its treacherous army and their American masters responsible for their criminal acts.”
Pakistan Government has chosen not to react to this report. The Pakistani media has blacked out this report, the AP said.
The Al Qaida allegations come at a delicate time when Pakistan and the US are engaged in talks to cooperate on the US forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.
As the Trump administration anxiously seeks a way out of Afghanistan, DrRichard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of ‘A World In Disarray” has struck a serious warning.
He has recalled the infamous ‘tilt’ in favour of Pakistan of the US’ Ronald Reagan administration in 1971and how, despite the US diplomacy and show of military strength in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh was born.
He recalls that Pakistan did help the US to build bridges with Pakistan in 1971. But has since gotten close to China at the expense of ties with he US.
He has warned against another ‘tilt’ in favour of Pakistan that has consistently practiced a double-faced policy of hinting with the hound and running with the hare by sheltering, arming and financing the Afghan Taliban who are its “strategic assets.”
He has cautioned President Trump against messing up with the two South Asian powers on the Kashmir issue.
Now, the question is whether thinking in Washington, DC, is again evolving and the US is considering another “tilt." After nearly two decades of sacrifice, the US is looking for a way out of Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which has provided a sanctuary to the Taliban, is seen as critical to America’s ability to withdraw its troops without enabling the group to overthrow the Afghan government. At the same time, there is frustration with India over its trade policies.

“The new tilt was manifested weeks ago when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the White House. US President Donald Trump made the stunning declaration that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate the Kashmir dispute, the most sensitive issue dividing India and Pakistan since Partition and independence in 1947.

Such a request by India would represent a fundamental shift in its policy, and India’s government was quick to deny that such a request had been made. This was followed by India’s announcement that it planned to strip much of this Muslim-majority region’s autonomy. There is a possibility that Pakistan will respond by renewing its support for terrorism, which could lead to another war between Pakistan and India, the two nuclear-armed countries.

Against this backdrop, the US would be unwise to turn to Pakistan as a strategic partner. Pakistan sees a friendly government in Kabul as vital to its security and competition with arch-rival India. There is little reason to believe that the military and intelligence services, which continue to run Pakistan, will rein in the Taliban or rule out terrorism.

Equally, the US would be unwise to alienate India. Yes, India has a tradition of protectionist trade policies and often frustrates US policymakers with its reluctance to cooperate fully on strategic issues. But democratic India, which will soon surpass China as the world’s most populous country and will boast the world’s fifth-largest economy, is a good long-term bet. It is a natural partner to help balance China. India has rejected participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, whereas Pakistan, struggling economically, has embraced it.

The US would also be unwise to race for the exits from Afghanistan. Peace talks with the Taliban mostly look like a means to extract US forces from the country. The process is reminiscent of Vietnam, where a 1973 agreement between the US and North Vietnam provided a pretext for US withdrawal from the South but not a basis for peace. The notion of a coalition government, with power shared by the current government and the Taliban, is optimistic at best, fanciful at worst.

“Instead of embracing fantasy, the US should continue to keep a modest number of troops in Afghanistan to ensure the government survives and the country does not again become a terrorist haven. What is required is an endurance strategy, not an exit strategy, based on local conditions, not political calendars. As has long been the case, South Asia is at best a region to be managed, not a problem to be solved,” Dr. Haass has warned.