'Unrealistic To Expect India To Move Without Pak Resolving Mumbai'


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Apr 5, 2009
'Unrealistic To Expect India To Move Without Pak Resolving Mumbai'

Obama's Af-Pak expert says India has a security interest in Pakistan's future, and no interest in seeing Pakistan as a failed state


Bruce Riedel was entrusted by President Barack Obama with the task of chairing an inter-agency review of United States policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. A former CIA officer and a senior advisor to four US presidents on West Asia and South Asian issues, Riedel last month wrapped up the review, which will shape Obama’s policy. He has since returned to the Brookings Institution, where he is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Excerpt from Riedel’s conversation with Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review concluded that Al Qaeda and Taliban continue to hide along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Why then did you recommend more US troops for Afghanistan but none in Pakistan?

One of the most important conclusions of the review is that the threat posed by Al Qaeda and its allies like the Taliban, like LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba), is as serious today as it has ever been. And it’s a threat not only to America’s interests, it’s a threat to our allies in Europe, our friends and partners throughout the Middle East and South Asia, including India.

The US has forces in Afghanistan under the UN mandate and at the Kabul government’s request. There’s no mandate from the UN for deployment of forces in Pakistan nor any request from the Pakistani government for troops in Pakistan

"We have to regard the LeT and its terror network as a threat to the US. It’s closely aligned with Al Qaeda."

But would US troops pursue terrorist suspects into Pakistan?

The president made clear during the campaign and he said it again in a speech on March 27 that if we had actionable intelligence about significant, high-value terrorists we will do whatever is necessary to take care of that threat, but I’m not going into a hypothetical question of under what circumstances and things like that.

Do you agree with the Pakistani assessment that a solution to the Kashmir issue is key to getting Pakistan’s complete attention on its western border?

The first step in any process of trying to change the dynamics between Pakistan and India is to resolve the outstanding issues from the Mumbai attack. India has made a compelling case that the Mumbai attack was launched from Pakistan, that it had a significant support base in Pakistan. Pakistan has said it’s willing to cooperate with the investigation and that’s what it should continue to do. In the long run, all the issues that have divided India and Pakistan need to be dealt with, but it’s unrealistic to expect that India is going to move forward without further resolution of the Mumbai issue.

"Pakistan’s probe of the Mumbai attacks needs to be thorough, LeT’s terror infrastructure should be shut."

So, you do believe Pakistan needs to deliver more on the Mumbai investigation?

Absolutely. I think the investigation needs to be thorough and complete and the infrastructure of LeT, or whatever new name it has today, needs to be shut down. We need to be sure that there are no further attacks like Mumbai.

Since you have talked about Mumbai being a plot against Jews, Christians and Hindus, do you see a greater cooperation between India, the US and Israel in the fight against terrorism?

It’s worth noting that the first trip abroad by the new director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, was to New Delhi. That’s a signal that the US recognises that it needs a stronger security partnership in the struggle against terrorism with India. It’s a recognition from the Indian side that partnership with the US in counter-terrorism is absolutely vital to both our countries’ interests.India also has a strong relationship with Israel. I don’t see this as a tripartite relationship, but as a series of bilateral relationships.

"The Swat truce with the Taliban is not a productive way to move forward towards long-term stability."

Is the US now looking at groups like JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) and LeT as part of a wider jehadi network?

We have to look at a group like LeT as a threat to the US. It’s an integral part of the global Islamic jehad today and it’s an organisation that has infrastructure outside of South Asia, in the Gulf states, in Western Europe and in the US. It’s very closely aligned with Al Qaeda. It has worked with it in the past. We’ve to regard this as a direct threat to the US, as well as, of course, as a threat to our Indian partner.

There have been reports of continuing links between Pakistan’s ISI and the Taliban. What sort of help is the ISI providing the Taliban? Do you see the ISI as an obstacle in the effort to root out terrorists?

These are very serious concerns which are being discussed in detail with the civilian authorities as well as the military. That said, the ISI has also been an important partner of the US in the struggle against Al Qaeda. Many of the most senior Al Qaeda officials, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, were captured with the ISI’s assistance. These are serious questions but we have gotten important cooperation of Pakistan in the past and we want to continue to do that.

"Pakistan needs to be a partner in the fight against terrorism. There is no other alternative."

Do you believe the Zardari government is strong enough to be a partner in President Obama’s fight against terrorism?

It’s not a question of whether he’s politically strong enough or not. We have no choice. Pakistan needs to be a partner. There isn’t an alternative solution.

One of the suggestions made in your Afghanistan-Pakistan review was to reach out to the more moderate elements of the Taliban with offers of cash. Have any of the so-called good Taliban responded to a US offer to reach out to them?

We don’t believe there are moderate parts of the Taliban. We believe the Taliban are subject to fracturing if it is a thought in the Taliban that they are no longer winning on the battlefield. Today, the Taliban believe the war is going their way. I don’t expect that you will see any significant fractures in the Taliban until the situation on the battlefield changes. The situation will change this summer. President Obama has ordered a virtual doubling in the number of US forces in Afghanistan. These will be there by July and August, and we will then begin to look to see if there are significant changes developing in the cohesion of the Taliban. If we begin to see the cohesion of the Taliban break apart, then we will look at those who are willing to abandon violence and be assimilated back into the fabric of Afghan society and Afghan politics. Of course, it will be the Afghans who will have to take the lead in any such process.

Where does India fit into the Af-Pak policy?

India is a major player in Afghanistan. Its aid projects is one of the largest of any country in the world in Afghanistan. It has built an important road linking Afghanistan to the sea. In the past it has been a target of terrorism that emanated out of Afghanistan. We all remember the hijacking of Indian Airlines (IC 814). That was an operation that we now know had an Al Qaeda angle to it. India also has a vital national security interest in the future of Pakistan.India has no interest in seeing Pakistan as a failed or failing state. That would be a nightmare for India. As a consequence the US recognises India as one of the most important stakeholders in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s future and we should consult closely with India at each stage of the process of our engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan. You have seen Ambassador [Richard] Holbrooke do that on his two trips to the region.

Pakistan is concerned about India’s role in Afghanistan and what some have called "encirclement."

India’s role in Afghanistan is a positive one. It helps to strengthen the economic reconstruction of a country that has been devastated by three decades of war, invasion and terrorism. Anything that helps Afghanistan build its capacity to provide better governance for its people is very much the useful thing to do.

The Obama administration wants to give billions of dollars to the Pakistani government in exchange for help in this war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. What checks and balances will the administration impose to ensure this aid is not misspent?

When the president announced his new policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, he indicated that the inspector-general for aid to those countries would have a stronger mandate than in the past and considerably more resources to ensure that these economic development programmes, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, are spent on the right things and not wasted as they have been in the past.

President Zardari has legalised the Sharia in Swat Valley. Do you believe this is the right way to deal with the Taliban?

The truce or ceasefire agreement is not a productive way to move forward. The imposition of Taliban-style rule anywhere is not in the long-term interests of stability in the region.


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