Living With Mutual Betrayal

Living With Mutual Betrayal

A timely insight into how Washington and Rawalpindi are tied to each other,come what may

After the US forces tracked down Osama bin Laden to a three-storey house in Abbottabad,not too far from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad,monitored the premises for months and finally swooped down to kill him in the early hours of last Monday,there is much shock in the American media at Pakistan’s “betrayal”.

After all,the American tax-payers have shelled out nearly $21 billion since 2001 in aid to Pakistan following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. To discover that Pakistan was taking US money while protecting its enemies was bound to shock the American public.

The Pakistan army,headquartered in Rawalpindi,is red-faced at being caught with its pants at the ankles. It is angry that the US special forces could penetrate deep into its territory and get away with the body of bin Laden.

The US establishment has long been aware that Rawalpindi was playing both sides of the street in the war on terror. But Washington was ready to acquiesce,given its complete dependence on Rawalpindi for the military operations in Afghanistan.


Normally it is Pakistan that complains about American “betrayal”. It argues that the United States uses it in moments of need and discards it once the strategic passion has ebbed. Pakistan says it is the most “sanctioned” ally of the United States. But few countries enjoy the kind of indulgence that Washington showers on Rawalpindi.

For all the recurrent acrimony — bin Laden’s death is only the latest instance — Washington and Rawalpindi have no problem embracing each other again and again. After all the hot words exchanged between Washington and Rawalpindi this week,the big question is whether it will be business as usual in a few weeks for them?

There is no one better equipped than Bruce Riedel,who served most recent American presidents and helped shape US policy towards Pakistan,to give us a few insights.

Riedel lays out the back story of the “deadly embrace” between Washington and Rawalpindi — when the two got together to counter the Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan at the end of 1979. Their joint effort in fanning the flames of religious extremism against the “godless Russian communists” was utterly successful in trapping the Russian bear and bleeding it by a thousand cuts.

What seemed a stroke of strategic genius in defeating and destroying the Soviet Union eventually turned out to be the source of the greatest threat to the United States and the West. The jihadis mobilised from around the world were virulently anti-West and anti-modern in their orientation.

Deadly Embrace is probably the most incisive introduction to this blow-back. Combining his deep knowledge with an easy style,Riedel tells us how this jihad acquired a great global reach thanks to the solid sanctuaries in the north-western subcontinent.

Riedel builds his narrative around three jihadis — Zia-ul-Haq,Osama bin Laden,and Mullah Omar. If Zia made Pakistan the fertile soil for jihad,the alliance between bin Laden and Mullah Omar facilitated by the Pakistan Army made it a global force.

In the 1980s,the US interests coincided with those of Pakistan to give birth to this jihad. In the 1990s,the US turned a blind eye as Rawalpindi morphed the jihad into a powerful global force. After 9/11,the US wanted to reverse the jihad and turned to its principal benefactor,Pakistan.

Until last week,it seemed Washington was losing this battle. After the death of Osama,expectations have risen that the US might finally confront Rawalpindi’s double-dealing and finish the job of draining the swamps of jihadi terror in Pakistan.

Riedel’s work suggests the world must temper those expectations. Indian readers of Riedel’s concluding chapters,on how to deal with Pakistan,will take away one simple proposition. That Washington might try and please Rawalpindi even more after the death of bin Laden.

Riedel wants the US to be more sustained and generous in its engagement with Pakistan. He also wants to draw red lines for Pakistan — on supporting the militants in Afghanistan and India.

The events of last week emphasise that the US could not tie Pakistan down to these benchmarks and had to use force to get bin Laden. This could be an exception. Since Washington will continue to need Rawalpindi’s support,it might be eager to offer fresh incentives.

Here,Riedel has some ideas: strengthen Rawalpindi’s capabilities in counter-insurgency warfare,offer it a civil nuclear deal similar to that George W. Bush negotiated with India,and encourage India to settle the Kashmir question.


Most Indians will say “same old,same old”. In the end,Riedel’s rich and riveting tale reveals,if only unwittingly,a deeper tragedy: Washington and Rawalpindi are tied to each other,come what may. The fatal attraction between Washington and Rawalpindi,then,might outlive Osama bin Laden.