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‘Pak mercenaries’

A fortnightly column on the high politics of the Af-Pak region,the fulcrum of global power play in India’s neighbourhood

Written by C. Raja Mohan |
April 20, 2011 3:35:22 am

‘Pak mercenaries’

Nothing illustrates the difference between the strategic cultures of India and Pakistan than their attitudes towards risk. India would want to avoid any risk in conducting its foreign policy,while Pakistan boldly courts it. Consider India’s reluctance to speak its mind on the unfolding confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Bahrain. Despite the appeal for support from two important recent visitors — the foreign minister of Bahrain and the National Security Adviser of Saudi Arabia — India appears to be maintaining strict neutrality in the unfolding confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran.

Pakistan,in contrast,has openly sided with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In allowing Bahrain to recruit Pakistani troops and ex-servicemen for internal security duties,Islamabad was willing to court Iranian displeasure. The Pakistani army has had a long tradition of sending its men to defend the Arab regimes,their palaces and oil wells. Even before the current crisis in Bahrain began,Pakistan apparently had nearly 10,000 troopers on duty in the tiny island nation.

One of the major demands of the pro-democracy protestors in recent weeks was the removal of the much detested policemen recruited from Pakistan and other places. As part of a more intensive crackdown on the Shia majority in Bahrain,nearly 1,000 troopers were reported to be recruited last month alone. Monthly salaries of around $500 are reportedly being offered to the Pakistani recruits; many of them will also have the option of becoming Bahraini citizens.

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Some would say Islamabad had no option but to comply with the request of Saudi Arabia,one of the principal external supporters of Pakistan,when it chose to confront Iran in Bahrain. Pakistan,with a large Shia population of its own was nevertheless risking Iranian anger. Tehran certainly objected to Islamabad sending what it calls “Pak mercenaries” to Bahrain. There have been Shia protests against the move in Pakistan in recent days. There is also some concern that its involvement in Bahrain’s internal conflict would affect the 65,000 odd Pakistanis who work there in jobs that have nothing to do with police or internal security.

While all these concerns might be real,they have not been strong enough to deter the Pakistani army from casting in its lot with the Saudis in Bahrain.

Bleeding America

As the Pakistani army plays hard ball with the United States on Afghanistan,there are proposals for a bolder policy to bring the Obama administration to its knees. The former ISI chief and mentor of the Taliban,Lt Gen Hameed Gul apparently has a plan to bleed America in Afghanistan,much like the Soviet Union was during its occupation of the country in the 1980s.

The plan is a simple one. It will squeeze the supply routes into Afghanistan that bring food,fuel and munitions to the US and international troops there. While some supplies do come through the so-called Northern Distribution Network in Central Asia,the land routes through Pakistan form the essence of American logistics in Afghanistan.

Gul wants to mobilise political groups and civil society organisations to block the supply routes into Afghanistan. In the past terror attacks on trucks plying this route had served to remind the US of its dependence on Pakistan. Gul is right in betting that peaceful protestors are bound to make a bigger impact than images of burning trucks. Gul has calculated that it will take just two weeks for fuel supplies to run out in Afghanistan and the US to cry “uncle”.

Some political parties like Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf have reportedly called for a sit-in protest this weekend. According to some analysts,“this experimental blockade would be repeated from time to time,potentially drawing more people with each new protest,until the US accepts Pakistani terms and agrees to revamp the relationship.”

Whether this plan is implemented or not,there is no denying the army’s chutzpah. After receiving nearly $20 billion in direct aid from the US over the last decade,the bold talk in Rawalpindi is that it is America that needs Pakistan; and not the other way around.

Kabul’s envoy

Signalling his commitment to strengthening relations with Pakistan,Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appointed his chief of staff,Umar Daudzai,as the new envoy to Islamabad. According to the Pakistan media,Daudzai was presented by Karzai to the Pakistani delegation led by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that visited Kabul last Saturday.

Daudzai had served as Afghan ambassador to Iran from 2005 to 2007,when he became Karzai’s chief of staff. During the years of the jihad against the Soviet occupation,Daudzai was part of Hezb-e-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research,Delhi

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