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Mullen and Kayani: The Odd Couple

Its a tempestuous and strategically passionate relationship between Washington and Rawalpindi.

New Delhi |
April 21, 2011 7:54:13 pm

Nothing is ever what it seems,when it comes to the intense and intimate relationship between Washington and Rawalpindi. Like lovers,they quarrel one moment; they kiss and make up the next.

This blow-hot,blow-cold affair is nearly six decades old. Since the mid 1950s,Washington always turned to Rawalpindi in its moments of need in Southwest Asia during the Cold War and after.

The Pak Army bitterly complains that it is discarded by Washington when the moment of strategic passion is over. Yet,the Pak Army never says ‘no’; instead it seeks to squeeze the maximum out of the dalliance with the United States as long as it lasts.

Given the long record of the transactional relationship,sceptics will dismiss the public squabble this week between Admiral Mike Mullen,the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the United States,and Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani,Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff.

Ever since Kayani took over the baton from Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2007,Mullen has travelled frequently to Pakistan to develop a close working relationship with the general. Mullen was seen,especially by the Indian strategic community,as Kayani’s staunchest supporter in Washington.

Therefore,when Mullen publicly accused the Pak Army and the ISI of having links with militant groups targeting American soldiers in Afghanistan,Delhi is bound to take notice.

Visiting Rawalpindi on Wednesday,Mullen told the Pak media that “ISI has a long standing relationship with the Haqqani network…that does not mean everybody in ISI,but it is there.”

The Haqqani network is based in Pakistan and is said to be affiliated to both the Taliban and the al Qaeda. Mullen added that “Haqqani is supporting,funding,training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners. And I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

According to Reuters,a senior ISI official shot back by saying that “I don’t know what kind of relationship he’s talking about. If he means we’re providing them with protection,with help,that’s not correct,” he said. “Even if you are enemies,you have a relationship.”

Pakistan has always justified its ties to the extremist groups by saying that the ISI needs to maintain contact in order to protect the national interests.

None of what Mullen said is new. It is interesting that he said it at all. In going public,Mullen was merely underlining Washington’s growing frustration with Rawalpindi’s double dealing on Afghanistan.

We don’t know what transpired in the meeting between Mullen and Kayani. For the record,the statement issued by the Pak Army said that Kayani and Mullen reaffirmed their commitment to build “reciprocal respect towards each other’s sovereignty”. They also insisted that “security ties will not be allowed to unravel between the two armed forces”. That indeed is the bottom line. The Pak Army might be in league with those who kill Americans; the United States might be raining bombs on Pakistan’s territory; but Mullen and Kayani won’t let bilateral ties reach the breaking point.

As a new phase in Afghanistan begins,Delhi must expect Washington and Rawalpindi to play hard ball with each other—some of it in public and a lot of it behind closed doors. Delhi’s attention must be focused on what Washington and Rawalpindi do,not on what they might say.

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