Bruce Riedel, veteran adviser to US presidents, is grim but realistic about Pakistan’s future, finds Narendra S Sisodia
THIS BOOK is the story of Pakistan’s troubled relationship with the US, oscillating between ‘romance’ and ‘divorce’. Currently a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Bruce Riedel has served the CIA for many years and was a senior adviser to four American presidents on the Middle East and South Asia. He also presided over an inter — agency review of US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan for President Obama. He thus brings to bear on this book his deep insights and knowledge of South Asia.
Riedel traces the history of US-Pakistan relations since the latter’s creation in 1947 and explains how US policies, however well-intentioned, have contributed to Pakistan’s drift towards its current quasi-failed state. He’s brutally frank about failed US policies and argues that the American approach towards Pakistan was often shortsighted and ad hoc — most US presidents preferred stability over democracy there. Referring to the recent US support, he notes, “After eight years of dealing with Musharraf, the United States did not have Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar captured or dead, had not slowed Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal’s growth, and had lost the faith of the Pakistani people by staying with a dictator for too long.” In Riedel’s view, US sanctions proved counterproductive and only alienated Pakistan.
Those familiar with Riedel’s account of al Qaeda’s links with the ISI and the Pakistan Army won’t be surprised that Osama was found comfortably ensconced in a mansion at Abbottabad. Quoting the US Defence Intelligence Agency, he points out that even earlier, Osama’s erstwhile camp on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan was built by Pakistani contractors and funded by the ISI. Thus, the ‘real hosts’ in that facility were the ISI!
From a policy perspective, chapters six and seven are the most significant. Riedel believes that “the growing strength of the network of terror in Pakistan raises the serious possibility (but not yet the probability) of jihadist takeover of the country”. This could occur if another Zia-ul-Haq takes over or if there is an insurgent victory. Such a regime would control Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. All this would have devastating consequences not only for Pakistan, but also for South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, China and the US. NATO’S current mission in Afghanistan would become exceedingly difficult. Pakistan’s relations with Shia Iran would deteriorate. Any prospect of a peace agreement in Kashmir would become remote and support for insurgency would increase. The impact on India’s 150 million Muslims would also be of concern. A major terrorist attack on India could spark a war. Bangladesh’s Islamic militancy might receive an impetus. For America, too, engagement with Pakistan would become virtually impossible; regime change in Pakistan would be highly problematic; and military options might be both unappealing and counterproductive. A possible repeat of 9/11 or 26/11 might compel the US and India to retaliate with disastrous consequences.
Riedel argues that a jihadist takeover of Pakistan must be avoided. He suggests some policy measures for the US to help Pakistan: rebuilding trust, engagement, consistency and constancy in policy, drawing red lines about what is unacceptable and verifying objective ground realities to ensure informed decisions. He suggests a proactive American role for building peace in South Asia and developing capability in Pakistan, especially in counter-terrorism, education and energy.
This book is an effective answer to those who doubt that Pakistan is the ‘epicenter’ of global terrorism and complicity in sheltering al Qaeda. Riedel’s more important contribution, however, is the grim but realistic scenarios he paints of Pakistan’s future and his thought-provoking ideas about dealing with them.
Sisodia is the Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi