There is deep concern within the United States Congress about the Obama administration’s strategy of relying on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to broker a deal with various militant groups in the Af-Pak region, it emerged at a Congressional hearing this week.
In a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday titled “2014 and Beyond: U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Congressmen discussed the thorny question of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, particularly in the context of the impending U.S. troop drawdown and its implications for regional stability.
In that regard Representative Steve Chabot, Republican of Ohio, cautioned, that although working with the ISI might make sense in the context of reconciliation, it risked rewarding the very elements responsible for sheltering insurgents who kill Americans and Afghans alike.
Mr. Chabot added, “None of this, of course, even begins to address the implications of this policy for India, which has been, continues to be, and I hope will remain, a close ally and friend of the U.S.”
Representative Gary L. Ackerman, Democrat of New York, noted in a similar vein, “It's not a secret that Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the horrific November 2008 massacre of civilians in Mumbai, India, an attack that clearly implicated the Pakistani military, operates openly in Pakistan.” He said that the Government of Pakistan had made no effort to interfere, disrupt, arrest or shut down any of these groups or their activities.
Strategic concerns were focused on the question of post-2014 Afghanistan, and answering some of the questions of Congressmen Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, “Reconciliation with the Taliban is a sensible strategy in principle, but it faces enormous obstacles to success in practice.”
Mr. Tellis pointed out that it was not clear whether the Taliban had a genuine interest in reconciliation, especially given that they did not believe that they had been decisively defeated by the U.S. and they looked to the security transition as heralding the moment when the U.S. would leave the region.
Experts at the hearing also argued against sustaining U.S. military aid to Pakistan, particularly when such support entailed the supply of offensive assets such F-16 fighter aircraft. Commenting on this arrangement Christine Fair, Assistant Professor, Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, said, “Let's be very clear about the F-16 canard. We didn't give them the F-16s because we thought it would enhance their counterterrorism or their counterinsurgency capabilities. We did it to placate Musharraf. We did it to placate Kayani. And it hasn't gotten us anywhere.”
Dr. Fair added that so far Pakistan has wanted weapons systems that could “deal more effectively with India and have very little utility for their domestic threat,” adding that catering to this demand from Pakistan “completely undermines our regional interests in every possible way, be it democratisation of Pakistan, be it regional stability vis-a-vis India and Pakistan.”