US back to square one on Pakistan
Localitis often afflicts diplomats on foreign assignments with classical symptoms of routinely defending actions of the host nation. Former American envoy to UN John Bolton frequently used this term to define the mindset in culture of US State Department at Foggy Bottom in Washington. Latest manifestation of this affliction was witnessed in Lahore on April 28 when 58-year old US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter castigated the local media for “misreporting “ US bounty of 10 million dollars on Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) amir Hafiz Muhammed Saeed. Addressing the Pakistani media after a sumptuous dinner hosted by American Business Forum in Lahore, Munter said there was no bounty on the head of Saeed for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai massacre. The diplomat, who is doing his first posting outside Europe in his entire career, clarified that the reward was for information leading to his arrest and not for taking him out in Osama bin Laden fashion. Munter’s statement was in sharp contrast to assertions of US Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who informed the Indian government on April 2 about the 10 million dollar bounty over Saeed’s head with a telling repartee that America has not forgotten that six of its nationals were killed in 26/11 attacks.
While Home Minister P Chidambaram has made light of Munter’s remarks, it is nonetheless rather intriguing that the US position over Saeed has apparently shifted within a month. In fact, the shift is rather dramatic with Sherman coming out with guns blazing against Saeed and Munter petering out to a whimper against the aggressive Pakistanis. The simple question that props up is how come Pakistan political concerns over Saeed bounty had also become the concern of the Americans. In many ways, Munter statement is an American clean chit to Saeed as it tantamounts to saying that US did not have enough proof against Lashkar’s chief patron in 26/11 and hence the reward.
Extrapolate the argument further and we come back to oxymoronic good terrorist bad terrorist theory propagated in the past by a section of US state department. Munter essentially was conveying that for America, it was Taliban and Al Qaida which were the main problems in Afghanistan and not Hafiz Saeed, whose terror group has been mainly focused on India. The fact is that even before Munter’s statement, Indian diplomats participating a tri-lateral summit in Tokyo with US and Japanese diplomats last week made it clear to Americans that Pakistan was part of the problem and not solution in Afghanistan. It was also evident during the tri-lateral summit that there were serious differences between US State Department and Pentagon over Pakistan as the former looked at Islamabad and the ISI as partners and the latter as adversaries.
Given Saeed’s formidable clout with Pakistan government, Army and the ISI, Munter misdemeanor should perhaps be forgiven in LeT’s home territory in Lahore in Punjab. However, 26/11 facts as established by Saeed’s favorite student David Coleman Headley and arrested terrorists cannot be changed. Saeed orchestrated the 26/11 massacre with the help of ISI and Lashkar jihadists and is also responsible for terror attacks in Afghanistan with the help of Haqqani network. From targeting Danish cartoonist to launching attacks in US, Lashkar is a powerful non-state player with a global footprint. While Munter or his mentors at Foggy Bottom may be new to the terror show in the sub-continent, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton surely knows Pakistan and Saeed better if not the best.
India would be well advised to raise Munter’s clarification over Saeed with Clinton when she comes to New Delhi for her farewell trip next Tuesday. South Block must understand the mindset behind the latest US moves in Pakistan where even a canard that ISI help Obama target Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 1, 2011 is not questioned by Washington. Perhaps US now feels that Pakistan has taken a turn for the better and needs to be pulled out from the morass or it feels that it can never exit out of Afghanistan without Islamabad’s support. In both cases, the assumption is wrong and may lead to frightening results in future.