By C. Raja Mohan
The execution of Osama bin Laden by US forces early this morning puts the Pakistan Army on the defensive, allows Washington to redefine the strategic calculus of Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and provides an opportunity for India to re-imagine the peace process in the subcontinent.
Above all, the military action deep inside Pakistan’s territory boosts US President Barack Obama’s image at home and abroad as a decisive military leader.
India, to be sure, can take satisfaction at the irrefutable demonstration of Pak Army’s complicity in protecting bin Laden for a decade and its institutional support to extremism and terrorism.
But India also needs to think creatively about the post-Osama possibilities to promote civilian control over the Pak military. The killing of bin Laden provides a rare chance to transform civil-military relations in Pakistan and end the Pak Army’s prolonged political dalliance to terrorism.
At a time when much of Asia sees the United States as losing political ground everywhere, Sunday night’s successful operations against bin Laden underline the depth of Washington’s power and the will to exercise it.
When Pakistan is openly urging the Afghan leaders to dump the United States and align with China, Obama has underlined Washington’s primacy in shaping the subcontinent’s regional balance.
The biggest loser from the death of Osama bin Laden is the Pakistan Army headquartered in Rawalpindi. After a decade of the Pak Army’s double dealing on terrorism, Washington has gained the upper hand, at least for the moment, by killing bin Laden. The US raids on bin Laden’s safe house do not appear to have been conducted either with the prior permission of, or cooperation from Gen. Kayani.
Throughout the last decade, the Pakistan Army repeatedly denied reports that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan. It encouraged speculation that bin Laden might be hiding in the ungoverned tribal areas straddling the Pak-Afghan border. That he was nailed down in Abbottabad, a military town not too far from the capital Islamabad, puts the Pakistan Army, as an institution, in an unenviable situation.
Before he took charge as the army chief in 2007, Kayani was the head of ISI and could not have been unaware of his organisation’s protection of bin Laden.
Washington, however, was willing to cut much slack for Rawalpindi all these years. For the U.S. operations in Afghanistan during the last decade were critically dependent on overland supplies through Pakistan and intelligence cooperation from the ISI. By running an independent military operation to kill Osama in Abbottabad, Washington has not only exposed Pakistan’s deceit, but demonstrated its capacity to act without regard to Kayani’s sensitivities.
However, the US will still need the cooperation of the Pakistan Army to bring any measure of stability to Afghanistan and end its occupation by 2014 with a discernible measure of success.
The death of bin Laden has not altered the geography of the north-western subcontinent. But it certainly provides an important moment for Washington to rework the incentives and disincentives to the Pakistan Army.
If the $20 billion offered over the last decade did not buy the US the love of Rawalpindi, the demonstration of the capacity to take out sensitive targets on Pakistani territory should concentrate the mind of Gen. Kayani.
As the US explores a new framework for regional security, India will inevitably figure in the calculations of Washington and Rawalpindi. Gen. Kayani never tires of saying that the Pakistan Army is “India-centric.”
Instead of objecting to Kayani’s obsessions with India, the UPA government now has an opportunity to boldly step in to help Pakistan secure itself — internally and externally. And to offer support to any framework that will reduce Rawalpindi’s dominance over Pakistan’s national security decision-making, promote civilian control of the military, and wean the Pak Army and the ISI away from supporting extremism and terrorism.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi.
Source: The Indian Express