In his recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, commander of the US Central Command, General Joseph Votel, removed an important misconception about Pakistan’s role vis-�-vis the Afghan Taliban, and also underscored the grimness of the threat the upping of ante by India poses to the region’s stability.
Notably, for a while the US and, taking cue from it, some Afghan as well as local commentators have been accusing Pakistan of allowing the powerful Haqqani network to use its territory for launching attacks inside Afghanistan. In his written statement, the key US military strategist for this part of the world told the Senate panel “they [the Pakistanis] have done some things that have been helpful to us”, and further that “most recently, they’ve supported General Joseph Nicholson [commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan] in some places on the border, making sure they were well co-ordinated and doing the activities on their side of the border.” More to the point, he said Pakistanis “have done things against the principal concerns we have: the Haqqani network and Taliban.” These are not the words of a politician trying to sell a convenient line at a public meeting, but a military leader giving his assessment of theater level challenges before his country’s highest legislative forum.
Now that a top US general has openly confirmed what Pakistan has been saying: that it carried out an indiscriminate military operation in Fata against all Taliban groups, including the Haqqanis and that it has no favourites, it is hoped the Kabul government will also stop pointing the finger at Pakistan for its own failure to deal with the Taliban.
The blame game emanating from there should come to a stop. A particularly good sign from this country’s perspective is General Votel’s assertion that his side is working closely with Pakistan’s new Army chief and his commanders to eliminate various terrorist groups hiding on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. That should mean the US will do all that is necessary to wipe out TTP terrorists’ sanctuaries from Afghanistan’s south-eastern provinces which they have been using to launch cross-border attacks on the security forces as well as civilians all over this country.
The testimony also contained warnings about the perils of India launching limited military attacks on this side like the purported ‘strategic strike’, and described Modi government’s stated policy to impose diplomatic isolation on Pakistan as “especially troubling.” Of immediate concern from the US’ standpoint, of course, is that the tension on its eastern front distracts Pakistan’s attention from its western border, weakening its ability to stop Taliban and al Qaeda back and forth movements.
Equally worrying is the fact that any Indian adventure and the potential response can easily spin out of control. The general voiced a common fear when he said “a significant conventional conflict between Pakistan and India could escalate into a nuclear exchange, given that both are nuclear powers.”
Considering that the Centcom chief knows better than anyone else what is going on, it is to be expected that Congress and the Trump administration will pay heed to his assessment of the situation, and try to convince Indian leadership to ratchet down tensions in the interest of this region’s peace and stability.