Speaking to a hall full of cadets at the US Military Academy of West Point, President Barack Obama almost seemed like he might be declaring war on Pakistan. Every time he mentioned Afghanistan, Pakistan preceded mention.
Sitting at the back benches of the hall at one point I almost jumped out of my chair when he said: “the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.” I was shocked because a succession of American officials recently confirmed that the Pakistani arsenal is secure. Through leaks that are whispered in our ears, however, we were told that Americans commissioned studies on how vulnerable Pakistani warheads and laboratories would be if insurgents made greater inroads. Talk like this only serves to embolden those terrorist elements that seek to destabilize the entire region.
I didn’t get a clear sense as to what President Obama might do in Pakistan – and that makes me more nervous. What we hear is that the US will not do anything overt in Pakistan to deflect criticism and mitigate risk. A report in New York Times suggest (again based on leaks) that there will be a two pronged approach- CIA led covert operations and, to mitigate risks ,the US will sub-contract the overt war within Pakistani borders to the nation’s army.
So basically President Obama confirmed the narrative that was being constructed through leaks to the media for the past 8 years.
Report also claim that President Obama has authorized an expansion of the war in Pakistan and the Pakistan army is onboard. Many Pakistanis fear that more U.S. troops mean more of the nightmare that we have been living with for the past several years including more drones, additional CIA and private boots on the ground operating co-overtly, more money for the ISI, and moral support for the army. Don’t be surprised by drone attacks in Baluchistan as well.
President Obama defined his strategy with three core elements: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.
In the corridors of West Point we met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and I asked her what will happen if Pakistan’s democratic government was destabilized. She said “we hope it won’t come to that”. We know people of Pakistan want democracy. We hope whatever the political problems are internally they will be worked out in a lawful and constitutional manner.” When asked if her government will engage with a dictator should martial law be implemented in Pakistan, she responded, “ in my dealings with the military leadership I have no indication that they are looking to do anything except supporting the democratically elected government.”