Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent comments that it didn’t appear that the Pakistan top brass knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, made logical sense. After the Bin Laden operation, the world seems convinced that Pakistan has been playing a double game with the US and that all aid to Pakistan needs to be stopped immediately.

But before we form our own opinion, we need to analyze the various variables in the Pakistan – US equation. The key variables are– India, the military, the tribal regions and Russia.

India– Pakistan is obsessed with India, its next door neighbor on the eastern side. After being carved out of India in 1947 after independence from the British, Pakistan continues to aspire to grab more land from India. And after India helped engineer the secession of its eastern wing into an independent Bangladesh, that hope has become more resolute.

The military – Pakistan essentially has been a military state with splashes of democracy in between. And the longevity of the splashes of democracy is dependent upon how much the popular leaders tow the military line. To supplement the military, the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) has a charter of disruption rather than protection. And the ISI too, is obsessed about India.

Russia – Russia is the key variable in this equation, because the foundation of terrorism in the region was laid when Russia invaded Afghanistan in early 1980. Pakistan was caught between two pro-Soviet regimes – the Afghans on the west and India on the East. The United States was not thrilled about this either, but found a great ally in General Zia-ul-Haq – the new martial law administrator in Pakistan, who had come to power after overthrowing the democratically elected Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The US responded to the Soviet threat very smartly – a proxy war in Afghanistan. It did not confront the
Soviet army, but used armed Mujahideen recruits to fight the Soviets. Pakistan helped find and train the recruits and aid flowed into Pakistan – both military and financial. And Pakistan used it judiciously – in a proxy war against India. India witnessed insurgency in its border states of Kashmir and Punjab during most of the eighties. Gen. Zia and the military were ever grateful to the US and to this day, they recognize how badly they need the US to execute their designs against India. Just as Pakistan was an important ally to the US in its war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Pakistan considers the US a key ally in its proxy war in India.

The Tribal Region – But in the war against the Soviets, there was one major problem. Pakistan did not have much control over its western region – where the war was being masterminded. That is because this is the tribal region – the 4th variable in the equation – or a region which is an amalgamation of several tribes who run their own government. There is the 7 tribal regions which are called bureaus and the executive authority of the region is with the governor of the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) which is a tribal belt as well and then there is Balochistan in the south which is tribal too and completely resents Pakistan.

So once the Soviets left Afghanistan, the mujahideen recruits were left to themselves on the Pakistan side of the fence. Once you train a basketball team, you can’t guarantee that they’ll play only for the LA Lakers. And since most of the region is rough mountainous terrain, the Islamic fundamentalists found it ideal for their training camps – training camps which gradually evolved into anti-US scheming grounds. Pakistan continued to follow the policy it had in the region – “I won’t look your way and you don’t look mine.”

So the hotbed of terrorism against the US became a region geographically in Pakistan, but politically closer to Afghanistan by ethnicity. The Pashtoons are the key inhabitants in this region, similar to their brethren on the other side of the Durand Line. The Durand Line is the artificial line (the red line in the map below) that separates Pakistan from Afghanistan and was established in 1893 based on an agreement between British India and the then Amir of Afghanistan. None of the Afghan rulers in modern times, including Hamid Karzai have recognized the Durand Line. The region in blue to the east of the Durand Line in the attached
map, is the mountainous tribal region of Pakistan.

However, after 9/11, the then President Musharraf of Pakistan, was pressured into controlling the militancy in these areas. But that was a futile effort. The government even tried to negotiate with the tribes, but it did not work. So it is unfair to state that Pakistan is in cahoots with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. Pakistan values US support and aid and needs it against India, but it has either found it hard to convince the US that it is helpless in that region or it doesn’t want to, for fear that the strife in the
region may gain global visibility.

Amidst such a paradox what options does the US have? What should be its policy towards Pakistan and its broader policy in the entire region?

Part II of this piece will touch upon that and layout a broad policy recommendation for that region. Look out for that piece in a couple of days.