Thursday, April 7, 2011

US lawmakers tell Obama, dump Pakistan and go with India

WASHINGTON: Expressing apprehension that theUnited States is being "taken for suckers" and "looked at as patsies" by Pakistan, two American lawmakers on Tuesday called for strengthening ties with India even as a White House report gave a harshly critical assessment of Islamabad's effort to defeat extremism. 

While administration officials defended Washington's support for Pakistan using the same logic as London is doing on UK Prime Minister David Cameron's ongoing visit to Islamabad ("a difficult partnership with Pakistan is far better than having a hostile Pakistan," one U.S official testified), lawmakers wanted a major reappraisal of U.S outlook for the region. They expressed doubts if any good would come out of the current U.S policy of coddling Islamabad in the face of Pakistani duplicity in combating extremism. Instead, they pushed for even closer ties with India. 

"After 10 years of hearing the same sales pitch I tend to doubt it. I doubt that our money is buying anything that's deep or durable," New York Congressman Gary Ackerman said at a hearing. "I doubt the leaders in the Afghan government and the Pakistani government are going to do anything except pursue their own narrow, venal self interests. I doubt the ISI will ever stop working with us during the day and going to see their not-so-secret friends in the Lashkar-e-Taibaor Jaish-e Mohammed and other terrorist groups at night." 

His California colleague Dana Rohrabacher went even further back to frame the situation in a historical context. "I've been hearing that for 50 years. And I will tell you, a realistic relationship, rather than basing the relationship on wishful thinking, is what will bring about peace in that part of the world. What we've had is wishful thinking and what I call irrational optimism," he said at a hearing called to assess U.S foreign policy priorities in South Asia

The critical comments came just hours after a White House report to Congress concluded that after years of work with the Pakistani military "there remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency" that thrives in the country, remarks that analysts said reflected growing frustration in the administration over Pakistan's commitment to fight extremism. 

Still, administration officials defended Washington's outreach to Pakistan, insisting that the country is vital to US national security interests and suggesting the U.S had no other options. 

But lawmakers were not convinced. Both Rohrabacher and Ackerman, who described U.S ties withNew Delhi as the "one shining light" and "brightest light" respectively of the administration's foreign policy pressed for greater emphasis on India. 

"I would hope that we have the intelligence to work and to make sure that India is our best friend in that part of the world," Rochrabacher said, offering his contrast between the two countries. "The fact is that Pakistan is committed to Islam...India is dedicated to prosperity for their people." 

Amid what lawmakers saw as Washington's compulsive obsession with Pakistan, Ackerman in fact criticized the administration for not using U.S diplomatic leadership and agenda-setting capability to focus global attention to the threat to India from Pakistan-based terrorists, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. 

"If there is, God forbid, another Mumbai-like strike, we will not be able to say that we did our utmost to prevent it because in truth, we haven't," he warned. "The ambitions of these terrorists have only grown and a full-fledged global campaign to crush these thugs still awaits at our peril." 

While critical of Pakistan, the White House report offered no new prescription of how to handle Islamabad, aside from reflecting on the well-known fact that India looms large in the Pakistani military's thinking. 

"As India continues to dominate their strategic threat perception, large elements of Pakistan's military remain committed to maintaining a ratio of Pakistani to Indian forces along the eastern border," the Presidential report to the Congress on Afghanistan and Pakistan said, adding, "This deprives the Pakistani COIN (counter-insurgency) fight of sufficient forces to achieve its 'clear' objectives and support the 'hold' efforts." 

Some analysts have suggested India should take steps to reassure Pakistan about its security, but the broad reading in Washington is that nothing can placate a security establishment that uses a trumped-up or exaggerated Indian threat to extend its stranglehold on the Pakistani people and the country's resources. President Obama downwards, U.S officials have said the Pakistani military's obsession is misplaced. Frustrated lawmakers on Tuesday suggested in effect that the administration simply strengthen ties with India to counter Pakistan's policy.

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