On Thursday (Oct 6), exactly ten years after the US embarked upon its post 9-11 military operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama issued what is being interpreted as a serious warning to the Pakistani military establishment over its links with extremist groups in the Af-Pak region. He noted that the Pakistan military’s links with “unsavory characters” (the euphemism for terror groups) is troubling and in an important observation, asserted that Pakistan should realize that a “peaceful approach” towards India would be in “everybody’s interest.”

President Obama  was responding to increasing US domestic anger over its 10-year-long war against  the Taliban that began on October 7, 2011 – and to date the US has lost almost 1700 lives with 14,350 casualties, while the total Afghan deaths is  estimated to be in excess of 10,000.  Military leaders in the  Pentagon   are furious over  the Pakistan military’s duplicity in seeking US financial and military aid on one hand, while concurrently supporting the terror groups that have been targeting the US and NATO forces.  The Taliban attack on the US base in Kabul on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 was the final straw, which led to the candid remarks by Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – seen as a friend of Pakistan and General Kayani – remarks that have since been supported by President Obama.

Enormous wealth and human life has been expended over the last 10 years in the US war against terror that began in Afghanistan and later shifted to Iraq. One estimate puts the total figure for the US at a staggering   US $ 3.7 trillion (or almost a quarter of the total US GDP for 2010) and the costs for the victims - in Afghanistan and Iraq are incalculable. It is likely to take at least 50 years if not more for these countries and societies to recover – and it is this aspect that Afghan President Karzai highlighted on the same occasion – the 10th anniversary of the US military operations against the Taliban.

In a media interview, President Karzai conceded that his government and the US led NATO forces have not been able to provide that degree of security which the Afghan people so desperately needed, despite the enormous loss of human lives and colossal wealth. The reason – which the Afghan President stated explicitly - was the role of the Pak military. For decades, the Pak ISI has assumed the role of a spoiler by supporting terror groups affiliated to the Taliban and its ideology.  Reviewing the last decade and the mistakes made, Karzai further added that   the US and NATO should have concentrated a long time back, in the beginning of 2002-3, on the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.

The nascent and fragile peace process in Afghanistan received its most serious setback with the assassination of former Afghan President Badruddin Rabbani on September 20 by elements linked to the Pak ISI – and this is similar to the manner in which fellow Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Masood had been killed two days before 9-11 in September 2001 - by agents posing to be journalists. At the time there was speculation that this assassination had been engineered by the Pak ISI and it is instructive to note that this pattern continues.

It is against this backdrop that the October 4 visit to Delhi by President Karzai assumes significance. Indian security interests are inextricably linked to the nature of who is in power in Kabul and the December 1999 hijacking of an Indian aircraft during the NDA years and the subsequent 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul are illustrative. Till recently,  both the USA and  Afghanistan were reluctant to endorse and  support  Indian  involvement in the reconstruction of Afghanistan in deference to the Pak military – and its  misplaced fear about being ‘encircled’ by India. It may be inferred that the Mullen testimony about the Pak military and the assassination of Professor Rabbani have led to a review of the policies being followed by Washington and Kabul as regards India.

However the fact that the USA still has its troops in Afghanistan and that it is dependent on the Pak military for the logistic chain from Karachi to Kandahar constrains US options in dealing with GHQ in Rawalpindi. Secondly the nuclear card is often used by the Pak military to intimidate the US and this has been successful in the past. Thus when President Obama refers to the need to “constantly evaluate” the US relationship with the Pak military – these are the complex factors that will need to be harmonized.

It would be ideal if the Pak military were to renounce its support to terror groups and the jihadi ideology it has nurtured for decades. This is unlikely to happen and the US – going back to the Ayub Khan years - has been culpable in supporting the Pakistan military and thereby stifling the growth of any democratic ethos. This is the bigger reset challenge to US policy and unless this ambiguity is redressed, the current pattern of   Washington following contradictory policies that result in the bleeding of both the USA and Afghanistan will continue. India is an affected party  in the  terror  policies nurtured by the Pak military going back to May 1990  and will have to be  alert to  the many  turbulences  that are  engulfing the region.