By AHMED QURAISHI
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—One telephone call seven years ago was enough for Islamabad to accommodate Washington’s entire wish list. But United States pressure tactics will not work now. Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is leading a military and a nation that is determined to resist Washington’s plan to bring to Pakistan the ethno-civil wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pakistani military’s brisk response is not just a reaction to the deliberately humiliating and outrageous unilateral American decisions to include Pakistan in the Iraq/Afghanistan war theater.
There is a bigger problem here. Pakistani policy analysts are convinced that United States has been a duplicitous ally during the past seven years, using the sincere Pakistani cooperation on Afghanistan to gradually turn that country into a military base to launch a sophisticated psychological, intelligence and military campaign to destabilize Pakistan itself.
The objective is to weaken the control of the Pakistani military over geographical Pakistan and ignite an ethnic and sectarian civil war leading to changing the status of Balochistan and NWFP, possibly even facilitate the break up of both provinces from the Pakistani federation.
The defeatist stance of Pakistan’s elected government in the face of U.S. belligerence is discussed later in this paper. But it is worth noting that President Zardari has refused to publicly back the military’s warning to U.S. He also delayed his China visit to go to London to hunker down with Gordon Brown. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousaf Reza Gilani, in a statement that deprives Pakistan of strategic advantage and dampens the psychological effect of army chief’s warning, has said that ‘Pakistan can’t wage war with U.S.’ In comparison, the governor of NWFP, Mr. Owais Ghani, has become the only government official to publicly state the truth.
On Sept. 12, the governor’s office issued the following statement: “Foreign forces based in Afghanistan and militants are working on the same anti-Pakistan agenda and both are following the same strategy to weaken the country […] while the coalition troops were threatening to extend their war to Pakistan, the militants are also attacking the country and creating a war-like situation. It appeared that both the forces were working on the same agenda to weaken Pakistan.”
(al qaeda and americans allied who would have thought we would see this day. it would have been funny if it wasnt so dangerous and sinister)
In one sign of the grand double game, despite the poor relations with Iran, Washington has encouraged Karzai and the Indians to complete the construction of a road that links Afghanistan to an Indian-built Iranian seaport. The purpose is to end the dependence of both U.S. army and the Karzai regime on Pakistan for access to sea(are the iranians in on it as well, i find that hard to believe). U.S. military officials have also been seeking permission to use Russian air space for military cargo to replace Pakistani facilities.
These American actions show a degree of long term planning and are not connected to the recent American grievances against Pakistan and its intelligence agencies.
A segment of the U.S. policy establishment had decided to take the war to Pakistan from the outset in 2001. Washington first used Islamabad to occupy Afghanistan and then used the Afghan soil to start series of insurgencies inside Pakistan. The strategy was an alternative to a direct confrontation with a nuclear-armed country. A weak Pakistani state with a neutered military was envisaged as an ideal situation to protect U.S. interests with regards to China, Russia and India.
It is not clear how much the rest of the departments of the U.S. government knew about the destabilization plans for Pakistan. If the entire U.S. political and military strategy on Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001 was based on consensus, then Pakistanis have been massively deceived by their American allies.
The anti-Pakistan lobby in Washington found willing allies in the Indians and the Northern Alliance component of the Karzai regime in Kabul.
The idea to destabilize Pakistan appears to have started with simple and clear thoughts. The U.S.- and India-backed Kabul regime proposed reviving Pashtun nationalism and the secession of Pashtun regions from Pakistan. The Indians offered their decades-old experience in penetrating Pakistani territories for espionage. The Indians offered something else too: The revival of the so-called Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). The Soviets and Indians together created this terrorist organization in the 1970s and used Afghan soil to foment an ethnic-based civil war inside Pakistan. The idea died out naturally, until the Indians offered the Americans to revive it after 9/11 as a punishment for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s tribal belt, Balochistan and Swat were peaceful until early 2005. Since then, series of insurgencies have erupted led by shady ethno-religious characters. One of them, a tribal thug who stayed in American and Karzai custody for several years, was released only to enter Pakistan and begin targeting Chinese citizens in the country. Another thug in Balochistan was convinced by handlers in Afghanistan that he would be made the head of an independent Balochistan with U.S. help if he agreed to launch an insurgency and help recruit young Pakistanis to get training to fight their own country.
Between 2005 and now, the entire western Pakistan from the Arabian Sea to the border with China has turned into a cocktail of ethnic and religious insurgencies focused on fighting the Pakistani state and the Pakistani military.
On July 12, 2008, when U.S. Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and CIA Deputy Director Stephen R. Kappes were in Rawalpindi on a secret visit, Gen. Kayani, former President Musharraf and Pakistani intelligence officials confronted the American duo with conclusive evidence that showed U.S. complicity in feeding and sustaining a terrorist movement in Balochistan, where China is building a strategic seaport.
Pakistanis now also have damning evidence that shows that Karzai’s security apparatus, which is heavily infested with Indian security and intelligence advisers, has been directly supplying weapons and money to clusters of thugs masquerading as ‘Pakistani Taliban’.
The main assignment for these fake ‘Taliban’ is to target and kill Pakistanis – military and civilians – and kidnap Chinese citizens in Pakistan. Which is surprising because the Afghan Taliban, the real Taliban, are focused on targeting U.S. occupation forces in Afghanistan and not on spreading fear and chaos among Pakistanis. This is more like someone is trying to punish Pakistan through a planned effort.
In the latest incidents, over 25 worshippers perished when unknown terrorists lobbed hand grenades inside a mosque in northern Pakistan. The real Taliban would never indulge in such senseless violence targeting Pakistani citizens. Moreover, two Chinese engineers have been kidnapped. It is strange that the Chinese are the only foreigners being targeted in Pakistan, while citizens of United States and other NATO member countries are spared.
The de facto Pakistani interior minister, Rehman Malik, in an interview to CNN on Sept. 11, stopped short of accusing U.S. and India of using Afghan soil to target Pakistan. He said these unknown insurgents emerged from nowhere in 2005 and since then the quality of their weapons and equipment has dramatically improved. “Where are they getting support from? Not Pakistan,” he said.
Even if U.S. officials deny that parts of the U.S. government are privy to this destabilization effort, there is no question that the U.S. military is inexplicably ignoring the Karzai-Indian export of terrorism into Pakistan.
The U.S. role is certainly suspicious. Starting in early 2007, the U.S. media unleashed an organized demonization campaign against Pakistan that was unprecedented in the history of Pak-U.S. relations. U.S. media made a concerted effort to create world hostility against Pakistan and spread ‘anti-Pakistanism’ globally. Washington’s media managers were apparently trying to prepare the world public opinion for a possible American military intervention in Pakistan on the pretext of either saving the country’s nukes or to fight al-Qaeda.
Besides India, the United States is the only other country in the world busy in this deliberate creation of hostility against Pakistan. Take the example of this quote from an article that appeared in the conservative, pro-Bush magazine, The Weekly Standard, in Nov. 2007:
“A large number of ISI agents … should be thrown in jail or killed. What I think we should do in Pakistan is a parallel version of what Iran has run against us in Iraq: giving money [and] empowering [anti-state] actors. Some of this will involve working with some shady characters.”
On Feb. 1, 2008, New York Times, published an op-ed piece that discussed in detail the division of Pakistan into three independent states. The article was an example of malicious fear-mongering but the real surprise was that a prestigious paper carried it. NYT is the same paper that allowed itself to be used by Bush administration spin masters to promote fake stories about WMD and Iraq before U.S. invaded that country. Pakistan’s ace diplomat, Mr. Munir Akram, who has recently been removed by the Zardari government from his job as Pakistan’s envoy to the U.N., saw the NYT article and sent a letter to the paper’s editor, although it was not his job to do so but the responsibility of the press attaché in the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.
Mr. Akram wrote: “[The op-ed] will confirm the belief of many Pakistanis that there is an international conspiracy to destabilize and disintegrate Pakistan […] The orchestrated campaign against President Pervez Musharraf, the denigration of the Pakistani Army, calls for the capture of Pakistan’s nuclear assets, the string of suicide bombings and terrorism in Balochistan are all seen as aimed at this malevolent design.”
This American media campaign against Pakistan continues unabated. Last month, Mr. Harlan Ullman, a Washington columnist with strong ties to U.S. military, visited Islamabad and returned to float this stunning idea: “Pakistan should create integrated and joint operations centers at ISI or Army GHQ with U.S. military, State Department, law enforcement and intelligence officers in residence.”
This U.S. media campaign has been going hand in glove for the past eighteen months with a wave of terrorism inside Pakistan targeting Pakistani civilians and government. The blame for these acts was laid at the doors of something called ‘Pakistani Taliban’ which is, in major part, a creation of Indian and Karzai intelligence setups inside Afghanistan.
It is highly suspicious that U.S. military attacks inside Pakistan in recent weeks have targeted pro-Pakistan tribesmen. Somehow the U.S. drones and spy satellites are unable to target the shady rebel leaders who are exclusively fighting Pakistan and never attack U.S. soldiers across the border.
Also, the American war strategy neatly fits in with the secessionist campaign that seeks to turn Pakistani Pashtuns against their own country. With every U.S. attack that kills women and children, Pakistani Pashtun are becoming convinced that their country, Pakistan, is either unwilling or incapable of defending its citizens. The military operations conducted by Pakistani military to kill these shadowy terrorists are indirectly sending the message that Islamabad is also party to spilling Pashtun blood. All of this is strengthening the case of those who are promoting a secessionist propaganda that the NWFP and the Pashtun areas must secede from Pakistan.
This is the first time in decades that the idea of Pashtuns, the real liberators of Azad Kashmir, turning against Pakistan is appearing to be a possibility.
There is no question that Pakistan’ military waited for a cue from the country’s elected leadership to respond to U.S. violations of Pakistani territory.
On Sept. 6, marked as Pakistan Defense Day in memory of a failed Indian invasion of Pakistan in 1965, the Pakistani air force chief tried to send a message to the elected government. He told reporters that the Pakistani air force was ready to respond if the government made a policy decision.
The Zardari-Gilani government chose to ignore U.S. attacks. In fact, the defense minister, Mr. Ahmed Mukhtar, made statements on multiple occasions that raised eyebrows. At one point he said U.S. drones flew too high for Pakistani military to respond. At another point he justified U.S. attacks inside Pakistan by saying ‘there must be a reason’ for Washington to violate the border.
Then came Hamid Karzai to plant a misleading story in the Pakistani media when President Zardari invited him to his oath-taking ceremony on Sept. 9. After his arrival, Karzai called some journalists and leaked to them that Arabs were killed in the Sept. 8 U.S. attack on the house of the veteran Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani in Miramshah.
This was a perfect justification for the violation of Pakistani territory and it helped the Americans tell their reluctant European allies that attacking Pakistan was justified. Karzai leaked the information, complete with names and numbers of the dead Arabs.
The sinister part of this exercise was that ‘sources close to the Haqqani family’ were cited to confirm the report. Major Pakistani news organizations picked up the story and made it their lead for several hours. This was the height of cynicism. The Haqqani family was in mourning, with several members of the family, women and children dead while a disinformation campaign was using their name to confirm the existence of foreign fighters in their house.
The truth was that Haqqani’s house was never a secret hideout. His family maintained a house in Pakistan since the 1980s. Haqqani lived and operated in Afghanistan and the people in the house where his extended family relatives, ordinary people with no link to the war in Afghanistan. This is like Afghan resistance groups deciding to target Mr. Karzai’s extended family members who have nothing to do with Karzai’s activities just to get back at him. The Afghan resistance has never done it. But Karzai and his American allies have no problem in resorting to this method.
The devastated Haqqani family corrected the story later and questioned the source of the story since there were no Arabs or foreign or any fighters at all in the house. The U.S. attack was a deliberate act of terrorism to cause maximum pain to the Afghan commander.
Pakistani military quietly watched the Zardari-Gilani government take no position on the U.S. attacks. Then came the bombshell when, last week, Bush and his military chief, Adm. Mullen, said Pakistan was now part of the Iraq-Afghanistan ‘war theater’ and New York Times published a leak that said Bush had authorized attacks inside Pakistan without Islamabad’s consent.
The purpose behind the leak was to put Pakistan on notice and somehow force the issue down on Islamabad in the hope that Pakistan will grudgingly accept it.
After Gen. Kayani’s tough-worded counter statement, an embarrassed Prime Minister Gilani said the statement reflected his government’s policy.
But the biggest question mark is the silence of President Zardari. He did not endorse Gen. Kayani’s statement. Even more shocking for Pakistanis was that Mr. Zardari reneged on his promise that China will be his first foreign visit as President. Instead he left for London after a call from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown ‘inviting’ him to London to discuss the new U.S. strategy.
It is clear that President Zardari supports the new U.S. policy and does not agree with the Pakistani military’s warning that it will defend against attacks on Pakistan’s at all costs.
Mr. Zardari is in power thanks to the arrangement – known as the ‘deal’ – that Washington and London forced Pakistan to accept. His assets are mostly in United States and Britain. There is no way he can risk alienating his backers.
The deal originally envisaged the return of Benazir Bhutto to power in Pakistan. Former President Musharraf was forced to – or he personally accepted to help – make Mrs. Bhutto the new prime minister. Mrs. Bhutto accepted U.S. help in bringing her back to power in return for her commitment that she will allow Washington to do all or most of the things that Musharraf was not willing to do: mainly permit U.S. boots on the ground in Pakistan.
There is every possibility that President Zardari has been convinced by close advisors, especially Ambassador Husain Haqqani in Washington, to tacitly accept U.S. operations inside Pakistan and not allow the Pakistani military to dictate its terms.
Ambassador Haqqani is strongly sympathetic to Washington’s position(practically their servant). Last year, he played a major role in convincing Benazir Bhutto to make public statements accepting U.S. boots on Pakistani soil and American access to Dr. A. Q. Khan. Before his present assignment, Mr. Haqqani has been closely linked to the same hawkish U.S. think tanks that are the biggest advocates of U.S. military intervention in Pakistan. The elected government’s soft position on U.S. attacks has a lot to do with the work of Ambassador Haqqani and another American figure—Zalmay Khalilzad, President Zardari’s ‘secret’ American adviser.
It is a foregone conclusion; based on Ambassador Haqqani’s intrusive record at the Pakistan Foreign Office in the past four months, that he has a direct link to the bizarre statement by Prime Minister Gilani [“Pakistan can’t wage war with U.S.”-Sept 12] and the series of statements made by Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar that justified U.S. attacks against Pakistan [“U.S. drones fly too high, we can’t attack them” and “If U.S. attacks, there must be a reason.”].
If Pakistani military tries to block U.S. military violations, there is a possibility of limited armed conflict between Pakistani and American soldiers on the Afghan border.
Gen. Kayani’s warning of retaliation did help NATO make a public statement that it does not share Washington’s idea of taking the war to Pakistan. However, no one in Islamabad is convinced that NATO will remain neutral in the event that U.S. military tries to engage Pakistan in a conflict.
In case of conflict, Washington is expected to signal to India to open a front in the east in order to divert Pakistani military resources. Intelligence assets that have been planted inside Pakistan with links in Afghanistan will be activated and will possibly try to ratchet up the campaign of public terror in order to spread chaos and exert pressure on Pakistan military. More Chinese targets can be attacked or killed in order to strain ties between Beijing and Islamabad.
But Pakistan is not without options. In fact, the Pakistani position is stronger than what it appears to be. Islamabad can activate old contacts with a resurgent and rising Afghan Taliban inside Afghanistan. The entire Pakistani tribal belt will seize this opportunity to fight the Americans. The attempts to divide Pakistanis along sectarian lines have failed and the Americans cannot expect to repeat what they did in Iraq in March 2003. Pakistanis will fight and resist. There is a possibility that Pakistani tribesmen could cross the border in large numbers using secret routes to dodge aerial bombardment and join the Afghan Taliban and find their way to Kabul.
The misguided ‘Pakistani Taliban’ who appear to be operating as an extension of U.S. military in Afghanistan will also come under pressure of the tribesmen and will be forced to target the occupation forces instead of fighting the Pakistani government.
Washington might be tempted by the idea of signaling to the Indians to engage Pakistan from the east. But the fact is that the Indian army has a dangerous rebellion on its hands in the valley. By opening a front with Pakistan, Indian soldiers will have to protect their front and rear simultaneously. The Pakistani military has contingency plans for dealing with hostilities on two fronts.
U.S. soldiers also will not have it easy if they enter a conflict. This is why the Americans are hoping they will scare Pakistanis into submission. Pakistan’s economic crisis is being exploited. Pakistani officials say that IMF and World Bank have received U.S. instructions to go hard on Pakistan. Washington is also trying to convince Gulf Arabs not to support Pakistan this time.
But the situation between Islamabad and Washington does not have to come to this. Islamabad can help tip the scales in Washington against the hawks who want a war with Pakistan. Not all parts of the U.S. government accept this idea and this must be exploited. Pakistan must make it clear that it will retaliate. Statements like that of Prime Minister Gilani must be stopped. His statement virtually damaged the psychological effect of army chief’s warning.
U.S. military posturing aside, Washington has recently seen a string of diplomatic defeats. Russia has cut American meddling in Georgia to size. In Iraq, a coalition of Shiite parties is forcing the Americans to leave the country. And both Bolivia and Venezuela have expelled U.S. ambassadors, and, in Bolivia’s case, the world has suddenly become alert to Washington’s intrusive meddling in that country’s domestic politics and the role of the U.S. ambassador in fueling separatism. Which is not very different from the U.S. role inside Pakistan, where U.S. diplomats have created political chaos by directly engaging the politicians, coupled with creating and feeding insurgencies to weaken the country.
The only way to entrap Pakistan now is to either orchestrate a spectacular terrorist attack in U.S. and blame it on Pakistan, or to assassinate a high profile personality inside Pakistan and generate domestic strife that will make it impossible for the military to resist U.S. attacks.
© 2007-2008. All rights reserved. AhmedQuraishi.com.