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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Pakistan continued to be seen as a problem

By Asif Haroon Raja

Gen Musharraf buckled under pressure on a midnight phone call from Colin Powel on 12 September 2001. He promptly gave in to all the seven demands spelled out by the caller. He had agreed to ditch the ruling Taliban regime in Kabul which was most friendly to Pakistan and had for the first time made our western border safe and had eliminated the Indian influence from Afghanistan. He agreed to share intelligence with the CIA and FBI. These agencies were given free license within Pakistan to operate under the garb of tracking Al-Qaeda operatives. The four air bases in Baluchistan were handed over to the US military to carryout strikes against Afghanistan.

The spy planes (drones) were allowed to undertake surveillance unchecked while all the airports were also put under surveillance of FBI. Logistic supply in containers at the rate of 400 per day which none in Pakistan was authorized to check was also allowed via Chaman and Torkham.. He allowed these fateful concessions to USA at his own and justified them on the plea that had he not ceded Pakistan would have been pushed into Stone Age. Colin Powel and Richard Armitage denied having threatened him as claimed by him. His cronies hailed him as a saviour and a visionary. Some like me condemned his unilateral action without obtaining anything concrete for Pakistan but their voices were lost in the din of lavish acclaims. His injurious decisions continue to haunt Pakistan to this day.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives had slipped into Pakistan and Iran after the fall of Taliban regime in Kabul in November 2001. By the time the army was inducted into South Waziristan in early 2003 at the behest of USA and had a launched major military operation towards later part of that year, the Taliban had managed to get regrouped. They regained entry into Pashtun dominated southern and eastern Afghanistan and within a year were in a position to strike their targets inside these provinces. Their re-entry became easier once the US-Nato forces diluted its concentration of effort by opening a second front in Iraq in March 2003 and the troops in Afghanistan mostly got confined to Kabul. No effort had been made to seal the Pak-Afghan border. To make matters worse, Afghanistan refused to fence the border while ISAF took no additional measures to prevent cross border movement at its end..

When Pak army expanded its sphere of operation towards North Waziristan under pressure from USA in 2005 and nabbed several hundred Al-Qaeda operatives including high value targets, bulk of Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements based in FATA shifted to southern Afghanistan and converted it into its strong base of operation. Gradually they succeeded in winning back the support of the locals mainly because of oppressive policies of US-Nato troops particularly against the Pashtuns and excluding them from power.

Southern Afghanistan which comprises bulk of Afghanistan became the launching pad for the Taliban to strike targets in central, western and northern provinces of Afghanistan. By end 2008, almost 80% of Afghanistan had come under their influence. The Afghan Taliban no more require sanctuaries in FATA since these were needed by them in the initial stages to move into and out of southern Afghanistan to regain their hold. Till February 2009 Mullah Omar had no affiliation with Baitullah Mehsud led Tehrik-e-Taliban. Once Pak army regained control over Swat and Bajaur in February 2009, the local Pakistani Taliban for the first time expressed their intention to affiliate with Omar led Taliban and to accept him as their supreme commander. It is as a consequence to this decision that the US has announced $5 million head money on Baitullah Mehsud.

The US planners have got fixated with the idea that Pakistan is a problem in the Afghan imbroglio. They are of the view that major concentration of Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden along with the Taliban are headquartered in north-western tribal belt of Pakistan. Lately Pashtun belt of Baluchistan has been added where Taliban as well as Mullah Omar are allegedly based. They also continue to suspect that some elements within the army and ISI are supporting the Taliban and their extremist allies. They believe that the army does not go all out to crush the militants and is always on the lookout to strike peace deals with the militants, which allows the latter time to regroup. They allege that the ISI apart from providing training facilities to the Taliban, launch them into Afghanistan for terrorist activities. No amount of assurances has helped in allaying their suspicions and fears.

Reason for such hardened misperceptions is persistent poisoning of ears of US and Nato military commanders in Afghanistan by CIA, FBI, RAW, Mossad, and MI-6 based in Kabul. These agencies have ganged up to help the military in achieving US objectives in the region.

Since RAW has been assigned to cover Pakistan front, other agencies prepare their intelligence briefs based on its inputs and uphold assessment of RAW. They wine, dine and write together on the basis of given objectives. The other reason is that the US and Nato military commanders finding it difficult to offer any explanation for its dismal performance in controlling insurgency in Afghanistan hide their weaknesses behind the cover of Pakistan. Instead of taking stock of their multiple flaws they gain a breather by blaming Pakistan. The third possible reason for Pakistan bashing is that it fits into the overall design of the US.

The think tanks, writers and intellectuals in the west tutored by the west together with the west loving and paid writers and intellectuals in Pakistan as well as in India and elsewhere contribute towards the orchestrated propaganda campaign by writing on the given themes. It has taken over three years of continuous snipes fired by the west, India and their cronies in Pakistan to hammer their themes to discredit and bring to disrepute our security organizations. Some of the themes coined by adversaries of Pakistan are as under:

One, some element within the Pakistan army and the ISI are linked with Taliban and Al-Qaeda and supporting them.

Two, the ISI is training, equipping and launching the Taliban into Afghanistan for terrorism.

Three, the army is either deliberately not dealing with them sternly, or is inefficient and incapable of fighting them.

Four, the Taliban have gained control over FATA, Swat and greater part of NWFP and are now creeping into Baluchistan, southern Punjab and Karachi.

Five, the extremist forces have gained strength and have become powerful enough to take over power.

Six, nuclear bombs in Pakistan are unsafe and likely to be hijacked by militants.

Seven, Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world and within Pakistan FATA is the most hazardous place wherefrom an attack on homeland of US would be launched. George Bush had initially floated this wild idea in July last year and now Obama has reiterated it.

Eight, the north-western tribal belt and now Baluchistan Pashtun belt have become safe havens of Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Nine, FATA has become the main breeding ground of terrorists and the sanctuary of top leadership of Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Ten, majority of Al-Qaeda has shifted to Pakistan and pose major threat to Afghanistan and to the security of USA in particular and world security in general.

Eleven, Pakistan is fast slipping into chaos and would sooner than later become a failed state.

Twelve, the army and the ISI are out of control of the civilian government and have become rogue institutions.

Thirteen, Pakistan will either be Balkanized or will collapse from within.

Fourteen, the main threat to existence of Pakistan is from homegrown militants and not from India.

The new US Ambassador to Afghanistan Lt Gen Karl Eikenberry has joined the bandwagon and fallen in line with Pakistan-centric bashers. He has repeated the same old allegations against Pakistan. He is still holding on to outdated ideas that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates seek to create fear and chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to regain territorial control of Afghanistan.

They are already in control of two-thirds of Afghan territory. It is US military and not Taliban which is creating fear through its shock and awe policy. Drones are an extension of such a policy to strike fear. Whereas the real perpetrators of 9/11 attacks have yet to be ascertained, Karl has again pinned Al-Qaeda asserting that it had horrifically overturned peace and tranquility of US homeland.

Collaborative exchange of intelligence and coordinated military action between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan as suggested by Karl may sound appealing on paper but on ground it has little practical value because of huge distrust on both sides. The US is largely responsible for creating trust deficit because of its discriminatory attitude. It was made to do all the dirty work at the peril of its security and pretended to be its friend, but in actuality it corroborated with India, Afghanistan and Israel to harm Pakistan after consolidating its gains in Afghanistan and converting it into a permanent military base.

After constantly prodding Pakistan to do more to curb militancy in FATA and to stop cross border terrorism, the US has now linked Pakistan with Afghanistan and planned to deal with terrorism on regional basis. The two have been jointed on the plea that problems faced by the two neighbors were the same and solution to Afghan imbroglio could only be found if the problem was tackled as one whole and not on piecemeal basis. The US is now trying to sell the idea that the US military is not stationed in Afghanistan for good but its main aim is to rid the country of the presence of Al-Qaeda.

It is trying to win over the Taliban and other Afghans that the US military had come to Afghanistan to get hold of Osama and his Al-Qaeda and now that the centre of gravity of Al-Qaeda has shifted to Pakistan, the US has no reason to fight the Taliban that had not taken any part in 9/11 attacks. It is trying to woo the Taliban to join US military in ousting the Al-Qaeda from Pakistan and Afghanistan so that it could then quit Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda would continue to be exploited by USA for its geo-economic interests. All guns are likely to be pointed at Pakistan turning it into the main battle zone.

The new policy which has been promptly hailed by our rulers has no worthwhile goodies for Pakistan. Without realizing the implications our rulers are overjoyed by the so-called promise of $1.5 billion. Bulk of $ 10 billion US assistance given to Pakistan during Musharraf rule returned to US kitty while some was spent for upkeep of regal living style of the elite and nothing was left for the people. According to Pakistani businessmen, nearly $60 billion was lost fighting war on terror. Same will be the fate of $7.5 billion five-year package particularly when gluttons like Zardari are ruling the roost whose mouths have already started to water.

On 27 March Barrack Obama spelled out new AF-Pak policy to fight terrorism. Most of his assertions were the same as already divulged by US officials and US media and commented by me and various defence analysts. Major goals with regard to US objectives in the region remain unchanged, except for some cosmetic changes in the form of mechanics. The new strategy is based on recommendations made by Centcom Commander Gen Petraeus who has been credited for pursuing a successful policy in Iraq. Petraeus guidelines revolve around troop surge to tilt the military balance in favor of US military, negotiate with Taliban from position of strength and then convince them to join hands and oust Al-Qaeda and thus pave the way for US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Salient points of the new policy to which Richard Holbrooke and Bruce Riedel have contributed are as under:

One, in view of fast deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the critical regions where the insurgency is intense should be stabilised through troop surge.

Two, Pak-Afghan order belt inhabited by extremists and terrorists is the most critical area on which the whole attention would be focused for their elimination.

Three, no amount of troop surge would work unless Pakistan cracks down on extremists in FATA and Swat in real earnest and puts an end to its support to Taliban led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbadin Hikmatyar elements and their supporters in Pakistan.

Four, the sanctuaries in FATA and in Baluchistan housing extremists must be destroyed.

Five, Pakistan military and ISI must sever all links with Taliban and focus all its resources towards defeating militancy along its side of the Pak-Afghan border.

Six, additional 17000 US forces shifted from Iraq for employment in southern and southeastern Afghanistan particularly Helmand and Kandahar provinces. 4000 additional troops will be sent for training of Afghan forces to take on frontline duties independently in critical regions.

Seven, US assistance of $1.5 billion annually to Pakistan for next five years to be made conditional to its performance and progress made on war on terror and making it accountable. Additional amount would be made available for development of FATA in the form of opportunity zones.

Eight, drone attacks would continue and might accelerate to include Baluchistan as well; however, US troops would refrain from crossing into FATA as long as Pak military performs its task to US satisfaction.

Nine, equip Pak army with sophisticated counter terrorism tools and train paramilitary forces and the police to be able to fight insurgents more efficiently.

Ten, improve law and order, governance and economy in Afghanistan and US assistance to be strictly monitored by inspectors and made project based and narcotic trade controlled.

Eleven, Discard Bush policy of unilateralism and adopt multilateral approach by seeking cooperation of all regional countries including Iran, China, Russia, Gulf states and India.

Twelve, engage with reconcilable elements among Taliban only and isolate irreconcilable among Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Efforts will be made to remove grievances of Pashtuns by way of allocating development funds and letting them elect their representatives where they are predominant provided they keep the radicals away.

Thirteen, ensure safety of supply routes through Pakistan; concurrently establish alternative supply routes through Iran Chahbahar Port or Central Asia to reduce dependence on Pakistan.

From the above it will be noted that there is little change in policy towards Af-Pak, and propaganda war against Pakistan continues unabated. The ISI is being targeted with renewed vigor. None of US military or civilian official or any of the western officials has ever questioned the depraved role of RAW, CIA and Mossad against Pakistan. Such an outright bias and prejudice is unexplainable and highly immoral. Why do they consider all Pakistanis to be so dumb-witted to listen to their partial sermons and agree to what they say? Notwithstanding the NRO cleansed leadership which has under compulsion maintained a highly apologetic and defensive stance in the face of US and Indian belligerence, the ordinary Pakistani look down upon USA for its meddlesome role, India for its cunningness combined with aggressiveness, and Pakistan leadership for its meekness.

While USA has hinted at overcoming trust deficit between USA and Pakistan, on ground there is no change. While USA considers extremists within Pakistan as cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within, other than the liberals, the great majority of Pakistanis do not share this view. They consider the meddlesome role of USA and India as most dangerous to Pakistan security.

Recent upsurge of terrorist attacks in Pakistan including the suicide tack in a mosque in Jamrud and two attacks on 3 March and 30 March, 2009 in Lahore are widely believed to be RAW sponsored to destabilise Pakistan and to convince the public that the Islamic militants are out to destroy Pakistan. How can the Pakistanis trust America when it wants to ensure its homeland security at the cost of Pakistan stability and is keen to denuclearize it?

The trust deficit can only be bridged if US makes its stance unbiased, refrains from defending immoral acts of India, stops drone attacks, puts an end to its malicious campaign against Pak army, ISI and nuclear assets, forces India to close down Pakistan specific consulates in southern Afghanistan, restrains various intelligence agencies from undertaking covert operations in Baluchistan, Swat and FATA from the soil of Afghanistan, hands over BLA leadership based in Helmand to Pakistan, stops misusing Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan from carrying out subversive actions against Iran, and finds a solution to Kashmir dispute which has again been put in the cold storage at the behest of India. Instead of doling out cash assistance which has proved counter productive, the US should provide greater access to US and EU markets for our exports and help in boosting our agriculture and industry.

It should cease backing dictators and most reviled civilian dictators and instead support popular leaders. If USA is really keen to put an end to anti-Americanism and enhance its respect in Pakistan, it should sincerely work on the above mentioned aspects. To expect that Pakistanis will respect USA and cooperate with it whole-heartedly while it harbors sinister designs against Pakistan would be unfair and impractical.

Asif Haroon Raja is a security, defence and political analyst based in Rawalpindi and author of several books.

- Asian Tribune -

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