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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What is cooking between the US and the Pakistani Army ? - Part II

Why is it important to analyze the relationship between the US and the Pakistani Army (PA) ? The reason is simple on two counts: one, it is the PA that generally runs the Pakistani government (at the current juncture, from backseat) and handles directly such sensitive issues as nuclear weapons, foreign policies vis-a-vis the US, India, Afghanistan and China; two, the US has always recognized this fact and by-passed the civilian government on most occasions and dealt directly with the PA, its client since the early 1950s. However, that cosiness is visibly changing now.

What does this change in relationship entail to Pakistan ? Pakistan's internal dynamics has been dangerously unstable for a long time now, beset with terrorism, sectarianism, increasing influence of the intolerant Wahhabi/Deobandi/Salafi mindset, poor governance, a moribund economy, an inchoate democracy that is utterly non-performing, unbridled violence among sub-nationalists as in Karachi and a host of other issues. Added to these is this increasing tension between the US and Pakistan which has the potential of destabilizing Pakistan and then impacting the region severely. The sweep of rebellions that one has witnessed from Tunisia to the UAE can easily extend to Pakistan because it has the most incendiary ingredients, among all these countries, awaiting an ignition. Such a rebellion would make the others child's play. Among the 3½ Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP), it is the US whose support is the most crucial for the stability of Pakistan. The Saudi-Pakistan relationship has gone a lot colder. The Chinese have always supported specific projects only such as nuclear power projects or nuclear weaponization or missile technology transfer etc. They do not give hard cash. The Japanese are going through a stressful period and are unlikely to be as benevolent as before. The British are a spent force and have been so for quite sometime now. They have also been facing a severe backlash of Pakistan-based Islamist jihadi terrorism, a gift of their myopic Pakistani policies for over a century now stretching back to the British Raj days. So, if the US support unravels at this critical juncture, Pakistan has everything to lose. One is unsure if the arrogant and haughty Pakistani Army which is driving these sensitive foreign policies of the civilian government, understand the magnitude of their follies. They did not realize it in 1971 and lost more than half their land and population. This time, the situation is fraught with extreme danger as the centrifugal jihadi forces may cause a civil war in a nuclear-weapon possessing Pakistan that is rapidly increasing its arsenal too. The rest of the world, especially the US, India and China cannot allow this spiralling down of Pakistan to go out of control as it poses a mortal danger to all of them.

That the US-Pakistan relationship has been rapidly on the decline has been well known for some time now. This time, it is not like the normal up-and-down seasonal variation between the US and Pakistan. The strategic dialogue between the two countries has been indefinitely postponed. American Congressmen have repeatedly talked of stopping aid. American newspapers have been widely critical, some of them very critical, of Pakistan's duplicity. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, openly accused the "Government of Pakistan" of silencing the journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. In an editorial on July 8, New York Times accused the ISI of complicity in hiding Osama bin Laden and in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks of 2008. The editorial demanded the dismissal of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director General of the notorious ISID. The PA reacted immediately by saying, "This is a direct attack on our security organisation and intelligence agencies". Strong words indeed, coming from an embattled PA which turns to the US for funds, arms, ammunitions. This downturn in relations started well before the Abbottabad incident of eliminating Osama bin Laden. But, the May 2 incident accentuated the process. In its aftermath, an incensed Pakistani Army did several things. The usually laconic Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) released an unusually long (1032 words) statement on June 9, 2011 that did not disguise the PA's anger. It even had highlighted text to drive home its point and determination. A combative PA said that it would no longer accept military aid from the US and said that such aid be diverted to the economy instead. The statement also said that since circa 2001, the US had given only USD 15 Billion to Pakistan out of which PA had received only USD 8.6 Billion. It also claimed that these figures had been reconciled with the Ministry of Finance, thereby hinting the Finance Ministry that it should not try to contradict these numbers. The US, on the other hand, claims it had given Pakistan USD 20 Billion most of which was reimbursement to the PA. The statement also said that a large number of US Army trainers were being asked to leave. In fact, it expelled all the 120 American Special Operations personnel who were training the soldiers of Frontier Corps (FC) since c. 2009. This made the US angry and it decided to 'chasten' the PA as the New York Times reported on July 9, 2011. The Obama administration decided to suspend USD 800 million worth of aid and questionable reimbursement. Pakistan has also expelled the British trainers of the FC at Quetta. The rejection of 'future' aid as well as the expulsion of the US trainers were weak attempts to hit two birds in one shot - warning to the US that its leverage with the PA will be reduced and two to redeem its shattered image with an overly critical Pakistani masses angry with the incompetence of the PA whom they regard with high esteem in spite of repeated and massive failures in battle fields. It may be that the PA used this opportunity to stop the US training of the FC, a training that was probably agreed to under American duress in the first instance. Since its inception, the training has been going at a slow pace, with the PA not releasing more than 250 soldiers for training at a time when the facilities were expected to host 2000 simultaneously for a 12-week programme. Concerned with the loss of its sheen among the Pakistanis, a source of great support for the PA's exalted position within the country, from criticisms by newspaper editors, analysts and anchors of TV talk shows, the PA warned of its determination to "put an end" to domestic criticism of its actions. It said, "This is an effort to drive a wedge between the army, different organs of the state and more seriously, the people of Pakistan. Any effort to create divisions between important institutions of the country is not in our national interest. The participants {at the Corps Commanders' Meeting} agreed that all of us should take cognizance of this unfortunate trend and put an end to it."

No wonder Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online, was brutally murdered within a few days after his sensational revelation on the reasons for the attack on the PNS Mehran naval base. The PA's justification for this murder is the ISPR statement. The ISPR statement also stated that from then on, intelligence will be shared with the US only on strictly reciprocal basis and with complete transparency. This is another opportunistic move by the PA perhaps in view of the imminent operations in North Waziristan (NW). In earlier operations, the Americans had given intelligence to the PAF F-16 pilots about targets and the same was expected this time too. In June last year, upgraded F-16s, that can target both in day and night, have been delivered to the PAF. In the changed circumstances, the PA decided to scuttle these inputs so that they can avoid targetting the Haqqani and allied groups still holed up in North Waziristan. For three years now, the US has been demanding operation to flush out the Haqqani Shura from NW without much success. Last year, the Pakistanis agreed but chose to launch it according to their convenience. Now, probably they want another excuse to delay the operation. The problem for the PA is that two of their major assets, the Haqqanis of Afghanistan and Gul Bahadur of NW are located here. In September, 2006, the PA entered into a 'peace treaty' with Gul Bahadur and this has generally stood the test of time eventhough in February 2009, Gul Bahadur (along with South Waziristan's Maulvi Nazeer Ahmed)joined hands temporarily with his (and PA's) arch enemy Baitullah Mehsud and said that they had overcome the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the Pakistani government which they blamed for “more losses to mujahideen than the US. It handed over 700 Arab mujahideen to the US and jailed our people”. They also pledged their support to Mullah Omar whom they accepted as the Emir of Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahideen. They proclaimed that the Shura had been formed at the express wish of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. As confirmation of the working of the Shura, Hafiz Gul Bahadur formally revoked on June 29, 2009, the peace treaty he had signed on Feb. 17, 2008 with the Pakistani Army. Just a day before, June 28, 2009, Gul Bahadur attacked a Pakistani Army convoy killing 40 soldiers and immediately thereafter Maulvi Nazeer Ahmed rocket-attacked the Frontier Corps’ camp in Wana. Gul Bahadur justified the scrapping of the peace deal because of the US drone attacks in North Waziristan as well as Pakistani Army action in Bannu which is under the control of Gul Bahadur. It later turned out that a more ominous reason for the united efforts of these three warlords was because of the US push in Helmand . The US wanted the Pakistan Army to prevent the Taliban from crossing the porous Waziristan borders and move into Helmand. The Pakistan Army tried to prevent it by activating rebel groups in Waziristan and trying to move the Army there. The TTP pre-empted that through its action. Thus, the Helmand offence by the US had inadvertently united the factions in TTP. Soon thereafter, Baitullah Mehsud died and the new Shura became defunct. The PA learnt its lessons. That is why it is unwilling to move on NW.

In the previous installment, we saw how the Abbottabad incident triggered various reactions and brought to fore the rifts in the US-PA relationship. But, Abbottabad was not a single straw that made the camel collapse. There have been a series of incidents. Indeed, Pakistani perfidy goes a long, long way back but for the present discussion, we may just look at some recent events.

One of the most serious incidents that occurred recently was the arrest in January, 2011 by the Lahore Police of Raymond Davis, a CIA agent, for killing in broad daylight two motor-bike borne Lahoris. Now we know that Raymond Davis was in Lahore monitoring the activities of the Lashkar-e-Tayba and the two who were shot dead by him were indeed ISI agents who were shadowing him and who possibly provoked him advertantly or inadvertantly. The PA laid its hands on Raymond Davis ttying to extract from him the various aspects of CIA operation within Pakistan. The PA forced the Government of Pakistan to handle the issue rather than itself getting involved even as it went about interrogating Raymond Davis. Anyway, this soured the relationship between the US and Pakistan until the PA was engaged by the US administration and a way out was found in the form of diyat (blood money) and other sops such as US visas for some family members of the two killed.

(To Be Continued . . .)

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