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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

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

In the earlier installment of this series, I discussed the North Waziristan (NW)issue and how important it was for Pakistan to have a normal relationship with the US. But, a slew of recent incidents do not bode well for the Pakistan-US relationship to recover soon. At least once a week these days, there is an incident that sets back the US-Pakistan relationship by a few notches. Suddenly, one finds that the US Administration that used to be so mindful of Pakistani sensitivities is no longer so and it is causing a lot of discomfort in Pakistan, especially the Pakistani Army. One feature of the on-going spat between the two countries is that while the entire administration, the CIA and the US Armed forces are involved from the US side, it is only the ISI and the PA who are involved from the Pakistani side, not the civilian government.

Let us see some of the recent incidents that are indicators of the worsening situation.

The revelations of Daoud Sayed Gilani alias David Coleman Headley and his buddy-turned-baddie Tahawwur Hussain Rana in a US Court under oath have nailed the nexus between the Pakistani Army (PA), Lashkar-e-Tayba, the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) and the Mumbai 26/11 terror attack. There were nothing new in these revelations that those who follow Pakistan did not know, but they have now acquired legality. In the same genre is the recent arrest of Ghulam Nabi Fai, the Director of Kashmir American Council (KAC), who was arrested in Virgina over attempts to influence politicians and opinion-makers on the Kashmir issue. The US Justice Department said the KAC had received up to $4 million in illegal contributions from the ISI. Ghulam Nabi Fai was arrested on the charge of having violated laws (Foreign Agents Registration Act, FARA) which prohibit work for foreign governments without registering with the Attorney General. The Justice Department also charged a second man, Zaheer Ahmad, with recruiting dummy donors for the KAC, through whom the ISI routed the funds. The chargesheet said that Dr. Fai reported to several ISI officials, identified as Brigadier Javed Aziz Khan, Brigadier Sohail Mehmood, Lieutenant-Colonel Tauqeer Mehmood Butt and the former head of the organisation's security directorate, Major-General Mumtaz Bajwa. Pakistan reacted sharply to the news by charcterizing it as a 'campaign of slander'. The fact that the arrest has taken place now while the US was aware for decades of KAC's connections back to Pakistan and the fact that names and ranks of ISI handlers of Ghulam Nabi Fai were also revealed in contrast to the way similar ISI handlers of David Coleman Headley were studiously kept secret for a long while, and that action came so swiftly after a hurried one-and-a-half-day trip to Washington by the ISI chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Ahmed Pasha, go to prove yet again that the US-Pakistan relationship is steadily moving towards a breaking point. It can be speculated that the ISID did not meet all the demands of the US and therefore the US decided to turn the screw a little bit more. As if on cue (most probably under prompting from the US), the Scotland Yard also initiated a probe into the activities and financing of London-based Kashmir lobby group, Justice Foundation, suspected to be another ISI-front like the KAC. A Scotland Yard spokesman told Times of India, "We can confirm we are liaising with US authorities."

The May 2 operations in eliminating Osama bin Laden at the Pakistani garrison town of Abbotabad in a house at a stone's throw away from the premier Pakistani Military Academy (PMA) have indeed been the most major proof of Pakistan's perfidy even as it claimed itself to be fighting to eliminate global terrorism and as one of the worst sufferers of terror. After the incident, Pakistan has been on an arrest spree arresting those who were suspected to have helped the US in executing the daring raid. Though this is understandable, Pakistan has not made much efforts in finding out anything about how Osama bin Laden came to reside in a garrison town for six years. The appointment of commissions to inquire into Abbottabad and journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad's death seem to be half-hearted. On May 31, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) announced a commission under a serving Supreme Court judge , Justice Javed Iqbal, only for the judge to take exception to it because neither he nor the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) was consulted before announcing his name. The same mistake was repeated in the Shahzad commission of enquiry as well a few weeks later. It was finally on June 20 that a letter was sent to the CJP asking him to suggest a name for the commission into the Abbottabad incident. So, after more than a month after a commission of enquiry was announced, the Head of the Commission was finalized. If past experience with commissions in Pakistan is any indication, these commissions are also doomed to end without revealing anything. The Commissions of Enquiry into Liaquat Ali Khan's death (the commission members along with all documents were lost when the plane they were travelling blew up mysteriously), Zia-ul-Haq's death, Ms. Benazir Bhutto's assassination are some examples which come to mind immediately. The deep nexus between the PA/ISI and the LeT revealed by another participant in the Mumbai 26/11 attacks (Ajmal Amir Kasab, one of the terrorists caught alive in the middle of the act) and the reluctance of the Government of Pakistan to proceed meaningfully in the investigation and prosecution of 26/11-associated terrorists prove that all sections of the Pakistani state are complicit in terror.

The attack on PNS Mehran that led to a pitched battle between the members of Brigade 313 (a part of Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami or HuJI) that lasted 12 hours and led to the gutting down of two P3-C Maritime Patrol aircraft in a well protected naval facility in the heart of Karachi show the clout of the Punjabi Taliban (a part of Al Qaeda and Allied Movements or AQAM) within the armed forces. The Pakistani Navy (PN) sources accepted that there had been considerable inside help for the attack. The intrepid Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad exposed the reasons for the attack alluding to the wheeling and dealing between the PN and the AQAM that went sour. He paid the price with his life immediately thereafter. The fact that the US decided to indict the Pakistani government (not directly the ISI though everybody in Pakistan believes that it is the 'angels' who did this) at the highest levels for Shahzad's murder is another indication of the US administration's determination to embarrass the Honour & Dignity (H&D) of the Pakistani Army and the ISI. It was unmistakable though whom the US was targetting because the indictment came from Joint Chiefs' of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, not from Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton. Adm. Mullen said that Shahzad's death was 'barbaric and unacceptable'.

The US has also demanded Pakistan target the new Al Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahiri. In his first trip to Afghanistan in the new role as the US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta who successfully executed the Abbottabad operation, has said that Zawahiri was located in FATA. He also said some of the top 20 Al Qaeda leaders that the US was targetting were in Pakistan. Reacting to this, the PA asked the US to share intelligence with them, knowing fully well that such a sharing will not occur. The US vice admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Bin Laden raid, said "the US military believes that Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar is in Pakistan and had asked the Pakistani army to locate him". As usual, the Pakistanis demand proof. This is the cat-and-mouse game that the Pakistanis play demanding other countries to show proof of what was happening well within their very own borders and with their patronage and full knowledge. When in frustration the US acts either by sending in UACVs (Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicle) or sending in US Navy SEALs, Pakistan cries foul of having its sovereignty being violated.

One more irritant in the relationship is the Shamsi airbase. Apparently, this airstrip was ceded to the Sheikhs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for them to come hunting the endangered houbara bustards to enhance their virility. While every country takes steps to protect endangered species, here is Pakistan which allows Arab Kings and Sheikhs to hunt down the bustard. The Pakistani Air Force (PAF) Chief openly admitted to the cession of the airstrip, in the National Assembly (or Parliament). The Arabs, in turn, handed the strip over to the Americans who have been operating the UACVs from there. The Pakistanis knew about the arrangement. As the relationship soured, they demanded the Americans to vacate the airbase a few months back. Pakistani defence minister Chaudhry Mukhtar Ahmed who is known for his foot-in-the-mouth disease said that the US had been asked to vacate the Shamsi airbase. But, the US simply refused to vacate the base. Said an US official, "US personnel have not left the remote military installation known as Shamsi Air Base and there is no plan for them to do so. That base is neither vacated nor being vacated". Pakistan's information minister and a member of the Defence Committee, Dr. Ms. Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters later that no demand had been made for U.S. personnel to leave the base. So much for Pakistani cries of sovereignty !

The radicalization of the Pakistani armed forces has reached an unprecedented and high proportion. This is not surprising since a very significant section of the Pakistani society - in spite of pious denials by the Rich Anglophille Pakistani Elite in media, Internet and diplomatic circles - has been radicalized and the troops coming from such a religiously surcharged and radicalized environment cannot be expected to be any different. Besides, the Pakistani armed forces were never secular themselves as secularism is widely and mistakenly perceived within this Islamic republic as being anti-God. On the other hand, they had always used Islam as their proud badge. Going one step further, the Pakistani Army redefined its ethos as 'Iman, Taqwah, Jihad-fi-Sabilillah' (or, Faith, Fear of Allah and Jihad in the way of Allah) during the Zia-era. This is a far cry from the slogan given to Pakistan by Jinnah which was “Unity, Faith and Discipline(Ittehad, Yaqeen aur Tanzeem)”. It was no wonder therefore when a PA officer lamented, when deployed to fight the Taliban, that he joined the Army to kill the Indians and not his own Muslim brothers. A milestone at the end of the obstacle course in the SSG (or, Special Service Group) training centre in Cherat once listed the distances to Jerusalem, Delhi and, of course, Kabul. While Kabul and India are understandable, the reference to Jerusalem betrays the ambitions of the Pakistani Army which considers itself as the 'Defenders of the Islamic Ideology' in addition to defending the geographical boundaries of Pakistan. Thus, the noted Pakistani historian and commentator Ms. Farzana Shaikh says, the Pakistani Army has been transitioned from being a ‘colonial Army’ to a ‘national Army’ and now to a ‘transnational Army’. It is an entirely different matter though that the fiercely fundamentalist Taliban described the Pakistani Army as ‘napak fauj’ (impure Army) working at the behest of CIA and FBI, in pamphlets distributed in the mosques of certain FATA agencies in March 2010. No wonder they are angry with the PA because an army that prides itself to be defenders of Islamic ideology could not have sided with the infidels and attacked the purer variety of Muslims such as the Taliban. The Army has always prided itself in being seen in the company of hardcore jihadi Islamist Taliban and also in identifying with their line of thinking. Leaders of various political parties, including Prime Ministers, have echoed such a sentiment. The accommodation between Ms. Bhutto and the Sipah-e-Saheba-Pakistan (SSP) in c. 1993 or between Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and SSP in c. 2008 and later in c. 2010 are cases in point. The 'bad Taliban' are therefore angry that suddenly the PA has started distinguishing between the 'good' and the 'bad' Taliban. The nexus between the Army and the Taliban, which was the Army’s own creation, came unstuck in c. 2008 when the PA was forced to fight the Taliban under US pressure and the Taliban called the Pakistani Army ‘anti-Islamic’. The considerable anger against the PA for its action against the Ghazi brothers of Lal Masjid in central Islamabad added fuel to the fire. There was considerable radicalization within the society after this event. And, the PA, being drawn from the same society naturally reflects that religious extremism. A US Embassy cable from Islamabad in March 2006, leaked by the WikiLeaks in c. 2011, reports a conversation in which Pakistan's then Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Operations, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Khalid Chaudhry, saying that the airmen, most of whom came from rural villages, were being radicalised by extremist Islamic clerics. The cable quotes AVM Chaudhry as saying, "You can't imagine what a hard time we have trying to get to trim their beards." Not that the PA were secular in the three decades after the 60s. The Islamization project launched by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and carried forward ruthlessly to very high levels by his successor Gen. Zia-ul-Haq ensured that the PA would become Islamist rapidly. By his own admission, the then DG, ISI, Lt. Gen Mahmoud Ahmed admitted to a RAND Corp. analyst as far back as circa 2000, that 15 to 16% of the army officer corps were religious extremists. It has progressed to such dangerous levels now that in February 2011, when the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own police bodyguard for his stand on the Blasphemy Law, the COAS Gen. Kiyani refused to condemn it or even issue any condolence to the Taseer family. He confided to Western diplomats that there were too many religious fundamentalists in the Pakistani Army that such an overt sympathy might lead to disunity within the Army ranks.

This 'awareness' about the PA therefore leads us to conclude that the PA is split vertically between two camps. It is axiomatic that the PA wants to avenge the various defeats it suffered in the hands of the Indian Army, most notably the 13-day Bangladesh war in c. 1971 which saw the Indian Army (IA) slice through the PA in the east, make gains on the western front, and led to the humiliating surrender at Dhaka of 93000 soldiers. This was too much of a shock for a society brought up on honour and dignity, on the myths of invincibility of Muslim soldiers in wars, on the cowardliness of the Indian soldiers and the mythical ratio of how one PA soldier equals 10 IA soldiers. Since then, it is generally accepted that the Pakistani Military Academy (PMA) cadets trained at Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was eventually found comfortably ensconced, always take an oath to avenge the 1971 defeat. In order to carry out this impossible task, the PA generals drew up an exotic plan of 'Strategic Depth' (SD) within Afghanistan especially as the liberation war started in c. 1979. The various Pakistani terrorist groups created for Afghan jihad were then let loose on India, the original purpose for which they were created in the first instance. Unfortunately, the AQAM went too far with its 9/11 attacks forcing an unwilling Pakistani President, Gen. Musharraf, to temporarily align with the Americans and pronounce his opposition to terror against India even if for tactical reasons only. The AQAM, driven out of Afghanistan, redefined its strategy in the wake of its betrayal by the Pakistani state. It viewed Gen. Musharraf as the head of an impious Muslim Army that needed to be delivered from the clutches of munafiq Generals. Military actions by the PA under pressure from the US caused more anger among the followers of the more pious brand of Islam. The AQAM therefore decided to reclaim the Pakistani state for itself. Thus, AQAM devised the Reverse Strategic Depth (RSD) doctrine as an answer to the SD doctrine of the PA that caused them so much grief. Today, therefore, it is a jihad between the proponents of the RSD (whose numbers are increasing by the day) and those of the SD (whose numbers are decreasing by the day). The proponents of the SD are under immense pressure from the US to do certain things that cause more bitterness among the RSD elements. It is for this reason that the PA arrested Brigadier Ali Khan, posted at the Army Headquarters, for maintaining contacts with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT). It was simply a case of trying to impress American masters that GoP and the PA were serious about purging the armed forces of such fundamentalist elements. Later, PA announced four more army officers were under interrogation for similar links with HuT. But, these arrests also prove how much the RSD Islamist extremists have infiltrated the PA. The leader of the RSD-supporting AQAM, Ayman al Zawahiri, continues to reside in Pakistan and continues to issue frequent exhortations to the Pakistani masses to rise in revolt against the PA. Still, the PA is demanding intelligence information from the Americans as to his whereabouts. That also demonstrates the dominance of the RSD-group within the PA. The SD Generals do not want to go overboard with their support to the Americans as they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They fear a mutiny within the rank-and-file of the PA. They are therefore unable to give up two of their remaining assets, the LeT (Lashkar-e-Tayba) and the Haqqani Shura located in North Waziristan along with other warlords such as Gul Bahadur et al.

Unfortunately for the SD Generals, their remaining friends have caused much harm to American interests and are declared as 'bad Taliban' by them. So, the 'good Taliban' of the PA are termed otherwise in the books of the US. These SD-pasand good Taliban, who are also slayers of Shi'a muslims otherwise just like the 'bad' Taliban, suddenly entered into a peace agreement with the Shi'a in the Kurram province of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Agency) in February 2011. For several years now, the Taliban had cutoff road access for the Shi'a in this region. The sudden change was prompted by the need to have an escape route in case of PA action in North Waziristan (NW). {See this for incidents in NW} The peace deal would help the Taliban escape in such an eventuality from NW into either other FATA areas such as Orakzai or into Afghanistan provinces such as Logar or Paktya or Khost as Kurram is strategically located with a panhandle-like extension into Afghanistan. The recent spat between the CIA and the ISI has therefore been used by the PA to delay, if not altogether scuttle, the operation in North Waziristan. The Americans are not amused.

On July 20, 2011, the powerful U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the Defence Authorisation bill which prohibits further security aid to Pakistan until the Secretary of State provides certification affirming various aspects of Pakistani cooperation in the war on terror. It also prohibits further civilian assistance until the effectiveness of such programmes is certified by the Secretary of State, in addition to a certification on Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror. The Chairman of the Committee, Congresswoman Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said “The language in this bill puts that (Pakistan) government on notice that it is no longer business as usual and that they will be held to account if they continue to refuse to cooperate with our efforts to eliminate the nuclear black market, destroy the remaining elements of Osama Bin Laden’s network and vigorously pursue our counter-terrorism objectives. I think the prospect of a cut-off of assistance will get their attention and that the games being played with our security will finally stop.” This is another big slap on the Pakistani face. The relationship may eventually recover between these two countries but it would never be the same again with mutual distrust and suspicion writ all over it. Even if it recovers, it might be for a short duration only as Pakistan seems to have decided, under Islamist influence, that the US is as great, if not a greater, threat as the Indians. And, the rise of the particular strain of virulent Islamism is an unstoppable and irreversible phenomenon in Pakistan.

(To Be Continued . . .)

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