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Sunday, August 7, 2011

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

Since the last installment of this series, things have gone down even more steeply between the US and the Pakistani Army. The relationship between the two is reaching new record lows every passing day. While a recovery is still possible, it is now clear that the relationship would never reach the levels before and the damage will linger for quite a long time to come until another disaster happens that might need the US to take Pakistan's support. If the relationship does not recover within the next couple of months, Pakistan will be hit devastatingly hard by the turn of events as it still needs the US for its economic recovery and military preparedness against India. This also brings into sharp focus the acute transactional and tactical nature of the US geopolitical and geostrategic approach. It is now obvious that the strategic dividends for the US have been diminishing rapidly with this myopic approach. Both sides, the US and Pakistan, have behaved in ways that have only brought them more misery and misfortune. While the US can overcome these, though at a cost to its economy, Pakistan has simply no wherewithal to survive this catastrophe, buffetted as it already is by the spectre of floods, poor governace, continuing internal terrorism, political divisions and its over-dependence on aid especially from Western countries.

Be those as they may, let us look at what has happened on the ground within Afghanistan and Pakistan since early August of this year. It is increasingly becoming obvious that the Haqqani jihadis are swelling in numbers and are wreaking havoc throughout Afghanistan, both against the US/NATO/ISAF interests and nationalist Afghan interests. The aim of the Haqqanis is simple as far as its actions against the nationalist Afgahn interests go. Eliminate leaders who could be influential in anti-Taliban efforts and leave the opponents leaderless and rudderless. This was the tactic that they effectively implemented in the Federally administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where they killed in droves the jirga leaders. The Pakhtunwali code of the tribes, which took precedence over the Islamic Shariat, was then supplanted with the virulent Salafi, Wahhabi and Deobandi interpretation of Shariat.

The current spate of events started on Aug. 06, 2011, when a US Army Chinook crashed in the Afghanistan province of Wardak on the Af-Pak border killing 30 US service personeel including 22 Navy SEALs, from the same unit that had taken part in the Abbottabad operation (SEAL Team 6 or DEVGRU). This was the single biggest loss in an incident for the US since the start of the Afghan operations. The Washington Post reported that the Chinook was brought down by a Taliban fired RPG. For all intents and purposes, this appears to be a revenge by the ISI for the Abbottabad operation by the USN SEALs. However, the US has so far not accused the ISI of being complicit in this.

Now, it is a no-brainer that the detection of the presence of America's most wanted enemy ever, Osama bin Laden, at Abbotabad angered the Americans. It was later revealed by one of the widows of Osama bin Laden that they had been living there for at least five years and were living at Haripur before that. This strained the relationship between the US and Pakistan. No amount of injured innocence by the Pakistanis can hide the fact that Osama bin Laden could have lived in Abbottabad for five long years without the help of the top echelons of the ISI and the Pakistani Army. As is usual with Pakistan, it tried to punch far above its weight when it threatened to allow the Chinese a close inspection of the downed US Navy (USN) chopper. Visiting Pakistan on May 27 for barely half-a-day and that too only after Pakistan acceded to certain demands like returning the parts of the downed USN chopper and allowing American access to the villa and the widows of Osama bin Laden in Pakistani custody, Ms. Hillary Clinton demanded that Pakistan share intelligence on other five terrorists namely, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, Ilyas Kashmiri, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Atiyah Abdur Rehman (Libyan Al Qaeda leader). Ms. Clinton called on Pakistan to support the nascent reconciliation talks with the Afghan Taliban launched several months ago by the United States and Afghanistan. The goal, she said, was “to split the Taliban from al-Qaeda,” a possibility the administration believes has become more likely to succeed now with bin Laden’s demise. She also said that Pakistan had "a responsibility to help" the US. The New York Times described the meeting as grim and tense. It had an immediate effect. Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in a drone attack on June 3 near Wana in South Waziristan, possibly with inputs from the ISI. Being a 'bad Taliban', Ilyas Kashmiri could be sacrificed by Pakistan. Atiyah Abdur Rehman was killed in early August. It also highlighted the Pakistani tactic of not acting against even the 'bad Taliban' or Al Qaeda until after the push came to a shove and possibly some quid-pro-quo was extracted from the Americans.

On June 22, 2011, US President Barack Obama announced explicit plans for withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan. The plan was to withdraw 10,000 troops by end-2011, 33,000 by mid-2012 and the bulk of the remaining 70,000 troops at a steady pace through 2013-14. Though a 170,000 strong Afghan National Army is being formed with equipped with Western arsenal, the ANA will be of a doubtful quality.

All these have emboldened the Taliban to attempt to wrest Kandahar once again from the control of Kabul. On July 12, 2011, Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, one of the most powerful individuals in southern Afghanistan, was killed at Kandahar by an assassin, one of his own security bodyguards. A week later, Jan Mohammad Khan, a member of Mr. Karzai's inner circle and a former Governor of the Uruzgan province was killed. Two weeks later, on July 27, 2011, the Taliban eliminated the Mayor of Kandahar, Ghulam Haider Hamidi, in a suicide bombing in which a suicide bomber detonated explosives carried under his turban. Eight weeks later, and using the same turban-suicide-bombing technique, Burhanuddin Rabbani, former President of Afghanistan and Chairman of the High Peace Council (HPC) was killed on Sep. 21, 2011. Exactly a week earlier, on Sep. 13, 2011, the Taliban laid siege to the US embassy in Kabul and the nearby ISAF Headquarters raining rockets on both for 20 hours. Two days before the assassination of Rabbani, and on the same day as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a US base at Wardak was attacked by a suicide truck bomber that wounded 80 American soldiers. Simultaneously, there was a rocket attack on the well-fortified Bagram airbase, just north of Kabul. In April, they had killed the Police Chief of Kandahar and in May, they eliminated the Governor of Takhar province, a Tajik.

The US immediately blamed the Haqqani network and the complicity of the ISI for these two incidents. The Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's sudden cancellation of his US visit on September 16 citing flood situation was a harbinger of the subsequent events. Though Gilani cited floods as the reason, the real reason appeared to be the refusal of the US President to meet him. The latest round of the war of words started on September 18 when the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, said, “There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government. This is something that must stop.” This was a very serious allegation to make about Pakistan on the Pakistani soil itself. The very next day, the US Secreatry of State, Ms. Hillary Clinton met the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar for nearly 4 hours eventhough the meeting was scheduled originally to last just 30 minutes. It was reported that the discussion started and ended with Haqqani. Simultaneously, the ISI Chief flew secretly into Washington for discussion with the CIA Chief, Gen. Petraeus. Speaking the very next day at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “The ISI has been doing this —— working for —— supporting proxies for an extended period of time. It is a strategy in the country and I think that strategic approach has to shift in the future”. There was naturally a great uoroar in Pakistan and the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, still in the US, said that the “US would lose Pakistan as an ally”. The COAS Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, on whom Spain had bestowed its highest military honour, 'The Grand Cross of Military Merit' only a few days earlier on September 16, termed the US accusations as “very unfortunate and not based on facts”. COAS Kayani had met Adm. Mullen for almost two hours of a one-on-one meeting in Spain after the award ceremony. One can only surmise therefore that Adm. Mullen and Gen. Kayani would have had an unsuccessful and possibly stormy meeting. Adm. Mike Mullen then told the US Senate Armed Services Committee panel on September 22, upon his return from Spain, that the “Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted a truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy. We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the 28 June attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.” There was naturally a great uproar in Pakistan and the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, said that the “US would lose Pakistan as an ally”. The COAS Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, termed the US accusations as “very unfortunate and not based on facts”. The Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said that “these wrong messages would affct the US-Pakistan bilateral ties”. However, Spokesman for Adm.Mike Mullen, Capt. John Kirby, confirmed that Mullen and Kayani had indeed spoken about Haqqani in Spain and further inflamed the Pakistanis by saying, "All I can tell you is that we are confident that the ISI continues to support and even encourages the Haqqanis to launch these attacks." He went on to give an ominous warning to the Pakistani Army by saying, "We still want to pursue a working, productive partnership with the Pakistani military, and that in large measure depends on their willingness and their ability to disconnect themselves from extremist groups like the Haqqani network".

There were reports that Prime minister Gilani had asked the Foreign Minister Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar to cut short her visit and return to Pakistan immediately, even foregoing the speech at the UN General Assembly (UNGA). These reports were later denied and Ms. Hina Khar continued with her sojourn in the US. Probably the new tactic was to give a tongue-lashing to the US on the US soil itself. In an interview to Al-Jazeera News channel, Ms. Khar described the Haqqani network as the "blue-eyed boy" of the CIA. She went on to say, "If we talk about links, I am sure the Central Intelligence Agency also has links with many terrorist organisations around the world, by which we mean intelligence links."

In the meanwhile, Prime Minister Gilani called for an all-party meeting to take a united stand against the American pressure. Simultaneously, Gen. Kayani called for an extraordinary meeting of the Corps Commanders just before he was about to leave for London to address the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Royal College of Defence Studies. The meeting reiterated that Pakistani armed forces were committed to achieving enduring peace in the region. Then, inexplicably, Gen. Kayani cancelled his UK trip. However, the ISI Chief, Lt. Gen. Shuja Ahmed Pasha was secretely sent to Saudi Arabia probably to explain the extraordinary situation to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud and possibly seek his intervention. President Zardari, who has been keeping an inexplicably low profile in the last few months, attended a function in the Saudi embassy in Islamabad and spoke of how the two countries had "stood together in difficult moments of history". This was the first in a series of consultations that Pakistan opened with some of its closest allies. The seriousness of the situation was not lost worldwide. At the same time, the US CENTCOM commander, Gen. James N. Mattis, landed in Islamabad in an unannounced visit. There was also a visit of Meng Jianzhu, the Chinese minister for public security to Islamabad. He met the Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne and discussed with him the 'emerging geostrategic situation'. The Pakistani Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, assured the visiting Chinese counterpart that "We will strike very hard against them [the Uyghur separatists]. Anybody who is the enemy of China is the enemy of Pakistan." This assurance for action, coming in the wake of the stubborn refusal to act against the Haqqanis, sent a strong message to everyone as to where Pakistani interests lay. The Pakistani Permanent Representative for the UN, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, gave an interview to an Indian news channel where he said that the US was an unreliable ally and asked India to be careful in its relationship with that country as the same fate (as that of Pakistan) might befall her too if she became too close.

However, the deaths of Wali Ahmed Karzai and Burhanuddin Rabbani were clearly meant by the Taliban and Pakistan to sabotage the peace process, eliminate non-Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, and reduce the involvement of those who may not toe the Pakistani line of thinking in the resolution of the Afghan crisis.

Why does Pakistan not want to attack the Haqqanis operating out of North Waziristan ? Some history is in order. Though he is a Ghilzai and a legendary mujahideen commander during the 1979-89 Afghan jihad, Jalaluddin Haqqani is not a Kandahari. The emergence of the Kandahar-based Mullah Omar shifted the power decisively there and though Jalaluddin shares the same worldview as the Taliban, he is not powerful enough within the Talibani hierarchy. He certainly is not a Taliban because he did not come from the madrassah. He should be described more accurately as a successful warlord who is on the side of AQAM. His contacts with the ISI, on the other hand, have been very deep and he comes from the Paktia province and shares affinity with the Pashtuns on either side of the Durand line. During the Afghan jihad, the ISI heavily favoured the non-Durrani groups and Yunus Khalis (of the Hezb-e-Islami) was a favourite, under whom Jalaluddin Haqqani served. None of the seven Afghan jihadi groups to which the ISI distributed money and material during the jihad days was a Durrani-led group. The Karzais (Durranis) were thus discarded by Pakistan and it is very evident from the time Hamid Karzai took over power. The Pakistani aversion to the Durranis is because of the latter's irredentism over Greater Pashtunistan encompassing NWFP within it and their close ties with India. Besides, the ISI has been a reliable supporter of the Haqqanis with funds and arms for three decades now. Certainly, the Haqqanis would abide by any ISI request. Therefore, the adamant refusal to act against the Haqqani network even as the latter continues to kill and maim US, NATO and ISAF soldiers is because Pakistan still believes in the concept of an Afghan 'Strategic Depth' to conquer India and views the Taliban and associated warlords like Haqqani as friends.

Twitter: @SSridharRaptor

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

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

In the two weeks since I posted the last part, more things have happened on the US-Pakistan front. As usual, the Pakistani civilian government is keeping quiet and is letting the Pakistani Army (PA) handle the developments and set the course for the future. And, true to its nature, the PA is keeping its particular narrow view alone in focus and is taking Pakistan once again to great trouble. Of course, no civilian government in Pakistan had ever felt confident about handling foreign affairs especially with the US and India and have always conceded space to the PA. Not that they had any choice anyway. The present government is no exception either. The foreign governments too, especially the US (and with the sole exception of India), had felt it prudent to deal directly with the PA bypassing the civilian governments even as they eulogised the virtues of democracy elsewhere. This has given the PA the exalted position of being the prima donna within the nation as the masses look up to the army in awe even though the PA has so far excelled only in conquering its own people and has been an utter failure whenever tested in battles with real armies. But, that is another issue for another post later on.

What then are the new incidents that have caused more downturn in the US-Pakistan relationship since the last post ? There are at least three. The most important was the arrest of a leading Kashmiri figure in the US for being an agent of the ISI. The next was the case of restrictions imposed on the movements of the US diplomatic staff within Pakistan and the third was the recall by the US of its CIA Station Chief in Islamabad.

On July 19, 2011, the FBI arrested Ghulam Nabi Fai, the Director of Kashmir Action Council (KAC), in Virgina over attempts to influence US politicians and opinion-makers on the Kashmir issue. The US Justice Department said the Kashmir American Council (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 modus operandi for such funding involved illegal money transfer, known as hawala or hundi, in which money was paid by rich American Pakistanis in the US to the KAC and these people were then reimbursed the equal amount in Pakistan by the ISI. Ghulam Nabi Fai's 25-year liaison with the ISI came to a sudden and unexpected end. The US had been well aware of his activities for decades and the timing of the action against him clearly proved the steep downturn in the US-Pakistani relationship. 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. This was quite unprecedented as the ranks and names of serving ISI officers were revealed for the first time by an US agency, something that was not done even after the horrendous 26/11 Mumbai attack. Another irritant in this episode is that Fai's partner-in-crime, Zaheer Ahmed, is in Pakistan and the latter may not extradite him to the US to stand trial. This has the potential of causing another diplomatic row. Understandably, everyone from Pakistani President and Prime Minister downwards have come to the defence of Fai and termed the episode as another conspiracy to tarnish the fair image of Pakistan.

By end of July, Pakistan had placed restrictions on the movements of the US embassy staff. Now, they require prior permission to travel to other cities. Pakistan refused permission recently for two groups of US embassy staff when they tried to enter Peshawar city last week. The Karachi-bound US Ambassador, Cameron Munter, was stopped at the Islamabad airport and was demanded to show the Pakistan Government issued No-Objection Certificate (NOC) for his travel. He strongly protested the demand and later took the matter up with President Zardari. Pakistan has clarified that such restrictions were imposed to provide more security for the foreign diplomats and were there for diplomats of all countries and not specifically for only the Americans. The Americans, protected by their own security detail and ever wary of protection from Pakistani policemen (like Mr. Qadri of the Punjab Special Police), are used to enjoying unprecedented liberties within Pakistan for six decades now are not buying this argument. An American official termed this as 'harassment'. Since the 'You-will-be-bombed-to-stone-age' threat issued by the tough Richard Armitage in the wake of 9/11, Pakistan has given extraordinary license to not only the US diplomats but also their intelligence agents. In the new tactically brilliant bravado that seems to be sweeping across the top leadership of the PA, decisions have been taken apparently to prick the US. The US has threatened to impose counter restrictions on the Pakistani embassy/consular staff in the US.

In recent months two CIA Station Chiefs based in the US Embassy in Islamabad had to leave suddenly after their identities were revealed to the public, something that could not have happened without the help of the ISI. The latest was just last week.

In the meanwhile, strange political developments are taking place within Pakistan. By a quirk of fate, the PA has come closer to Pakistan People's Party (PPP), its arch enemy since the 70s and moved away from the usually closer Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Nawaz Sharif, in a public meeting in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), chose to describe the current governance as 'military democracy'. He has also been portraying PPP and the PA as friendly towards the US, thus trying to cash in on the prevailing atmosphere of complete hatred towards the Americans. The PML-N has also damned the intelligence agencies for the death of Syed Saleem Shahzad. In the current dire economic and political situation, the opposition (read PML-N) enjoys a natural advantage over the ruling PPP. The PPP is trying to close the gap by co-opting strangely the support of the PA. The PA is willing too because the PPP appears to it as the lesser of the two evils at the current juncture. The PA knows that the other alternative, Imran Khan of PTI (Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf) is a political light-weight. In a speech to his PPP jiyalas at Naudero, the place of burial for the Bhutto clan, Zardari referred to Nawaz Sharif as a 'Maulvi' and said that he was 'maligning the armed forces' and accused him of "creating differences between the people of Pakistan and the army which was sacrificing the lives of soldiers and officers for the sake of the country". For his part, the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik said that the institutions which were "arms and strength of the nation should not be criticised". After an unlikely ally in the form of PPP (forced by circumstances beyond their control), it was MQM's turn to support the PA and the ISI. Since the MQM and the PPP have been on a killing spree against each other in Karachi and with a frequently-breaking alliance too, the MQM used the opportunity to support the PA/ISI and take a swipe at the PPP simultaneously. MQM Chief Altaf Hussain said, "the government is plotting against the armed forces, the ISI and institutions responsible for the national security in collusion with the United States." MQM is the creation of the PA to blunt Sind nationalism in the 80s.

Thus, the recent and fresh wave of American hatred, which actually goes back to the mid-1960s, is being exploited by all power players of Pakistan. But, none of them is pragmatic and has interests of Pakistan in mind though they claim otherwise. At this most critical juncture in Pakistan's history (it is another matter that every passing day has been a critical juncture for Pakistan since Independence), Pakistan simply cannot afford to antagonize the US but it is once again displaying in abundance its tactical bravado and strategic stupidity.

Back to the actions of the PA. Before laying down office as the CIA Chief and taking over new responsibilities as the Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta visited Pakistan in mid June and exposed the Pakistani perfidy. He had earlier decided to test their sincerity by sharing intelligence on two Improvised Explosive Device(IED)-making facilities, one in Miramshah in North Waziristan and the other somewhere in South Waziristan, and asking the PA to take action. This was a test for the PA which always demanded 'actionable intelligence' whenever anybody accused it of 'protecting' terrorists. The PA once again proved that it cannot change its spots. It promptly leaked the intelligence and that too within 24 hours of receiving it from the CIA and forewarned the terrorists who vacated their bomb-making factory before the PA raid. The CIA Chief showed Gen. Kayani and the ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Pasha a 10-minute video clip of the terrorists evacuating the two 'facilities'. When Pakistani troops later arrived at the scene of the two bomb-making facilities, the militants were gone and the PA promptly claimed that the US intelligence was inaccurate. It was no coincidence that the bomb-making facilities belonged to the 'good Taliban', namely Sirajuddin Haqqani and Gul Bahadur. Panetta quit his CIA post after nailing once again the Pakistani syndrome of 'running-with-the-hares-and-hunting-with-the-hounds'. All these caused so much downturn in the CIA-ISI relationship that Pakistan had to eat its brave words.

Within the PA itself, reports speak of disenchantment of mid-level officers with the top brass. There has been open questioning of Gen. Kayani not only by some of his Corps Commanders but also by middle-level officers. One report spoke of open jeering of Gen. Kayani in a town-hall meeting with a unit of his troops. These are indicators of quite serious things within the PA. It was the mid-level officers of the PA and PAF (Pakistan Air Force) who ousted Gen. Yahya Khan in c. 1971 after the Bangladesh disaster.

So, finally, ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha decided to visit Washington D.C. on July 14 for a one-and-a-half-day trip and meet with the acting CIA Chief Michael Morrell as David Petraues was yet to take over from outgoing chief, Panetta. Apparently, this was a fence-mending mission as both sides said, after the meeting, that the CIA-ISI relationship was 'back on track'. His very first visit in October, 2008, as ISI chief, immediately after taking over the job, was also to 'remove the distrust' and the latest was also to remove 'more of the same'. In the intervening three years, the chasm of distrust has only grown wider and deeper. Anyway, both sides expressed 'happiness' after the meeting. Considering that it is the US that is holding all the aces, the expression of happiness means that Pakistan acceded to US demands and probably in return got some US commitments against India, a normal US practice in dealing with Pakistan. There were also other meetings in Islamabad at the same time. The US Centcom Chief, Gen. James Mattis, met Gen. Kayani simultaneously in Islamabad. A day later, the outgoing commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen David Petraeus, and his successor-to-be, Lt. Gen. John Allen, met the Pakistani Army chief.

In the meanwhile, a retired US General Jack Keane, while talking to a Washington-based think tank, openly accused Gen. Kayani and Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha of complicity with the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. At the same time, the US vice admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Bin Laden raid, said the US military believes that Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar was in Pakistan and had asked the Pakistani army to locate him.

What are Pakistan's demands to the US ? It wants the CIA-operated drone strikes to take place only with Pakistani concurrence and after the US had shared with it the targets identified and got its approval. Thus, it wants to ensure that either the US is influenced not to target the 'good Taliban', or if the US refuses, at least be in a position to tip the friends off in good time before the strikes. The US, having seen Pakistani perfidy for years now and in a hurry to drawdown troops amidst on-going talks with the Taliban, are unwilling to oblige them for a change. The PA has also made it clear to the Americans, after the Abbottabad incident, that the CIA cannot mount any independent operations within the Pakistani territory. Pakistan, therefore, is demanding new 'rules of engagement' with the CIA unlike the 'blank cheque' given earlier by Gen. Musharraf which has severely embarrassed both the incumbent civilian and military leadership after the Raymond Davis and Abbottabad incidents. Pakistan is also greatly upset with the US administration over its 'independent' talks with a section of the Taliban by-passing Pakistan. Since the time of the Afghan jihad, when Pakistan insisted that all aid and funding must be routed through its ISI and ISI alone, it has become an unwritten rule that the US would conduct all its Afghan business through the Pakistanis. Now that the US has begun to do things on its own, the Pakistanis are overcome with the fear of becoming less and less relevant. This causes them great grief because the concept of 'strategic depth' to defeat India continues to remain central in the Pakistani scheme of things. It is this same obsession that makes Pakistan fear India re-establishing even a normal relationship with Afghanistan. Pakistan does not want India to train the Afghan Army. The paranoia that dominates Pakistani minds is accentuated these days by the apparent proximity between India and the US that has cut across both Democratic and Republican administrations. It is Pakistan's perception that India is favoured as a strategic partner by the US because it can prove to be a counterweight to China. On the other hand, the PA recognizes that there is no strategic US interest in Pakistan save for two: one, the US certainly does not want jihadi terrorism to go back to pre 9/11 days in the Af-Pak territories and two, the US is averse to a nuclear-weapon possessing nation wracked by Islamic extremism slipping out of its control or failing with disastrous consequences for everyone. Hence, Pakistani Army fears that the US would blunt Pakistan's involvement in managing Afghanistan and correspondingly allow more Indian influence in Afghanistan, a double whammy. Pakistan is also desperately seeking assurance from the US that another Abbottabad-like assault would not be mounted by the US to eliminate other High Value Targets (HVTs) still living comfortably in Pakistan. The US has already said that Ayman al Zawahiri is in FATA and needs to be captured by Pakistan. Pakistan may not know how much intelligence the US has on Zawahiri. Pakistan is therefore in a bind. It cannot move him to safety because Pakistan may think that he may be constantly under US watch. Any move to contact him could therefore expose the ISI hand, which could be disastrous coming in the wake of Abbottabad and the two instances of ISI helping the jihadi terrorists making bombs escape raids. If Zawahiri is not saved, the US could grab him from Pakistani soil and that could cause more serious damage to the US-Pakistan relationship with the US demanding an unacceptable price from Pakistan for normalizing future relationship. Pasha might have therefore pleaded with the US to cut some slack for the PA and the ISI in the business of HVTs.

Pakistan also knows that for all its brave talks of China replacing the US if the latter decided to cut aid, PRC is no match for the US in arms, ammunition, funding and political support for Pakistan in multilateral agencies etc. The defiant posture it struck has to give way sooner than later to a realistic stand vis-a-vis US. At the same time, it has to work out with the US a face saving formula so that the already-dented image of the PA and the ISI is not damaged any further. In confirmation of this hypothesis, the ISPR said the very next day that the US aid was not even on the agenda of Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, thus giving away that the aid issue was indeed on the table. The Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed that "negotiations were underway for the resumption of [stalled] military assistance". Another serious issue on the table might have been the 'rules of enagagement' that Pakistan may now want to re-draw with the US, especially after the Abbottabad incident and US reactions to the assassination of Syed Saleem Shehzad. For the Americans, the expulsion of the 120 trainers of the Frontier Corps and the denial of visas to American officials needed to be sorted out. The visa issue has been plaguing the relationship ever since Musharraf disappeared from the scene. In c. 2008, Prime Minister Gilani was rumoured to have overruled Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi and issued several hundred visas to US officials without any scrutiny. It is well known that the then Foreign Minister Qureshi represented the PA in the cabinet and therefore the Prime Minister defied the PA diktat in issuing those visas. Pakistani Ambassador Haqqani has been regularly pilloried in the Pakistani press about this. The visa issue again cropped up after the Raymond Davis incident and intensified after the May 2 Abbottabad event. After the recent US announcement of aid halt, a Pentagon spokesman had directly linked that issue with the non-availability of Pakistani visas for US officials. The July 19 arrest of the ISI agent Ghulam Nabi Fai and his indictment thereafter show that the July 14 meeting of the ISI and CIA chiefs at Langley, Va did not go smoothly. Upon his return from the US, the ISI Chief also made an unpublicized visit to China. It could be to seek the Chinese reassurances in the wake of further deterioration in the US-Pakistan relationship, though there was also the Xinjiang Uyghur problem also engaging the Chinese attention.

Interesting times ahead. There is never a dull moment with Pakistan around.