A friendship of convenience-Ikram Sehgal

Pakistanis who tend to believe that Republicans are far better for Pakistan than Democrats should have read the signs. Despite having borne the brunt of the Afghan war and its reciprocal fallout, once the Soviets were evicted Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions were suddenly “discovered.” Republican George H W Bush thereupon refused certification (as the US president was required to under the Pressler Amendment and previously had done for two years when the US needed Pakistan’s services), US aid was automatically suspended. Even F-16s already paid for in advance in hard cash were denied to us. The US simply walked away and washed their hands of the entire mess in Afghanistan we helped them to create.

The US does come through fastest with the mostest during calamities, symbolised by Earthquake 2005 and the thump of the rotors of the two dozen or so US Chinooks. A million-plus Pakistanis only survived grievous injuries and onrushing winter because of generous American logistics support in virtually inaccessible mountains. American service personnel operating the helicopters, 90 percent in areas supposedly infested with terrorists for months, were unarmed. How come even a single American was not harmed? Americans should ask themselves why the tremendous goodwill in the world for them has evaporated? In less than eight years, the Cheney-led neo-con cabal (including Zalmay Khalilzad) took total control of the Bush Jr, Presidency and successfully converted a nation, universally recognised as the most open and generous people on this Earth, into the most hated. Both the Obama and McCain campaigns emphasise making the 21st century an “American century,” not by military might as the neo-cons envisaged but by softer initiatives.

Were the rules of engagement negotiated by Pervez Musharraf after Pakistan’s historic U-turn in isolation of the military hierarchy, “compartmentalised” as claimed by one of his favourites (another Musharraf “loyal” devotee born-again) Lt Gen Shahid Aziz, CGS from 2001 to 2003. Did a tacit agreement permitting Predator strikes across the international border against “high-value” Al Qaeda targets also tacitly accept collateral damage inflicted, innocent civilians getting killed/injured in their hundreds and thousands? Did the terrible atrocities inflicted in 1971 East Pakistan not teach anything about being held accountable for “war crimes” against one’s own people? A lurking suspicion, shocked when informed by Adm Mike Mullen about the tacit allowing of US troops into our borders, the military hierarchy gave the PPP the go-ahead for his immediate ouster.

There are two wars in Afghanistan, a civil war between the US-supported Karzai government and the Taliban (representing mostly the majority Pakhtuns) as well as the “war against terrorism.” Al Qaeda terrorists use the civil war as a convenient camouflage. Pakistan cannot allow anyone to establish a state within a state, allow our territory to be used as a sanctuary and/or worse, as a staging ground for attacks across the international frontier. Without counter-insurgency expertise, the Pakistan Army moved into FATA, arousing the tribals by violating an unwritten but solemn commitment by the Quaid. Vulnerable lines of communications means being put on the defensive, counter-guerrilla warfare therefore shuns establishing distant outposts and logistics thereof. We learnt this lesson at great cost in Balochistan in 1973. Army units must concentrate within FATA close to the settled areas. The tribals within FATA being supported by firepower whenever and wherever necessary, as successfully done in Bajaur. MI-17 type troop-carrying helicopters and MI-24 type gunships will give us airborne capacity to lift a brigade plus at short notice into battle in support of the tribals in FATA, with airpower a necessary instrument of force. A separate well-trained force (with inherent intelligence capability) dedicated to countering terrorism within Pakistan must be raised.

Where is the justice that the missiles and bombs transported through Pakistan subsequently rain death on Pakistani citizens, US/NATO aircraft and vehicles using fuel produced in Pakistan? How long before our streets paralyse US logistics supply route through Pakistan? We must become more media savvy, the international media being facilitated to view for themselves the ravages of Predator strikes. Once they bring the horrors and atrocities inflicted on our innocents into the drawing rooms of American civil society, we will get their attention, indeed their support. The American public can never accept such “My Lai-type” atrocities!

American boots on our ground will permanently alienate the Pakistani populace, Kayani had to scramble to contain the adverse reaction in his own “khaki” constituency. Bellicose rhetoric by non-combatants notwithstanding, incidents of firing on each other is not good news, only a reflection of building animosity and fading cooperation. The India-origin US-orchestrated anti-ISI campaign is motivated, not acceptable by Pakistanis. Like any intelligence agency in the world, the ISI has its grey areas, nevertheless it is our first line of defence, and vital to Pakistan’s survival as a sovereign, independent State.

A recent panel headed by Gen Brian McCaffrey visiting Afghanistan was horrified that US troops were not functioning under a unified command and were reacting to faulty and motivated intelligence. Only hard evidence about Al Qaeda high-value targets should trigger Predator strikes. Senior US official Thomas Schweich, former Head of US Counter Narco-Terrorism and the US point man for the war against drugs in Afghanistan, wrote on July 26, 2008, in The New York Times that the Afghan government is full of drug warlords, led by Hamid Karzai’s brother, Wali Khan, that is why Karzai looks the other way. Despite comprehensive money-laundering laws, how does Wali Khan get to keep his drug strong money in Dubai? Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan fuels the war for the Taliban, the farmers being “taxed” for revenues. Refined into heroin in laboratories owned by Karzai supporters, rewards multiply manifold. Predator strikes should target laboratories refining the poppy into heroin. Schweich was shocked why the US Army actively opposed the eradication of poppy fields in Afghanistan, his pleas to officials concerned in the US National Security Council and the White House were studiously ignored. Without interdicting this money chain, The Taliban and Al Qaeda will keep running free and wild.

With Russia now flexing its muscles and the successful Beijing Olympics removing the self-imposed restraints on China, the world will not remain uni-polar for long. China will always remain a friend, we must also seriously engage with Russia, certainly not in any anti-US mode. While it is certainly in Pakistan’s interest to engage in the “war against terrorism,” we must open up strategic options in our region.

As someone who believes in a strong US-Pakistan friendship, is this to be of skin-deep convenience only? The rules of engagement must be clarified before we cross the fail-safe line. The US can bomb us into the Stone Age, but they can then forget Afghanistan (and this region). We have been eating humble pie for long, if we have any self-respect left we might as well get used to eating grass.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com


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