By now you must know that 70 American military “advisers and technical specialists” are on the ground secretly training the Pakistan Army to kill Al-Qaeda and Taliban. The CIA has already sniffed out 60 militants and told our Air Force to snuff them out. That done, now Richard Holbrooke wants COAS General Kayani to finish off Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah.
America has in its cache conversations of Pervez Musharraf, General Kayani and the ISI officials. “This is a standard operating practice worldwide in tricky places,” my western interlocutor Rex (not his real name) tells me. “The US has a huge signals section in Islamabad (just look at the embassy building and grounds) and it isn’t there to help Americans call their moms,” he says. “Why Pakistanis are at all surprised by this beats me.” Hold it! Here’s more breaking news from The New York Times: Inside the American embassy in Diplomatic Enclave sit “a small team of Pakistani air defence controllers” making sure that our F-16 bombers killing the militants don’t shoot down the drones or the CIA operatives on the ground.
Get the picture?
While Pakistani public is deviously kept diverted with images of hi-tech drone attacks juxtaposed with wild-looking barbarians, the Taliban throat-slitters, a more sinister scenario stealthily emerges. The press knows not what our government is up to. The days of deep, really deep intelligence briefings are over; the solid off-the-record sessions for chosen journalists by the ISI or ISPR officials are history. Thus, the print and electronic media are left flapping their clueless wings in the void. Our primary source of information today is The New York Times; the American journalist/author and anonymous CIA agent, whose news stories and books spill the contents of classified conversations/ actions of Pakistani governments –past and present. Simply put, America has quietly moved its spy factory to our area. After its 9/11 intelligence failure, ‘big brother’ the super-secretive National Security Agency (NSA) has empowered its little brother, the CIA, with monitoring and wiretapping communications of Pakistani leaders.
“Al-Qaeda wants your country to truly be an Islamic republic in the best (or worst) Saudi or Iranian sense of the word,” says Rex. “It sees Pakistan asserting a great leadership role in the Islamic constellation. It is using terrorism and India as the wedge, the hammer and the anvil. This is the western view, writ large, and that is the view that Pakistan must contend with, whether it is fair or not.” Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state thinks similarly. “Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine. It has nuclear weapons. It has terrorism, extremists, corruption, very poor, and it’s in a location that’s really, really important to us.” The newest “migraine” sufferer is Ambassador Holbrooke. He’s huffing and puffing on the ‘dubious role’ of the Pakistan Army and the ISI and wants an explanation from Kayani and Pasha, who along with the foreign minister have received summons to appear before him in Washington DC pronto. Meanwhile, Holbrooke’s paranoia is obvious: “As we sit here” he told Charlie Rose of Channel 13, “somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan, people are plotting an attack on US, as they did on Mumbai; as they did by taking over Swat.”
Get the picture?
Has the Pakistan Army then capitulated to the US who appears playing a double game? It calls Pakistan an “ally” and respects our sovereignty, yet Obama’s spy factory run by the CIA inside Pakistan brusquely pushes our leaders aside; the CIA wiretaps our government and the terrorists on the excuse that the militants must be killed before they topple Zardari?
“The US has played a double game by allowing Pakistan to be in bed with the Taliban and Washington simultaneously,” says Rex. “It suited them at the time. But with so many of the fighters in Afghanistan now coming from Pakistan, and with Pakistan unable to stop them, that time has passed. I know this personally because in Kandahar more than half the insurgents are Pakistani Pushtuns and there are even guys from Punjab and Sindh. And it is not just Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks and Hazaras who are deeply opposed to this…A large majority of the Afghan Pushtuns want their cousins to go home. The problem for Pakistan is that your army did not only turn a blind eye, they encouraged this. And now you have blowback in Swat and elsewhere where religious extremism is spreading like wildfire with a minority imposing their will on a majority.”
An ambassador from east of Pakistan does not share Rex’s gloom and doom prognosis. “The Zardari government is staying put, irrespective of the impending long march and sit-in,” he tells me. “The dividends of democracy are in place and the international community prefers to talk to democratically elected leaders instead of dictators.” The ambassador is duly impressed by some of our cabinet ministers who take their jobs seriously and want foreign investment to pour in “today if not yesterday!”
Exiting the secured red zone of the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad, a drive down to a paanwalla at an upscale shopping centre, elicits a totally opposite viewpoint. ‘J’ has been a political junky for decades; a Zardari-watcher/ Benazir admirer. His information-gathering is grounded by the politically savvy clientele who come to him. ‘J’ talks as he makes my paans. “America is going to cut a deal with our top military officers when they are in Washington. The US will offer them the government for five years, demanding that they clean up their act vis-à-vis the Taliban.” What happens to Zardari and Nawaz Sharif? I ask half amused. “They will go where they have come from.”
But seriously, when our government tries to hide the sorry truth, the rumour mills begin churning gossip at super-speed. “Your governments’ reluctance stems from a natural reflex to hide its foibles,” says Rex. “I believe that there is so much to hide that if it ever got out, no Pakistani government could survive.” Rex thinks that the media here, for reasons of national pride, too is in denial. “Your press has taken an unsparing look at what their governments have been up to over the past 20 years.” According to him, “the media has not looked at Pakistan’s military procurement records to see what they have been buying and where it ends up. Nor have they really held the ISI’s hands to the fire…although this would inevitably involve great risks as these fellows always resist scrutiny in the name of national security. Or even ask Ms Bhutto’s widower why he cannot come clean. Again, though, fearing the ISI, President Zardari would cloak himself in the veil of national security. All clues lead towards the ISI trail. Difficult as that may be, Pakistanis must ask themselves whether these servants of the nation have truly been acting in the national interest.”
The west believes that our military is “heavily implicated and almost totally discredited.” Rex says, “Musharraf was a master at this game, but even he, too, eventually tripped. General Kayani knows well the game that was played and the Americans think he may be the one who can finally end it. But there are powerful forces within your military. For them it always comes back to India as the overarching political concern.”
While we bumble through our days trying to make sense of confusion, one can take sweet solace from a TV documentary The Spy Factory aired in the US recently. It chronicles the colossal failure by the National Security Agency (NSA) to share sensitive data with the CIA and the FBI that could have prevented 9/11. NSA closely monitored the 9/11 hijackers while they moved around the US and communicated with Osama bin Laden’s operations centre in Yemen. “The NSA had even tapped bin Laden’s satellite phone, starting in 1996… Not only was then-Director Michael Hayden never held accountable for the NSA’s alleged failure, but he went on to oversee the Bush administration’s vast expansion of domestic surveillance. In 2006, he was appointed as director of the CIA” the documentary details. Five days ago Hayden was still heading the CIA. In retirement, perhaps he will write an anonymous book blasting Pakistan governments’ ‘double-dealings’ not yet made public.
Truth is always the casualty; accuracy its twisted twin. Who to believe is the question in this age of ‘double-dealing!’
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: email@example.com