By Usman Khalid
PAKISTAN is nervous; it cannot believe that the USA can turn on its ally so fast and easy. The escalation of the ‘terror war’ to include Pakistan was announced by President Bush himself. He proclaimed a new war theatre in Pakistan alongside Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, “They are all theatres in the same overall struggle. In all three places, extremists are using violence and terror in an attempt to impose their ideology on whole populations.’ But President Bush is dead wrong; the nature of the war in the three countries is quite different. In Iraq, the resistance to US occupation is organised by sectarian militias who are not excluded from participation in politics; they even have representation in government. In Afghanistan, the resistance is carried out primarily by the Pashtun majority, which is represented in government only by traitors and turncoats. Pakistan is not occupied; there is no resistance as such. In Pakistan, the main terrorist organisation - Tehrik i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – has political aims and it seeks to capture and control territory. The TTP is sponsored by the CIA, which provides it money, weapons and equipment. However, all the three countries are similar as the American aim is the same – to fragment the country and impose unpopular/ weak government who will bend to their will.
Although the story came out several weeks ago, the people Pakistan are still stunned by the revelation of the TTP being CIA sponsored. The public first came to know of this in the newspapers that during the visit of Prime Minister Gilani to the USA, his staff showed evidence of CIA support to TTP. Tt took some courage to tell the USA that the ‘foreign support’ to Baitullah Mehsud came from the USA. One thought it would put the USA on the defensive that those being accused and targeted by America for cross-border raids have been trained and supported by the US. Instead, the USA ratcheted up its propaganda against Pakistan. Baitullah Mehsud moves freely throughout the region promoting terrorism that will justify American actions. His men possess the most-advanced communication and possibly even satellite intelligence. Pakistan army took a long time to read the signs because it just could not believe that the USA could resort to such diabolical stratagem against its ‘ally’.
The Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani announced on September 10, that the coalition forces would not be allowed to operate inside Pakistan. His statement came within hours of the testimony by US Chief of Joint Staff, Admiral Mullen, that the strategy for the war in Afghanistan had been revised and that targets in Pakistan would be struck without prior notice or warning to Pakistan. General Kayani expressed outrage at the US helicopter raid near Angor Adda on the Pakistan Afghan border that lasted 30-minute; three houses owned by the Wazir tribesmen were the target of the raid that killed 15 people, including women and children. What added insult to injury was the report that Prime Minister Gilani’s National Security Adviser Major General (retd) Mehmud Durrani formally wrote to his US counterpart Steve Hadley, on September 5, warning that Pakistan would not allow any foreign forces to operate on its territory. In his letter, Durrani made it clear that the rules of engagements of the coalition forces were well defined and there was no provision that allowed the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan to operate inside Pakistan.
On Thursday, September 11, the Pakistan Army was given permission to retaliate against any action by foreign troops inside the country. The same day, the Pakistan ambassador to the US also met some national security advisers of the Bush administration and got the assurance that the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan would not operate inside Pakistan or launch any strike. As if to rub salt in the wound, the same night the coalition forces launched another missile attack on Miranshah, killing more than 12 people. What is happening? What is the USA up to? More important, what can Pakistan do?
Clearly, the USA is stung by Pakistan discovering who is the real enemy. Pakistan has decided to liquidate the TTP and is succeeding with popular support. The USA should have been satisfied that the Pakistan Army is pursuing the TTP, but it is not. Clearly, the TTP is the excuse not the target. The American objective is to destabilise Pakistan. I refer to the article titled ‘The Destabilisation of Pakistan’ by Prof. Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research, Canada, in which it was revealed, l before 18 February elections, that the USA sees an opportunity in the elections to advance its agenda and is supporting the terrorists inside Pakistan towards that end. He wrote:
“Washington will push for a compliant political leadership, with no commitment to the national interest, a leadership which will serve US imperial interests, while concurrently contributing under the disguise of ‘decentralization’, to the weakening of the central government and the fracture of Pakistan’s fragile federal structure.”…. ‘U.S. Special Forces are expected to vastly expand their presence. The official justification and pretext… to extend the ‘war on terrorism’. Concurrently, to justify its counter-terrorism program, Washington is also beefing up its covert support to the ‘terrorists.’ It has become apparent that the insurgency in the FATA and elsewhere in NWFP is aided and abetted by the US. It wants to weaken the control of the federal government over the provinces and regions of Pakistan and it does not care whether it is achieved by Islamists or by ethnic nationalists. It supports the BLA as well as Baitullah Mehsud. It maintains its contacts with the MQM, the ANP, Baloch Nationalists as well as the JUI. It came to court the PPP as it concluded it was not overly concerned with ‘national interests’. The economic conditions have been deteriorating so fast that the economy is being described as close to ‘melt-down’. The only remaining condition yet to be met for ‘destabilisation’ to become unstoppable is the ‘demonisation’ of the Pakistan Army.
That explains why General Kayani’s defiant statement was quickly followed by another Predator attack. Now the ball is in General Kayani’s court; will he be the one to blink first? Will he be forced by his civilian masters – Zardari and Gilani – not to follow up on his promise and become subject of ridicule. But Pakistan has options. First and foremost, the objectives of the so-called ‘war on terror’ would have to be revised; it must henceforth deal exclusively with clearing FATA and Swat of TTP, and pacifying the area. The approach of the people of Pakistan towards the US has been transformed by the raid on Pakistan’s soil. Until now, they thought that the US presence in Afghanistan was no threat to Pakistan. They had a benign view of the war despite the horrendous civilian casualties. They thought the war brought funds for development and democracy in its wake. Now the support for US presence in the region is zero. The people see the USA as the main enemy; the so-called extremists are the proxies and surrogates of the USA.
Second, the firm forthrightness of the Army Chief has made him popular and brought admiration for the armed forces, instead of being demonised. The PPP, who felt secure in power after the elevation of its co-chairman to the office of the President, is likely to feel threatened. The Prime Minster has already said that his Government would deal with the situation through diplomacy. But if the bombs continue to rain in FATA and more helicopter raids occur, the people would be outraged and demand retaliation. What would the Government do? It is time to be cool and act; diplomacy rarely works when it is mere talk. Since most of the raids are by air, Pakistan needs to deploy anti-aircraft weapons to protect outposts and villages. The USA and NATO would need to be informed that violation of air space would be considered ‘hostile’ and dealt with as such.
US and NATO forces in Afghanistan depend on supply from or transit through Pakistan for a number of things. None need to stop but accidents do happen. After all, the USA did not solicit the assassination of Benazir Bhutto; they just let Baitullah Mehsud go through with what he was planning any way. After deployment of anti-aircraft weapons on the border and ‘go slow’ strike on the tail from Karachi to Kheybar, the ball would be in the US court. It could take another step on the escalation ladder or sense might prevail. However, Pakistan cannot afford to blink first. There will be rows between the civil and military leadership and it is hard to tell if the military advice would be accepted. But the Zardari Administration is already on the wrong side of the public opinion on the issue of restoration of the judges made dysfunctional by General Musharraf. He will be on the wrong side of the public opinion once again if he did nothing in the face of mounting casualties of soldiers and civilians a the hands of the USA.
Usman Khalid is Director London Institute of South Asia.