Thursday, December 17, 2009

Does The USA Want Civil War In Pakistan?

THE ANNOUNCEMENT THIS WEEK THAT THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE is considering expanding drone strikes into the major Pakistani city of Quetta has exposed the faultlines in Obama's AfPak strategy. If it weren't clear before, it is becoming more so every day that the US pressure for more military action by Pakistan in more areas is fracturing Pakistan's institutions and threatening the stability of even the powerful army and intelligence service, the ISI.
Up till now, the US has focused its extremely unpopular unmanned drone attacks in the relatively rural areas of Pakistan's tribal areas, along the Afghan border. Already this year some 50 drone strikes have killed perhaps 500 people. And while the US claims that the vast majority of these were Taliban militants, independent press have been barred from these provinces, making verification impossible. Officially, Pakistan is opposed to this violation of its sovereignty, however, it is widely known that Pakistan is supplying the intelligence necessary to carry out the attacks.
This alone has stretched the US-Pakistan alliance but with the US attempt to meddle with the military/civilian balance of forces in Pakistan, popular hatred and official suspicion of US intentions has become intense. Earlier this year, the US passed an aid bill, the Kerry-Lugar Bill, to provide $7.5 billion over five years to Pakistan, though this was predicated on the military accepting a subordinate role in Pakistani political life. The military was less than happy with this and has since been carrying out a campaign to undermine Pakistan's president Zardari - with the latest phase being the elimination of the amnesty granted to politicians charged with corruption. Meanwhile, a few months ago when Secretary of State Clinton was in Pakistan on an official visit, she was taken aside by the military and it was explained to her which side the bread is buttered on in that country. She came away suggesting that she would use her power to water down the provisions relating to civilian rule in the bill. Military supremacy is clearly the price the US is paying to maintain the allegiance of the Pakistan Army.
If, however, the US thought that this would be sufficient to win the kind of carte blanche that they had with Zardari, they have received a rude awakening. The Pakistani military and ruling class have their own strategic goals in this, their native, region. It was this that Obama was referring to when he told news columnists on December 1 that "the most important thing that we can do in Pakistan is to change their strategic orientation." Roughly speaking, Pakistan sees its regional enemy as being India and its strategic goals in Afghanistan being rooted in a perspective of preventing India from gaining any foothold there. There is wide speculation that the real reason Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of the second round of the Afghan elections, when there was a decent chance of him winning, was because Pakistan saw him as being too close to India. From this similar perspective, Pakistan has no interest in smashing the Afghan Taliban or the Quetta-based Taliban shura (council), led by Mullah Omar. Omar has made it clear that the Afghan Taliban have no interest in interfering in Pakistan's internal affairs and are only focused on fighting the US/NATO occupation. Omar is clearly conceived of as an asset in any future Afghan government of national unity, which must involve the Taliban. Any attack by the US on the Quetta Shura will be seen by Pakistan's military and intelligence services as an attack on Pakistan's national interest. This also applies to US pressure on Pakistan to take on other "talibans" based in Pakistan, which seems to lack a recognition of the fundamental differences between the various tribal militias.
It is true that the Pakistan army is currently fighting the Taliban. But there are four Talibans in Pakistan, and their policies toward the Islamabad government range from hostile, to neutral, to friendly.
Pakistan's army has locked horns in South Waziristan with the Mehsud Taliban, the Taliban group that was recently driven out of the Swat Valley and that has launched a bombing campaign throughout the Punjab.
But the wing of the North Waziristan Taliban led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur has no quarrel with Islamabad and has kept clear of the fighting. Another South Waziristan Taliban, based in Wana and led by Mullah Nazir, is not involved in the fighting and considers itself an ally of the Pakistani government.
Washington wants Pakistan to go after the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Omar and based in Pakistan. But Omar has refused to lend any support to the Mehsud Taliban. "We are fighting the occupation forces in Afghanistan. We do not have any policy whatsoever to interfere in the matters of any other country," says Taliban spokesperson Qari Yousaf Ahmedi. "U.S. and other forces have attacked our land and our war is only against them. What is happening in Pakistan is none of our business."
While pressure on Pakistan to go after other talibans may not be successful in achieving their aim in this regards, it is putting a serious strain on the US-Pakistan relationship. And there is some suggestion that it is putting a strain on the Pakistani security institutions themselves. It was the ISI, after all, that helped to create the Afghan Taliban and was its client throughout the 1990s. Significant elements are resentful of US demands to dismantle this carefully constructed edifice, which, it is felt, will weaken Pakistan's position vis a vis India. Based upon Obama's point above, the US wants to apply just enough pressure to Pakistan that it sees its strategic interests being rooted in aligning with American goals. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Pakistani elite are only too aware of the fickle nature of alliances with the US based upon their behaviour during and after the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s. As an article in the Long War Journal notes:
Pakistani officials claimed the US timeline on the Afghan 'surge' and Pakistan's desire to keep Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis as strategic depth against India and other actors in Afghanistan account for the intransigence. But US military and intelligence officials said Pakistan's military brass also fears acting against the Haqqanis and Mullah Army will fracture the services.
"Even if he wanted to moved against Haqqani, I think General Kiyani is concerned the moved will spark the nationalists elements of the Army and ISI [the Inter-Services Intelligence] to side with the pro-Islamists, and spark a civil war within the military," the official said.
There is already a low-grade conflict within the military and intelligence services over the Pakistani Army's move against the Mehsud branch of the Taliban in South Waziristan and the tribal areas.
"The reality is the Taliban have been able to successfully conduct attacks against secured targets, particularly GHQ [Army General headquarters] in Rawalpindi, because they've had inside help," the official continued. "The military at least can say the TTP [the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan led by Hakeemullah Mehsud] is conducting attacks against Pakistan; Kiyani can't make that argument with the Haqqanis or the Quetta Shura. It would be a bridge too far."
One expression of this "low-grade" conflict within the military and intelligence services can be seen from the recent reports of the treatment of US diplomatic personnel. Over a 100 diplomatic personnel have seen their requests for visas or visa extensions turned down - an unprecedented act. This means that there are now no US helicopter mechanics in Pakistan to service US built helicopters presently being used for counter-insurgency operations. It also means that $1 billion in US payments to Pakistan for counter-insurgency operations have not been processed because all of the US accountants attached to the embassy have been forced to leave. There are also widespread reports of harassment, including extensive searches of vehicles, usually a diplomatic no-no.
The harassment has grown so frequent that American officials said they regarded it as a concerted effort by parts of the military and intelligence services that had grown resentful of American demands to step up the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Though the United States has been sending large amounts of military assistance to the Pakistani Army, and helping its premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the campaign shows the ambivalence, even “hatred” toward the United States in those quarters, the American official said.
If the Americans go ahead an unilaterally begin operations in Quetta, or expand operations elsewhere, this low level conflict could begin to break into the open. The two drone attacks that killed up to 20 people in North Waziristan on Thursday indicate that Obama - who has dramatically increased such attacks since being elected - intends to move forward with this strategy. With a decent possibility that President Zardari will be gone in the near future, from the president's office it not from the country itself, and with another 8,000 politicians facing corruption charges, there is also the possibility that the shift in balance towards open military rule could also open up fractures, as elements see this shift as an opportunity to exert more independence from American demands.
Into this volatile mixture must also be placed the difficult situation of the Pakistani economy, which has had to take an $11 billion IMF loan this year and which has seen foreign investment drop by almost 26 percent - foreign direct investment fell by 52 percent. The country is mired in stagnant growth at a time of civil war in South Waziristan - leading to the largest population displacements since Partition - with intense bombing campaigns in the cities, an unpopular government and rising anti-US sentiment. With all these elements in place for an explosion, one can only wonder if the White House wants Pakistan to fracture or if they are utterly stupid.
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