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Battle of nerves

Asif Haroon Raja

Pak-US relations that apparently ran smoothly from September 2001 till 2005 developed hiccups in 2006 and ever since the relations have been uneasy. Award of civil nuclear deal together with inking of several defence contracts with India and its efforts to make India a key player in Afghanistan exposed US pronounced tilt towards India. It was natural for Pakistan to feel let down. The US secret designs against Pakistan and negative role of India played a big role in widening the trust deficit. Both the US and India worked on an engineered program to harm Pakistan under the garb of friendship. With no troops and no responsibility, it suited India to keep expanding its influence in Afghanistan and in Central Asia and at the same time harming Pakistan through covert war without having to face hazards of guerrilla war.

With eyes on Pakistan nukes and on Gwadar Port, seen as a jump off point in envisaged energy corridor from Central Asia to Indian Ocean via Afghanistan and Pakistan, it suited USA to weaken Pakistan and make it toe its line. Commonality of objectives impelled USA, India, Israel, Britain and Afghanistan under US installed Karzai regime to gang up against Pakistan. Ignoring Pakistan’s security concerns, USA helped India in consolidating its presence in Afghanistan.

The CIA and other allied agencies have been assiduously operating in Pakistan to destabilize the targeted regions of FATA, settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan from 2004 onwards. Psy war and ‘do more’ mantra were unleashed from 2005 onwards to malign Pakistan’s premier institutions. In 2008, the US started targeting ISI and Army and in 2009 terrorism was brought into major cities of Pakistan with focus on Peshawar, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Besides the attack on GHQ, several ISI offices were targeted in its bid to break the resolve of the Army and ISI. Spies and Special Forces under cover operatives disguised as diplomats, businessmen and security contractors were positioned to further tighten the noose and choke Pakistan.

By December a vast network of CIA spies-Blackwater-US Special Forces operatives-RAW agents linked with local militant groups in tribal belt and in urban centers, anti-state elements and pro-US and pro-Indian elements was established. The network was protected by foreign embassies as well as some purchased Pakistani officials holding key appointments. In this timeframe, governed by wicked design, maximum pressure was exerted on Pakistan to launch an operation in North Waziristan (NW). Pakistan’s reluctance because of its host of compulsions became a source of friction.

While the US pressed Pakistan to play the game in accordance with its dictates in return for financial munificence, Pakistan military wanted to play within defined parameters so as not to compromise its core national interests. It tried to guide USA onto the winning path but the latter misguided by India and Israel chose to adopt the self-destructive path.

It was stroke of luck for Pakistan and bad luck for USA that Raymond Davis was caught in the disgraceful act with his pants down and that too in broad daylight in a crowded area. His arrest triggered the panic button in Washington and Langley and hundreds of secret agents ran for cover. As long as Davis remained in custody, none dared to come out of his hiding place. However, once the golden sparrow flew away, the rats came out of their holes and recommenced their activities but cautiously. Orders given by Leon Panetta to his moles were not to get caught under any circumstances.

In order to free Davis, senior US officials made false promises assuring Pakistan that his release would help in removing the cobwebs of distrust and bring a marked improvement in Pak-US relations. Panetta assured Lt Gen Pasha that he would expedite return of those CIA operatives about whom correct information had not been fed. After quickly repatriating 35 unwanted persons who had been identified by the ISI, the outflow stopped. When Pasha proceeded to Langley to remind Panetta of his commitments, he took a new stand asserting that he couldn’t afford to withdraw his men or stop drone attacks and put the lives of Americans in Afghanistan in jeopardy. In his view secret agents and drones acted as a safety net against militants operating from NW into Afghanistan.

Both Pakistan and USA are now pursuing divergent agendas and are disinclined to accommodate each other’s strategic concerns. The US alleges that the ISI has old ties with Haqqani network and is supporting Siraj Haqqani. Lashkar-e-Taiba, allegedly linked with ISI is now seen as a threat not only to India but also to the world. It claims that Al-Qaeda leadership and Afghan Shura are housed in NW and Quetta respectively and protected by the Army. It suspects that because of Army’s softness towards Taliban, it is reluctant to undertake a major operation in NW, which in its calculations is the hub center of terrorism.

These lurking doubts and suspicions have frustrated Obama’s administration so intensely that White House came out with a 36-page cockeyed report on 6 April and sent it to the Congress. The crux of the report is that Pak Army doesn’t have the ability to crush militants. It says Pakistan’s 144000 strong force has been fighting the militants along Afghan border but was unable to achieve any victory. The report says that conversely the US forces have succeeded in weakening al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan and in that Pak forces had no role to play. The authors of this misleading report forget that till very recent and even now all US military leaders have been extolling the heroics of Pak Army.

The US has been gradually penetrating deeper and deeper into Pakistan under various deceptive ruses. The major tools it had to make our leaders go flaccid were its coercive and aid giving capacities and overplaying of threat of terrorism. CIA-FBI outposts were made on the plea that it would help in tracing wanted high value al-Qaeda targets. Control over immigration on airports was also taken over on similar pretext. Permission to use drones from Shamsi airbase in Balochistan was obtained to hit targets in inaccessible areas in FATA. 2002 and 2008 elections were rigged to ensure subservient parliament and make the top man all-powerful. Blackwater elements were positioned in Pakistan major urban centers in 2008 with the connivance of Pak leadership. Between July-December, Gilani, Rahman Malik and Hussein Haqqani facilitated entry of large number of US Special Forces operatives into Pakistan. The only area in which the US failed was its desire for joint Pak-US control over nuclear arsenal. Plea taken was to prevent the nukes falling in wrong hands. ‘Wrong hands’ mantra was incessantly sung but custodians of nukes plugged their ears.

The US tilt towards India, increasing influence of India in Afghanistan and subtle efforts to keep Pakistan out of the loop are matters of serious security concerns for the military leadership. Till recent, it was a one-sided affair with USA pushing its way and Pakistan docilely ceding ground. For the first time the military leadership has dug its heels and is not prepared to cede any more ground since the US ingress has reached closer to Pakistan’s vital ground. Any further one-sided concession offered would render the defence of our core assets indefensible. Gen Wynne, Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha have taken a firm stand on issues of drones and undercover CIA operatives. In frustration, the jangle-nerved US military leadership has again fired Hellfire missiles in NW on 22 April. Battle of nerves is going on, one trying to bulldoze its way by sheer weight of authority and money, and the other standing on a weak but morally high ground to safeguard vital interests of Pakistan. Unless the lower and upper houses of the parliament jointly decide to doggedly confront the US menace, nerves shown by the military alone would be of little consequence. It is to be seen who emerges as the winner in this battle of nerves.

About the writer: Asif Haroon is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. Email: [email protected]

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