Wonder what Washington’s next “Deal” with Pakistan will be
by Ramtanu Maitra on 22 Apr 2011 18 Comments

Cutting short his visit to Washington, one of Pakistan’s major sources of money, Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha made clear that the expected “deal” between the United States and Pakistan has not been clinched. Shuja Pasha met US CIA chief Leon Panetta on April 11 and left in a hurry, two days before his scheduled departure. What agreement these two were working out has not been made public, but it is likely that Panetta reneged on what had been promised Islamabad last month, when Washington was desperately seeking Pakistan’s help to bring Raymond Davis home.


What also might have upset the Pakistani spy chief is the trial of Mumbai terror attack suspects Tahawwur Hussain Rana and David Headley, which is scheduled to begin in the United States next month. The Toronto Globe and Mail reported on April 14 that Rana and his friend Headley will say that they believed themselves to be working for both the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terrorist group, and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency. This is likely to push the ISI’s credibility down another notch in the eyes of lawmakers in Washington.


Although CIA spokesperson Marie Harf issued a routine statement saying that relations between the two security agencies are on a “solid footing,” there is little reason to believe that. It is not only that Marie Harf works for an agency whose motto is to conceal facts, but the event that followed Shuja Pasha’s hasty departure that is telling. Before the ISI chief could unpack his luggage back home, a pair of US drones descended from above on April 14 killing at least six “suspected militants” in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Agency (FATA), where Pakistan’s Federal administrators stay mostly unseen.


Ordinarily CIA-directed drone strikes in FATA to get the “bad guys” would not have been news. Over the last two years thousands have been killed in this death-from-the-sky operation. But because they were the first in more than two weeks and so closely followed Shuja Pasha’s return to Islamabad, the strikes were news, big. They made it clear that the so-called high-wire engagement between the two spy chiefs to sort out “various matters’ did not go anywhere. In other words, no “deal” was struck. The status quo remains intact: the United States will continue to issue statements through its drone attacks, and Pakistan will continue their “cooperative relationship” with Washington by promising one thing, while doing quite the opposite.


9/11 and the New “Deal”


Since 9/11, the US-Pakistan relationship has traversed many bumpy roads that now show signs of worsening further. Since 2001, when the US troops landed in Afghanistan, Washington has been desperately relying on Pakistan to help accomplish what, in reality, cannot be accomplished—namely, elimination of al-Qaeda and Taliban from inside Afghanistan; annihilation of Pakistan’s home-grown and home-based terrorists used still to loosen India’s grip on the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state claimed by both India and Pakistan since 1947; and creation and maintenance of a stable Pakistan, where a functional democratic form of government has not existed for three decades.


Washington’s blind pursuit of these impossible objectives has resulted in the emergence of new and dangerous factors that further complicate the already-strained relationship. The most important of these—and one that should concern the United States the most—is the rapid rise of a virulent form of anti-Americanism within Pakistan. It is evident that Washington is finding it increasingly difficult to embrace Pakistani authorities who speak English and drink scotch as “one of ours.” The blending of the anti-American jihadis into Fortress Pakistan has been so smooth that it tops any scotch they drink.


In reality, US-Pakistan relations never could have been expected to blossom into the kind of ties that are the basis for two populous nations to interact with each other in the real world. From the outset almost six decades ago, US relations with Pakistan consisted more of a set of “deals” than anything else. In the implementation of these agreements, Pakistan’s role has always been to serve the immediate interest of the United States in exchange for cash and arms.


Those who followed US-Pakistan interactions over the decades must have noticed what have been euphemistically described as “ebbs and flows.” More appropriate, perhaps, would be the image of a tug of war between two extortionists. When Washington wanted Pakistan to do its dirty work in the region, particularly against the erstwhile Soviet Union in the Cold War days, Pakistan wanted cash and arms, and a little more, to carry out the tasks. Part of the “deal” also involved Washington looking the other way while Pakistan’s security apparatus trained terrorists to infiltrate into neighboring countries such as India and Afghanistan; the Pakistani military dismantled its duly-elected governments from time to time to seize absolute power; and Islamabad itself promoted sectarian warfare within Pakistan, where majority Sunnis, financed and indoctrinated by Saudi Arabia,  continued their campaign of killing off the minority Shi’as and others these extremists view as “kafirs.” Nonetheless, Washington abided by the rule: get what you pay for and do not pine for anything else. That principle worked well enough for years, and both sides were content encountering no more than the occasional hiccup along the way.


However, President Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan in the winter of 2001 and his decision to rely on Pakistan to, shall we say, bring the boat ashore was, in essence, a deal-breaker. The “deal” did not break right away. President Musharraf, a two-faced Janus, played his role very well. He did not deliver Osama bin Laden (recall George Bush’s Texan homily about Osama in the aftermath of 9/11: “He can run, but cannot hide”).  Pres. Musharraf hid bin Laden, as well as his associate Ayman Zawahiri, very well for years and years, if not forever. Musharraf took money and arms and delivered, or eliminated, only those whom he and his fellow men in uniform wanted to, or could afford to deliver or eliminate.


When Musharraf’s life was threatened, and a section of the Pakistani military had begun to side with the jihadis against him, he “satisfied” the Americans by carrying out operations to eradicate a few anti-American Taliban. But, did he, or his successors who now cling to their throne, really want to eliminate the terrorists who have served them well and would serve them again? That cannot be ascertained; but what can be said with confidence is that Pakistan has become more infested with jihadis and anti-Americanism than ever before. Is this the outcome of the “deal” Washington worked out with Islamabad?


The British Mantra: Always Protect Your Assets


Now Musharraf is gone. He is so gone that he cannot even enter Pakistan any longer, and is kept in one piece by British intelligence, which, unlike the CIA, never dumps their assets. They hold on to those dissidents who have been driven out of former colonies such as Pakistan, Zimbabwe et al. However, the deal-breaking Afghanistan remains unstable as before. Americans, desperate to win a few good battles with the hope of setting tough terms to the Taliban at the negotiating table, are still seeking Pakistan’s help. Islamabad, becoming wary that the end of the Afghanistan war could be yet another deal-breaker, is preparing for the future. Islamabad saw the potential for clinching a fresh “deal” when Washington stepped into deep muck with the Raymond Davis affair. The American diplomat/private security gunman/CIA/hustler, Raymond Davis, was caught with his gun in hand and two dead bodies to show, lying on a busy street of Lahore, provided Pakistan’s powers-that-be a golden opportunity to tether Washington on a short leash.


What followed, however, was a farce and a drama, no less. It became evident soon enough that neither side had any intent to divulge what could be considered as “truth.” Finally, another “deal” was worked out and Pakistan’s powers-that-be, who were pretty uppity about not letting Davis leave the country meting out justice themselves, took the proverbial hook, line and sinker. Washington got Davis out of Pakistan by paying “blood money.” It became evident later that Pakistani authorities had been using the incident to force a new “deal” with Washington. That is the likely reason for Shuja Pasha’s visit to Washington. It is also likely that the “deal” needed a lot more work to get agreement by both the parties.


The “deal” that Pakistan wants with the United States will curb the roaming and intelligence-gathering activities within Pakistan of dozens of CIA operatives and end the drone attacks on Pakistani Taliban in FATA. Why is Pakistan seeking such a “deal”?


One possible explanation has been presented by a Pakistani journalist in his Asia Times column. In early April, Syed Saleem Shahzad pointed out that “the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has launched a series of covert operations in the rugged Hindukush mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan following strong tip-offs that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been criss-crossing the area in the past few weeks for high-profile meetings in militant redoubts.”


He also stated: “Bin Laden is reported to have met with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the legendary Afghan mujahid and founder and leader of the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) political party and paramilitary group, in a militant camp in thick jungle on the fringes of Kunar and Bajaur provinces in Afghanistan. The encounter was publicized by leaks from the HIA’s inner circle, and the news was circulated within militant camps in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area via top-level Pakistani militant commanders in Bajaur.”


What is this all about? Intelligence sources point out that al-Qaeda has set up training camps in northern Afghanistan’s Kunar province where the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which consists of troops from the United States and NATO, had abandoned their base years ago facing the onslaught from Hekmatyar’s forces. Pakistani security forces are now busy moving this “asset” over to that area, where, at least as of now, the CIA has no capability to gather intelligence. But this process of shifting Osama is also loaded with risks as long the CIA operatives continue their unhindered roaming operations inside Pakistan.


The shifting of Osama is considered necessary by Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s military HQ, because the Americans, with the help of the British and the Saudis, are now in the process of negotiating with the “good Taliban” (“good” according to the foreign troops, but not necessarily so to Pakistanis) to work out an arrangement whereby they will be in charge of the Pushtun-dominated southern and eastern Afghanistan, helped by the US and NATO-raised Afghan National Army. Most of the ISAF troops will move north, preventing the Taliban from moving northward. From this redoubt, the foreign troops will launch operations whenever necessary to keep the “bad Taliban” at bay. It is anyone’s guess how viable this strategy is. Nonetheless, Pakistan is aware that the Osama-Ayman duo and their coterie, and Hekmatyar, do not fall into the category of the “good Taliban,” and once installed, the “good Taliban” could sell these Pakistani assets down the drain, if these sought-after al-Qaeda leaders remain in the vicinity.


Shuja Pasha also wants the drone attacks to stop simply because once the foreign troops leave the Pushtun-dominated areas of Afghanistan, it would be self-defeating for the Pakistani security apparatus to fight the Pakistani Taliban. In fact, by helping the Pakistani Taliban based in FATA, Islamabad can once again make its presence felt in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Pakistani Taliban are Pushtuns, and it makes no sense to Rawalpindi to support the Pushtuns in power in Afghanistan while allowing their own Pushtuns to be killed by CIA-directed drones.  


Although Shuja Pasha could not clinch the “deal,” there is no reason to assume that a new “deal” cannot be worked out in future. The United States is not the only nation that “uses” Pakistan to do its dirty work for cash and arms. In fact, one of the United States’ best allies, Saudi Arabia, also has many “uses” for Pakistan. Besides spreading their Wahhabi version of extremist Islam in Pakistan and killing off the Shi’as there—potential allies of Saudi Arabia’s principal enemy, Iran—Riyadh also relies on Islamabad’s military’s help inside Saudi Arabia and around the region, when and whenever necessary.  


The Axis of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the US


According to an Asia Times article, “Pakistan Ready for Middle East Role,” the Saudi Prince and secretary general of the National Security Council, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, told Islamabad during his early April visit to keep two army divisions on standby for deployment to Saudi Arabia in the event of trouble there. Fully 20-25 percent of the Saudi population are Shi’as, and they are poor. The recent surge in Arabia, as well as in the Maghreb nations of North Africa, has pushed the poor and repressed to the frontline seeking freedom and a better future. The Saudi royalty, which practices the most virulent form of Islamic extremism, has no room for that, and is in the process of turning this uprising into a Sunni-Shi’a sectarian struggle.


In addition, reports indicate that more than 1,000 Pakistanis have been recruited to serve in the Bahrain National Guards. The recruitment has been made through the Pakistan military-run Bahria Foundation and Fauji Foundation, which train the selected personnel before sending them to Bahrain, a Shi’a-majority nation. Reports also say that interviews and tests of thousands of Pakistani candidates were conducted by a team comprising Bahraini officials and an American instructor, and that the recruits are likely to leave the country in a month or so. In Bahrain, where the mass uprising that occurred has been made dormant using raw power provided by the Saudis, the population has demanded an overall reform that would ensure their participation in state policymaking. Upon the request of a beleaguered Bahraini King and his coterie, Saudi Arabia sent troops and tanks to protect the Sunni royal family and has gone around painting this uprising as a “historical” Sunni-Shi’a sectarian fight.


In this context, it is interesting to note Washington’s role. Washington is a very close ally of Saudi Arabia, which practices the extreme form of Wahhabi Islam that all other Islamic countries fear and reject. One wonders why the United States refused to recognize the Taliban, who came to power in Kabul in the late-1990s, calling its religious beliefs “medieval,” when in fact what the Taliban was preaching was Saudi Arabia’s religion—Wahhabism.


Washington’s closeness to Riyadh is a marriage of convenience since Saudi Arabia provides a large chunk of America’s oil imports and oodles of oil money in the financial markets of London and New York. Riyadh’s socio-political system is far from what the founding fathers of the American republic enshrined in the Americans’ Bill of Rights. And yet, this marriage of two opposites has remained strong, withstanding the most extreme form of contradictions.


Besides being the Man Friday of the United States when it comes to supply of oil, the Saudis do not also raise questions about Washington’s pro-Israel and anti-Palestine policies. Washington is now firmly ensconced in this trap since it simultaneously and royally screwed up its own policy toward Iran, a Shi’a Muslim nation, which another Muslim nation, Saudi Arabia, considers its mortal enemy.


As a result of this complex relationship, Washington is not in a position to say no to Saudi Arabia, however irrational such request could be. Now that Saudi Arabia has become another  powerful client of Pakistan by providing it with cheap oil, Wahhabism and terrorists of all descriptions, Washington finds it convenient to look aside and swallow its mumblings about ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘republicanism’, ‘secularism’ and all that jazz. This palpable weakness, now built into US policy toward the Muslim nations of that region has also helped to shore up Pakistan’s strength, drawn often from various irrational activities.  


Meanwhile, inside Pakistan, the ISI and a section of the military will continue to protect the militants/ extremists/ jihadis for future use against India—as well as perhaps against some other countries, such as the “stan” nations of Central Asia, and even China, in cahoots with Saudi Arabia. Washington will fret about it without making any effort to force Islamabad to do what Washington should demand Islamabad must do, because those activities will be outside of the “deal.” No mission creep, please, will be Washington’s motto.


The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review News Services Inc.

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