END OF TUNNEL IN SIGHT
By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
9/11 stunned and terrorized American public while the whole world watched the clips on television sets of airplanes hitting twin towers with shock and bewilderment. George W. Bush and others in corridors of power huffed and puffed in anger and hastily finalized plans to teach a lesson of life to the perpetrators who dared to commit most heinous crime on US soil. Terror attacks against twin towers in New York and on the Pentagon building in Washington were described as an attack on USA and the whole blame was pasted on al-Qaeda without having a shred of evidence. Gen Musharraf was haughtily asked on telephone from Washington by Colin Powel; “speak out whether you are with us or against us”. Immediate answer was sought from him in affirmative or otherwise in the middle of the night, leaving no scope of remaining neutral.
It meant if the answer was “we are with you’, it implied Pakistan would be bound to comply with all the US dictates blindly without caring for own national concerns. Had he expressed his inability to follow US policies running counter to Pakistan’s interests, it would have pushed Pakistan into the camp of enemies of US, thus providing justification to the US to convert Afghanistan and Pakistan into a single battleground, as was done in March 2009 through Af-Pak policy, and to proceed against the two countries simultaneously or in phases. India had strongly advocated for such a course of action and had offered full support, but because of Pakistan’s nuclear capability the US decided to first use Pakistan against Taliban ruled Afghanistan and subsequently at an opportune time proceed against Pakistan with the assistance of India.
Musharraf had already been briefed by his ISI chief Lt Gen Mahmud, who was on an official visit to Washington, about the extreme anger of US leaders. Negroponte had hinted that any country refusing to cooperate with USA would be treated as enemy and bombed to Stone Age. Musharraf’s arm was twisted and he had no choice but to go limp under pressure. However, his inexcusable offence was that he agreed to all the seven demands promptly at his own rather than asking for time to take others on board and getting back to him on the following day.
He being a military dictator having usurped power and declared a pariah by world powers including USA, such a request was genuine and not out of place. After all, Powel was not standing on his head with a gun pointing at him. Therefore there was no reason for him to panic and throw in his towel instantly. Twelve hours postponement would have allowed him time to seek the advice of his team of political leaders, technocrats and corps commanders and come out with a better bargaining package in the form of accepting three to four major demands with some modifications and asking for hefty returns like waiving off of external debt and meeting its economic and energy needs.
Among several objectives, one of the reasons of invading Afghanistan was to prevent expulsion of Northern Alliance holding onto Panjsher Valley in the north. The Taliban had planned a big offensive in October 2001 and in all probability, Ahmad Shah Masood would either have surrendered or fled to Iran. Besides gaining support of UN and western world, Russia, China, Iran were taken on board and military bases established in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan to encircle and isolate Afghanistan. After occupying Afghanistan with the assistance of Pakistan, instead of focusing on traditional strongholds of Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the US felt contented in consolidating itself in Kabul and started to pay more attention on the performance of its frontline ally Pakistan.
While the US accused and pricked Pakistan to do more, it failed to provide counter terrorism equipment and withheld payments for services rendered mainly because of Indian unfounded concerns. Rather than protesting, Pakistan became more forthcoming and opened several fronts in FATA, Malakand Division and Swat and also got embroiled in insurgency in Balochistan. Discriminatory attitude of USA together with slanderous campaign by US and western media despite Musharraf regime following pro-America policies disenchanted the Army and people of Pakistan. It not only ignited anti-Americanism but also had an adverse impact on war on terror. As a result, terrorism gushed into Pakistan and affected all its parts.
The US also stepped up its efforts to hunt Osama and declared Afghan-Pak border region the most probable area where Al-Qaeda leadership was hiding. This intelligence was fed by Mossad and RAW and corroborated by CIA and FBI since the two agencies had failed to trace the most wanted man. Complicity of Pakistan and vulnerability of its nuclear assets were drummed up under the vain hope of covering up US military failures and to reverse the tide of unpopularity of Republicans under abhorrent George Bush. On one hand it was propagated that Pak nukes were unsafe and liable to be stolen by militants, on the other fears were expressed that next 9/11 like attack on US homeland would take off from FATA.
From August 2008 onwards, the US suddenly became aggressive and indicated its urge to resort to hot pursuit operations in Waziristan. US troops moved closer to border with Pakistan and US aircraft carrier got deployed closer to Pakistan’s coastline in Arabian Sea. In September-October, several incidents of airspace violations, skirmishes on border, artillery fire, a ground raid in Angoor Adda and a raid on check post together with drone attacks were unleashed. On 26 November cooked up terror attacks in Mumbai took place to give an excuse to India to build up war hysteria and to deploy its strike formations along the border.
Change in leadership in Washington in January 2009 brought little change in the attitudes of US officials. Obama not only shifted the centre of gravity of war on terror from Iraq to Afghanistan but also chalked out Af-Pak policy by virtue of which Afghanistan and Pakistan were made into single war zone, FATA as the most dangerous place and main base of Al-Qaeda. Pakistan was repeatedly accused of its secret links with Taliban and warned to refrain from such practices. Presence of Blackwater and shady activities of Americans in Pakistan added a new dimension to threat scenario.
India holding Pakistan squarely responsible for Mumbai attacks adopted a highly aggressive posture, snapped composite dialogue and made the resumption of talks conditional to fulfilment of its unreasonable demands. Having made FATA, Swat and Balochistan restive, RAW began to concentrate on major cities with the help of TTP and its own trained agents. Pattern of terrorist attacks changed from suicide attacks and bomb blasts to coordinated group attacks similar to the one witnessed in Mumbai. The first of its kind took place in March in Lahore against the visiting Sri Lankan team. There on, several group attacks took place including one on main gate of GHQ. Latest was series of blasts in Lahore on 12 March 2009. Military operation in Swat in May and another in South Waziristan in October revealed deep involvement of RAW and irrefutable proofs were collected. Indian made weapons, ammunition, explosives, currency and other war items were found in abundance. Earlier on, similar conclusive evidence was gathered in Balochistan.
The US has turned a blind eye to Indian unethical and harmful activities in Pakistan since both have common interests and objectives. It sees all the virtues in India and all the vices in Pakistan. It has all along encouraged, protected and rewarded India; but suspected, accused, admonished and punished Pakistan for uncommitted crimes and has turned it into a punching bag. On one hand the US officials appreciate the role of Pak Army and say that the US cannot win war without the support of Pakistan. On the other they keep making slanderous allegations that Pakistan is supporting Afghan Taliban and keep elbowing to do more. The US is spending $60 billion annually in Afghanistan and less than $ 2 billion in Pakistan even though Pakistan is strategically more important to it. Overall, the year 2009 proved to be bad for Pakistan from all angles.
Dawn of 2010 released tension to some extent. A good thing that has happened recently is that many from among the Americans have begun to see through the game of Indo-Israeli nexus. There is a growing sense of unease among the US military and NATO over the expanding perverse influence of India in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal has already expressed his concern stating that Indian influence is worrisome and an impediment to regional peace. Voices of support for Pakistan can be heard and Joseph Biden is among them who stated that Pakistan has been given a raw deal. He has strongly advocated for an even handed policy to undo rank injustice meted out to Pakistan for the last eight years.
Majority among the 27 million US veterans have developed a soft corner for Pakistan where Gordon Duff, Mel Rockefeller and Jeff Gates are the pioneers to develop this sea change who express their affections openly.
On their recent visit to Pakistan, Gordon Duff and Jeff Gates talking on TV show and addressing various other forums, minced no words. They were very critical of Indo-Israeli Nexus that’s not only destroying the US but is seen as a grave threat to world peace.
Top military commanders associated with war on terror have started to view Pakistan with respect and admiration. They now grudgingly accept that the key to untie the tangled knot of Afghanistan has slipped into the hands of Pakistan. Gen Kayani’s impressive appraisal of the regional security with particular reference to Afghanistan and Pakistan in Brussels brought a radical change in the impressions of NATO commanders about Pakistan. They all nodded in agreement to what all he said. US military too is highly appreciative of Pak Army and now see it with respect and admiration.
Many from within US military ranks have allied themselves with anti-war veterans and activists calling for an end to US led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some active duty soldiers publicly refusing to deploy. They are openly declaring that they have had enough. This growing resistance movement within military is a cause of consternation for US political and military leadership. Apart from dejection and demoralization that has set in among foreign troops deployed in the two war zones, there has been 80% increase in desertions since 2003. GI resistance is gaining momentum and the number of war resisters would keep multiplying if the war keeps dragging.
Other than indiscipline cases in Iraq and Afghanistan, several cases of shootings have occurred within USA. At Fort Lewis 20 soldiers were killed. The US government is also facing a surge in anti-government extremist groups and armed militias driven by deepening hostility towards Obama. Numbers of patriot groups have risen by 250% with close ties with conservative mainstream politics. Anti-war lawmakers totalling 65, mostly Democrats, moved a bill to force withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by end 2010. Effort was however rejected by US House of Representatives.
These developments have helped in bringing a visible change in the demeanour of US officials towards Pakistan. This change has occurred due to worsening security situation in Afghanistan and fast melting economy of USA. Karzai too is saying right things and in his exuberance referred Pakistan and Afghanistan as twin brothers tied to unbreakable historical, cultural, religious affinities. Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project has been signed while Pak-China relationship remains as strong as ever. Neighbours of Afghanistan find no role of India in Afghan affairs. Saudi Arabia too brushed aside India’s request to put pressure on Pakistan to confine future Indo-Pak talks to terrorism only and to help India in gaining contact with Taliban leaders. Changing geo-political realities has led to ongoing strategic dialogue in Washington on which lots of hopes are pinned. USA seems keen to make amends for their unfair dealings and to forge relations based on mutual respect.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja is Member Board of Advisors, www.Opinion-Maker.org He has been the Directing Staff at Command and Staff College Quetta, Pakistan. He has been Defence Attache to Egypt and Sudan, has written several books.