PAKISTAN & AL QAEDA: US REVIEWS OPTIONS
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is still strong on paper. All the powers, which he had accumulated in his hands during his more than nine years of dictatorial rule, are still intact. de jure, he is still a strong President but,de facto, there has been a steady erosion of his ability to exercise those powers and to have his orders enforced.
2.He is finding himself in the same humiliating position as the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the then President, found himself after Benazir Bhutto returned to power in the elections of 1993 and Mr.Farooq Leghari, the then President, found himself after Mr.Nawaz Sharif swept to power in 1997 with a two-thirds majority. They found themselves reduced to irrelevance and chose to quit and fade away.
3.It is only a question of months, if not weeks, before Musharraf finds even the de jure powers being taken away by a hostile Parliament and Cabinet. He may find that he has no other option but to follow in the footsteps of Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Leghari.
4.Musharraf came to power with a bang in October,1999.He seems set to disappear, sooner or later, with a whimper. Those, who have been seeing him on the TV in recent days, would have noticed that the swagger in him is gone.
5.Nothing brought out the winds of change sweeping across Pakistan more dramatically than the way former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury and other judges sacked and kept under house arrest by the police on the orders of Musharraf found themselves freed and hailed by the very same police. After he was elected as the Prime Minister by the National Assembly, Mr.Yousef Raza Gilani said in his speech thanking the Assembly that his first order after assuming office would be to free the sacked Chief Justice and Judges from their house arrest. The Police did not wait for him to assume charge as the Prime Minister and issue a formal order lifting the house-arrest. They just released those under house-arrest without waiting for formal orders.
6. There is an air of elation in the civilian bureaucracy and the Police over the discomfiture of Musharraf. No other military dictator of Pakistan treated the civilian bureaucracy and the Police as contemptuously as Musharraf did. It is no wonder they have chosen to cast their lot with the new democratic dispensation under the Prime Minister. Hereafter, they will take orders---- whether in respect of counter-terrorism or in other matters of governance--- only from the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers and the Chief Ministers of the new Governments in the provinces and from no Army General.
7. Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), who has already called on the new Prime Minister, has to walk on a tight rope hereafter. His loyalty to and friendship with Musharraf are still strong. He would still prefer that Musharraf's pre-eminence in national security matters and in matters pertaining to the Armed Forces remain strong. At the same time, his future effectiveness as the COAS would depend on the trust which he enjoys from the elected Prime Minister. Can his continued loyalty to Musharraf as the President be reconciled with need for equal loyalty to a civilian and elected Prime Minister?
8. That is only one of the dilemmas facing Kiyani. The other arises from his equation with the military leadership in the US. The Pentagon thinks well of him. He had in the past got along well with his counterparts in the US Armed Forces. He has been as keen as Musharraf to do all he can to co-operate with the US in its counter-terrorism operations. He understands and appreciates the US concerns over the dangers of another 9/11 in the US homeland arising from the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. He finds himself having to moderate the professional need for continued co-operation with the US in the light of the openly expressed hostility of large sections of the new coalition to such co-operation. Mr.Nawaz Sharif and Mr.Afsandyar Wali Khan, the chief of the Awami National Party (ANP) of the North-west Frontier Province, both of which are important props of the new Government, have the firm conviction that the policy of co-operation with the US as followed by Musharraf has aggravated the threat of terrorism and is the reason for the present wave of suicide terrorism sweeping across not only the Pashtun belt, but also areas outside the tribal belt.
9. Another person facing a dilemma is Mr. Asif Zardari, the Co-Chairperson of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). When Benazir Bhutto was alive, he shared her good vibrations for the US. After her death, he continues to have those vibrations, but is not in a position to give effect to them. His party failed to win an absolute majority under his stewardship in the elections of February 18,2008, thereby forcing it to seek the co-operation of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Mr.Nawaz Sharif and the ANP.
10. Mr.Sharif and Mr.Wali Khan seem determined to impose their thinking on the policies of the new Government--- whether it be in respect of the fight against terrorism or co-operation with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of Mr.Altaf Hussain, which has retained its pre-eminent position in the urban areas of Sindh.Mr.Sharif and Mr.Wali Khan never speak of Al Qaeda and its presence and activities from Pakistani territory. They seem to look upon it as a figment of the US imagination or as a threat over-projected by the US to serve its own strategic interests in this region. They also do not talk of the activities of the Neo Taliban headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar, its Amir, from Pakistani territory.
11. Their main concern is with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has been behind the wave of suicide terrorism in Pakistan. They blame the policies of Musharraf and his co-operation with the US for driving the Tehrik to take to terrorism. They do not accept that the Tehrik is the Trojan Horse of Al Qaeda. They are determined to make overtures to the Tehrik through a suspension of military operations against it to be followed by a dialogue. Mr.Wali Khan has already announced that the new Government in Peshawar headed by his party would order the suspension of the military operations in the Swat Valley and enter into a dialogue with those, who have taken to arms against the Pakistan Government.
12.While Mr.Nawaz Sharif and Mr.Wali Khan make no secret of their keenness to bring the Tehrik into the mainstream, they are at the same time opposed to Mr.Zardari's attempts to keep the MQM in the mainstream. They make no secret of their distrust of the MQM and the Mohajirs, the refugees from India, whom it represents. Each distrusts the MQM for his own reason.Mr.Sharif distrusts it because of its perceived co-operation with Musharraf. Mr.Wali Khan distrusts it because of its alleged hostility to the Pashtun settlers in Karachi.
13. Mr.Zardari realises that Musharraf's action in bringing the MQM into the mainstream dramatically brought down sectarian and inter-ethnic violence in Karachi, which had become virtually ungovernable in the 1990s because of the violence. Mr.Zardari would like to accommodate the desires and concerns of the US----whether in respect of Musharraf's continuance in office or the counter-terrorism co-operation--- but is unable to do so because of the weak electoral position of the PPP.
14.As new political equations, new policies and new ideas are taking shape and contending with each other for acceptance, the US is showing signs of having already come to terms with the reality that Musharraf is an ally of yesterday, but is unlikely to be any longer of today and tomorrow. It has to search for new allies and new political and professional equations in Pakistan. One of the main purposes of the four-day visit of Mr.John Negroponte, the US Deputy Secretary of State, and Mr.Richard Boucher, the Assistant Secretary of State, to Pakistan, which ended on March 26,2008, was to test the winds of change and share the US concerns over terrorism and its determination to prevent another 9/11 with the new leadership before they make any major changes in policy. They met not only Musharraf, Gen.Kiyani and other senior Army officers, Mr.Zardari, Mr.Sharif and Mr.Wali Khan, but also many of the new provincial leaders in the NWFP and Sindh.
15. The timing of the visit was significant. Normally, one would have expected them to come after the new Government was in position. Their decision to come even before the new Government was in position ran the risk of being misinterpreted as an interference in Pakistan's internal affairs. Despite this, they came in order to make it clear to their interlocutors the US thinking and concerns on the various issues on which policy changes are being demanded.
16. There are three issues of major concern to the US---- the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, continued Pakistani military operations against Al Qaeda and its associates operating from Pakistani territory and continued logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory from Karachi. It had been accepted by all political formations even in the past that the Army would be in the driving seat of all decision-making relating to the nuclear arsenal. The US would prefer that Musharraf continues in power and exercises this responsibility. If his exit becomes inevitable, they would like this responsibility to be exercised by Gen.Kiyani and not by the political leaders of the new Government. At present, none of the political leaders wants to disturb the role of the Army in this field.
17. In anticipation of a possible decision by the new Government to stop the logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory, the US and other NATO countries are already negotiating with Russia and Uzbekistan about the use of their territory for this purpose. They seem to be inclined to accept the NATO request. Even if they don't, the US should be able to find a way out.
18.What is really worrying the US is the dangers arising from a Pakistani non-co-operation in the operations against the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and its associates in the Pakistani territory. There are three issues of concern here. Firstly, the technical intelligence operations of the US' National Security Agency (NSA) from Pakistani territory. Musharraf had allowed the NSA to expand its presence and operations in the Pakistani territory. The NSA stations in Pakistan played a very important role in the location and capture of many of Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. If a Nawaz Sharif-dominated Government orders the US to close down the NSA stations, the US could find alternatives in Afghanistan and on board US ships in the area.
19. Secondly, the tremendous expansion of US Human Intelligence operations in Pakistani territory. These operations are in the form of raising and running sources and interrogation of terrorism suspects arrested by the Pakistani intelligence. While the more important Al Qaeda operatives such as Abu Zubaidah, Ramzi Binalshibh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu Faraj al-Libi etc were flown out of Pakistan for interrogation, hundreds of less important ones were interrogated in Pakistan itself. Among those interrogated by the FBI in Pakistan itself were two retired nuclear scientists and some doctors with suspected contacts with Al Qaeda. A Nawaz Sharif-dominated Government may put an end to such HUMINT operations from Pakistani territory. This would create operational difficulties, which it would be difficult for the US to overcome.
20. Thirdly, the most important concern is that the new Governments in Islamabad and Peshawar may order the Pakistan Army to suspend all its military operations in the Pashtun belt,thereby adding to the difficulties of the US and other NATO forces in Afghanistan and increasing the possibility of another 9/11 in the US homeland and terrorist strikes in West Europe, including Denmark. Al Qaeda has been repeatedly warning of reprisals against Denmark for the cartoons depicting the Holy Prophet.
21. This is a danger which the US will not be prepared to accept. Till now, the US forces in Afghanistan have been avoiding exercising their right of hot pursuit into Pakistani territory when they were attacked by Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists operating from Pakistani territory. The US has also been restricting its use of unmanned aircraft to strike at targets in Pakistan to the minimum unavoidable. It was afraid that by undertaking frequent operations in Pakistani territory, it might add to the political difficulties of Musharraf.
22. Hereafter, in the absence of co-operation from Pakistan, this factor will no longer inhibit US operations in the Pashtun belt. It will act against Al Qaeda and its associates in the Pakistani tribal belt with no holds barred---- hot pursuits, missile strikes from the air and across the border and, if necessary, even temporary occupation of Pakistani territory to destroy Al Qaeda infrastructure if the worst comes to the worst.
23. If the new Government stops its co-operation against Al Qaeda and its associates, the US will do whatever it considers to be necessary to neutralise threats to its nationals and troops and to prevent another 9/11 in the US homeland. It is learnt from reliable Pakistani sources that this was the message which Mr.Negroponte and Mr.Boucher conveyed to some of their Pakistani interlocutors.
24. Mr.Nawaz Sharif has a short memory. Otherwise, he would remember that in August, 1998, the Clinton Administration ordered Cruise missile strikes from its ships on Al Qaeda camps in Afghan territory in retaliation for the explosions outside the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. The missiles flew through Pakistani air space. The Clinton Administration did not take the prior permission of the Government of Mr.Nawaz Sharif, which was then in power, because it distrusted him. Gen.Anthony Zinni, the then Commander of the US Central Command, transited through Islamabad, his transit halt coinciding with the firing of the missiles. Just before the missiles were fired, he called Gen.Jehangir Karamat, the then Chief of the Army Staff, to the airport and told him that Cruise missiles were on the way and that Pakistan need not worry about them and should not mistake them for possible Indian missiles.
25. More such unilateral strikes by the US on Al Qaeda and Neo Taliban targets in Pakistani territory are likely if the new Government avoids co-operating with the US. (29-3-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )