11 August 2011

Why Is No One Worrying About Pakistan?

Yesterday, I saw on BBC that a drone attack killed 21 people in North Waziristan. Official sources claimed, as they always do, that the ones who perished in the attack were all terrorists.

A month earlier, several drone attacks killed 30 people in various regions of Waziristan.
At least 13 people died in a missile strike on a house on the North-South Waziristan border. Earlier, missiles killed 10 people in South Waziristan.
On Monday night, officials said seven died when a drone targeted a vehicle in the Gorwick area of North Waziristan. 
In both pieces, arcane details (which were clearly provided by official sources) were presented without any substantial discussion of the context in which these drone attacks are taking place. I find that insouciance remarkable as US- Pakistan relations seem highly tense and unstable even to an outsider like me. Frankly, I dont believe that President Asif Ali Zardari is in a position to do much if events get out of hand. And with Pakistan's obsession with India and its newly acquired nuclear arsenal, I feel a lot less comfortable about this situation than most observers.

Let me enumerated the incidents in the last ten months.

Most people assume that the starting point in the deterioration of US-Pakistan relations was the Ray Davis shooting spree in Lahore, Pakistan on 27 January. As it is common knowledge, CIA contractor Davis shot and killed two people and a third person was killed by an embassy car trying to extricate him from the scene.

But the starting point came a month earlier. It was the
summoning of the ISI chief by a US federal court to defend his alleged involvement in the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, allegedly carried out by the Pakistani outfit, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

A US federal court issued a summons to sitting and former director generals of the ISI, as well as a number of senior office bearers of the LeT for their alleged involvement in the Mumbai attacks, asking them to appear before it. The court was hearing a law suit filed by relatives of Gavriel Noah Holtzberg, an American Jew who was killed along with his wife during the attacks. The petitioners alleged that the ISI had a role in the incident that killed their loved ones. 

The all-powerful ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, apparently did not take the humiliation lightly and leaked the name of the CIA Station Chief, Jonathan Banks to the media.
On December 16, 2010, almost a month after the issuance of the summons for the ISI chief and others, Islamabad police moved to register a murder case against Banks who was reportedly supervising the deadly drone campaign in the tribal areas of Pakistan. 
The complainant in the case was Kareem Khan, a journalist and resident of the Mirali area in the North Waziristan tribal agency. He claimed that his son and brother were innocent civilians who were killed in a December 31, 2009, US drone attack. Banks was charged in the case with providing operational guidance for the strike. 
Khan's application to register the case against the CIA chief stated: "Jonathan Banks is operating from the American Embassy in Islamabad, which is a clear violation of diplomatic norms and laws, as a foreign mission cannot be used for any criminal activity in a sovereign state." 
Khan also alleged that Banks was in the country on a business visa, which would give him no diplomatic status and thus not protect him from prosecution. Few legal experts expected the case to succeed, but the lawsuit blew Banks' cover and led to threats against his life.
That was the first time since the American drone campaign was launched in the tribal areas in 2004 that any victim of a missile strike had sought legal action against a CIA official.
As a result, Mr. Banks had to leave Pakistan quickly.

Then the Davis shooting occurred. That caused a major uproar in Pakistan. To make matters worse, the widow of one of the men killed by Davis committed suicide, claiming that Davis would go unpunished. Substantiating her melodramatic gesture posthumously, Davis was freed on 16 March, after blood money was paid to the families of the dead men.

In the beginning of May, when I, completely oblivious to what was about to happen, fatefully started this blog, the US sent a few Navy Seals to Abbottabad and killed Bin Laden. Pakistani establishment was reportedly furious. They put it differently and feigned outrage but what they meant to say was that they could not believe that the US would and could carry out a covert operation in Pakistan without getting clearance from ISI.

The following week, Obama cancelled an official trip to Pakistan citing security concerns. Translation: We did not trust ISI with Osama whereabouts and we do not trust them with security arrangements in the country.

So ISI retaliated by first leaking the name of the CIA Station Chief, the second time in six months. He was identified as Mark Carlton. They went on and arrested several CIA informants or agents who allegedly helped the CIA with the Bin Laden operation.

The American response was to get some senior politicians from both Houses to declare that military aid to Pakistan should be cut immediately. And within a short period of time, the US announced that $800 million were removed from the military aid package to Pakistan.

Pakistan complained loudly and threatened to withdraw its troops from the tribal areas (like Waziristan). Since the money withheld was earmarked to pay for the presence of these troops, their threat was credible.

Then on 13 July multiple bombs exploded in Mumbai, killing 18 people and injuring many more. The attack triggered memories of the 2008 incident, which was later connected to the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar e Taiba. In an interesting twist, a few weeks earlier, on 23 May, a Pakistani-American, David Coleman Headley testified before a Chicago court that the ISI provided material and logistic support to Lashkar e Taiba for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

As 13 May was Kashmir's Martyr Day, many people speculated that ISI might be the mastermind of this incident, hiding, as they did earlier, behind another shadowy group. While nothing concrete was uncovered, I am sure the attack did nothing to help the already tense relations between India and Pakistan.

It may be only a slight exaggeration to say that Pakistan's entire foreign policy focus has been to undermine India. Besides the long standing problem spot of Kashmir and Pakistan's efforts to keep it unresolved, it is well known that the ISI and the Pakistani army cultivated special ties with the Taliban and were instrumental in their rise to power in Afghanistan.

Against this background, Secretary Clinton went to India in late July and made the following declaration:
"We pledge full support to India in fight against terror. It is also our fight against terrorism and extremism."

"Counter-terrorism cooperation is on top of our mind after last week's bombings in Mumbai," she said, adding, "We cannot tolerate safe haven to terrorists anywhere. It is in the interest of Pakistan itself to act against terrorism."
Right after that she made some soothing remarks about Pakistan:
"We are encouraged by India and Pakistan dialogue. It will build more confidence between them. From the US perspective, Pakistan is a key ally in fight against terror."

"Terrorists have killed more Pakistanis by attacking mosques, government buildings etc than American. Pakistan must act on its own. We cannot tolerate safe havens anywhere. And, if we discover any such safe haven we cannot let them threaten people across the world," she said.
But, I doubt anyone in Pakistan heard what she said after the first part of her speech, especially since it was made in India with India's Minister of Foreign Affairs by her side and to corroborate what he had said a minute earlier.

A week after that, CIA Station Chief, Mark Carlton had to leave Pakistan, reportedly because the head of the ISI did not want him there any longer.

Behind this highly public war of words there is one very important element that is ignored by the corporate media. As Dilip Hiro noted in late May, Pakistan holds a highly significant trump card:
To supply the 100,000 American troops now in Afghanistan, as well as 50,000 troops from other NATO nations and more than 100,000 employees of private contractors, the Pentagon must have unfettered access to that country through its neighbors. Among the six countries adjoining Afghanistan, only three have seaports, with those of China far too distant to be of practical use. Of the remaining two, Iran -- Washington’s number one enemy in the region -- is out. That places Pakistan in a unique position. 
Currently about three-quarters of the supplies for the 400-plus U.S. and coalition bases in Afghanistan -- from gigantic Bagram Air Base to tiny patrol outposts -- go overland via Pakistan or through its air space. These shipments include almost all the lethal cargo and most of the fuel needed by U.S.-led NATO forces. On their arrival at Karachi, the only major Pakistani seaport, these supplies are transferred to trucks, which travel a long route to crossing points on the Afghan border. Of these, two are key: Torkham and Chaman. 
Torkham, approached through the famed Khyber Pass, leads directly to Kabul, the Afghan capital, and Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military facility in the country. Approached through the Bolan Pass in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, Chaman provides a direct route to Kandahar Air Base, the largest U.S. military camp in southern Afghanistan.
Operated by some 4,000 Pakistani drivers and their helpers, nearly 300 trucks and oil tankers pass through Torkham and another 200 through Chaman daily. Increasing attacks on these convoys by Taliban-allied militants in Pakistan starting in 2007 led the Pentagon into a desperate search for alternative supply routes.
Pentagon tried to find alternative supply routes through Kyrgyzstan and Latvia and Uzbekistan but they could not replace the Pakistani land network. As Hiro put it:
The indispensability of Pakistan’s land routes to the Pentagon has given its government significant leverage in countering excessive diplomatic pressure from or continued violations of its sovereignty by Washington.  Last September, for instance, after a NATO helicopter gunship crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan in hot pursuit of insurgents and killed three paramilitaries of the Pakistani Frontier Corps in the tribal agency of Kurram, Islamabad responded quickly.
It closed the Khyber Pass route to NATO trucks and oil tankers, which stranded many vehicles en route, giving Pakistani militants an opportunity to torch them. And they did. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a written apology to his Pakistani counterpart General Ashhaq Parvez Kayani, conveying his “most sincere condolences for the regrettable loss of your soldiers killed and wounded on 30 September.” Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, issued an apology for the “terrible accident,” explaining that the helicopter crew had mistaken the Pakistani paratroopers for insurgents. Yet Pakistan waited eight days before reopening the Torkham border post. [emphasis mine]
My questions:

How can the US threaten Pakistan with withholding military aid when they know that Pakistan can cut their supply routes to Afghanistan?

But as a corollary, why hasn't the Pakistani military cut those supply routes and withdrew its troops from the tribal areas? They made some weak noises about troop withdrawals but that was about it.

More importantly, they have done nothing to stop the drone attacks in these areas. Even though the local populations have been bitterly complaining about these attacks and wanted them stopped.

Why did the ISI and CIA engage in such a public fight and kept escalating it?

Yet, the exposed CIA Station Chief was actively working in the tribal areas overseeing the drone attacks during most of that time. And no one did anything about it.

The inherent contradictions within these positions suggest that the Pakistani establishment might be more fractured than we are led to believe.

And to me that is the most worrisome aspect of this whole thing.

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