26 September 2011

Pakistan Worries

It looks like I am the only person worrying about Pakistan.

Two days after I posted my worries, on 13 August, someone abducted Warren Weinstein, an American development specialist, from his home in Lahore, Pakistan. He was 48 hours away from leaving the country indefinitely. Today, I wanted to find out what happened to him and after 20 Google pages, I realized that no one reported much about the story after his abduction. There was a mistaken news of his release on 25 August (which was promptly denied by the American authorities) and that was it.

Weinstein was identified as a development consultant working on a project called Pakistan Initiative for Strategic Development and Competitiveness (PISDAC). Following the Raymond Davis debacle, many people assumed that he was probably a CIA agent. The oddly militaristic name of the project and its affiliation with the US government (albeit through USAID) seemed to strengthened their assumption. Others vehemently denied that, pointing to the fact that he was an old man trying to do some good for humanity (interestingly the "old man's" age was reported as 63, as "believed to be in his sixties" and as 70).

Regardless of whether he was a NOC or a well-paid humanitarian, several things happened after his abduction (it is just a timeline, I am not making a causal assumption as in post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy).

On 12 September, an American drone killed an important Haqqani commander. Haqqani network is named after Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was a very successful CIA asset when the US was funding the anti-Soviet Afghan insurgency in the 80s (students of irony will also note that Bin Laden was also an important CIA asset back then). Haqqani is also known to be an asset of the ISI, Pakistan's infamous Inter Services Intelligence Agency and he lives in and operates from the ungoverned Waziristan region of Pakistan.

The following day, on the 13th, the American Embassy and NATO military base in Kabul came under Taliban attack, although Afghan authorities attributed the complex operation that took 25 lives to the Haqqani network.

Two days later, the US military announced that they killed Abu Hafs al-Shahri in Waziristan, whom they claimed to be the top Al Qaeda man in Pakistan and the organization's Chief of Operations. (The US military has a long history of falsely announcing the demise of important Al Qaeda figures but it seems that this one was for real.)

Two days later, the US Ambassador to Pakistan declared that the Haqqani network was linked to the government of Pakistan and the network was the real force behind the Kabul attacks. Furious Pakistani denials ensued.

But on 22 September, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen declared that "The Haqqani network... acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency" and 
"With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted a truck bomb attack [on 11 September], as well as the assault on our embassy," said Adm Mullen.
"We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the 28 June attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations."
This is a very direct and serious accusation and it comes from the most senior military officer in the US. Incidentally, Admiral Mullen makes a curious emissary for this message as he is stepping down this month: he will not be around to work with his Pakistani counterpart. It is almost as if someone asked him to make the case in the strongest terms possible, and leave afterwards.

And yesterday (25 September) CIA Station House in Kabul came under attack and two people were killed, one of whom was an American.

If you read my post on Pakistan in August (two days before the Weinstein abduction, as I noted) you know that there has been an open information war between the ISI and the CIA, with the former outing successive CIA station chiefs in Pakistan. But by now this seems to have turned into an actual armed assaults with the ISI planning and executing attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.

Other than Le Carré novels on Cold War, I have never heard of such an open warfare between two intelligence agencies. But, however extraordinary this is, it is not the relevant issue. This has very significant domestic ramifications in Pakistan as the US Senate voted to make $1 billion military aid conditional upon the Pakistani government cracking down on the Haqqani network. In July, Congress had withheld $800 million in military aid, which at the time was reported to represent one third of the total annual aid.

As they say, you do the math. Whichever way you look, this represents a very important sum for the Pakistani military. If, as reported, the US move was to force them to choose between money and Haqqani network (and the Taliban) I am pretty sure that they will not get what they want. The ISI will never relinquish those ties as they are critical in keeping Kashmir in a state of turmoil and in executing terrorist operations in India and Afghanistan. From the Pakistani perspective, keeping India on its toes is more important than anything else. As I underlined in August, they are already working to establish privileged ties with the Chinese, possibly to replace the American military largesse.

More worryingly, the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari is not powerful enough to intervene and any such intervention could have unforeseen consequences.

On top of that, Pervez Musharraf announced that he will return to Pakistan on 23 March 2012 before the next elections. Saudi Arabia is exerting enormous pressure on former PM Nawaz Sharif and current PM Yousef Raza Gilani to drop all Article 6 charges against him. Musharraf has also friends in Washington (and less importantly in Ankara). With his foe Sharif quite weakened his return could have affect the electoral process.

In other words, all I can see is serious instability in that region for the foreseeable future.

Given Pakistan's itchy fingers and its nuclear arsenal and India's and China's super power ambitions, I am very worried about this potent mix.

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