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Dealing with fallout from the US attack on Abbottabad

Zafar Bangash

The negative fallout from the Osama bin Laden episode is only slowly trickling out into the public domain but Pakistani officials are already scurrying to find support elsewhere as they desperately try to present a brave face over the whole affair. The Pakistani public is shell-shocked, unable to fathom how the Americans could mount an operation deep inside Pakistani territory, in a supposedly secure military base, that lasted 40 minutes without being challenged by the military. It should now be clear even to the most dim-witted that Pakistan’s relations with the US, strained at the best of times, have undergone a sea change. Further, the US is no friend of Pakistan — never has been and never will be.

The Pakistani masses have no illusions on this score. The latest Pew Research findings confirmed this reality. Conducted at the end of April (before the May 1–2 US attack on Abbottabad), it found that only 11% of Pakistanis had a favourable opinion of the US or its president Barack Obama. Following the blatant May 1–2 attack, America’s ratings have definitely plummeted further, especially as it has continued drone attacks disregarding Pakistani parliament’s unanimous resolution of May 13 demanding they cease forthwith. Unless Islamabad demonstrates that it will carry out the threat to stop US-NATO supply convoys across its territory into landlocked Afghanistan, the Americans will continue to dismiss Pakistani protestations with contempt. This has been evident in the continuing US drone attacks since the May 13 resolution in the National Assembly.

So what has been the response of Pakistani officials? In public, the military top brass has remained largely silent apart from appearing before the joint session of parliament to give its version of events. The session, held in camera, lasted 10 hours. It is reported that General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), offered to resign if the parliament so desired. Until the time of writing, nobody has been held accountable for the humiliating debacle that Pakistan faced at the hands of its “friend” and “ally”, the United States. The ISI chief also complained about a very large number of visas issued to Americans without their backgrounds being screened by his agency. This was directed at the civilians, especially President Asif Ali Zardari at whose directive his henchman in Washington, ambassador Hussain Haqqani, opened the floodgates of invasion by CIA operatives. The duo seems to operate their private relationship with Washington, particularly the neocons and the American military hardliners. In return for being allowed to stay in power, they are willing to do whatever the Americans demand of them, including selling the country and turning it into a CIA-run enclave.

Pakistan’s tragedy is that its rulers are not only incompetent they are also insincere, greedy, and treacherous. They would sell the country for a shoulder of mutton. Honour and dignity are unknown concepts; they only worship the dollar. As long as the Americans throw a few dollars at them, like a bone thrown to a dog, they will perform whatever tricks Washington demands of them. The US attack on Abbottabad obviously revealed a colossal failure of the military; it also showed that the CIA was maintaining a safe house close to the Osama bin Laden compound in the city. Again, this was a major intelligence failure. There is no doubt many CIA agents slipped into Pakistan under the guise of businessmen, aid workers and other do-gooders, thanks to the Zardari-Haqqani deal.

Raymond Davis who shot and killed two Pakistanis in the old part of Lahore in cold blood on January 27 and Aaron de Haven, arrested in Peshawar on February 28 while his visa had expired in October 2010, are two examples of CIA operatives running amok in Pakistan. How many more Davises and de Havens are running around in Pakistan is anybody’s guess. Certainly, Zardari and Haqqani are not going to tell us.

Zardari rushed to Moscow on May 11 to confer with the Kremlin leadership while Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani visited Beijing for four days from May 17 to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties. The visit was used more as an opportunity to showcase Pakistan’s relations with China and to demonstrate to the Americans that it was not without friends even if Washington is becoming openly hostile and threatening. Regrettably, neither Zardari nor Gilani is capable of conducting intelligent conversation but the Russian and Chinese leaderships appear not too perturbed by this. They are willing to put up with their guests’ incoherent talk because they see openings in the US-Pakistan rift. For their own reasons, both Russia and China do not wish to see permanent US presence in the region. This is where Pakistan’s role becomes crucial.

The Russians have two specific objectives in Afghanistan they feel can be achieved through Pakistan. First, they want to position themselves favourably for the endgame that is virtually inevitable even if the US continues to press Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a Status of Forces Agreement to allow US troops to remain in the country after the 2014 deadline. Second, while hinting at willingness to accept the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan, the Kremlin does not want any spill-over of the conflict into Central Asia, especially with several Central Asian Islamic movements having a significant presence in Afghanistan. The Russians fear that the Americans may be plotting an Arab Spring-type uprising in Central Asia that would enable Washington to meddle in a region considered by Moscow as its own sphere of influence. Pakistan could help with both.

One hopes Zardari was properly briefed before heading to Moscow. His visit was preceded a week earlier (May 5) by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to the Kremlin. In addition to meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he also met President Damitry Medvedev on May 6. The Sino-Russian political consultations followed two days of China-Pakistan “strategic dialogue” in Beijing at the end of April. There is little doubt that Chinese and Russian officials shared notes about the strategic dialogue and wanted to calibrate policies prior to Zardari’s visit.

Moscow is aware of Pakistani wariness about prolonged US presence in Afghanistan and its spill over into Pakistan that has been exacerbated by the Osama episode. The chaos in Pakistan is the direct result of deep American meddling that was reconfirmed by the Davis affair. There is little doubt that Davis was a major player, perhaps the lynchpin in the CIA black-ops in Pakistan. There can be no other explanation for the manner in which US officials, including US President Barack Obama pressed for his release. By disrupting his network, the ISI dealt a blow to CIA operations in the country. The result was the Osama blow-back. Interestingly, both Chinese and Russian positions are much closer to that of Pakistan on the Osama affair. The Russian press has cast doubt on American pronouncements about the Osama episode and have pointed to numerous revisions and inconsistencies in official US reports. The Russian press has pointedly said the whole truth is yet to emerge.

The Chinese have been even more unequivocal: not only their media but even the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao have come out strongly in support of Pakistan. During Gilani’s visit, Wen said: “I wish to stress here that no matter what changes might take place in the international landscape, China and Pakistan will remain forever good neighbours, good friends, good partners and good brothers.” Pakistani officials must pay greater attention to China and stop being so subservient to the US if they want respect in the world and want Beijing to help them in this crucial juncture.

What do the Chinese want from Pakistan? Surely, their friendship is not based on sentiments. Foreign relations are not predicated on sentimentality; there are other considerations at work. Like the Russians, the Chinese are also concerned about America’s prolonged presence and interference that has radicalized and therefore, destabilized the entire region. Beijing clearly sees US attempts to encircle it. China is not unaware of the nearly 1,000 American military bases around the world, many in Central Asia that pose a direct threat to Chinese security and interests.

During Gilani’s Beijing visit, it was also announced that Pakistan would like China to manage the important Pakistani seaport at Gwadar. Built by the Chinese, its strategic importance cannot be over-emphasized. The Americans want to grab it for their own geo-strategic designs, not least to control all maritime traffic — shipping and oil — in and out of the Persian Gulf. Gwadar can also serve as an important entry point into Central Asia. On May 22, members of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan attacked the airwing of Pakistan naval base in an upscale neighbourhood of Karachi. The attack lasted for several hours and resulted in 10 security personnel being killed. It was reported after the militants were killed that there were 11 Chinese maintenance technicians as well as six American military personnel on the base. According to Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, no foreigner was killed or injured. In the past, Chinese engineers and other personnel have been kidnapped and even killed in a clear attempt to drive them out of Pakistan. It is obvious that the Chinese withdrawal from Pakistan can only benefit the US and India.

Pakistan is also important for China in other ways: land transportation for Chinese goods to the Arabian Sea for onward movement to Middle Eastern markets. Further, Pakistan-China trade currently stands at $15 billion. There is talk to double it within the next few years. The Chinese have also mentioned setting up a free-trade zone on the Pakistan-China border. Some $30 billion of construction is involved and Pakistani contractors and suppliers can make a major contribution and earn substantial sums if they can get involved in some of these projects.

Then, there is the military aspect. China has helped Pakistan manufacture the JF-17 Thunder aircraft that is jointly produced by the two countries. Pakistan’s military complex at Kamra has also been built with Chinese help. The first JF-17 rolled out in November 2009. This is in addition to the Heavy Industrial Complex at Taxila established in 1971 that manufactures and repairs tanks, armoured personnel carriers as well as long-range artillery. On his Beijing visit, Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had accompanied Gilani. Kayani met China’s Defence Minister, General Liang Guanglie and among other issues, agreed to hold joint military exercises.

It must, however, be added that the Pakistani military is still much dependent on American weapons because they come accompanied with large cache of dollar bills that grease the palms of Pakistani decision-makers. It is this over-dependence on the Americans that has brought Pakistan to this sorry state. Will Pakistani decision-makers — civil and military — be able to wean themselves away from such addiction?

One must also examine the US claim that Pakistan is not doing enough despite receiving $10–12 billion in aid from Washington in 10 years. Pakistan has deployed 120,000 troops in the tribal area since 2003. Pakistani losses have surpassed the 30,000 figure of whom 21,000 are civilians. Pakistan has also lost 78 high ranking military officers that include a lieutenant general, a major general, several brigadiers, colonels, majors, captains and lieutenants. One is constrained to ask: how many generals has the US lost in the entire so-called war on terror? Pakistani losses surpass by many orders of magnitude the total losses of all NATO troops combined. It is obvious that the Americans think Pakistani lives are dispensable and that they can continue to press officials there to “do more.”

Let us now examine the financial side of the story. American officials and media never tire of repeating the mantra of the $10–12 billion in “aid”. What they do not mention is that most of this money goes to providing base and transit facilities to the Americans as well as for fuel and transit charges. There is no reason why Pakistan should provide these for free. But even more critical than that is the fact that Pakistan has suffered losses to the tune of $50 billion as a direct result of the US war. Besides, the war has spilled over into Pakistan and the entire society is virtually devastated. Consider only 10 days of last month from May 13 to 23. Two suicide bombers struck the Frontier Constabulary training facility outside Charsadda on May 13 killing 90 cadets. They had just completed their course. This was followed a few days later by a bomb explosion in Karachi in which four naval personnel were killed. On May 22, a group of 14 Tehrik-e Taliban militants stormed the naval base in Karachi and killed 12 military personnel there before being killed themselves.

Pakistan has become a war zone all because of America’s war on terror. It faced no such problems prior to 9/11. This is the gift that America has bequeathed to Pakistan. Is the price worth it? Any reasonable person would say “no” yet Uncle Sam never seems to be satisfied. Is it not time for Pakistan to say goodbye to this selfish, pushy friend?

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