By: Dr Shireen M Mazari
There is a dangerous pattern connecting the events happening in and around Pakistan today. Unless we can see this larger picture, we will be overwhelmed by the fallout and our detractors like the US will have fulfilled their agenda for this nuclear capable country.
The roots of this US agenda go back to Musharraf’s hasty embrace of the US “war on terror”. What was not realised at the time was the psychological trauma the US had undergone as a result of 9/11, which had led to the bolstering of the already suspicion-tinted view the US had of the Muslim world. Of course, some pliant Muslim leaders were reluctantly embraced as “allies”, but always on a tight leash, but by and large nationalist Muslim leaders and their nations were something the Americans never felt comfortable with. If these nations were also militarily or economically strong, the US felt even more uncomfortable. In this context, Mahathir’s Malaysia, Revolutionary Iran and nuclear Pakistan certainly stood out as irritants in one way or another. So when 9/11 happened, even though it was Saudi citizens who were responsible for the actions, Pakistan was brought centre-stage and the US saw this as the opportunity to cut the country down to size and finally gain control of its nuclear assets.
That Musharraf proved excessively compliant from the beginning came as a shock even to the Bush Administration, but they realised his limitations in terms of compromises at the tactical level because of the military - which often put a spanner in the US agenda for Pakistan. Hence the constant critique of the Pakistan military and its intelligence outfits - especially once the CIA fell out with the ISI two years ago over whom to target in FATA!
So what is this US agenda that bodes ill for Pakistan? An article published in the US Army Journal entitled “Blood Borders” captured the broad outline a few years earlier. The main components that can now be identified are: One, to restructure Pakistan and its state institutions according to US wishes; two, to take control of its nuclear assets since they cannot really be “taken out”; and, three, to move it towards accepting Indian hegemony in the region and to distance it from its strategic partnership with China.
What has been the strategy for implementing this agenda? To create enough chaos and violence in Pakistan so as to be able to justify coming in and seizing control of the nuclear assets, restructuring a new state model for the country, which would include bringing it under Indian hegemony. How would this agenda be implemented?
First, through shifting the centre of gravity of the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan. This has finally been accomplished through a number of interesting tactics. The beginning was made by allowing the Al-Qaeda and Taliban to escape from Afghanistan during the Tora Bora bombings. Then the internal destabilisation of Pakistan began through drone attacks, which caused the traditionally highly patriotic tribal population of FATA to gradually turn against the state especially when the US pressured the army into moving into this area. Also, India was given a free run in Afghanistan so money and weapons for terrorists flowed in from Afghanistan into Balochistan and FATA as well as NWFP. In addition, a new entity emerged with its own violent agenda - the TTP with a huge stock of weapons that clearly had come from across the border since some of them were of US origin. Meanwhile, the US gradually increased its covert presence in Pakistan - beginning with Tarbela and the so-called “trainers” as well as the private US security concerns that have traditionally worked as mercenaries for the US government in places like Iraq. Balochistan also saw an increase in the US presence, especially as the US also sought to operationalise its covert operations against Iran through this province and the bases Musharraf had so generously handed over to the US. There was also the Bandari air base in an area 78 kilometres south of Kharan, near a place called Shimsi - not Shamsi base which is on the border with Iran near Dalbandin - from where the drones have been flying. This is the only airport that is not listed as being under CAA control.
All along, the US at the diplomatic and political levels was continuing with its “do more” mantra and undermining the credibility of the military in terms of its intent vis-à-vis fighting extremism and terrorism. The ISI especially was singled out for attack while the nuclear assets kept coming in for periodic targeting by the US media. As the US became more bogged down in Afghanistan, it sought to shift its failures on to Pakistan so that in the end many assume that it is this reason that has forced the US to shift the war to Pakistan. However, that may only be an offshoot of the larger original game plan to destabilise Pakistan from within by taking the war to the heart of the country - which is where the situation stands poised right now. The Musharraf-US alliance would have continued, but for the people of Pakistan’s desire for justice and freedom which spurred the judicial movement when Musharraf overplayed his hand. But once again the nation was short-changed because the US cleverly managed a new partner linked through the NRO. In Zardari they found an even more cooperative leader - and with democratic credentials to boot! If Musharraf had begun the granting of unfettered access to the US, the Zardari regime has taken it beyond all limits.
The second phase of the US implementation strategy has now begun to be operat-ionalised - that is, to destabilise Pakistan from within by increasing acts of terror carried out in Pakistani cities through well-trained and well-equipped groups centring on TTP - which finds no mention in the Kerry-Lugar Act. Alongside, the military has been tied down in military operations, first in Swat and now in SWA - which has its own fallouts in terms of terrorism and displacement of the population. It has also become necessary to isolate Pakistan from its neighbours and hence the extensive terrorist attacks on Iran’s security forces in Sistan province bordering Pakistan’s Balochistan, so that Iran-Pakistan relations are destroyed - Iran being the only friendly neighbour apart from China. The US covert presence in Pakistan has also now been put in place like a web - beginning from Sindh and Balochistan in the south and southwest, to Punjab to the Capital to Peshawar. There are now US armed covert operatives along with overt marines surrounding the Pakistanis and their nuclear assets. The Kerry-Lugar Act merely gives formal recognition to what has already happened in practice - submission to US diktat.
Only one last phase of the US agenda has to be operat-ionalised, but that will be the toughest. This is to push the country into a civil war-like situation by threatening to target Quetta and southern Punjab as well as Muridke. First there was pressure on the army to move into Swat; now it is SWA and the new mantra of moving the army into southern Punjab has already begun! Overstretch the military and create civil-military fissures so as to totally destabilise the country. When there is a state of total chaos, the US can pressure the UNSC into allowing it to takeover Pakistan’s nuclear assets - what will euphemistically be termed “under international control”. But the big problem now is that too many in the corridors of power in Pakistan are beginning to see the light while the people have also woken up to the lethal American agenda for Pakistan. Unless we can see the whole US game plan, and connect all the dots we will continue to fall prey to this destructive design.