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America's New Embassy in Islamabad

US plans for the $1 billion upgrade of their Islamabad embassy are taking shape.  The plans include investments of about $405 million in reconstruction of the main embassy building and $111 million for a housing complex for additional personnel.  The US has already purchased 18 acres of land from the Pakistan government for additional accommodation for diplomatic personnel.

This plan to increase US presence in Pakistan was first announced in May 2009, to complement Obama’s Af-Pak strategy.  The plan also calls for a significant increase in the number of personnel (by about 1,000), and includes the deployment of 350 marines and several armored personnel carriers.

The slow but steady increase in US boots-on-the-ground provides the Americans the ability to carry out COIN and covert operations in NWFP, FATA and Baluchistan with or without direct assistance from the Pakistani army and the ISI.  Clearly, the frustration of being encumbered by a double-talking “ally ” has translated into the US adopting a more operational role in the border regions of Pakistan and beyond.  Indeed, there are reports of significant US muscle power already present in the Tarbela area (about 20 miles NW of Islamabad), in addition to CIA “facilities” in Karachi and Peshawar, and Predator drones operating out of Shamsi airbase.

While there may be question marks over the exact role of US marines in Pakistan, they are clearly there as a result of Pakistani government assent — whether provided voluntary or under compulsion.  Boots-on-the-ground provides the US the flexibility to operate with enough independence to pick and choose targets for engagement, while leaving some of the “dirty work” to the Pakistani army.

It also ties in with the overall strategy of negotiating with the so-called “moderate” Taliban, while targeting those Talibani elements not willing to be bought over. In this regard, the return of Robin Raphel to the neighborhood may not be coincidental. Who better to deal with the Taliban than their most vocal cheerleader? (via The Acorn)

As expected, this hasn’t gone down well with the Pakistani media.  Never one to pass up an opportunity to fume over all things India or US related, Shireen Mazari takes her government to task for kowtowing America’s line.  She argues:

It now transpires that there are already 300 plus US military personnel in this area – the so-called “trainers”. Of course, given the poor counter insurgency record of the US, heaven knows what training they will impart to our much better trained army!

Of course, one could point out that for all the bravado and chest-thumping, the Pakistani army has nothing to show for its COIN efforts in Swat, that the Swati leadership is still intact, and that as was last known, the Radio Mullah had resumed his FM-based sermons, but the concepts of “fact” and “logic” are largely irrelevant in Mazari’s writing.

Meanwhile, the August 3 editorial of The Dawn disapproves of the increasing US presence and asks whether such a move would “endear” the US to Pakistani civilians.  The editorial sees the development as being part of US’s contingency plans of taking control of Pakistan’s nukes, in the event of a meltdown of the state.  It points out that the Americans operated a similar base out of Tehran during the Shah’s rule, and asks, with tongue-in-cheek, whether such a base wouldn’t be more suitable if it were to operate out of capitals in the region that were friendly to Washington, such as Kabul or New Delhi.

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Pakistan Roundup

Even amidst the flurry of political activity in New Delhi, the media has had a field day (or two) with a couple of news reports from Pakistan. The first being the apparent successful military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley, and the second being the release of Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, from house arrest.  As is the case with anything related to Pakistan, there is always more than meets the eye.

The United States and the international community have been hailing Pakistan army’s successes in the Valley.  Even The Wall Street Journal joined the chorus, in a very gung-ho editorial that put its weight behind Pakistan and asked the US Congress to approve the military and economic aid package to their “allies in Islamabad”.  A couple of days ago, Ahmed Quraishi was on BBC, claiming that the $11 billion military aid doled out by the US to his country was pittance, but couldn’t answer why Pakistan was unable to account for funds provided to them for a specific purpose.

The problem that Pakistan faces is an old one.  The British tried, with carrot and stick, to bring the Pashtun in line and failed. The Soviets launched a war — and even declared victory — but eventually had to retreat in the face of ceaseless guerrilla assaults.  The Americans have experienced this first hand.  The Taliban are not going to fight a conventional military battle against anyone.  They will not have war imposed upon them.  They fight at a time and place of their choosing.

Despite the apparent losses, the Taliban leadership is still intact.  The Radio Mullah and Baitullah Mehsud are still alive, and the Pakistani army faces the unenviable task of asserting itself in territory it hasn’t ever fully controlled.  Anyone believing that a military “victory” is the only solution is living in a fool’s paradise.  Pakistan will eventually realize that it needs to take a page out of Gen. Petreaus’ book and bribe/appease/cajole/entice their way into some sort of political compromise with the Swati tribes.  The question is whether the Pakistani government has the will to sustain a military/political campaign against the Taliban.

Which brings me right along to Hafiz Saeed.  His release, after nearly five months of house arrest, is only to be expected.  India’s huffing and puffing is as utterly meaningless as its decision to outsource the redressal of its grievances vis-a-vis Pakistan to the US.  This blogger has opined previously that Pakistan sees no benefit in abandoning its use of unconventional warfare  against India; and why should it? India has no antidote to counter state-sponsored terrorism, and the United States is unfalteringly vague on the matter, for fear of offending its friends in Islamabad.   And if this extraordinary report in The Times of India is to be believed, India is working through diplomatic channels to rekindle the “peace process” with Pakistan, a month before Secretary Clinton’s scheduled visit.

Given the lack of will or ability to affect a credible response from Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, the stagnation of the peace process, and diplomatic inertia of the past six months on account of the general elections, the Indian government now sees no way out but to extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan.  Stagnation, or indeed, further deterioration of Indo-Pak relations is not acceptable.  At least, not to the United States.

Therefore, with the continuation of the charade that is Hafiz Saeed’s trial, and the soon-to-be-broadcast vague, ambivanet utterances against terrorism by Islamabad, readers  should fully expect the commencement of  the second edition of the India-Pakistan Peace process (IPP-2), which will be dramatically heralded by a series of Twenty20 Indo-Pak cricket matches, and the establishment of a cross-border laddoo exchange mechanism.  Meanwhile,  the 200 civilians who died in Mumbai will be as purged from our memories as were their lives at the hands of terrorists from Pakistan on 26/11.  So much for candlelight vigils and “Never Forget” banners.

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Attack on Sri Lankan Cricket Team in Lahore

News is just trickling in that Sri Lanka’s cricketers, who are on tour in Pakistan, were attacked in Lahore. The cricketers were en route to Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium where they were to face the Pakistani cricket team on day three of the second test match.  Preliminary reports indicate that several cricketers, including heir apparent Kumara Sangakkara, were injured during the attack.

It is always a bit of a challenge to glean any information from channels like NDTV or Times Now during an ongoing incident, because their “journalists” and “news reporters” neither know how to construct a coherent sentence in English, nor have gumption to present a half decent analysis of the said incident.  The Times of India is now running a news item that screams: “Terrorists” behind attack on Lanka cricketers. Really?  Did you piece that together yourself, Einstein?  I’m sure the art of stating the bleeding obvious isn’t mastered overnight.

Images flashed on the TV screen showed terrorists brandishing what appeared to be rocket launchers and AK-47s.  There is no word on whether the terrorists were captured, killed, or if they have even been identified.   The real issue that should continue to concern anyone following Pakistan is that the breakdown of law and order is spreading eastward at an astonishing rate.  Despite assurances of security cover to visiting teams, this attack reinstates the notion to this blogger that the civilian government (whether federal or state) is in no position whatsoever to be making such guarantees.   The political machinations of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan will try to lump this in with the Mumbai attack to reinforce to the West that they are victims of the same terrorism that India and the rest of the world are subject to.

It is not beyond doubt that Punjabi terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) or Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) could be responsible for the attack.  The establishment may also choose to quickly transfer blame to the “bad” Taliban (as opposed to Maulana Fazlullah’s “good” Taliban) or to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).  Who orchestrated the attack is not as important as recognizing the obvious malaise that is devouring the legitamacy of the Pakistani state.  I have previously made the case that Pakistan today consists essentially only of Punjab and Sindh.  Various sections of NWFP and Balochistan have already been bequeathed/abandoned/surrendered.  Despite every assurance of security, a dastardly attack was perpetrated against high profile, soft targets in the heart of a major Pakistani city that lies 45 kilometers from the International Border (IB) with India.  How safe are our borders?

PS — Raman’s Q&A on the Lahore attack (March 4, 2009)

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We Are Also Victims of Terror

“We’re also victims of terror”.  This phrase has come to be used quite liberally by Pakistani leaders (civilian and military), usually in response to an incident on foreign soil that invariably involves their citizens.  It has always surprised me that our leaders and media have never called them out on this bogus statement.  At best, the statement is an unintentional gaffe.  At worst, it’s a calculated oversimplification, regurgitated with the intention to mislead.

Terrorism is a very broad term, and one that has been made popular by the Bush Administration to almost always mean Islamic terrorism, perpetrated against the West or Western targets.  Therefore, the 9/11 and 7/7 attackers in New York City and London were “terrorists”, while those that attacked Mumbai last month, were merely “gunmen” or “militants”.  Theoneste Bagosora’s people, who butchered 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in the worst genocide the world has seen in decades, were Hutu “militia”.

“The Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India that we have initiated. Supporters of authoritarianism in Pakistan and non-state actors with a vested interest in perpetuating conflict do not want change in Pakistan to take root.”

— Asif Ali Zardari, “The Terrorists Want to Destroy Pakistan, Too“, New York Times (12/8/2008)

Even the term “Islamic terrorism” is a very broad generalization.  It is precisely the obscurity of this term that allows Pakistan the convenience of hiding their incompetence and/or connivance with the ruse that they are victimized by the same groups.  This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.  In terms of pan-Islamic interests, Al Qaeda is the most significant organization that Pakistan today battles in NWFP.  Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were trained and equipped by the CIA and the ISI to fight against the “Godless” Soviets.  When the Soviets withdrew, they turned around and bit the hands that fed, as it were.  Pakistan today fights the Taleban and Al Qaeda, not because they have ideological differences with them, but because they were forcefully dragged into the “War on Terror”.    It is interesting though that in the many tapes that he has released to Al Jazeera, bin Laden has rarely ever mentioned Kashmir or India.  This isn’t because he doesn’t have anything against India (he clearly does) , but because his immediate priorities are different.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Bacha Khan, aka Frontier Gandhi

Khan Abdul Ghaffar "Bacha" Khan, aka "Frontier Gandhi"

In Baluchistan, FATA, and NWFP, a region that boasts of colonial-era heroes such as Bacha Khan (“Frontier Gandhi”), the theater of violence is limited in scope to the aspirations of the tribes and ethnicities in the region. They do not think of themselves in being part of a pan-Islamic struggle against the “infidels”, but as good Waziris and Baluchis fighting for autonomy to preserve their way of life.   For them, the tribe is more important than the concept of the nation, which they dismiss as a western concoction.  Therefore, those suspected of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto (e.g., Baitullah Mehsud) were motivated by a perceived threat to their way of life by a liberal, decidedly pro-western politician.  Despite the gradual radical Islamization of these regions, there is no direct threat to India emanating from the various tribes and groups.

However, there are two types of terror groups in heartland Pakistan — those who seek to act in Pakistan, and those who seek to use Pakistan as a base to act elsewhere. The fight to act in the heartland is along inter-ethnic (Shias vs. Sunnis, Pashtuns vs. Sindhis, Sindhis vs. Mohajirs, etc.) and anti-government lines, and includes terror organizations such as Lashkar-e-Omar and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.  The Mariott bombings in Islamabad in September 2008, were, by many accounts, perpetrated by terrorists opposed to the political process of Pakistan.  Other radical actors, such as the Ghazi brothers who held out in the Lal Masjid in 2007, fought for a more fundamental implementation of Islam in Pakistan, and were against Parvez Musharraf’s quasi-western “enlightened moderation” policies.  Although JeM’s Maulana Masood Azhar is said to have delivered speeches at the Lal Masjid, the interests of Pakistan’s new adversaries in the heartland, again, are confined to the politics of Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are different.  That they enjoy the protection of the ISI and elements of the Pakistani army highlights the impotence of the country’s civilian leadership.  JeM’s objectives include the liberation of Kashmir and its subsequent incorporation into the dominion of Pakistan.  Its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, was languishing in an Indian jail before he was set free by India in exchange for the lives of Indian civilians aboard Indian Airlines flight 814, which was hijacked to Kandahar by JeM in 1999.  To show gratitude for his release, Azhar sent his thugs around in 2001 to attack the Indian Parliament.  Similarly, LeT’s objectives are clear — the liberation of Kashmir (a goal closely aligned to Pakistan’s own objectives), and the Islamization of South Asia (i.e., wiping out Hinduism).  Indeed, the group’s founder, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, appears to have no quarrels with the State of Pakistan, and considers himself a patriotic Pakistani — a very different view indeed from the other terror groups that denounce political division as a western idea, and see themselves as warriors of the Muslim brotherhood.

In summary, yes, Pakistan, you are a victim of terror, but, no, it isn’t the same kind of terror, and it isn’t being perpetrated by the same terrorists. Seven years ago, you called the people who attacked India “freedom fighters”.  You offered them “diplomatic” and “moral” support.  So let’s be clear: the people that attacked Mumbai, attacked Mumbai — not Karachi.  They attacked India, not Pakistan.  And while Asif Ali Zardari paints his nation as a victim on the international stage, Lashkar’s aiders and abettors, citizens of his country, under the protection of the very agencies that he supposedly oversees,  are busy plotting their next big bloody assault on India.

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