May 29, 2010

Shadows & Tremors Beneath US-Pakistani Relations

In the aftermath of failed Time Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates were deployed in tandem to bring Pakistan under control. Clinton unwisely threatened “severe consequences” if another attack traces back to Pakistan. Gates took the sensible route, praising Islamabad for all its work and insisting no pressure on North Waziristan.

Since when does he tell the truth though? The “good” cop has been outed.

The Washington Post reports, “The U.S. military is reviewing options for a unilateral strike in Pakistan in the event that a successful attack on American soil is traced to the country's tribal areas, according to senior military officials. Ties between the alleged Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, and elements of the Pakistani Taliban have sharpened the Obama administration's need for retaliatory options, the officials said. They stressed that a U.S. reprisal would be contemplated only under extreme circumstances, such as a catastrophic attack that leaves President Obama convinced that the ongoing campaign of CIA drone strikes is insufficient.”

"Planning has been reinvigorated in the wake of Times Square," one US official said, while The Washington Post claims Pakistan has a matter of weeks to “show progress.”

However extreme, the option of a unilateral ground strike isn’t a surprise after fanning anti-American flames for years. “Do more” is nothing new either. More informative is the joint US-Pakistani intelligence center, or “fusion center,” recently established on the outskirts of Peshawar and, most importantly, plans for one near Quetta.

But while disturbingly fraught with risk, the plan all along called to insert CIA, US Special Forces, and Blackwater inside Pakistani cities.

Least surprising though is the persistent gap between the US and Pakistani governments and militaries, and the lengths taken to disguise it. Relations may be incrementally improving but not to the degree advertised; Shahzad is merely the cherry on top.

One official claims “there is a broad consensus in the U.S. military” that while airstrikes and Special Forces raids could degrade al-Qaeda’s capabilities, it would also “risk an irreparable rupture in the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.”

The reality is that both sides still don’t trust each other fully, and possibly never will.

Secretary Gates moved quickly to squash the notion that America is dictating again, telling a briefing in the Pentagon after returning from Islamabad, “My impression has been that there has been close cooperation since the (Times Square) bomber was arrested. So I think it’s more about that than any qualitative change.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen drew backup duty on North Waziristan. Referring to Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, “Very specifically, the timeline’s really up to him. And it goes back to what I understand and believe, that he’s stretched. He’s got two fronts. He’s got a military that’s lost a lot of soldiers, sacrificed a great deal, and so that it makes a lot of sense to me that he does get to pick this timeline.”

Gates claimed that the army already has seven divisions – about 140,000 troops – in the region and “it’s a huge effort that Pakistan is making.”

We assumed then and now know for certain that Gates was playing the good cop; his personality derives pleasure from downplaying or denying military actions currently in planning. To praise cooperation with Islamabad and the Pakistani army, then cite said cooperation as “invigoration” for unilateralism in North Waziristan, is vintage Gates’ Pentagon.

Of course it’s easy to see why Washington is jittery. Told a year ago that a North Waziristan operation was eventually coming, Pakistani recently downplayed the chances of a “steamroller” operation this year. With Afghanistan setting up to knock him out, desperation is surely rife inside the White House and Pentagon to get Pakistan moving.

But the rumors of unilateral military action will fuel more people like Shahzad and his handlers. Obama and his officials have failed to charm the average Pakistani or the Pakistani press; he hasn’t even traveled there and he’s asking them to fight his war. The Washington Post takes Obama’s Afghan strategy down another notch too. Diplomacy is again giving way to militarism.

This New York Times editorial, consistent with the American line, captures everything wrong with US-Pakistani relations.

“Pakistan’s Army has mounted big offensives against Pakistani Taliban factions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. It has hesitated in North Waziristan where Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the failed Times Square bombing, reportedly received support and training. Intelligence-sharing has improved, but there is a lot more to be done as the Shahzad case showed.”

“So why isn’t Pakistan doing all it needs to?” the NYT wonders.

Its theory: “Part of that is the strategic game. Islamabad has long used extremist groups in its never-ending competition with India. Part is a lack of military capability and part political cowardice. While some of Pakistan’s top leaders may ‘get it,’ the public definitely does not. The United States still does not have a good enough strategy for winning over Pakistan’s people, who are fed a relentless diet of anti-American propaganda.”

Translation: nothing is America’s fault except poor explanation of its policy.

“The United States is often blamed for everything from water shortages to trying to destroy the Pakistani state. The Obama administration came in determined to change that narrative. When he was in the Senate, Joseph Biden, now the vice president, worked with Richard Lugar on a $7.5 billion, five-year aid package that would prove American concern for the Pakistani people (not just the military) by investing in schools, hospitals and power projects.

Congress approved the first $1.5 billion for 2010, but the State Department is still figuring out how to spend it. The projects need to move as quickly as possible. And Pakistani leaders who demand more help, but then cynically disparage the aid, need to change their narrative.”

Such a statement contains a high degree of insincerity or else the NYT is that insensitive. Pakistan believes it’s owed billions in reparative military aid, let alone the price of its spilt blood. The Kerry-Lugar bill, dubbed the “kill bill,” was seen through as the small carrot it was. Most Pakistanis believe it is owed money, not a gift.

As for the NYT’s assertion that America is unfairly blamed for conspiracies, it fails to mention the fate of Aafia Siddiqui, whose final sentencing continues to be delayed while she “languishes in a US jail.” For being highlighted by Hakimullah as motivation for the attack on Times Square, causality - not coincidence or conspiracy - has silenced her name in the US media.

The NYT seems to have taken to blaming everything on Pakistanis, a sentiment visible in the general American public and media.

Its solution to change Pakistani minds: “The State Department needs to move faster to implement its public diplomacy plan for Pakistan. Officials need to think hard about how to make sure Pakistanis know that aid is coming from the United States - like the $51 million for upgrading three thermal power plants announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in October. It is a delicate issue, but the ‘made in America’ label has to be affixed.”

Yes, send Clinton to handle a “delicate issue” in Pakistan. She already tried to implement a public diplomacy plan and it didn’t go so well. What Pakistanis hate more than America is US doublespeak, which Clinton and Gates excel at. Public relations miss the point - America must change its actions, not its rhetoric.

This arrogance is exactly why Obama continues to face the same image problems as George Bush.

Pakistan doesn’t need more Hillary Clinton, but an organized withdrawal from Afghanistan and help in Kashmir, which US officials are afraid to utter. Pakistanis don’t want to dwell on the pass, but they don’t want America to ignore it either. Especially not with Pervez Musharraf promising a return to politics.

We’ve seen countless comments on US news sites that Pakistan isn’t a true ally, but without its help many young American males may have been drafted by now. Pakistanis are committed against al-Qaeda and the TTP, but that doesn’t automatically turn America into a friend.

Trust must be earned by action after 30 years of duplicity.

We advocate pressure for civil operations into South Waziristan and other held territory - that would demonstrate change. But The New York Times would rather beat into Pakistanis’ heads that America is good for them, and it looks like the White House has ordered the Pentagon to prepare the same tactic.

The cannon will backfire though. The first causality of a unilateral strike would be Obama’s new “diplomatic” NSS, not al-Qaeda or TTP commanders.


  1. This is a multi speared attack on Pakistan.
    Pakistan is already privatizing many of their natural resources. The IMF has been busy assuring that Pakistan becomes a failed financial state.
    Now the Pentagon, and the State Dept. will add their threats and resolutions.
    I still say the West wants to re-draw the maps one more time [Baluchistan] etc. It seems to me that America is trying to run the clock down. But which clock?

  2. Is it possible that they all go off at once? Afghanistan and Palestine, Pakistan and Somalia, one giant ball of chaos come 2011.

  3. OF COURSE ! !
    A major war is always the last resort. If they feel that we are going to double dip into another recession, or if the EU starts to totally collapse. This will encourage them even more.
    Finances, political agenda, natural resources, ego, is always the engine for war.
    Here is a good side article that i was reading just before i saw your comment.

    They will concentrate on M/E and Central Asia. The whole region goes.. ...