View Full Version : Scapegoating Pakistan

02-28-2007, 02:33 PM
Scapegoating Pakistan


(Gold9472: I could be wrong, but it seems the U.S. is putting "pressure" on Pakistan to stop "terrorism" because the more people that look at Pakistan, the better the chances are that the U.S. will ultimately be looked at as well.)

By Ken Silverstein
Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2007. .

It is now the conventional wisdom in Washington that American efforts to defeat Al Qaeda are being undermined by Pakistan. Vice President Dick Cheney made an unannounced trip to Islamabad Monday to deliver, wrote the New York Times , “an unusually tough message to Gen. Pervez Musharraf . . . warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda.”

There are factions within Pakistan's political and defense establishment—especially the intelligence service, known as the ISI—that are sympathetic to the Taliban (and to a lesser extent Osama bin Laden). We should be concerned about reports of increased Al Qaeda activity in Pakistani tribal areas . But is Pakistan really to blame for our failures to stomp out Al Qaeda?

Other countries, as former senior CIA official Michael Scheuer reminded me, do not look at the world from the same point of view as the United States. “The first duty of any intelligence agency,” he said, “is to protect the national interest. Pakistan is not going to destroy the Taliban because at some point they would like to see the Taliban back in power. They cannot tolerate a pro-Indian, pro-American, pro-Russian, pro-Iranian government in Afghanistan. They already have an unstable Western border and have to worry about a country of one million Hindus that has nuclear bombs.”

That point was echoed by a second retired CIA official, who asked to remain anonymous. “The United States,” he told me, “has never recognized the essential security concerns of Pakistan, which are on its eastern border. India can be in Islamabad in three days. We tell them India would never do that, but they have fought three wars against India. Pakistan cannot be put in a position where it might have to fight a war on two fronts, from India and Afghanistan.”

After 9/11, Pakistan swiftly signed up with the Bush Administration's “war on terrorism.” It provided blanket flyover and landing rights, access to naval and air bases, and logistical support to U.S. forces in the region. By March of 2002, an unclassified CENTCOM briefing paper said that Pakistan had “provided more support, captured more terrorists, and committed more troops than any other nation in the Global Counterterrorism Force.”

Hundreds of suspected terrorists have been killed or captured by Pakistani authorities since September 2001. “Individuals detained in 2004 have provided leads that aided investigations by security agencies around the world,” said a 2004 U.S. government report. Most notably, the ISI has helped capture three of Al Qaeda's most important figures: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Ramzi Binalshibh. All three were turned over to the CIA. “Every time we have brought someone important to justice, the first one through the door is Pakistani,” said Milt Bearden, a former CIA official.

The conduct of the ISI has been a source of concern, and not without reason. The agency, which worked closely with the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, subsequently helped bring the Taliban to power in 1996. It bankrolled Taliban military operations, trained its fighters, planned and directed offensives, and provided it with ammunition and fuel. Through its ties to the Taliban, the ISI developed links to Osama bin Laden. The ISI has also aggressively sponsored a proxy war in the contested region of Kashmir, where the agency used Islamic rebels—mostly locals, with a contingent of Arab fighters—who had been trained in Afghanistan.

The ISI has a strong radical Islamist influence due in part to its primary role in protecting Pakistan from India, a conflict framed in religious terms. Furthermore, the ISI has a heavy contingent of Pashtuns, the same tribe that is the Taliban's base of support across the border in Afghanistan. Partly because of its family, clan, and business ties to the Taliban, the ISI, even more than Pakistani society in general, became increasingly enamored of radical Islam.

But a former senior CIA official told me that the ISI basically has two services—one which has been vetted and approved for cooperation with the United States, and another that has not. “Let's be adults about this,” said my source. “Of course, the ISI has its own agenda, and of course they cooperate with us selectively. They have their own interests. They are not a sub-service of ours. Yes, they contributed to the rise of the Taliban, but they have been absolutely critical to our [successes].”

Scheuer describes the ISI as a highly disciplined, competent service. “The only reason so many major Al Qaeda leaders have been killed in Pakistan is that they [the ISI] were willing to execute operations with information we provided,” he said.

Another retired CIA official spoke scornfully of suggestions that Pakistan's army should launch major attacks on Al Qaeda forces in tribal areas. “They help as much as they can, but there are red lines they can't cross,” he said. “If Al Qaeda does have a large presence in [the tribal areas], there's not much that Pakistan can do about it. They would lose a lot of men if they mounted a major attack, maybe a few hundred from a good unit—and those good units are thin. That would be a huge blow to the army, which is why the army command would balk. There's really not much political upside for them.”

It all comes back to Michael Scheuer's point: different countries see things differently. Pakistan and the United States have conflicting priorities in terms of national security and very different definitions of what constitutes terrorism. The Bush Administration sees Islamic terrorism as a primary menace to American national security. The United States is concerned about threats emanating from Iraq and Iran as well as Afghanistan. But Pakistan, notes a RAND study from 2004, does not perceive a threat from Iran and Iraq. The country's core security problems revolve almost exclusively around India, especially Kashmir. As to Afghanistan—Pakistan is highly uneasy about its loss of influence there over the past six years, especially now that its archenemy India has a close relationship with the American-backed Karzai government. So while the United States hopes for a stable Afghanistan with a strong central government, Pakistan prefers a weak government in Afghanistan that is dominated by Pashtuns.

Add to this that the United States is unpopular in Pakistan. “Pakistan's fundamental stability and development (social, economic, and political) as well as the mixed attitudes of its populace toward the United States,” concluded the RAND study, “raise serious questions about its ability to meaningfully support U.S. counter-terrorism policy over the long haul.”

How does this play out in the real world? Very simply, Pakistan cooperates with the United States when it serves its interests and doesn't cooperate when it feels that its interests aren't served. Islamabad has, despite all the current hysteria to the contrary, generally cooperated in fighting Al Qaeda—indeed, Musharraf has survived several assassination attempts by Al Qaeda and Pakistan's Army has taken more casualties in the tribal areas than NATO and coalition forces have taken in Afghanistan.

A working relationship with all Pashtuns is vital to Pakistan's survival, so it's hardly surprising that Islamabad has been far more reluctant to go after Taliban elements. As Milt Bearden notes, “Pakistan is convinced that we will leave them in the lurch no later than 2009, perhaps earlier. Thus they are unwilling to 'commit suicide' solely for American national interests.” But blaming Pakistan for failures against Al Qaeda is all the rage these days, even though it's roughly equal, and misleading, to blaming Iran for the problems in Iraq.