Pakistan has many options
Friday, September 30, 2011 – Testimony by the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta before Congress alleging that the most dreaded Haqqani network is a veritable arm of the Pakistani ISI as well as threatening statement by Panetta that was loaded with dire consequences for Pakistan if it did not dance to US’ tune has rightly created serious concern in the length and breadth of Pakistan. These extremely provocative statements coming after Taliban attack on the US Embassy in Kabul on September 13, 2001 have ruptured the relationship between the two allies in the war on terror and may have very serious consequences not only for Pakistan but also for America in terms of loss of its men in uniform in Afghanistan.
One can understand the reasons behind their aggressive posture. Panetta remained the CIA Head and Admiral Mike Mullen headed the US Armed Forces but they utterly failed to subdue the resistance by valiant Taliban against foreign occupation and in fact it is gaining momentum with the passage of every day. The two US officials do not want to go down in history as failed heads of CIA and Armed Forces and wanted to shift the blame on Pakistan. The US has a short-term strategy now in Afghanistan to tame the Taliban and at the time of exit it could claim that they left the country when it was stabilized and Taliban were defeated. Insiders say the drama to kill Osama bin Ladin in Abbottabad operation was part of the face-saving machinations being applied by the United States to satisfy its domestic public opinion. Late Osama’s Yemeni wife, Amal Ahmed Al-Sadah, who is now in Islamabad presents a totally different version of the Abbottabad episode which, if released to the media, can severely embarrass the US and its much-trumpeted Navy SEALS (See Pakistan Observer’s lead of May 12, 2011).
Now that US has given a time-table for withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by 2014, one can safely say that the resistance movement would become more aggressive and bloody in times ahead and the recent attacks in Kabul at the Embassy, American troops and CIA compound are clear proof of that. While the US is all set to get out of the treacherous lands of Afghanistan, Pentagon is deeply interested to keep five to six airbases in the strategically located poor country for the advancement of its strategic interests in the region. It is believed that Karzai Government is unwillingly agreeable to the US demand. But all countries of the region China, Iran, some Central Asian States and even the Russian Federation will, in no way, reconcile with the move as it would surely harm their national interests in different ways. For China and Iran, it would be part of the CIA plan of their encirclement while Russia would view it as a permanent check on its legitimate ambitions of increasing its sphere of influence in its neighbourhood. What offers were made to Pakistan if it sided with the NATO strategy against Iran and allowed Jundullah to operate from Pakistani side is now known to the intelligence community in Islamabad.
According to my analysis, if the threats emanating from the US against Pakistan take practical shape, then Islamabad would not be alone and the confrontation will suck in several other countries of the region and later some Western countries as well. Thus the U.S. may foolishly trigger World War Three and resultantly there may be re-run of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis.
Anyhow, geo-strategic situation is indeed in favour of Pakistan. According to information available and the signals coming out, they will side with Pakistan in one way or the other if wisdom does not prevail and power drunk Neo Con adventurists in the US went for an ill thought out misadventure. The powers in the region would not allow America to have a permanent foothold in the area and keep an eye on them. Pakistan has, therefore, many options in the given situation: For example:
If Pakistan withdraws its troops from the over 1000 kilometre long Durand Line that are bearing the brunt of the war, stops intelligence sharing then who will check the Pakistani Taliban joining their dear Afghan brothers and fight against the occupation forces?
2.The Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line, who are now divided in different factions and fighting with 150,000 troops on Pakistani side of the border and an equal number of US and NATO forces on the other side would get united and their sole enemy will be occupation troops in Afghanistan. That would be a dangerous time for the Americans as they would not be able to move out of their bases and dread even their shadows. Unlike Russians, Americans do not conduct physical raids in Afghanistan. They either use air power and technology to reach out to the target or use soldiers of Afghan National Army as scapegoats during such operations. In this backdrop, even their bases would not be secure as they have witnessed the attack by an Afghan in the highly protected annex of CIA in Kabul Embassy on September 26.
3.Though in the face of increasing attacks on NATO containers in Pakistan, the United States has been in search of other supply routes to Afghanistan and it has diverted some of its supplies, still it is overwhelmingly dependent on land supplies through Pakistan. Keeping in view the fact that a few requirements rank high in wartime than the need to maintain reliable supply lines the United States has been exploring the possibilities of alternative routes through Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan but there are cost and strategic issues involved that make them unviable. Bringing supplies overland through rail and road all the way from Europe and across Central Asia costs two to three times as much as shipping them by sea and moving them up through Pakistan. Then the key concern is Russia: Supplies would have to enter Central Asia through Russia. It is for sure Russia will ultimately choke the supply line. It will be a re-run of the 1980s. This time Russia will join others to turn Afghanistan into another Vietnam for the USA.
4.Today’s Taliban are not of the period of 2000 as they are now experts in planning and execution of their lethal attacks and use of technology. They must know that the brave Pakhtoons , on both sides of the Durand Line, least care for their lives when they decide to face an enemy and they cherish following their enemies and looting their assets. This would lead to massive increase in body bags of US and NATO forces. The Americans cannot make distinction between Taliban and the civilian Afghans while the uniformed Americans would always be within their targets. In that situation, the US forces would be caught in the quagmire of Afghanistan disturbing the US exit plan and it will be difficult for the Obama Administration to pacify the US public opinion over huge casualties as his popularity graph has already plummeted to below fifty percent.
5.Pakistan is also beneficiary in the sense that the nation has once again demonstrated a unique spirit of unity and oneness. I am glad that despite all the accusations and threats from Washington, the response of Pakistani political and military leadership was a measured one and in line with the strategic strength of Pakistan. It is a matter of couple of days that the whole nation will forget political, sectarian and ethnic divide as it did in 1965 and will get united after the All Parties Conference convened by Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, that has sent a clear and categorical message that 180 million Pakistanis were fully united and determined to defend the motherland and thwart any threat to the sovereignty and security of the country. It is a unique feature of proud people of Pakistan that when difficult times come, they stand behind the Armed Forces and even get ready to go to the front.
In any case, any misadventure by the US against Pakistan would upset its exit strategy and in reality it would be further trapped and bruised in the Afghan imbroglio and that would not suit Obama with elections due next year.
The limited space available in the column does not allow for going into details. But I hope that some of the facts that I have enumerated above will deter Obama administration from repeating the follies of his predecessor. Though US is painting the attack on its embassy in Kabul as another 9/11 but one should expect that better sense would prevail at the White House and it would not expand the conflict to the Pakistani tribal areas under the pretext of eliminating the Haqqani network.
However, in my opinion, the ultimate objective of the US going after the Haqqanis in North Waziristan is to instigate Pakistan and create a justification for attacks deep inside the country and target the hard-earned and much-needed nuclear assets. Therefore, the Government and the Armed Forces must remain vigilant and every individual of Pakistan has to come forward by ignoring the deeds and misdeeds of Government and support it in preserving the sovereignty and integrity of the State of Quaid-i-Azam and its strategic assets. I was glad when a senior functionary of the Strategic Planning Division (SPD), to my blunt question regarding the possibility of an attack on our nuclear installations, instantly said, “Yes, they can come but they wouldn’t go back.” Pakistan Zindabad.