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[Dehai-WN] Middle East Online: How Pakistan Makes Washington Pay for the Afghan War

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2012 16:00:08 +0200

How Pakistan Makes Washington Pay for the Afghan War

Dilip Hiro offers a Mr. Toad’s wild ride through American policy in Pakistan
and Afghanistan (then and now) and just how one Pakistani ruling group after
another spotted Washington’s weaknesses, leveraged them, and made it pay
through the nose for its war-making desires in the region.

 First Published: 2012-04-22

The following ingredients should go a long way to produce a political
thriller. Mr. M, a jihadist in an Asian state, has emerged as the mastermind
of a terrorist attack in a neighboring country, which killed six Americans.
After sifting through a vast cache of intelligence and obtaining a legal
clearance, the State Department announces a $10 million bounty for
information leading to his arrest and conviction. Mr. M promptly appears at
a press conference and says, “I am here. America should give that reward
money to me.”

A State Department spokesperson explains lamely that the reward is meant for
incriminating evidence against Mr. M that would stand up in court. The prime
minister of M’s home state condemns foreign interference in his country’s
internal affairs. In the midst of this imbroglio, the United States decides
to release $1.18 billion in aid to the cash-strapped government of the
defiant prime minister to persuade him to reopen supply lines for U.S. and
NATO forces bogged down in the hapless neighboring Islamic Republic of

Alarmingly, this is anything but fiction or a plot for an upcoming
international sitcom. It is a brief summary of the latest development in the
fraught relations between the United States and Pakistan, two countries
locked into an uneasy embrace since September 12, 2001.

Mr. M. is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a 62-year-old former academic with a
tapering, hennaed beard, and the founder of the Lashkar-e Taiba (the Army of
the Pure, or LeT), widely linked to several outrageously audacious terrorist
attacks in India. The LeT was formed in 1987 as the military wing of the
Jammat-ud Dawa religious organization (Society of the Islamic Call, or JuD)
at the instigation of the Pakistani army’s formidable intelligence agency,
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The JuD owes its existence to the efforts
of Saeed, who founded it in 1985 following his return to his native Lahore
after two years of advanced Islamic studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under
the guidance of that country’s Grand Mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz.

On its formation, the LeT joined the seven-year-old anti-Soviet jihad in
Afghanistan, an armed insurgency directed and supervised by the ISI with
funds and arms supplied by the CIA and the Saudis. Once the Soviets withdrew
from Afghanistan in 1989, the Army of the Pure turned its attention to a
recently launched anti-Indian jihad in Indian-administered Kashmir and
beyond. The terrorist attacks attributed to it range from the devastating
multiple assaults in Mumbai in November 2008, which resulted in 166 deaths,
including those six Americans, to a foiled attack on the Indian Parliament
in New Delhi in December 2001, and a successful January 2010 attack on the
airport in Kashmir’s capital Srinagar.

In January 2002, in the wake of Washington’s launching of the Global War on
Terror, Pakistan formally banned the LeT, but in reality did little to curb
its violent cross-border activities. Saeed remains its final authority. In a
confession, offered as part of a plea bargain after his arrest in October
2009 in Chicago, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American operative of
LeT involved in planning the Mumbai carnage, said: “Hafiz Saeed had full
knowledge of the Mumbai attacks and they were launched only after his

In December 2008, the United Nations Security Council declared the JuD a
front organization for the banned LeT. The provincial Punjab government then
placed Saeed under house arrest using the Maintenance of Public Order law.
But six months later, the Lahore High Court declared his confinement
unconstitutional. In August 2009, Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice,
essentially an international arrest warrant, against Saeed in response to
Indian requests for his extradition. Saeed was again put under house arrest
but in October the Lahore High Court quashed all charges against him due to
lack of evidence.

It is common knowledge that Pakistani judges, fearing for their lives,
generally refrain from convicting high-profile jihadists with political
connections. When, in the face of compelling evidence, a judge has no option
but to order the sentence enjoined by the law, he must either live under
guard afterwards or leave the country. Such was the case with Judge Pervez
Ali Shah who tried Mumtaz Qadri, the jihadist bodyguard who murdered
Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer for backing an amendment to the
indiscriminately applied blasphemy law. Soon after sentencing Qadri to
capital punishment last October, Shah received several death threats and was
forced into self-exile.

Aware of the failures of the Pakistani authorities to convict Saeed, U.S.
agencies seemed to have checked and cross-checked the authenticity of the
evidence they had collected on him before the State Department announced, on
April 2nd, its reward for his arrest. This was nothing less than an implied
declaration of Washington’s lack of confidence in the executive and judicial
organs of Pakistan.

Little wonder that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani took umbrage,
describing the U.S. bounty as blatant interference in his country’s domestic
affairs. Actually, this is nothing new. It is an open secret that, in the
ongoing tussle between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his bÍte
noire, army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Obama
administration has always backed the civilian head of state. That, in turn,
has been a significant factor in Gilani’s stay in office since March 2008,
longer than any other prime minister in Pakistan’s history.

How to Trump a Superpower

Given such strong cards, diplomatic and legal, why then did the Obama
administration commit itself to releasing more than $1 billion to a
government that has challenged its attempt to bring to justice an alleged
mastermind of cross-border terrorism?

The answer lies in what happened at two Pakistani border posts 1.5 miles
from the Afghan frontier in the early hours of November 26, 2011. NATO
fighter aircraft and helicopters based in Afghanistan carried out a
two-hour-long raid on these posts, killing 24 soldiers. Enraged, Pakistan’s
government shut the two border crossings through which the U.S. and NATO had
until then sent a significant portion of their war supplies into
Afghanistan. Its officials also forced the U.S. to vacate Shamsi air base,
which was being used by the CIA as a staging area for its drone air war in
Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border. The drone strikes are
exceedingly unpopular – one poll found 97% of respondents viewed them
negatively -- and they are vehemently condemned by a large section of the
Pakistani public and its politicians.

Furthermore, the government ordered a comprehensive review of all programs,
activities, and cooperation arrangements with the U.S. and NATO. It also
instructed the country’s two-tier parliament to conduct a thorough review of
Islamabad’s relations with Washington. Having taken the moral high ground,
the Pakistani government pressed its demands on the Obama administration.

An appointed Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) then
deliberately moved at a snail’s pace to perform the task on hand, while the
Pentagon explored alternative ways of ferrying goods into Afghanistan via
other countries to sustain its war there. By contrast, a vociferous campaign
against the reopening of the Pakistani supply lines led by the Difa-e
Pakistan Council (Defense of Pakistan), representing 40 religious and
political groups, headed by Hafiz Saeed, took off. Its leaders have
addressed huge rallies in major Pakistani cities. It was quick to condemn
Washington’s bounty on Saeed, describing it as “a nefarious attempt” to
undermine the Council’s drive to protect the country’s sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the loss of the daily traffic of 500 trucks worth of food, fuel,
and weapons from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the Torkham and
Chaman border crossings into Afghanistan, though little publicized in U.S.
media, has undermined the fighting capability of U.S. and NATO forces.

“If we can’t negotiate or successfully renegotiate the reopening of ground
lines of communication with Pakistan, we have to default and rely on India
and the Northern Distribution Network (NDN),” said a worried Lieutenant
General Frank Panter to the Readiness Subcommittee of the Armed Services
Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on March 30th. “Both are
expensive propositions and it increases the deployment or redeployment.”

The main part of the NDN is a 3,220-mile rail network for transporting
supplies between the Latvian port of Riga and the Uzbek town of Termez
(connected by a bridge over the Oxus River to the Afghan settlement of
Hairatan). According to the Pentagon, it costs nearly $17,000 per container
to go through the NDN compared to $7,000 through the Pakistani border

Moreover, U.S. and NATO are allowed to transport only “non-lethal goods”
through the NDN.

Other military officials have warned that the failure to reopen the
Pakistani routes could even delay the schedule for withdrawing American
“combat troops” from Afghanistan by 2014. That would be bad news for the
Obama White House with the latest Washington Post/NBC News poll showing
that, for the first time, even a majority of Republicans believe the Afghan
War “has not been worth fighting.” A CBS News/New York Times survey
indicated that support for the war was at a record low of 23%, with 69% of
respondents saying that now was the time to withdraw troops.

In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the PCNS finally published a list of
preconditions that the U.S. must meet for the reopening of supply lines.
These included an unqualified apology for the air strikes last November, an
end to drone attacks, no more “hot pursuit” by U.S. or NATO troops inside
Pakistan, and the taxing of supplies shipped through Pakistan. Much to the
discomfiture of the Obama administration, a joint session of the National
Assembly and the Senate called to debate the PCNS report took more than two
weeks to reach a conclusion.

On April 12th, the Parliament finally unanimously approved the demands and
added that no foreign arms and ammunition should be transported through
Pakistan. The Obama administration is spinning this development not as an
ultimatum but as a document for launching talks between the two governments.

Even so, it has strengthened Prime Minister Gilani’s hand as never before.
Furthermore, he has to take into account the popular support the Saeed-led
Difa-e Pakistan Council is building for keeping the Pakistani border
crossings permanently closed to NATO traffic. Thus, Saeed, a jihadist with a
U.S. bounty on his head, has emerged as an important factor in the complex
Islamabad-Washington relationship.

Squeezing Washington: The Pattern

There is, in fact, nothing new in the way Islamabad has been squeezing
Washington lately. It has a long record of getting the better of U.S.
officials by identifying areas of American weakness and exploiting them
successfully to further its agenda.

When the Soviet bloc posed a serious challenge to the U.S., the Pakistanis
obtained what they wanted from Washington by being even more anti-Soviet
than America. Afghanistan in the 1980s is the classic example. Following the
Soviet military intervention there in December 1979, the Pakistani dictator
General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq volunteered to join Washington’s Cold War
against the Kremlin -- but strictly on his terms. He wanted sole control
over the billions of dollars in cash and arms to be supplied by the U.S. and
its ally Saudi Arabia to the Afghan Mujahedin (holy warriors) to expel the
Soviets from Afghanistan. He got it.

That enabled his commanders to channel a third of the new weapons to their
own arsenals for future battle against their archenemy, India. Another third
were sold to private arms dealers on profitable terms. When pilfered U.S.
weapons began appearing in arms bazaars of the Afghan-Pakistan border towns
(as has happened again in recent years), the Pentagon decided to dispatch an
audit team to Pakistan. On the eve of its arrival in April 1988, the Ojhiri
arms depot complex, containing 10,000 tons of munitions, mysteriously went
up in flames, with rockets, missiles, and artillery shells raining down on
Islamabad, killing more than 100 people.

By playing on Ronald Reagan’s view of the Soviet Union as “the Evil Empire,”
Zia ul-Haq also ensured that the American president would turn a blind eye
on Pakistan’s frantic, clandestine efforts to build an atom bomb. Even when
the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the State Department determined
that a nuclear weapon assembled by Pakistan had been tested at Lop Nor in
China in early 1984, Reagan continued to certify to Congress that Islamabad
was not pursuing a nuclear weapons program in order to abide by a law which
prohibited U.S. aid to a country doing so.

Today, there are an estimated 120 nuclear bombs in the arsenal of a nation
that has more Islamist jihadists per million people than any other country
in the world. From October 2007 to October 2009, there were at least four
attacks by extremists on Pakistani army bases known to be storing nuclear

In the post-9/11 years, Pakistan’s ruler General Pervez Musharraf managed to
repeat the process in the context of a new Afghan war. He promptly joined
President George W. Bush in his Global War on Terror, and then went on to
distinguish between “bad terrorists” with a global agenda (al-Qaeda), and
“good terrorists” with a pro-Pakistani agenda (the Afghan Taliban).
Musharraf’s ISI then proceeded to protect and foster the Afghan Taliban,
while periodically handing over al-Qaeda militants to Washington. In this
way, Musharraf played on Bush’s soft spot -- his intense loathing of
al-Qaeda -- and exploited it to further Pakistan’s regional agenda.

Emulating the policies of Zia ul-Haq and Musharraf, the post-Musharraf
civilian government has found ways of diverting U.S. funds and equipment
meant for fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban to bolster their defenses
against India. By inflating the costs of fuel, ammunition, and transport
used by Pakistan’s 100,000 troops posted in the Afghan-Pakistan border
region, Islamabad received more money from the Pentagon’s Coalition Support
Fund (CSF) than it spent. It then used the excess to buy weapons suitable
for fighting India.

When the New York Times revealed this in December 2007, the Musharraf
government dismissed its report as “nonsense.” But after resigning as
president and moving to London, Musharraf told Pakistan’s Express News
television channel in September 2009 that the funds had indeed been spent on
weapons for use against India.

Now, the widely expected release of the latest round of funds from the
Pentagon’s CSF will raise total U.S. military aid to Islamabad since 9/11 to
$14.2 billion, two-and-a-half times the Pakistani military’s annual budget.

There is a distinct, if little discussed, downside to being a superpower and
acting as the self-appointed global policeman with a multitude of targets.
An arrogance feeding on a feeling of invincibility and an obsession with
winning every battle blind you to your own impact and even to what might be
to your long-term benefit. In this situation, as your planet-wide activities
become ever more diverse, frenzied, and even contradictory, you expose
yourself to exploitation by lesser powers otherwise seemingly tied to your
apron strings.

Pakistan, twice during America’s 33-year-long involvement in Afghanistan
made a frontline state, is a classic example of that. Current policymakers
in Washington should take note: it's a strategy for disaster.

Dilip Hiro, a
tner> TomDispatch regular, is the author of 33 books, the most recent being
the just-published
tner> Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia (Yale University Press, New
Haven and London).


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