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The US and Pakistan's double-dealing

The US and Pakistan's double-dealing

Author: Hiranmay Karlekar
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 3, 2002

Thanks to the controversial referendum in Pakistan giving a five-year term to President Pervez Musharraf, and the continuing political turmoil in India over the carnage in Gujarat, media in this country have by and large ignored the growing tension in the ties between Pakistan and the United States.

Soured over Pakistan's close links with the Taliban militia and the Al Qaeda and its becoming the principal spawning ground of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism in the world, these had warmed up remarkably after President Pervez Musharraf joined the war against terrorism that the US declared following the terrorist attacks on it on September 11, last year. Americans, however, now seem increasingly to suspect that he is doing no more than going through the motions of cracking down on the leaders and thousands of supporters of the Al Qaeda and Taliban militia who have fled into Pakistan, as well as the Pakistani fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate had spawned.

The US Government has doubtless not publicly expressed its misgivings. Western media reports about events in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as US action on the ground have, however, set several large straws afloat in the wind. According to a report by Christina Lamb in The Sunday Telegraph about two months ago, most fighters and leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban militia were alive and well in Pakistan. Protected by the ISI, they moved about freely in Islamabad and other cities and the public knew the names and addresses of quite a few Taliban ministers. According to report by Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press, datelined Peshawar, March 20, up to 1,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, protected by sympathetic clerics, were waiting for the US to leave Afghanistan to launch a jihad against the Afghans supporting Mr Hamid Karzai's regime.

These reports tend to be corroborated by the arrest of 65 Al Qaeda terrorists in Faisalabad and Lahore on March 27 and 28 in joint operations conducted by Pakistanis and US 'advisers' comprising FBI and police personnel. Among those arrested in Faisalabad on March 27 was Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al Qaeda leader-second only to Osama bin Laden in the organisation's hierarchy, according to some. Further, a recent dispatch from Arnaud de Borchgrave, a writer and editor-at-large of UPI, stated authoritatively that Osama bin Laden was being sheltered in Peshawar by his sympathisers.

Sporadic attacks launched by Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters on US forces in Afghanistan from Pakistan's predominantly tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, lend credence to these reports. Besides, many see the increased mortar and rocket attacks on the bases of the ruling coalition's forces in Kandahar and Gardez in Afghanistan as the beginning of a fightback by the Taliban and the Al Qaeda militia. Also, there have been four attacks on members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul during the past month and a US special forces soldier was shot in the face and wounded in Kandahar on April 20. Kabul airport was itself hit by rockets hours before US Defence Secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld arrived there on April 27 on his first visit to Afghanistan in four months.
 
The US is also unhappy over the scanty and unreliable intelligence inputs Islamabad has so far provided it. Besides, Pakistan has done little to curb its own terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Harkat-ul Mujaheedin (HuM), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Hijb-ul Mujaheedin (HM) and others it has created to carry on cross-border terrorism against India. Though officially banned, most of them are active under new names. Also, the manner in which their accounts were frozen in banks gave them enough time to withdraw the bulk of their funds. Moreover, over two-thirds of the 2,000 or so of the activists belonging to these outfits, arrested after President Pervez Musharraf's January 12 address to the people of Pakistan, have since been released. It is then hardly surprising that The Washington Post stated recently, "Independent analysts and Pakistani officials say Musharraf's military government is playing a double game in the crackdown on terrorists." The report quotes experts as saying that while providing crucial assistance to the US-led campaign to track down foreign-born terrorists in Pakistan, the Musharraf Government was far less aggressive towards its own terrorists active in India.
 
One should not be surprised if this causes serious concern to the US. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have close links, forged by the ISI, with the JeM, LeT, HuM and HM. They have trained large sections of these militias in camps in Afghanistan-besides Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Pakistan-and also armed and funded them. In fact, the different outfits have all been parts of the same complex of terrorist organisations coordinated by the ISI. The close links among these become clear from the fact that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a leading figure in the JeM, and now standing trial in Pakistan in connection with the American journalist Daniel Pearl's murder, had wired $ 100,000 to Mohammad Atta, identified by US authorities as one of the leaders of the hijackers who crashed two aircraft into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. The money was sent to him prior to that day at the instance of Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmed, then Director-General of the ISI. Since the ban on these organisations remains almost unenforced because President Musharraf wants to keep them alive for cross-border terrorism against India, they are in a position to give refuge to Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and fighters on the run-sand they are obviously doing it.
 
Nor can the US count on President Musharraf and Pakistan's ruling establishment, a large segment of which is bitterly anti-American for reasons that are easy to understand. Clients, whether individuals or governments, resent their patrons-especially when the latter pushes them around. Pakistan has been a client state of the US since the 1950s when it joined the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the Baghdad Pact, which later became Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and received huge helpings of economic and military aid. Trouble, however, started from the beginning of the 1980s when Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons upset the US, which also disapproved of the way in which Pakistan was organising and guiding the Mujaheedin groups' resistance to Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan and channelling US military and other aid to them-favouring the fundamentalist Islamic elements who were bitterly anti-US and neglecting the moderate ones which Washington DC favoured. The US, however, did not make an issue of it then. It was determined to get even with the USSR for the latter's role in inflicting a humiliating defeat on it in Vietnam, and wanted to defeat the Soviet forces and compel them to leave Afghanistan-for which it needed Pakistan's cooperation.

The US, however, no longer needed Pakistan's services after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989. It could therefore invoke the Pressler Amendment to freeze economic and arms aid-and sale of military hardware-to Islamabad for the latter's military nuclear programme. Nor did it initially provide Islamabad the kind of assistance that would have enabled it to have a puppet, fundamentalist Islamic government installed in Afghanistan. Later, it did help in setting up the Taliban but refused to recognise its government when it came to control the bulk of Afghanistan in 1997 for its reactionary gender and other policies. A large section of the ISI and the Pakistani military are, therefore, eager to teach the US a lesson. The US, which has prevailed upon President Musharraf to let its 'advisers' accompany Pakistani forces in ferreting out Al Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan, knows this. Much will depend on how it copes with the situation. Failure to take an even firmer line with Pakistan, if necessary, can not only sabotage its war against terrorism but also endanger its own safety.
 


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