President George W. Bush and visiting Pakistani prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, made polite conversation on the latter’s first visit to Washington on July 28.
Bush praised the newly-installed Pakistan leader for making a very strong commitment to “combating extremists.” Gilani vowed to battle the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters waging “a war against Pakistan.”
To set an amicable scene, Islamabad leaked news designed to please Washington the night before the visit: Pakistani commanders were said to have told US officers in the region and the Pentagon that they planned to move a fully trained and equipped army unit, the XIth Corps, from Waziristan in the southern tip of the Pakistan-Afghan border region to augment the ill-trained Frontier Corps, which has been hopelessly outgunned by the Taliban.
This met a longstanding American demand.
The Pakistanis also planned to meet another US request to post army units at key border crossing routes.
In the event, the good intentions did little to temper the deepening rift over the war on Taliban and al Qaeda between Washington and the new Islamabad regime.
Gilani talked straight from the shoulder when he said: “We’ll fight for our own cause.”
In other words, Pakistan had no intention of fighting America’s war on terror.
Pakistani generals were even blunter after another alleged US missile exploded in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas tribal lands (FATA).
Gen. Tariq Majid, chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned US Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, head of the US Central Command, that Pakistani “sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.” Any violation in this regard,” he said, “could be detrimental to bilateral relations.”
An impotent army, a reduced president
He also stressed that the Pakistan armed forces “are capable of handling any challenges to our security.”
According to DEBKA-Net- Weekly’s military sources, no one takes this boast seriously, whether in Washington, Kabul – or even Islamabad, from President Bush down to American strategists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
One US source confided: The Pakistani army is impotent. They have not the slightest chance of rooting out the Taliban strongholds on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is the only government in that area.
Above all, President Pervez Musharraf’s powers have waned to the point that he can no longer apply the brakes to the mighty Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and its associations with Taliban and Islamist extremists. The advent of Washington’s favorite Benazir Bhutto last year, her assassination and the rise to power of Gilani after the February general election have all upset the delicate equilibrium Musharraf once maintained between civilian and military government.
The Americans have at least three causes for skepticism about the Pakistan army’s prowess:
1. Chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has proved a disappointment since he replaced Musharraf as head of the army last year. Instead of taking up the cudgels against Taliban and al Qaeda, Kayani is quietly negotiating ceasefires.
Above all, Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders refuse to fight what they regard as America’s proxy war in the tribal territories. They are not afraid of the withdrawal of massive US aid in retaliation, because they know the Americans must still secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and their own military supply lines to Afghanistan.
An intelligence agency which is a law unto itself
2. No civilian authority is willing or able to tame the ISI and limit its operational ties with the Taliban, al Qaeda and related Islamist groups, especially in Kashmir. Those ties are motivated as much by the urge to limit the influence of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) intelligence as by anti-American sentiment.
In a little-noticed report on July 27, the day before Gilani set off for Washington, Pakistan intelligence sources accused RAW and Israel’s Mossad of working hand in glove to stir up trouble on the shared border with Afghanistan and planning terrorist activities inside Pakistan in conjunction with Khad (the former Afghan secret service.)
(See HOT POINTS below).
These sources claimed that Indian and Israeli agents along the Indian-Pakistan border were involved in terrorist activities inside Pakistan. They also cited “certain evidence” that Israeli and Indian missions were behind “recent acts of terrorism in Baluchistan.” A bombing attack on a mosque in Quetta this month killed dozens of people.
Pakistani intelligence sources believe that painting the US, India and Israel as a menacing syndicate will stir up anti-American opinion, since any Pakistani or Afghani is more than willing to believe Washington capable of deploying the Mossad as its surrogate force against radical Muslims.
Gilani, who has begun flirting with Tehran, is not averse to doing the Islamic Republic a favor by using the American – and still more pejoratively, the Israeli – brush to tar the anti-government Baluchi liberation movement’s terrorist campaign.
Gilani extends Tehran a helping hand
This aspersion is meant to dissuade Baluchi dissidents, most of whom are devout Shiite Muslims, from joining up with a movement which is accused of receiving arms, explosives, funds and intelligence from the Mossad.
That such charges might upset Gilani’s first visit to Washington was of no concern to the Pakistani intelligence service, especially after it pulled off a successful muscle-flexing coup against his government’s attempt to place the agency under civilian authority.
It took military headquarters in Rawalpindi 24 hours to force the Pakistani prime minister to back down from a decision to move the ISI and Intelligence Bureau from military jurisdiction to the Ministry of Interior.
After having to admit the episode had been the result of “a misunderstanding,” the Gilani government began to appreciate how far it must go before the military and intelligence community can be whipped into line.
Yet another mutinous head was raised the day before the prime minister landed in Washington. Mullah Fazlullah, the paramount chief of the volatile Swat Valley in the north told a press conference that the entire North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, excepting only the Peshawar Valley, was in Taliban hands.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that the rule of Taliban and al Qaeda has spread to stretches of the country further south and east as well.
Islamist extremists of different stripes swagger through the streets of many towns and villages, armed to the teeth. They are not afraid to show their faces for interviews on national and local Pakistani television networks and newspapers and are available for politicians bidding for funds and protection.
Taliban, al Qaeda build infrastructure of state within a state
The Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan have made it to the point of building the infrastructure of a state within a state, something like the pre-surge al Qaeda-Sunni insurgent structure in Iraq of 2003 and 2004.
Al Qaeda’s operations commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu-al-Yazid, was interviewed by Pakistan’s GEO News TV correspondent Najeeb Ahmed at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan on July 21. He was cock-a-hoop over the state of the Islamist insurgency in that country – in sharp contrast to his grim demeanor in March.
His boasts are supported by various media reports about the growing numbers of non-Afghan Muslim fighters entering Afghanistan and the “successful” terrorist strikes in India of July 25-26.
Abu-Yazid stressed that al Qaeda will remain at war with the US until American polices in the Muslim world and its backing for Israel’s “usurpation and occupation of the Palestinian Muslim territory” change. Until then, Al Qaeda and its allies will attack both US government targets and ordinary Americans, making no distinction between them.
Some DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terror experts estimate that the Taliban-led revolt in Afghanistan has surged to the point that the two additional US brigades promised by the two presidential contenders, Barack Obama and John McCain, will make little or no difference. Furthermore, anger over US air strikes in the Federally- Administered Tribal Areas has united the Pashtun tribes on both sides of the border and brought some over to the side of the insurgents.
Pakistan, India, Afghanistan – a troubled triangle
In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, Pakistan is slipping into a new stage of its history.
Even if Washington were able to persuade the Islamabad government and Pakistani army (of which there is no chance) to crack down on Taliban and al Qaeda in the Afghan border districts, and they were successful (which is hardly feasible), the members of the two terrorist groups would simply melt out of sight into the supportive population and emerge for terrorist operations in the country, on the border and in Afghanistan.
The situation inside Pakistan as it stands today holds as much menace for the American war effort as the unruly border region.
3. Relations between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan grow increasingly volatile, further inflamed by the Pakistan ISI agency’s aggressive cross-border forays into terrorism.
On July 25-26, seven bombs were detonated minutes apart in Bangalore, India’s information technology hub, killing two people.
The next day, at least 17 bombs blew up in the Gujarat city of Ahmedabad. This time 45 lives were lost and 160 people injured.
Indian officials and media were quick to blame Pakistan. A leading national security commentator published an article under the caption, “Another step in [Pakistan’s] ISI-sponsored Indianization of Jihad.
On July 29, the tension spread to the Line of Control in disputed Kashmir, where Pakistani and Indian artillery fought a 13-hour duel.
Pakistan’s general staff will no doubt demand that regular army units be diverted from anti-terror operations in the FATA to the defense of the Pakistan-Indian border. This will further diminish Pakistan’s role in battling Taliban and its allies, but the Gilani government is too fragile to refuse this request from Rawalpindi headquarters.
The new Pakistani prime minister’s “strong commitment” to fighting terror, praised by the US president this week, is being blown away by the hot winds raging in the subcontinent.