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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pop goes the Weasel
Welcome to the Great Game with the same battlefield but different protagonists, different battle cries and different weapon yields.
On 26th August 2008, barely two weeks back, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kiyani met with Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen aboard USS Abraham Lincoln that has been anchored somewhere in the Indian Ocean for more than a month now.
It was a star-studded affair. Other than the Admiral, the attendees included Gen David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, who will soon leave to become the senior commander in the Middle East; Adm Eric T Olson, head of the Special Operations Command; Gen David McKiernan, NATO’s commander in Afghanistan; Lt-Gen Martin E Dempsey, acting commander of American forces in the Middle East; and Rear Adm Michael LeFever, American military liaison in Pakistan. General Kiyani was accompanied by another unnamed Pakistani General; most probably the Director General of ISI. Reportedly, the meeting was conducted in a relaxed ambience and ended on a note of positive understanding between the participants.
General Kiyani had barely set foot on solid land when pop went the weasel.
A blitz of drone fired missiles rained on the FATA area on suspected militant locations. Such events were a rather infrequent, once in a while type of happenings in the past years. To leave nothing to doubt about their actions or intent, a first ever heliborne night raid was conducted by Coalition (read American) forces inside Pakistani territory leaving two dozen men, women and children dead in that one incursion. Since the summit meeting, more than 70 people have been killed as a direct result of around a half dozen drone fired missile hit incidents and the single night raid. Similar events are continuing unabated.
What a topsy-turvy world, one might think. No sooner does the commander of the armed forces of an allied (read friendly) country leave the meeting with his counterparts, his country is being bombarded and raided nonstop by orders of the same gentlemen who were present with him in the room; and that too literally within hours of the end of that meeting.
Ah! Things indeed are not as simple as they appear to be. However, before we Pakistanis start our usual bouts of chest beating and wailing, let us understand the milieu in which these events are taking place. Let us attempt and make some sense of this seemingly non-sense.
For that, a few ground realities have to be clearly understood first.
To satiate the voracious consumer lust of its citizens, historically, America has been seeking out and bivouacking permanently in the regions rich with natural resources. That is a given and is true for all US administrations. Now, by intent and by blunder, the current US Administration has made sure that for decades to come any future US Administration will also remain chained to two added dead weights in their foreign policy orchestrations; that of ‘terrorism’ and WMDs. Therefore, it doesn’t take much imagination to surmise that come McCain or Obama, John Doe or Jane Doe, successive US governments will continue to remain weighted down by these two additional encumbrances, whatever their public pronouncements, albeit with varying zeal. That is the bottom line.
Now keep the above-mentioned fact in mind, put a rotating globe in front, give it a slow twirl moving your fingers across the sphere coming to stop at a region where not one, not two but all three elements are clear and present ground realities. Eureka! It is none other than Pakistan and the surrounding region, with Pakistan sticking out like a sour thumb because of its proven WMD capability. Add to it the fact that our home grown variety of radicals, combined with the foreign element of course, have left no doubts in the minds of any one that they want to establish a trans-world Caliphate spanning across the continents. That the Americans did not root for us from the very beginning is as much a gift from God as from General Musharraf.
In case of Pakistan, or for any other region in the world for that matter, the American policy is very clear. One; eliminate the terrorists. Two; prevent, or failing that, control the WMD capability. Last but not the least, and the routine as said earlier; stake out the natural resources of the region with an American flag.
Now the recent near vertical spike in the militant’s activities in Bajaur and Swat, with sporadic suicidal attacks inside settled territories of Pakistan, unnerved not just the Pakistanis. The word has it that the militants were in such an upsurge in Bajaur that a fundamentalist Islamic Emirate was about to be announced there any time. While the terrified Pakistani Government had to launch a full fledged military operation to secure the areas, the Americans too had to cinch up their belts and ask for additional troops in Afghanistan. Only the employment of Pakistani Air Force and the use of 1000-pounder bomb like weapons loosened the radicals hold somewhat. So intense was the fighting that, petrified of the collateral damage, nearly half the population of Bajaur(roughly 300,000 people) migrated to safer areas; the biggest ever internal movement of its people in Pakistan. The government claimed having dispatched 600 militants in just three weeks.
Here is something interesting. It is, with the pertinent portions highlighted, the gist of officially released text of the briefing given by CENTCOM chief Admiral Mullen at the Pentagon about his meetings with Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani:
ADM. MULLEN: Good morning, and thanks for being here with me today. I have just a few comments to start out, and then I’ll be glad to take your question.
………Now, I’m not prepared to discuss in great detail the specifics of everything that we covered. I’m sure you can understand the sensitivity there. But I can tell you that I came away from the meeting very encouraged that the focus is where it needs to be.
…….For me, more than anything, this was a chance to better understand a very complex challenge in a critical part of the world and to try to do that through the eyes of the leadership who live and work and fight there every single day.
………..It really is an effort on my part — and I won’t speak for everybody else, but on my part — to understand the problem as seen through the senior military officer’s eyes who’s got to fight this campaign in his own country, recognizing that Pakistan has a serious extremist threat, and to see it through his eyes.
……I’m pleased that he’s moving in that direction and that he is, actually, operating. And again, we’re trying to figure out, you know, where — how that fits into bringing pressure onto that border to minimize — to work to minimize the cross-border operations from Pakistan into Afghanistan on the case of the insurgents. And I think it’s going to — it’s just going to take some time.
………I really don’t want to go into the details of what we talked about, but I’m encouraged that he’s taken action, and I also think it’s going to take some time.
……….without going into specific details of the discussion, clearly there’s a recognition in Pakistan that the political process is pretty challenging.
What Admiral Mullen was very patiently trying to put across in staff-talk is really very plain. Even the dumbest of the analysts acquainted with governmental newspeak can tell what must have actually transpired in that meeting. Here is what he was telling and yet not telling.
Both the Generals agreed that it was indeed a different kind of war. That winning such a war does not mean putting a flag on a hill, or conquering territory, or destroying the enemy’s divisions or airfields. That in this war you take out the leaders on timely, actionable intelligence with the use of smart weapons that inflict minimal collateral damage. That Pakistan was ill-equipped to fight such a war having neither the weapons nor any sophisticated intel gathering means. And that, on top of everything, there were suspect elements in Pakistan’s field intelligence operatives. That it was not Pakistan but America that had the right means to fight this war. And that while winning this war is in everybody’s favour, Pakistan cannot be seen jointly operating with the US in the FATA. This last one, for more than obvious reasons.
It must have been further agreed that on all such occasions, Pakistan will officially make the right kind of noises by protesting, threatening to retaliate, cutting off the logistic supply lines for a few hours and by plain huffing and puffing. And that America publically will continue to massage the common Pakistanis’ ego by pronouncing commitments to safeguard Pakistan’s sovereignty, promising to promptly release the direly needed funds and denying most of such incursions, yet privately continuing to hit the radicals as and when it was deemed appropriate.
Yesterday, after seven years of close alliance, President George W. Bush has kindly promoted Pakistan to the status of Afghanistan and Iraq i.e. an almost failed state. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Americans are physically present. In Pakistan, they now mean their presence to be felt more acutely. Needless to say therefore, that any germination in the ‘terrorists’ numbers, or any closing of the distance between the terrorists and the WMDs in the region, as was recently seen, is an absolute unthinkable for the Americans. That will be an Armageddon-type scenario for them.
That is when the US decisionmakers are likely to reach for the red buttons of their own.
Welcome to the Great Game with the same battlefield but different protagonists, different battle cries and different weapon yields.
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