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Thursday, June 25, 2009

US intent getting clearer

Shireen M Mazari

Pakistanis cannot be allowed to savour joy and success peacefully. Just when the nation was tumultuously enjoying the magical victory of our cricket team, the hard reality of our hostile environment post-9/11 clouded over us once again. For anyone who thought the US was not targeting our nuclear assets, the screaming headlines from the Afghan-based Al Qaeda leadership's interview to Al Jazeera brought the issue to the forefront once again with claims that Al Qaeda would use our nuclear assets against the US if they could. The absurdity of the statement notwithstanding, it can be explained only if seen as part of the campaign to legitimise a US/NATO takeover of our nuclear assets since our security prevents the US from taking them out physically.

We have also seen US weapons mysteriously land in the hands of militants in Pakistan – now we have the Al Qaeda leadership freely having access to the foreign media in Afghanistan. What is the US up to with Al Qaeda? Post-9/11 the world has had a memory lapse over the US-Al Qaeda connections – especially when Sudan offered Bin Laden to the US – but the latter allowed the Al Qaeda leader to move to Afghanistan!

While our military has become embroiled in a "war" that cannot be won by conventional military means, the US continues to play dangerous games with Pakistan – and at multiple levels. The drone attacks continue under Obama since the first one he ordered three days after his inauguration as US president – which killed 15 Pakistanis. In fact just as the present government has gone the extra mile in ceding ground to the US in Pakistan, the Obama administration has expanded the drone policy and according to Jeremy Scahill in the first 99 days of 2009 more than 150 Pakistanis have been killed in these attacks.

His estimate is that since 2006 and up to April 2009 drones have killed 687 Pakistanis – apart from the identifiable militants. That comes to about 38 civilian deaths a month just from these drone attacks.

Nor is this all. The New York Times gave an interesting account of US military operations within Pakistan including US Special Forces commando raids in FATA across the international Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Even more of a wakeup call of US intent should be the $.9 billion of the first year 'largesse' under the Kerry-Lugar Bill that has been earmarked for the construction of the new US embassy in Islamabad – a huge fortress right behind the presidency and the prime minister's secretariat. If Iraq is anything to go by we may soon have US private security companies like the notorious Blackwater plus hundreds of other contractors. While US human intelligence will not gain in quality we will have a meddling US presence across our state institutions and civil society which will be damaging in the long term to our national well-being.

We are already hearing of the CIA chief visiting us followed by Obama's special representative general James Jones. Both these officials will also be visiting India and the general thrust seems to be to push Pakistan into accepting an Indian military presence in Afghanistan. Interestingly General Jones also has strong ties to US business including Boeing and Chevron. Meanwhile there is no let down on focusing on our nuclear assets, which is why Prime Minister Gilani was compelled to finally, after a year of silent tolerance, demand that the US stop using a discriminatory approach towards Pakistan's nuclear programme, including the search for civilian nuclear power.

But there is discrimination and the new line of attack that has been opened is the Al Qaeda statement – following the numerous US official and media statements expressing "fear" of US nukes falling into militant hands! Surely just as the discovery of US/Israeli arms on militants in Pakistan raised serious questions as to the role/linkages of outside forces to militant outfits within Pakistan, so the new development is hardly without its linkage to an overall plan against our nuclear assets. Once again, the fact is that unless the Pakistan military is weakened from within, the assets cannot be accessed at all. Hence the need of the US to get the military bogged down in a conventional battle against unconventional foes in Swat and FATA – without any overarching political strategy visible from the government.

Ironically, while plots against our nuclear assets continue, it is developments in other countries that reveal the lack of strong security measures at nuclear installations in these places. On 22nd June, anti-nuclear activists managed to break through security at the German Unterweser nuclear power plant and actually scaled the dome of the plant. More disturbing has been the story, now surprisingly blocked out, about the Indian nuclear scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam, who disappeared or was abducted, and was later found dead from the Kali river. Mahalingam had also disappeared ten years earlier while he was working at another sensitive Indian nuclear location – the Kalpakkam nuclear complex.

India's nuclear and missile security has revealed many shortcomings and in 2006 Dr Tiwari involved in space research was also shot dead.

There have been stories of an underground network of Hindu extremists and Indian scientists involved in technology transfers to and from India and Israel. Indian scientists were also discovered at Iran's Bushehr plant. So it is strange as to why the US and the IAEA continue to keep silent over India's possible private proliferation rings as well as the weak safety of its nuclear and missile installations and sites? Equally puzzling is official Pakistani silence on these issues.

It is similar to the questionable manner in which our official institutions declare that there are Indians/US links to militant outfits in Pakistan, but then fail to give details or to take up these issues with the countries concerned. What is the Pakistani state playing at or fearful of? Is it not time the nation was told about the sources of funding and weapons for the militants in specific terms to give credibility to these allegations? Or will all the "militants" be "killed" before we can learn crucial facts about US double dealing and Indian destabilisation of Pakistan. That is why arrest and trial of the militant leadership in anti-terror courts, rather than their killing, is essential for our nation and state's long term security.

As for India, while Pakistan is also under pressure to resume the bilateral dialogue, our seeming haste seems to have sent the wrong signals to India. That is why we saw the sheer bad behaviour on the part of India's Manmohan Singh towards President Zardari in Russia. Too bad the latter was unable to respond in kind. But we can still send the correct message to the Indians by refusing to have a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the NAM conference in Egypt.

Dialogue is certainly desirable but only when the intent of the two sides is honest in terms of conflict resolution. So far the Indian intent is clearly not focused on this aspect. So perhaps it would be good to wait till India realises the need to move towards conflict resolution with Pakistan in a holistic fashion. It may take pleasure in our leadership's refusal to bring up the K word but without any movement on Kashmir, the dialogue will eventually run aground as always. For Pakistan it is also essential to know its maximalist and minimalist positions in clear terms – both, of necessity, being premised on giving Kashmiris their right to self-determination.

Things are moving fast, and there is a crucial need for the Pakistani state to step back and look at the larger picture so that inclusive policies can be formulated to deal with the threat of extremism, militancy on a long term basis by denying them space in our society; and to protect our nation and its nuclear assets from US designs.

Finally, it is sad to see that while the Pakistani state has seemingly abandoned the Kashmiris in Occupied Kashmir, these brave people continue to rally round Pakistan in a most instinctive way. So it was with the T20 World Cup where the Kashmiris in Occupied Kashmir joined the Pakistani nation in celebrating the Pakistani victory. Did anyone else in our neighbourhood do the same?

The writer is a defence analyst. Email: callstr@hotmail.com

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