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Bill Kristol, a Fox Television commentator and arch American neoconservative revealed recently what many had long suspected was US thinking about the current international situation.
Kristol recounts that in a 90-minute, mostly off-the-record meeting with a small group of journalists in early July, President Bush “conveyed the following impression, that he thought the next president's biggest challenge would not be Iraq, which he thinks he'll leave in pretty good shape, and would not be Afghanistan, which is manageable by itself… It’s Pakistan.” We have “a sort of friendly government that sort of cooperates and sort of doesn’t. It's really a complicated and difficult situation.” Right on cue, presidential candidate Barack Obama took the baton from Bush in his speech on July 15, in which he argued that more focus and resource were required on both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Kristol revelation on the surface is staggering yet not a surprise to those who have long suspected that the US presence in Afghanistan constitutes a Trojan horse for a more insidious plan the US has for Pakistan. Some may find it surprising that the US now believes Pakistan to be more challenging than Iraq where the US has 150,000 troops, spent almost a trillion dollars and has incurred over 4,000 fatalities. The neocon vision was that the capture of Iraq, a state that lies at the heart of the Middle East, would allow it to control not just the resources of the region but more importantly its geopolitics. Of course, the post invasion challenge was severely underestimated and despite some reduction in violence (albeit from a high benchmark), Iraq remains a quagmire. The US would like Iraq to be ‘stable’ but not too stable, ‘independent’ but not too independent, have an ‘effective’ military but not too effective. John McCain compares the US role in Iraq with that of Korea and Germany and believes the US could be there for a hundred years. To justify a continued presence the US needs to keep Iraq weak and divided. No one can seriously dispute the growth in sectarianism that has been seen since US occupation. With a self governed Kurdish north, a Shia dominated central government and now US support for the Sunni tribes, General Petraeus has presided over a de facto partitioned state.
So, with Iraq closer to de facto partition, America can now turn its attention to Pakistan. This change of focus has been sign posted now for at least twelve months. In June 2007 the US published its National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) with some startling new revelations. Despite citing its numerous successes against Al-Qa’idah since September 2001 including these statements in a declassified document titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” dated April 2006 stated the following “United States - led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of Al-Qa’idah and disrupted its operations… We assess the global jihadist movement is decentralised, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse.”
Yet the collective US intelligence community made a volte-face fourteen months later when it said the following: “We assess the group (Al-Qa’idah) has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership.”
So, in effect what the US intelligence community was saying was that its six year war against Al-Qa’idah had been a failure and that to win the war effectively required action within Pakistan. The pretext for war within Pakistan was therefore created; any attack on any US target from now on that was traced to the FATA would give the US casus belli to undergo a massive retaliatory attack within Pakistan. Indeed Frances Townsend Homeland Security adviser to Bush said shortly after the NIE was published that the United States would be willing to send troops into Pakistan to root out Al-Qa’idah, noting specifically that “no option is off the table if that is what is required”
The US has been itching to get into Pakistan for some time.
Firstly, using remote controlled Predator aircraft to attack targets within Pakistan almost on a daily basis.
Secondly, the US has spent $10 billion on Pakistan’s military since 2001 and more specifically in trying to make Pakistan’s Frontier Corps into a fighting unit for the US military. To ensure Washington gets better value for money, Senator Joe Biden, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is seeking to enact legislation in Congress to tie future security aid to performance.
Thirdly, by promoting General Petraeus from heading up the Iraq campaign to become Central Command (CENTCOM’s) new head clearly indicates that Iraq has become subservient to Pakistan in Washington’s thinking.
Fourthly, the continued barrage of criticism within Capitol Hill, by Afghan officials and western think tanks of Pakistan’s failure to stem cross border insurgency prepares the ground for an eventual attack in Pakistan. Indeed eliminating the Pakistan sanctuary bases is one of the RAND Corporation’s key recommendations in a recent report, funded by the IS DOD, entitled “Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.” The report does not confine criticism to the FATA but states that the insurgency also finds refuge in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) as well as the province of Balochistan so extending the area substantially for future retaliation.
Lastly, according to a New York Times report in June, top Bush administration officials drafted a secret plan in 2007 to make it easier for US Special Operations forces to operate inside Pakistan’s tribal areas but that turf battles and the diversion of resources to Iraq held up the effort. However, now that forces are being reduced in Iraq, it is inevitable that such programs will be stepped up.
So, why is Pakistan so important?
Mitchell Shivers Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian & Pacific Security Affairs gave the following reasons in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 25 June 2008:
1. Pakistan is the second most populous Muslim state, the sixth most populous country in the world, and is located at the geopolitical crossroads of South and Central Asia.
2. Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons and has already fought three conventional wars with another nuclear nation next door, India.
3. Pakistan has a large, growing moderate middle class striving for democracy.
4. elements of extremism and terrorism are at work within Pakistan sponsored by the usa and India.
5. the whole-hearted assistance of the Pakistani people and their government will help the United States achieve its national security objectives in Afghanistan.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in an article in the Washington Post in March defined US objectives in Pakistan as “control of nuclear weapons, counter-terrorism cooperation and resistance to Islamic radicalism” and believes Pakistan could turn “into the wildcard of international diplomacy.” This was echoed by Turkey’s military chief General Yaşar Büyükanıt who speaking in March at an international conference in Ankara warned that Pakistan’s political troubles could open the way for the Taliban to seize the country and its nuclear weapons.
The US fears Pakistan, as it contains the key mix of Islam, nuclear weapons and people who are impatient for change and who do not trust the Americans. Consistent surveys indicates that the US’s approval ratings are less than 20% in Pakistan and that the people of Pakistan desire for Islamic rule does not equate to a desire for violent extremism. The desire for Islamic governance allied with the above ingredients clearly illustrate why Pakistan has risen to the top of Washington’s radar screen and why Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has now made four visits to Pakistan since February.
What about the war in Afghanistan, how does this fit into the plan for Pakistan?
Of course, Afghanistan has some value to the US but the campaign as Kristol admits will be allowed to continue on the back burner. The US objective for Afghanistan was never to defeat the Taliban or to extend its remit over the whole country. Indeed if it was the objective, the US would have sent more troops. The Soviet Union in comparison had 300,000 troops in the 1980’s and while occupying the cities, could never pacify the countryside. The US and NATO presence at about 65,000 is almost laughable when facing a population of 31 million. The US campaign in Afghanistan is more a forward base combining Special Forces and CIA operatives backed up with airpower and a modest number of US ground forces. The mission in 2001 was to coordinate the fight with allies within the Northern Alliance and amongst other minorities and disgruntled anti-Taliban elements. Geo-strategically, Afghanistan has limited value for the US, other than to ensure no one else should control it. This explains why the priority given to Afghanistan will always be less than Iraq and certainly lower than Pakistan. It also explains why Afghanistan is in the shambles it is.
According to the Afghanistan Human Development Report 2007, Afghanistan remains far behind neighbouring countries with a rank of 174 out of 178 on the global HDI (a composite indicator that measures education, longevity, and economic performance). 6.6 million Afghans do not meet their minimum food requirements. 2006 witnessed a significant rise in attacks and a 59% spike in the area under poppy cultivation, making the country a world leader in the production of illegal opium (90% of global production). Low literacy and a lack of access to safe drinking water, food, and sanitation contribute to the still relatively high child mortality rate. With the maternal mortality ratio estimated at 1600 deaths per 100,000 live births, Afghanistan maintains one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
How should Muslims in the region respond?
They need to do at least three things:
A. Pakistan should realise what the US is trying to do. It doesn’t require an international relations genius to conclude that the US is seeking to do to Pakistan what it has done to Iraq, namely decimating its military capability and fracturing the country into separate entities. The army who effectively control Pakistan are not stupid; they understand the political dynamic at place. Four Star General Tariq Majeed, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee recently said at an international conference in Singapore that cross-border missile strikes into Pakistan's tribal belt are killing civilians and contributing to the popular perception that U.S. military operations in the region are “anti-Islam.” They understand that when the US talks about reforming the Frontier Corps, this is about ensuring that they fight more effectively for the US, not Pakistan. They also understand that while the US has a tactical relationship with Pakistan, it seeks a strategic relationship with India even to the extent of offering it unprecedented civil nuclear assistance. The $10 billion that the US has given Pakistan since 2001 means nothing, if Pakistan eventually fragments into multiple pieces. With NWFP, Balochistan and Karachi all teetering at the edge, the US has a once in a generation opportunity to turn Pakistan into a balkanised hell hole.
B. The only supply lines into Afghanistan for the US are either through the mountains of Central Asia or through the port of Karachi. Without Pakistan, logistics, the flow of supplies, fuel and other military hardware would soon stop the campaign in Afghanistan. There is no strategic interest for Pakistan to continue to support America’s war in Afghanistan.
Firstly, it allows 65,000 NATO and US troops to permanently occupy a Muslim country creating an anti Pakistani government in Kabul.
Secondly, instead of having a secure western border, Pakistan has to have 100,000 troops permanently supporting the US effort thus taking valuable resources from it’s more vulnerable eastern border with India.
Thirdly, Pakistan has to face the blowback, of fighting not just its own citizens in NWFP and FATA, but fellow Muslims across the border.
Lastly, the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan have to realise that neither brutal dictatorship nor secular democracy can succeed in the Muslim world. As has been witnessed since February, Pakistan’s political class have no solutions with respect to high fuel costs, high food prices and the deterioration in the financial environment. The Afghan President has also presided over a country where after nearly 7 years, hunger, corruption, electricity shortages and killing civilians are the watchwords of today’s Afghanistan.
C. Only the tried and trusted Islamic system of the Khilafah (Caliphate) can succeed in the Muslim world. A coherent effort at re-establishing the Khilafah is now the urgent requirement and is gaining momentum. According to an opinion poll carried out by the University of Maryland, 74% of Pakistanis support the establishment of a unified Khilafah in the Muslim world, the establishment of such an entity is therefore not a question of if, but when.
Indeed the major problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan are not one of economic resources but of political will. Afghanistan and Pakistan are not ‘failing states.’ Unfortunately, for the people of Afghanistan they’ve been invaded twice by external powers in the last 25 years and this remains the hub of their problem. For the Pakistani people they have seen over 60 years of political failure with so called “independence” a mere charade.
Yet the world is entering a new paradigm in international relations. No longer will the Fed in Washington be calling the shots. No longer will the Dollar reign supreme. No longer is the US military invincible. What started with self evident truths in Philadelphia over two centuries ago has now morphed into implosion on Wall Street and an economic tsunami across the globe.
Many cite the Khilafah as a utopian dream, yet those in the know are not so sure. A US government intelligence study by the National Intelligence Council in 2004 called “Mapping the Global Future” presented as one future scenario the rise of a new pan-national Caliphate. Thomas Ricks the Washington Post’s senior Pentagon correspondent in his book “Fiasco” says there is precedent for the emergence of a unifying figure in the Muslim world a modern day Saladin someone who can revive the region through combining popular support with huge oil revenues. A real “nightmare scenario” for the western world as Richard Nixon once described it in his book 1999.
So Muslims face a strategic choice either support the US led coalition or politically unify under the banner of Islam. Whereas the former guarantees national oblivion and further balkanisation, the latter should allow the Muslim world to flourish and meet head on the challenges of the 21st century.
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