The ancient Arab proverb "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" does not apply in Pakistan. Knowledge of Raumschach, or space chess, as played on "Star Trek," is more useful. It's a form of 3-D chess where one can lose on several levels.
The geopolitical nexus of Afghanistan-Pakistan-Federally Administered Tribal Areas-India is now seen in the White House as a regional crisis that requires a holistic politico-military approach. But suspicions and disinformation about each other's motives, replete with conspiracy theories, have combined to make Pakistan, the Muslim world's only nuclear power, the most dangerous place on Earth.
President Obama sees the enemy in Afghanistan as the Taliban and al-Qaida. But al-Qaida shelters and the Taliban rests and trains in the mountain fastness of the Hindu Kush in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. And although Pakistan is "a major non-NATO ally," it also assists, through its Inter Services Intelligence agency, the Taliban insurgents fighting the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
This is not rumor, hearsay, or factoid but incontrovertible fact, confirmed by senior Pakistani generals on recent visits to EU headquarters in Brussels and to the director of national intelligence in the George W. Bush administration.
First reported in this column four months ago and confirmed last week by The New York Times, an ultrasecret wing of Inter Services Intelligence, known as Section S, still supplies the Taliban with guns, ammunition, and other supplies while the Pakistani army is fighting the insurgents in FATA. Pakistan's geopolitical calculus shows NATO, followed by the United States, succumbing to the Vietnam syndrome — and the Taliban prevailing.
The intelligence agency inspired and nurtured the Taliban student movement with a view toward taking over Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet defeat and withdrawal in 1989. About 1,300 Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence agents were assigned to the Taliban's campaign as it conquered Afghanistan from 1992 through 1996.
Recognized by only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates —the Taliban established a draconian regime of Islamic extremists that was entirely dependent on Pakistan for its survival. Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist movement set up a score of training camps in Afghanistan, all under the intelligence agency’s watchful eye. When this reporter traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in June 2004, Pakistani supply trucks jammed the rutted highway bumper-to-bumper.
Trust between Washington and Islamabad has been stuck in the single digits for decades. Pakistan's limited numbers of strategic planners long have thought of Afghanistan supplying strategic depth to the west as they faced their principal enemy, India, to the east.
No one in Islamabad believes the United States and NATO are prepared to stay for five more years, let alone the 10 or more years it would take to transform Afghanistan into a viable democracy. Pakistan's military leaders feel more comfortable with a Taliban-run Afghanistan than with the current crop of moderate leaders who are closer to New Delhi than to Islamabad.
Section S's mission, as its operatives see it, is to block India's plans to supplant Pakistani influence when NATO and U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. Both Afghan and Indian intelligence are convinced Section S was responsible for the suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July that killed 58. It is directly across the street from the Afghan Interior Ministry.
Success for President Obama's new plan for Afghanistan depends entirely on Pakistan's ability to root out Taliban and al-Qaida bases from their privileged sanctuaries in FATA.
With 120,000 Pakistani troops deployed in seven major tribal areas, where U.S. forces are not authorized to operate, results have been spotty at best. At worst, Taliban insurgents reappear when troops move on. The 1,400-mile frontier is a line on a map through some of the world's most rugged mountain terrain. U.S. drone attacks are subject to a Pakistani green light. U.S., Pakistani and Afghan intelligence officers are to work together in a half-dozen frontier posts. U.S. economic and military aid will be contingent on Pakistan’s stepping up its campaign against Islamic terrorism inside its own borders, which include FATA.
Perhaps the most promising change in the Obama plan is the quest to detach Taliban leaders from hard-liners who have made common cause with al-Qaida. Former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the most senior Taliban official captured, was held for two years at Bagram Air Base and now lives in Kandahar. He traveled to Mecca in September to dine with Saudi King Abdullah and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother for talks about talks that could become part of Obama's plan.
A neutral Afghanistan that rejects al-Qaida and the status of which would be guaranteed by its principal neighbors — Iran, Pakistan, China — is already being talked about as a possible long-range successor to U.S. and NATO forces. Obama also must find a plausible exit strategy before the 2012 presidential election campaign.
Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, back from an official trip to Washington, President Pervez Musharraf ordered Inter Services Intelligence chief Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad to fly to Kandahar and instruct Mullah Omar, the Taliban supremo, to turn over Osama bin Laden or face a U.S. invasion. Instead, the intelligence director took a delegation of Pakistani religious extremists with him on the trip and advised Mullah Omar to keep Osama bin Laden. Musharraf promptly fired Ahmad, whose insubordination changed the course of history.
Ahmad was in Washington when al-Qaida struck the twin towers and the Pentagon. Conspiracy theorists believe he knew about al-Qaida's plans beforehand and concluded that his stateside meetings with intelligence-community directors would give him extra cover. Three days after the Sept. 11 Commission's report went to press, commission member Fred Fielding was handed a verbal bombshell: Some Pakistanis were privy to al-Qaida's plans before the terrorist attacks.
Yet most Pakistanis continue to believe that the attacks of Sept. 11 were a plot engineered by the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, whose objective was war on Islam.
When a female Pakistani journalist covering Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's Washington visit in July told this reporter, "Everyone knows it was the CIA," we put the same question to eight of her colleagues sitting at the same table at the Pakistani Embassy. All eight said, "CIA and Mossad."
One added: "Most Pakistanis believe the same thing."
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