US-Pakistan Relationship at Crossroads

Wednesday, 13 Oct 2010 01:01 PM

By Arnaud de Borchgrave

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Pakistan's most prominent — and vocal — retired army chiefs are demanding that the country's air force be ordered to shoot down drones and helicopters. And increasingly angry active-duty officers are voicing their approval in off-the-record conversations with Pakistani journalists.

The country's senior generals on active duty are being blasted as "American stooges."

Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the retired army chief who succeeded President Zia ul-Haq, who died in a mysterious 1988 plane crash, told The Nation daily newspaper that U.S. military and CIA drones were increasing the tempo of their intrusions into Pakistani air space and that many Pakistani people had been killed.

"We have got the means to avert threats to our security," Gen. Beg said, "and our air force must be ordered to take action against them."

Gen. Beg conceded it was "very painful . . . to hear that U.S. war criminal [U.S. Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan] Richard Holbrooke said in a statement that U.S. drone attacks were being carried out with the consent of the Pakistan government and the Army's [general headquarters]."

Another notorious and influential former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Gen. Hamid Gul, said, "The U.S. fears the return of the supreme court because it could rule the U.S. drone attacks are violations of the country's sovereignty.

"If that happens, Parliament would have to act on the supreme court's decision and reverse the policy. The U.S. is skeptical and suspicious that if the supreme court is given free reign again in Pakistan, it is likely to rule against their interests and agenda in Pakistan."

In another broadside, Gen. Gul said, "The Pakistani government should stop NATO supplies permanently or face the reality" — the wrath of the people.

What's left of al-Qaida's operational command structure is in North Waziristan, one of the seven tribal agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border.

The most recent al-Qaida commander killed in a drone attack was Fateh Al Misri, believed to be the commander for al-Qaida activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

FATA, like the capital of Islamabad, is federal territory. And America's many detractors — the Pew Foundation found that 64 percent regard the United States as an enemy — say drone and helicopter attacks are a direct violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

A more ominous anti-American voice courted by Pakistan media is A.Q. Khan, the nuclear black marketeer who peddled Pakistan's nuclear secrets to America's adversaries — North Korea, Iran, and Libya (the latter turning them over to British and U.S. intelligence when Col. Moammar Gadhafi decided to switch allegiances).

Mr. Khan writes articles and gives interviews to print, radio, and TV media, spreading hatred against the United States, openly discussing nuclear secrets and courting arrest, presumably to provoke anti-U.S. demonstrations.

The security establishment convened a meeting in the prime minister's residence to discuss how Mr. Khan could be reined in and restricted to a life of anonymity. The conclusion was that that could not be done without triggering a national pro-A.Q. Khan movement.

Khan is still the most popular man in Pakistan, and some pundits see him as a possible president in a future government with a return to power of another notorious anti-American, Nawaz Sharif.

In a unanimous decision, the country's Parliament condemned U.S. attacks against FATA targets and asked for a halt in cross-border raids. But this was ignored, and the attacks continued.

Tit-for-tat was not long in coming. A U.S. helicopter gunship returned fire at a group of Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers, killing three — triggering a major crisis between the two countries.

Pakistan suddenly closed the Khyber Pass, the most important supply route for NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. About 70 percent of the Afghan war's requirements are offloaded in Karachi, the port city of 18 million, onto trucks and tankers for the 1,200-mile trip through Pakistan to the 33-mile-long Khyber Pass and on to Kabul to service the needs of troops operating in eastern Afghanistan.

A second route through Quetta in Baluchistan to Kandahar remained open. It handles supplies for southern, eastern and northern Afghanistan.

Some 1,200 trucks and gasoline tankers suddenly found themselves backed up over hundreds of miles — and sitting ducks for Pakistani Taliban insurgent attacks. Over the 11-day shutdown of the Torkham border post at the end of the Khyber Pass, 125 transport vehicles were torched.

It is now clear Pakistan is no longer in the ranks of "major non-NATO allies," where President George W. Bush promoted the tragedy-plagued nation of 180 million Muslims. For some U.S. policymakers, Pakistan is a regional and global cancer, and for others, it's what the CIA called the "terror center of the world."

Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and Turkey all traced some of their nationals to al-Qaida and Taliban training camps in FATA — particularly North Waziristan.

In its offensive against Taliban insurgents in FATA, the Pakistani army carefully avoided North Waziristan. The recent floods that affected almost 20 million people diverted much of the army to rescue operations. So that part of FATA continues to enjoy immunity from Pakistani counterinsurgency operations. It is also the location of headquarters and training camps for the Haqqani group of insurgents that is fighting allied forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's political and military leadership reached the conclusion years ago that the United States would not fight on to victory in Afghanistan and that the end would be closer to Vietnam than to Korea, where the enemy was pushed back to the status-quo ante on the 38th parallel, a victory by modern definition.

The Vietnam War ended with a wishy-washy compromise peace agreement pending a final push to victory by North Vietnam — after Congress voted against any further military assistance to our South Vietnamese allies.

The July 2011 date for the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan looms larger in National Security Adviser Tom Donilon's White House office than it does in Robert M. Gates' office at the Pentagon or at Gen. David Petraeus' Afghan headquarters.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor-at-large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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