As a close U.S. ally in the war against terror, Pakistan has been designated a "major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally," allowing the Islamic Republic to join an elite group of nations, which are granted significant benefits in the area of foreign aid and defense co-operation. But when it comes to the U.S. war on Islamist Terror, this alliance, on close examination, does not translate into a fruitful relationship. Terrorism in Afghanistan does not show any signs of going away, anti-American sentiments are on the rise in Pakistan, and religious extremism continues to gain new ground.
Many tribal leaders from Peshawar in N.W.F.P., whom I met during a recent visit to Pakistan laugh at American claims that the terrorists in Afghanistan are no longer able to carry out large-scale attacks. They told me that outsiders can never understand the nature of this insurgency, which they say is meant to protect and defend Islam. Tribal leaders stated that the coalition authorities fail to realize that the Taliban have not been defeated, only their tactics have changed. They are not using their experienced cadres in this guerrilla war any more. Instead, the present situation is providing them with an opportunity to train the young for a long war. Many independent observers tend to agree with the Taliban explanation, and U.S. and Afghan intelligence sources suggest that the Taliban have shown recent signs of confidence - or desperation. Roadside bombings have increased 40 percent this year over last year, according to a report by the UN. These bombings have become increasingly effective, using "shaped" explosives used by Iraqi militants against U.S. forces there, set off by sophisticated remote-control devices.
Locally, it is common knowledge that the Taliban and their backers are saving their pool of resources which will eventually be used in a serious offensive at a later date. The local leaders pointed out that right now the war against “infidels” is confined to roadside bombs targeting suspected collaborators and harassing attacks on police posts. The hit-and-run approach instead of major combat operations, according to the terrorists, will keep the spirit of jihad alive in the region.
I was told that there is no shortage of new recruits. My conversations with tribal people revealed that families send their children willingly after the local mullah convinced them about the jihadi nature of the struggle. In addition, the families of young soldiers are paid very well. I came back with the impression that to dismiss the changing face of the insurgency as insignificant is a mistake. There are signs that many of young terrorist soldiers have become trained, having gained experience in Kashmir, Iraq and Chechnya. According to media reports, “In the four years since the fall of the Taliban government, there have been many moments when it appeared that the Taliban insurgency had breathed its last breath. But this year is different. The Taliban have launched a series of attacks raising this year's death toll to 1,200 civilians and military personnel so far; a wartime high. Their attacks show increasing sophistication, US and Afghan officials say, and a UN report now warns that the Taliban may be receiving tactical training from jihadists returning from Iraq.”
President Hamid Karzai seems to be right when he suggests that militants come from Pakistan, which Islamabad vehemently denies. But he seems to be mistaken when he says, “We are seeing a very young, inexperienced, lack of leadership type of force.” He is also wrong in thinking that “There doesn’t seem to be any overarching or underlying infrastructure between these elements that we’re fighting here. It appears to be pockets of small numbers.” I am convinced that there is a very determined infrastructure, most probably composed of Pakistan’s retired military professionals.
Afghanistan is not secure. There’s still an enemy out there waiting for a green signal. They’re still armed, resourced, well-equipped and well fed. There are reports that the insurgents are flush with new weapons, including surface-to-air missiles and cash. And a report in The Christian Science Monitor confirms my fears, “In the most violent year of their insurgency to date, the Taliban have gone on the offensive, launching more pitched battles in an effort to persuade the international community and Afghans that this remains very much a nation at war, says Mullah Gul Mohammad, a front-line commander for Jaish-e Muslimeen, a recently reconciled Taliban splinter group.”
And there is one basic reason for this state of affairs - Islamabad’s relations with Washington are not based on trust. There is a sense at the grass roots level that the United States is once again using Pakistan to perpetuate its geo-political objectives in the region and once they are achieved, it will, just as in the past, abandon it without any hesitation. Analysts believe, “Contrary to the make up of Indo-US relations, the permanence of the US relationship with Pakistan is questionable. In fact, the majority view suggests that while a repeat of the post-Afghan scenario, where the US completely exited the scene, is unlikely for several reasons, there certainly are no structural reasons for the US to engage Pakistan at the same level as India. Skeptics suggest that the real meat in the Pak-US relationship will disappear once Pakistan’s importance in the war on terror decreases in the medium term. Others point to fundamental weaknesses in the relationship, the so-called one-man (Musharraf) policy as evidence of the short-lived utility of the alliance.”
Middle and upper class men and women I spoke with in major cities of Pakistan argued that contrary to Washington’s assertion that its present socio-political and military campaigns in the Muslim world are only aimed at defeating terrorism, Washington’s real mission is to weaken the Muslim superpower, Pakistan, and to empower Israel. They also said that Washington’s pressure on Islamabad to normalize its relations with Tel Aviv is a step in the same direction.
Officials in Islamabad are convinced that in South Asia, India is the one with whom the US wants to establish real and meaningful strategic ties. To prove their point, officials refer to the recent India-US deal on transfer of nuclear technology which has raised considerable alarm in Pakistan. Pakistani analysts insist that the Indo-US deal is not a stand-alone initiative. It reflects a permanent change in Washington’s outlook towards India.
According to the Pakistani analysts, “The necessity of injecting permanence into the relationship with India is evident from the principal motive behind Washington’s move towards New Delhi: providing India the necessary strength to act as a counterweight to China. Furthermore, the very scope of the Indo-US alliance suggests that cooperation is likely to extend in all spheres over the long-term. Acting as a counterweight to China implies that the US is willing to augment India’s military as well as economic capabilities. The US has already offered a comprehensive defense assistance pact to India. The nuclear technology transfer deal (apart from the option of dual use) would provide India respite from its projected energy shortage. The Indo-US trade relations are already strong and growing tremendously.”
They also say that right now it is the US that needs Pakistan in its war against terrorism and not the other way around: “Pakistan's cooperation in the war against the Taliban may not have been the deciding factor in achieving success, but without it the campaign would have been immensely more difficult. Pakistan provided valuable intelligence to the US about Taliban operations in Afghanistan.” Most of them do not believe that there is anything like Islamist terrorism. They claim that it is a Jewish ploy to overwhelm the Muslim world. That’s why they say it is essential for Pakistan to stick to its guns by not carrying out any of the US demands that will eventually leave it defenseless in the face of Indian-Israeli designs.
As an argument, most of the intellectuals and other individuals with influence with whom I talked in Islamabad, advance the theory that Pakistan, being the only nuclear Muslim power, wields a tremendous amount of influence on other Muslim nations. They insisted that whatever Pakistan will do will go a long way in determining the directions other Muslim countries will take. That’s why they say the US is determined to use its surrogates to takeover the political, social and religious thinking process in Pakistan.
I found a consensus among Pakistani intellectuals that Pakistan’s security lies in not succumbing to US pressure to dismantle the Taliban, capture Osama bin Laden, destroy the ancient network of religious seminaries (madrasas), nor dishonor and demonize Dr, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Islamic bomb and rolling back its nuclear program.
There is a powerful group of people among Pakistan’s military and civil bureaucracy who are convinced that the only leverage Pakistan has is the Taliban, jihadis, Osama bin Laden and its politico-religious groups against any future US betrayal. They insist that a stabilized and peaceful Afghanistan will eventually fall under the influence of the leaders of northern alliance which in turn will facilitate India’s control on Kabul’s policies – something that Pakistan can never allow. An Indian dominated and Northern Alliance controlled Afghanistan is an anathema to Islamabad.
My sources in Islamabad told me that Pakistan has a thought-out policy to keep the insurgency in Afghanistan alive. The same policy prevents a true and concerted effort to capture Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and other significant leaders of the Taliban. In fact, an influential tribal chief told me in Peshawar that the Taliban have been allowed to sustain and maintain the vital forces needed to revive their movement. He said that it will take us less than four weeks to recapture Kabul whenever the Taliban will get the green light.
An unfriendly Afghanistan can create a lot of trouble in Pakistan’s North Western Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.) and Baluchistan. Baluchistan’s natural resources and the recently developed deep water seaport of Gawadar has increased its strategic value tremendously in the eyes of not just Iran, Russia and India but also Afghanistan which is a land locked country. Moreover, China has financed the entire Gawadar project, and it will never allow the US to take the seaport away for its own advantage.
Pakistan’s policymakers are not only convinced of these perceptions but also determined not to let anyone take away these leverages from them. That’s why many observers believe that Pakistan will never fully destroy the basic Taliban infrastructure. It will also never dismantle the Madrasa networks. Islamabad will also make it certain that only a friendly Afghanistan survives on its western borders. Without Pakistan friendly Afghanistan, Islamabad will not have any control over the roads leading to the Central Asian republics.
Similarly, there are people in the Pakistan administration who believe that the only way to keep the US wanting to need Pakistan is not to capture the real nucleus of Taliban movement. A Taliban leader said that they have learned their lessons. “This time we are not going to alienate every one,” the Taliban said. According to this Taliban leader, the Muslim world has also learned its lesson that by allowing the US to destroy Taliban, they encouraged the way for the destruction of Iraq and the killing of thousands of Iraqi Muslims. He also argues that the American experience in Iraq has made the Americans realize that their superpower status is not going to save them from tasting the worst defeat after Vietnam. As a consequence, Americans themselves will force their government to cut and run from Iraq.
Islamabad has dedicated its energies to make sure that all and everyone who wants to have access to the Central Asian states and their resources will have to seek permission from Islamabad.
Despite the fact that there are many Pakistanis in the larger cities of Pakistan who hate Pakistan under any Taliban-like or Saudi brand of barbaric Islamism, no one in Islamabad believes that the United States is sincere in establishing a long term relationship with Pakistan that will allow Islamabad to continue with its mission of championing the cause of Islam. I did not find any one in Pakistan who wants Israel to exist, and, though they were all for Palestinians, most supported General Musharraf’s policies directed at eventually recognizing the Jewish state.
And the reasons are not hard to fathom.
General Pervez Musharraf’s overtures toward Israel reflect the change in the Wahhabi and Islamist short term strategy. They no longer want to appear as a violent and radical breed. Some of the important Islamists support Musharraf’s Israeli policy as something that can be used as a cover to advance an anti-western agenda without being noticed. They pointed out that what happened in Taliban’s Afghanistan has taught them that the jihad has reached a stage when Muslim states need to use Israel’s influence and clout to be accepted as moderate and tolerant people. Under this cover, they can organize their forces, consolidate their resources and spread their power bases without inviting resistance from the “infidels”.
Pakistan, it seems, agrees with this strategy. Some of the factors driving Pakistani sentiments about themselves and Pakistan’s place in the global community are Islam, India and the US. And underneath all these sentiments lies the Wahhabi politics of presenting Israel as the most important anti-Islam force. But in the aftermath of the Taliban’s defeat in Afghanistan and the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Wahhabis are adapting to the changing geo-political realities without abandoning their main objective of establishing their Shariah state in the world – they are now ready to practice Taqayya (deception).
This policy of deception will allow them to appear to be recognizing the Jewish state when in fact they will continue to work for its destruction. The word is out that for the time being Musharraf is not to be opposed. Consequently, there has been no notable demonstration against Musharraf on the issue of Israel. Islamists, like Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, did criticize Musharraf’s pro-Israel moves by passing a resolution that said, “Discussions between Pakistan and the usurping administration of the Zionist state of Israel are a violation of Islamic teachings and principles of justice and equity,” but no body tried to bring their supporters out on the streets.
Others supported the move on the ground that the contacts between the sole Muslim nuclear power and the Jewish state after nearly six decades of hostility will improve Pakistan's image in the West and with the United States' influential Jewish lobby. "It has opened a new diplomatic channel for Pakistan and the pro-Israeli groups in the United States will not oppose Pakistan to the extent they used to do in the past," political scientist Hasan Askari told AFP. "The influential Jewish groups will now be sensitive to Pakistan's problems particularly with India," he added.
There is something else that has prompted even extremist religious groups that are driven by their anti-Semitic passions not to come out on the streets against General Musharraf’s pro-Israel moves – Anti-Semitic and anti-Israel groups agree with General Musharraf that for the time being it is important that Pakistan drives maximum benefit for strengthening its ranks and resources by staying with the US without giving up any of its leverages. The silence of the Mullahs underlines the fact that Pakistan, for a very long time, will remain a country shackled to its extremist anti-west ethos.
Tashbih Sayyed is the publisher of Muslim World Today.
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