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   Multi-Faceted Trouble for Pakistan

  As rumors of a coup continues to be fuelled by weapons discoveries around President Pervez Musharraf's office, a grand Jirga of 95 Baloach tribal chiefs met and decided to move the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on their status.
 

 

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As rumors of a coup continues to be fuelled by weapons discoveries around President Pervez Musharraf's office, a grand Jirga of 95 Baloach tribal chiefs met and decided to move the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on their status. The Jirga, the first in 126 years, followed the suspicious death of Baloach leader Nawab Akhbar Khan Bugti by the military. It adopted a declaration that would complain to the ICJ that their "territorial integrity" has suffered under Pakistan which uses their land only for "exploitation" of "natural resources" while denying "the Baloach right to the ownership of their resources" through "military operation in the province."

Interestingly, the Khan of Kalat, whose ancestor signed the accession of the former princely state of Kalat with Pakistan, presided over the jirga that concluded that the accession was a package deal integrating three neighboring states that promised complete autonomy to Baloachistan. However, the tribal chiefs and the 300 odd prominent citizens condemned the repeated violations of the agreement and denial of autonomy. The leaders categorized repressive military operations often using excessive force as state-sponsored terrorism and demanded a halt to such repression and a release of political prisoners. They also rejected a competing clan's decision to demand the abolishment of the Sardari system claiming that it was interference in tribal affairs by the Government through counter subversion of some opportunistic clans. The Jirga also rejected "mega projects" started by the Government such as the Gwadar port saying that the Government did not involve the Baloach in these decisions with international companies. It wanted a unification of Baloach areas including those that have been illegally distributed to Punjab and Sindh.

Predictably, Pakistan rejects these terms calling them feudal in nature and out of touch with reality. Taking refuge under international opinion that views armed resistance as terrorism, Pakistan has been able to use excessive force including helicopter gun ships, artillery, and carpet bombing to wipe out well armed insurgents. It is one of these bombing raids that killed Bugti sparking Baloachistan-wide protests and the unification of all warring tribes through the Jirga. Musharraf, known for his tactical brilliance but strategic shortcoming, did not anticipate that Bugti's death would unify the clans.

Only recently, Pakistan ate humble pie when it made peace with the Pakistani Taliban ostensibly through the tribal Jirga in Waziristan. Reading like a war reparations by Pakistan, the agreement essentially conceded defeat and a withdrawal of the military from the region leaving the Taliban open to interfacing with the remnant Afghani Taliban and al Qaeda elements and essentially creating a state within a state. More importantly, the deal will also create a "hands-off" list of terrorists, mostly Pakistanis with strong ties to al Qaeda and the Afghani Taliban and recognized for their roles in several heinous crimes, which can now operate with impunity. These who-is-who of the terrorist world would also be allowed to participate in negotiations with the Government. Refuting Pakistan's claim that they can now control the terrorists in Waziristan not to target coalition forces in Afghanistan, a Washington Post editorially says that "the ability of the Taliban and al -Qaeda fighters to retreat to Pakistan greatly complicates the challenge." The real "cost of his [Musharraf's] decision will be borne by American and NATO troops in Afghanistan" as the retreating forces will undoubtedly escalate their attacks.

Facing the realities of this deal on the ground, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai complained bitterly and lambasted Musharraf for the deal accusing him of sponsoring, not doing enough to fight, and maintain a double-faced attitude towards terrorism. Earlier truce between these two leaders brokered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice collapsed and US President Bush had to facilitate a conversation with two frontline states in the War on Terrorism.

Reports suggest that the two leaders actively accused, abused, and castigated each other on their effectiveness on fighting terror each claiming that Al Qaeda chief and most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was in each other's territory. Musharraf using the trip to bolster sales for his memoirs, variously described as a book of lies and empty claims, also targeted Karzai in public and media appearances. Bristling on a UK Defense Ministry think tank report that squarely blames his regime for not doing enough on terror, Musharraf unconvincingly sought to portray his nation as most essential to the West to fight terrorism.

Other influential experts on South Asia in the US such as former Senator Frank Pallone says that "Pakistan cannot be wholly trusted as a legitimate supporter of US goals and interests in South Asia, until it proactively disarms all militias and dismantles the Jihad infrastructure." Bush and lame-duck UK Prime Minister Tony Blair gave Musharraf a good report sympathetically citing at least two assassination attempts on his life as proof that he is doing good on his promises on terror.

While Musharraf was away in the West on an extended trip to fight for his credibility and promoting his memoirs, the shaky hold he has on his nation became more apparent. Amid increasing assaults on the credibility of his regime and stoic and resurgent insurgency, a rumor swept the nation of a counter-coup. Sparked by a large power outage that plunged much of the nation into darkness and interrupting national television, the rumors swept through the nation and many believed it to be true. Soon thereafter, the military found several deadly weapons including rockets and missiles near the Presidential office sparking strategic analysts to speculate that there are more than what meets the eye.

Despite what his spin doctors say, Musharraf has lost considerable domestic support for his refusal to relinquish his military uniform while in office, soft-pedaling promises to expand women's and religious rights, his use of excessive military force to solve problems in volatile border regions. This complicates security ratios further for Western policy makers and analysts who fear that Musharraf may be replaced by a "bearded general" (meaning a more conservative and radical military dictator). As a shrewd tactician, Musharraf understands these Western limitations and paranoia and plays on them. While visiting the US, he revealed several startling developments in bilateral relations with the US demeaning his nation and embarrassing his patrons in Washington.

Musharraf revealed that a former US official threatened to bomb Pakistan back to stone-age after the 9/11 attacks if they did not toe the US line and disavow the Afghani Taliban. The named official has determinedly denied this "revelation." In a different context, Musharraf also said that the US has paid his country millions of dollars as blood money for the delivery of suspected al Qaeda elements for detention, internment, and questioning in Guantanomo Bay. After loud denials from the Whitehouse, Musharraf waffled on this "revelation" saying that he has to check to see if it was the Pakistan Government that got paid for the delivery of individuals.

It is not immediately clear why Musharraf would make these "revelations" only days before his all-important meeting with Bush and Karzai over dinner. Is it to gain tactical advantage by forcing his interlocutors into a defensive posture so they may not ask him inconvenient questions or demand action in private? Is it a veiled blackmail message to the US that he may out more information on reported human rights abuses by the US military against suspected al Qaeda militants? Is it a hidden message to the West that his support for the War on Terror was under coercion and without him the "bearded general" theory would become a reality? Given the statements he has made since including the ones in London where he asserted that it was Pakistan that was taking the beating to stop terrorism from reaching the West, it would seem that the last one is the most likely. After all, blackmailing the US would cut off allied supply chain and forcing US interlocutors onto the back foot would not work with the US policy makers who are increasingly displaying imperialistic style of functioning.

Historically, playing to the fears of the West is a formula that has worked well for Pakistan during and even after the collapse of the Cold War. However, this time around, the US seems to be more insistent on controlling terror rather than relegate responsibilities to Pakistan. While praising Musharraf for his efforts, Bush said that he will send US troops to Pakistan to hunt al Qaeda leaders believed to be hiding in Waziristan. This is a very sore point for Pakistani military and Musharraf has always said he would not allow it. He had always protested vehemently against activist US actions inside Pakistani territory and deploying the US military was a bit too far for many in the Pakistani elite. While terrorist front organizations had accused Musharraf of "toeing the American line," some mainstream parties have also saying the same thing accusing him of creating "irreparable damage" the nation's image and interests. Simultaneously, there are other rumors floating around that Musharraf has co-opted Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People Party (PPP) to shore up credibility for his regime.

With this background, India and Pakistan, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting in Havana, surprised the world by agreeing to develop joint mechanisms to combat terror from Pakistan. From India's perspective, it had to try something radical with Pakistan including forcing Musharraf to turn down anti-terror proposals instead of granting him easy tactical diplomatic space. Pakistan created this space soon after the recent Mumbai metro serial bombing spree that saw India canceling Secretary-level talks. Pakistan whined loudly in diplomatic circles that India was conveniently passing of its internal problems on Pakistan. However, India's diplomatic posture is now to "confront" Pakistan on terror, deliver information on camps within Pakistan, and demanding action. This bold step has been criticized by many knowledgeable people wondering if Pakistan or Musharraf can be trusted. Political opposition has criticized this move as past agreements with that state has always ended up negative.

While there is sound argument backing these conclusions, there is also sound reasoning behind it:

  1. 1. India cannot view relations with Pakistan in the tactical sphere of terrorism or diplomatic one-upmanship. Instead, it needs to look at tightening the tactical space using strategic tools to reduce wiggle room for encouraging terrorism aimed at India.

  2. 2. As in the case of Agra meet, if India plays a tactical game with Musharraf, it will end up in failure and embarrassment. Instead, India needs to deal with the more stable bureaucracy to develop agreements that will bind Pakistan regardless of the ruler du jour.

  3. 3. India needs to develop a relationship with Pakistan beyond Musharraf and that would outlast him. After all, his position is shaky at best and trying to build bilateral relations basing him as a single point of failure is dangerous.

  4. 4. A joint agreement on combating terror reduces tactical wiggle room for Pakistan. While the details of such an agreement is yet to be worked out, it will be very hard for Pakistan to deny working with India on terror while claiming to be a frontline state against terror.

  5. 5. Outwitting Musharraf requires a series of steps that is part of a long-term strategy. This would include active and systematic engagement between the bureaucracies, intense generation of proposals from India, and an active focus on key issues such as terror and trade. Subtleties such as easing border regulations, creating a permissive visa regime, cricket matches etc may be good political brownie points but have proved to be major failures.

  6. 6. As acknowledged by the new Pakistani Ambassador to the US, while Pakistan is terrorism-sponsoring state, it is also a victim of the beast that it has created. For all his protestations, the biggest victim of this bind is Musharraf. The Pakistani elite, moderate politicians, opinion makers, and strategic thinkers recognize the bind the nation is in. Depending on what is being negotiated, a joint mechanism for terror may actually turn out to be a way out for both nations.

While these compulsions may drive India to create a joint mechanism to fight terror, it is also important to ensure that such mechanism would include elements of joint operations against terrorists, 3rd nation based trial process, information sharing, and reward mechanism for cooperation.