By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
During the last few months some important events have taken place each having bearing on the security of Pakistan. After creating hype over Quetta Shura for several months and threatening to use drones in Quetta in case Pakistan refused to launch a military operation within Pashtun belt of Balochistan, the hot issue got suddenly deflated when Mullah Baradar was arrested from Karachi in January. In the same month it was reported that Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by US drone.
During the course of interrogation it transpired that Baradar was CIA’s planted man and was infiltrated into Balochistan with a mandate to help revive spirits of Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), win over Afghan Shura members and then carryout in-house revolt against Mullah Omar. He was to announce his disassociation with Omar in the Loya Jirga called by Karzai in April. When he didn’t make any progress and was not returning to Afghanistan, the CIA thought of getting him back and also making use of him to undermine ISI and Pak Army.
When the ISI nabbed Baradar on the pointing of CIA, Pakistan was asked to immediately hand him over to US authorities or to Afghan regime. Such a move besides triggering anti-army/ISI sentiments in Pakistan and among Afghan Pashtuns would have lowered high image of the two premier institutions. Angered by the immoral action, it would have given a genuine cause to Afghan-Pak Taliban to join hands to fight the deceiver. When Pakistan refused to hand him over, it defeated the sinister plan.
Kidnapping of two former ISI officers and a British journalist in March from North Waziristan (NW) had a connection with Baradar since his release was to be bartered. Reportedly Khalid Khwaja was killed by Asian Tigers (Punjabi Taliban) on 25 March at the instigation of famous Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir whose conversation was tape recorded. However, he had cooked his goose when he filed a petition in law court to prevent Baradar’s extradition, which annoyed CIA and he was marked as a target. The other two captives have since been released by the captors on the persuasion of Taliban leaders.
Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani national accused by India of carrying out Mumbai carnage on 26 November 2008 was convicted by Mumbai court and sentenced to death. The two co-accused Indian nationals were acquitted. Discriminatory judgment was intended to give a clean chit to India and to put the whole blame on Pakistan. Ajmal is accused of being a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which is on the hit list of India. During the last 15 months, a case has been systematically woven with the help of US to present Hafiz Saeed led LeT that was banned in 2001 for allegedly supporting freedom struggle in occupied Kashmir as chief threat to India. The outfit has now been blown up into a global threat and presented as more dangerous than al-Qaeda. All acts of terror taking place in India and Afghanistan are promptly lumped on LeT. Pune bakery attack in India and Kabul attack on a guest house on 26 February in which seven Indian nationals got killed are cases in point. While Al-Qaeda is a nightmare for the US, LeT is a nightmare for India.
Soon after Kasab’s conviction, which coincided with India agreeing to resume talks with Pakistan unconditionally, arrest of Pakistani origin and naturalized American Faisal Shahzad in New York on 3 May hit headlines all over the world. He was charged of planting explosive material in a car in Times Square on 1 May which didn’t explode and was defused in time. The US media and US Attorney General drummed up the event projecting Faisal more as a Pakistani having connections with TTP in NW than on his being a US national.
This event took place soon after the culmination of much hyped strategic dialogue in Washington which had given fresh hopes to Pakistanis that Pak-US relation had at last sailed out of choppy waters and the future held brighter prospects. Re-incarnation of Hakimullah and his offensive salvos against the US together with his spokesman’s statement that TTP was behind the Times Square failed attempt sounded strange but indicated a shift in TTP’s strategy. Repeated drone attacks in Waziristan were given as chief reason to avenge the deaths of innocent people.
To make the story spicy, it was stated by US officials that Faisal during his last visit to Pakistan had visited NW and received bomb making training. Some arrests were made in USA and in Santiago. Pakistan was asked to quiz suspects at its end. The incident which seemingly appeared ordinary became explosive when Hillary Clinton went ballistics. She snarled that had the planted bomb exploded it would have had very serious repercussions for Pakistan. What she meant was that it would have been another 9/11 for the US, giving it a justifiable cause to invade Pakistan on which multiple charges have already been framed. On another occasion she stated that Pak officials know whereabouts of Osama and Omar. Pamphlets and leaflets were mysteriously found in large numbers in NW, attributing it to Taliban. It was written on leaflets that peace accord between government and Gul Bahadur had been scrapped. Flurry of e-mails were sent on behalf of Taliban while drone attacks in NW were intensified. All these moves were intended to heat up NW.
Once the story was weaved, Security Adviser James Jones and CIA Director Leon Panetta visited Pakistan and met the President, PM and Army Chief. Their main agenda was security threat posed to USA by young men by both naturalized American and Pakistanis getting training in NW and attempting to conduct terror attacks in US cities. They stressed hard on the need for launching a major operation in NW immediately which in their assessment has become the hub centre of terrorism. Veiled threat of US-NATO troops barging into NW was again sounded and threat of India underplayed. The visitors were dismayed to see GHQ putting up sound arguments in response to their disagreeable suggestions. Stuck in Afghanistan, the US can ill afford to antagonize Pakistan at this juncture but it cannot help playing the bluffing game. Visit of Chinese team headed by Minister of Defence on 24 May was a welcome change from overweening US officials.
Internally, overall situation remained gloomy because of lackluster performance of ruling regime, high inflation, backbreaking price spiral, load shedding, and disturbed law and order situation. While economic conditions are depressing, political situation is messy and the security situation in FATA, some parts of Pakhtunkhwa Khyber (PK) and Balochistan disturbed resulting in almost daily clashes between security forces and militants. Intensity of suicide and terrorists attacks has lessened but random incidents are still occurring. Naming of NWFP as PK antagonized the people of Hazara; they are now demanding Hazara made into a separate province. Karachi continues to remain disorderly. MQM and ANP are accusing each other of target killings which have become a norm. Culprits never get caught since they are patronized by the powerful. MQM threat of quitting Sindh ministry in case Hyderabad was reconverted into a single district thwarted the move of PM Gilani.
Media has become super active and is aggressively highlighting mega scams and wrongs of the rulers much to the vexation of the latter. The NRO cleansed rulers in their bid to save themselves from the tightening noose of law after unethical NRO was declared null and void in December last are gearing to lock horns with the judiciary and clash has become a possibility. UN Commission report on murder of Benazir Bhutto rather than tracing and pinpointing the culprits gave a clean chit to President Zardari and his cronies and indirectly implicated the Army/ ISI for its linkage with Taliban, al-Qaeda and LeT with baleful intentions.
Overall the external and internal situation has grave ramifications for the country but none among the ruling elite seems bothered since they are too engrossed in fattening their purses and making their lifestyle more comfortable. Riding in bullet proof cars and living within safe confines of Red Zones they are least bothered about the rising flames of terrorism which are engulfing the whole edifice. The problems of people are neither being solved, nor are they interested in finding an amicable solution to the problem of terrorism created by foreign powers which is eating into the vitals of the country.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja, is a Member Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. He is defence analyst.