Sunday, September 21, 2008

Has the Countdown Begun?

By SHAHID AZIZ: Sequel to 'Is there War on Terror Yet?' published in The Nation 14 Sept 2008

Will US physical entry in to Pakistan actually help in suppressing the resistance to occupation of Afghanistan and bring peace to the region? If yes, let's do it. However, it will only radicalize the population, leaving no other option with Washington but to declare Pakistan a 'rogue state'.

The premise for US entry is that Pakistan Army is either incapable or unwilling to 'clean up the mess'. Then, does the US Army plan to do this in conjunction with Pakistan Army or in spite of it? It should now be abundantly clear that joint US-Pakistan ground operations in side our borders are not acceptable to this nation and its armed forces. Any other idea is wishful. Even aerial targeting is now not tolerable. We cannot, any more, continue to pretend that this was not happening. We were slowly and helplessly maneuvered in to such a compromising position that we even owned up some of their strikes killing many innocent citizens, and paid heavily in reprisals. Has this seven years' strategy made any headway? Today, the US Dept of Defense and the Pentagon accept that they are not winning, but given more of the same they could do it.

Afghanistan is not controllable, and they insist that if the war were spread into Pakistan, peace would prevail; Vietnam logic? Have the consequences been forgotten? Will this spread be controllable? Will the operations then extend into Peshawar and beyond? How many more men and dollars will be pumped in, and coffins pumped out? Is there an end in sight? Does this make sense? Is anyone listening? Hello!

There is no way out, but to talk to Mullah Umer, who once controlled Afghanistan. Having lost territory in battle, and unlawfully declared 'terrorists', the Taliban have not yet been defeated, for that is a state of mind. There can be no peace without their involvement. Peace deals with local Taliban are a meaningless pacification façade - just closing our eyes and pretending that we are doing what we can.

And so is our economic development and education package, of which very little has materialized in seven years. Hundreds of suicide bombers are ready to lay their lives for a cause - do they recruit them for money? Were the 9/11 bombers madrassa students or poor and hungry? And this is quite well understood by Washington and by Islamabad too; but they are such spin masters. If Osama and Mullah Umer were dead, would it make any difference to this war? Would the Afghans and our tribals then accept US occupation of Afghanistan?

There is no other option: the US and NATO have to leave this region. Taliban will accept peace only under a neutral peace keeping force without regional players, and a time frame for internationally conducted elections. In today's environment not many countries would be willing to send a peacekeeping force, but when Taliban accept a negotiated settlement, peace can return; and neutral players will step in to save the world. Yes, to save the world, for that is the potential of devastation that lies hidden in this imbroglio.

But this is not the Washington way of doing things and will, therefore, not come about. They will continue to propagate fear of Islamic radicals amongst the American public, regardless of change in government. Their build up in Afghanistan and along our coastline will continue. CIA, already grown to fearful proportions with sanctioned liberty to enroll agents from within our unsuspecting population, will continue to connive with RAW and destabilize Pakistan. No wonder the ISI is being discredited, for they understood and were resisting their game plan, and General Musharraf refused to "do more", which literally implied that he sacrifice our core security concerns for unspecified US agenda.

It is, at best, irrelevant to address concerns like burning down schools and bomb blasts. The issue at the core of the problem must be discussed. All the rest is its fallout, and only relevant for propaganda. "The Taliban are coming! They will take over the country! They will whip us into submission!" What rubbish are we being made to believe! It took two decades and billions of dollars to radicalize Afghanistan under a deliberate scheme. The only extremism in Pakistan till 9/11 had been sponsored sectarian terrorism. There is no possibility of a cleric takeover in Pakistan. However, this is a country created in the name of Islam; has been and will remain as such - The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This is our faith, this is our constitution and this is our destiny. And our Army's battle cry has always been "Allaho Akbar".

Since there is no US intent to find peace, we must fend for ourselves, as best as we can. To begin with, let's call our Tribal Areas: Pakistan, when we talk to the US. This is not alien entry into Tribal Areas but into Pakistan. The distinction will be a great folly. They would like us to back off from the Tribal Areas and leave it as 'No Man's Land'. This will not happen. For us, there is no choice but to formally declare US entry into Pakistan as an act of war. We must move to the UN and elsewhere to seek assistance, and meanwhile cause military deterrence to US incursions. If the diplomatic battle does not succeed, which is likely, we have no option but declaration of neutrality in the US Afghan war. This is the note on which our journey started. It will imply closing all support to the US and also tightening our belts. That is the price of sovereignty. Else we can continue to pretend that we are fighting our war, till we are splintered, subdued and defanged.

Within the parameters of current internal dynamics of Pakistan, the US cannot remain in indefinite occupation of Afghanistan. There is no option for them but to subdue Pakistan, and this cannot be brought about without a major upheaval. Their policy is stagnating, and they have little patience left. There is no possibility of militarily denuclearizing Pakistan. A clean sweep is not a practical proposition, we are beyond that point. Pakistan will have to be politically subdued into surrendering its capability; even though the political surrender is brought about through military means, without escalating to the nuclear dimension. The time is, perhaps, not yet ripe for this end game, yet they hurry into it. Continuing peaceful political subjugation should currently be their preferred option. But they have made the mistake of an early entry, perhaps due to incorrect assessment of our reaction to their intrusion, and misreading the military and public response; or perhaps out of arrogance of their might. If we wait too long we will be internally exhausted and unable to cope with their design, when it unfolds. We must tackle them now.

Their possible design is to destabilize Pakistan through spreading militancy across the country, causing internal fissures, political chaos and economic meltdown, generating total breakdown of law and order resulting in despondency and hopelessness in the nation, and then engineering a military confrontation with India, and creating a global uproar about a destabilized Pakistan not in control of its situation and the possibility of nuclear weapons falling in the wrong hands, with a view to push for a UN Resolution under Chapter 7 to take control of Pakistan's nuclear assets. Under the circumstances of the Resolution being vetoed, escalate the military situation to maul Pakistan's infrastructure and military capacity, while backing the militants to take over the now exposed areas of Balochistan and Frontier Province. The US then intervenes, as a friend, to prevent India from pushing Pakistan over the nuclear threshold. Pakistan, at this point, would stand devastated, fragmented and disillusioned, with no capacity to sustain itself. Nuclear disarmament under the UN would follow, since the world would have been brought to the brink of a nuclear holocaust and barely saved by the US. An irresponsible and now an unviable state cannot be left in possession of a nuclear arsenal.

Were such a design to materialize, Pakistan will have no option but to reverse the conformist wisdom of first fighting a conventional war and then, on reaching the threshold, bringing up the nuclear card. The US will, in any case, intervene at this point. Their game would have been played and Pakistan would stand shattered. Under such multi dimensional threat, we would have no option but to avoid a conventional engagement and open up with the nuclear card. A declaration that an attack by India would be considered an attack also by its ally the US and anyone else who cares to join the game, and therefore all US interests in range would be engaged. A nuclear warning shot in the Bay of Bengal, across India, demonstrating our circular range capacity would be most appropriate. You don't mess with a nuclear power and get away with it.

This or something like this is what our enemies might be contemplating. The US cannot continue its domination of the region without subjugating the Pakistani nation. A nuclear Pakistan cannot now be subdued through political means alone; therefore some violent methods will have to be employed to end the game. May Allah grant us the wisdom and strength to handle these issues. This is not a time for political bickering and infighting. Perhaps this is the most critical period of our history, a time when we need to be giving strength to each other; a time to hold hands. We have never been confronted directly by an enemy this size. Our internal cohesion is critical to our survival.

We have no friends around who would come and put things right for us. Lets' do it. Every man is guilty of the good he did not do - Voltaire.

The author served as Chief of General Staff of Pakistan Army from 2001 to 2003.