The bigger story in Afghanistan is not that Hamid Karzai was forced by Western pressure to admit to a run-off presidential election. Karzai’s surrender came on October 21 and the new round, if it occurs, is scheduled for November 7. The real big story in Afghanistan is that the US no longer considers the Taliban a threat to US interests. Al-Qaeda, that had been pronounced dead long ago, is once again declared the “real enemy.”
After weeks of deliberations following the submission of General Stanley McChrystal’s grim report on August 30 about the situation in Afghanistan and the grave danger of losing the war altogether if more troops were not made available –” and soon –” the Washington warlords have decided to change tune. It is al-Qaeda that poses the real threat to US forces and interests in Afghanistan, we are told, and not the Taliban that are now branded as a “nationalist movement” struggling to regain control of their country. While it is true that the Taliban have not attacked the US and have no intention of doing so, their rebranding by the US is a new tactic forced by circumstances. Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and the veteran Afghan mujahid commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani are all described as Afghan “nationalists.” Mullah Omar must be chuckling at his good fortune sitting in some desolate cave in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan wondering what exactly it means to be a nationalist. He has probably never heard the word.
So what has forced Washington to change its tune so soon after US President Barack Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars at their convention in Phoenix on August 17, “This is not a war of choice; this is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.” Is it, therefore, realistic to believe what the Americans say?
The pronouncements signaling a change from the Taliban threat to that of al-Qaeda is meant to achieve two objectives. First, it changes the subject of glaring US failure to defeat the Taliban. The insurgency that is much larger than the Taliban has extended to 97 percent of the country, according to the September 11 report by the Internation-al Council on Security and Develop-ment (ICOS). By declaring that the Taliban are not a threat signals to them and the broader resistance in Afgha-nistan that the US is prepared to strike a deal with them. Nothing illustrates the dictum, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” better than the current US stand on the issue.
The second point relates to US intentions in the region. It would be unrealistic to assume that Americans are about to pack their bags and leave. This is not how Uncle Sam operates. He has never left a region without causing massive destruction. Afghanistan has been laid to waste and the Americans have turned their attention to Pakistan with a vengeance, where Blackwater mercenaries are already operating without check or hindrance, thanks to the craven servitude of Pakistani officials, civilian and military (for details, see Crescent International, October 2009).
When American officials say that al-Qaeda poses the greatest threat, this is a signal they intend to increase pressure on Pakistan even more. The Americans have alleged all along that al-Qaeda operatives have found safe sanctuary in Pakistan from where they are plotting to attack America. This was the allegation made about the Taliban as well. It is also interesting to note that for years, US officials claimed al-Qaeda’s ability to attack the US had been considerably degraded. Has al-Qaeda come back to life and if so, how?
Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan is a soft target. Pakistani officials, and regrettably, many ordinary people as well, have always shown a slavish mentality. The political elite will do anything the Americans demand so long as they are allowed to remain in power. The Americans have also got a firm grip on the Pakistani military that has been involved in a scorched-earth policy against its own people for whom they have scant regard. The Swat Valley has not recovered from the ravages inflicted on it and will not do so for decades but the military has already launched operations in South Wazir-istan because this is what the US dictates. Hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees in a repeat of the Swat fiasco. Reports of high civilian casualties as well as stiff resistance from the Mehsud tribe have emerged.
While it is generally recognized that the Americans are really after Pakistan’s nuclear program, Pakistani officials close their eyes to this fact and continue to remain subservient. This became evident from the clauses attached to the Kerry-Lugar bill passed in the US Congress last month. While the bill approves $1.5 billion in annual aid to Pakistan for the next five years, there are numerous insulting demands attached to it. For instance, the bill requires Pakistan to hand over nuclear scientists alleged to be involved in proliferation for questioning by American experts. This is a not so subtle reference to Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the well-known scientist who is credited with developing Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. People affectionately refer to him as the “Father” of Pakistan’s nuclear program. Further, the bill requires US embassy supervision of aid disbursement and Washington’s say in who is promoted to the higher ranks of the military. Could it be any more explicit than this that America wants total and direct control of Pakistan’s civilian and military affairs and is not satisfied with indirect control that it has hitherto exercised?
The military top brass was so offended by these demands that after a conference of Corps Commanders, a press briefing was issued expressing “serious concerns” about clauses in the Kerry-Lugar bill. This was a direct challenge not only to the civilian government about its craven attitude but also a warning shot at the Americans that they can push so far but no more. Military officials were obviously offended by Washington’s demand that there should be civilian oversight of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency. This is one area where the military would not relinquish control. The Peoples’ Party government had attempted this once before as well only to make a hurried retreat after the generals growled at them.
This time, the move was made through Washington and attached to the aid bill in hopes that the military would not be able to resist US pressure. Following the military’s negative reaction, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was sent packing to Washing-ton to convey these concerns. Only two days earlier, Qureshi had returned from there. Informed observers in Islamabad believe that the whole campaign was orchestrated by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani at the behest of President Asif Ali Zardari. The latter is a dim-witted street urchin who has acquired the presidential post by default.
Haqqani is a more sophisticated operator who always looks after his own interests even if it means sacrificing the interests of Pakistan. He has cultivated close links with the Washington neo-cons and Zionists. There is speculation that his days as ambassador are numbered; others question this hypothesis because they say Haqqani has powerful friends in Washington. If fired, Haqqani will not return to Pakistan. He will stay in the US where his neo-con and Zionist friends will provide him a place in one of the numerous think tanks for services rendered. Such think tanks are used to reward those who betray their own country and the interests of Islam. Prior to his ambassadorial appointment, Haqqani was ensconced in one of these think tanks and was also given a lecturer’s post at Boston College.
There is no shortage of mercenaries in Pakistan. The country is being set up for a fall but all that the elite worry about is lining their own pockets even as they continue to kill their own people. This is a recipe for disaster. If the current policy is not reversed immediately, the country may disintegrate sooner than feared by most observers.