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Pakistan: External Misdealings

By       Message Siddharth Ramana     Permalink
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To many commentators Pakistan's workings are strongly influenced by the three A's- America, the Army and Allah. Allah, in this case, alludes to the ubiquitous influence of the Islamic fundamentalists churned out by the thousands from Madrassas across the country. Of late, instability has arisen from domestic factors such as the civil society protests for restoration of democratic rights and judicial independence, and bloody violence between the army and domestic militias. These troubles, combined with worrisome external policies, are magnifying Pakistan's problems.

According to the New York Times, US President Bush had authorized Special Operations Forces to carry out ground attacks in Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government (NYT, 10 September 2008). This demonstration of the distrust between the Pakistani military establishment and American forces reflects the prevalent opinion that Pakistan is a dubious ally in the war on terror. One day after the Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani declared that, "No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan"-, another report in the NYT spoke of Kayani's role behind the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul. According to the paper, Kayani was the Pakistani Intelligence chief who had overseen the operation. US officials said the agency "did not really bother to cover its tracks-." The report suggested that the explosives used in the suicide attack on the embassy had come from the Pakistan Ordnance Factory (NYT, 12 September 2008).

Afghanistan is important to Pakistan, which has used the country to extend its strategic depth for anti-Indian activities. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long reserved particular vitriol for Pakistan's role in stoking cross-border tensions. On more than one occasion, Karzai placed blame on former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for doing little to curb cross border attacks. In the weeks following the blasts, Karzai in a statement directly blamed the "intelligence administration of Pakistan, its military intelligence institutions"-. (Sky News, 14 July 2008)

However, till recently Musharraf enjoyed strong support from the West and Pakistan was lauded as a frontline ally in the war against terror. Under his leadership, Pakistan was designated as a major non-NATO ally. However, fighting in Pakistan has resulted in the deaths of many more high-level terrorists than similar excursions in Afghanistan. Three high ranking Al-Qaeda operatives: Khaled Sheikh Mohommad, Abu Saeed Al Masri and Abu Khabab al-Masri, were captured and killed in Pakistan.

The United States' growing displeasure with Pakistan was evident as early as February 2002, when the United States pressured Musharraf to placate India, when the two countries came perilously close to war. Owing primarily to American pressure, the Pakistani government banned several major Kashmiri militant groups including Jaish E Mohommad and the Lashkar E Tayeeba. It appears that links between these groups and the Pakistani Intelligence Service went undetected by American authorities. When a Lashkar leader was detained in Iraq fighting against the US-led forces, reports indicated that Pakistani militant groups were actively looking at engaging the Americans in Iraq (Hindu, 13 June 2004).

The Pakistani establishment lost further face in its dealings with the international community as it became clear that Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was leading a major illicit nuclear proliferation ring. Khan's links to North Korea and Iran have invited reproach for the Pakistani nuclear establishment, and raised fears of nuclear terrorism originating from the country. Musharraf's subsequent refusal to allow international access to Khan further isolated Pakistan. Khan in a recent interview claimed that the proliferation took place with the knowledge of the government, dismissing earlier claims that he was solely responsible for the transfers. (Guardian 30 May 2008)

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Musharraf's handling of the violence in the western provinces drew further condemnation. In the aftermath of the Lal Masjid crises, international pressure heightened, with even traditional allies like China demanding stronger action against militants in Pakistan (Times of India, 11 July 2007). Pakistan's offer of a truce with the militants in these regions was decried by western governments who feared a resurgence of militant activity.

The United States played a vital role in the return of Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan, viewing her leadership as a potential answer to Musharraf's mistakes. Her statements to the international community were directed against anti-western elements of the government and the nation. Bhutto's subsequent assassination, after an earlier failed attempt angered the international community, which was starting to view with great alarm the increased violence by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the region.

The final blow to Pakistan's status as a serious ally were reports that Pakistan was sharing intelligence, provided by the US, with militants in the tribal regions (Nation, 30 July 2008). With the level of violence in Afghanistan surpassing the current civilian bloodshed in Iraq, the United States, which was already under pressure from NATO commanders to fill in troop shortages, will likely seek to address matters quickly.

Presidential nominee Barack Obama has criticized Pakistan's role in the war on terror and allegations of munitions being embezzled for a potential conflict with India. Therefore, the external pressure on Pakistan is unlikely to end with the tenure of President Bush.

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Siddharth Ramana is an MscEcon in Intelligence and Strategic Studies. A student of peace and conflict studies, he is presently pursuing an additional Masters in Counter Terrorism (Israel). He has worked as a research assistant for the Institute of (more...)
 

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