Friday, December 05, 2008

Playing With Fire

Yesterday’s post, The Mumbai Paradox, placed the Mumbai attacks within the context of America’s persistent efforts to rein in pro-Taliban elements of Pakistan’s ISI and neutralize unsympathetic and powerful ex-ISI officers like retired General Hamid Gul.

Gul was Director General of the ISI during its salad days running the anti-Soviet mujihadeen effort in Afghanistan. Gul is a chief architect of Pakistan’s security policy of using proxy extremist and terrorist groups—like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the LeT (implicated in the Mumbai attacks) in Kashmir–to reduce the attention and resources India could devote to direct military confrontation with the much-smaller Pakistan army. Now Gul bookends his traditional anti-India views with virulent opposition to U.S. GWOT policies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I argued that the Mumbai outrage might have been a provocation engineered by the ISI to heighten tensions with India and provide a pretext for abandoning the alliance with the United States that is destroying Pakistan’s security and society and, not the least importantly, threatening the power and prerogatives of the ISI.

The ISI has no qualms about using terror as a weapon or accepting battle-level losses and collateral damage inside and outside Pakistan in the struggle to protect the nation, and the honor and objectives of the ISI.

I wrote “It does not appear that anyone—inside or outside of Pakistan—can mess with the ISI or Hamid Gul lightly.

Well, it looks like we’re going to find out how big everybody’s balls really are.

From today’s The News:

Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi has met Lt-Gen (retd) Hameed Gul and assured him that the government would seriously look into the issue of Washington’s move to include the names of ex-ISI officials in the list of international terrorist through UN’s Security Council.

Gen Gulís name is said to on top of the US’s sponsored recommended list of international terrorist for being former chief of the ISI and an outspoken critic of the US policies and its controversial war on terror.

Gul said the enemies of Pakistan are presently targeting the ISI to weaken the institution of Pakistan Army and to attain the ultimate objective of de-nuclearising this only Muslim nuclear state in the world.

Gen Gul said Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi assured him that the government would seriously look into the matter and take appropriate measures. The United States has recently sought from the UN Security Council the inclusion of the names of five ex-ISI officials, including the name of Lt Gen (retd) Hameed Gul to put them on the list of international terrorists.

A few observations:

First of all, the United States either believes that Gul was directly involved with the Mumbai attack, or is trying to use the event as a galvanizing event to get Pakistan’s civilian government to acquiesce to dropping the UN hammer on Gul and his ex-ISI buddies. I suspect that there’s some smoking-gun intel, either generated by the U.S. itself or obtained through India, that would encourage the U.S. to make such an overt, incendiary move against Gul.

Second, it doesn’t look like Gul is a paper tiger used as a cutout by Saudi millionaires or a retired sorehead general with no domestic clout or reach. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister was dispatched to personally stroke Gul and make sure he concentrates his ire on the United States and India and not the Pakistani government. Taking on Gul may have bloody consequences that Pakistan’s elite understands well but the United States, which has an unhealthy misconception that using the U.N. to harass and infuriate its enemies is relatively blowback-free, may find difficult to appreciate.

Third, the Pakistan government no doubt finds this situation one excruciatingly embarrassing. They want to please the United States, but they don’t want Hamid Gul and everybody in the ISI and army who think as Gul does at their throats. So the Foreign Minister is dispatched to personally reassure Gul that the government is not going to…well, they are going to “seriously look into it”, which means that Asif Zardari will weasel and equivocate for the next few weeks and hope the whole problem goes away.

Fourth, Gul’s not just sitting in his La-Z-Boy expecting that the feckless government will stand up for Pakistani sovereignty and save his bacon.

Gul told the news that he and Qureshi had

discussed the idea of convening an immediate session of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) where Russia and China should be invited as observers to discuss the challenges confronting Pakistan, including the latest anti-Pakistan and anti-ISI campaign launched by India after the recent Mumbai attack.

In other words, Gul is proposing an alternative political and diplomatic roadmap for Pakistan. Instead of cleaving to the United States, as the Zardari government has done, and buying into the whole anti-Taliban and anti-al Qaeda strategy that is devastating Pakistan, Gul is proposing a alternate tie-up with two strategic competitors of the United States—Russia and China.

Given the fundamentals of Pakistan right now—growing dissatisfaction with the Zardari government, a dislike of the U.S. security strategy that is approaching hatred, a burgeoning economic and security crisis, and a feeling of desperation and persecution that now finds India as well as America as its focus—Gul will find fertile ground for his rhetorical seeds.

I expect the OIC initiative is going to go exactly nowhere, but it provides a viable, valid, and politically popular context for whatever Gul and his ISI buddies do next if the United States and India persist with their efforts to sanction him.

Given what the ISI has done in Kashmir, Afghanistan, and India, don’t expect what comes next to be small, peaceful, or bloodless.


Dave said...

The ISI is no almighty entity. The most it can do is a few more terrorist actions in India, Afghanistan, Nepal or Bangladesh. It can not even reach US shores.

Pakistan has become a failed state. In a 2-3 years at most, it will break up into 3 or more states (like Yugoslavia) - a Pashtunistan, a Baluchistan, a Sind and maybe a PakPunjab. The ISI can then decide which side it will be on.

The best thing India can do it leave it alone to self-destruct by itself. Any Indian attack will unite Pakistanis and delay the breakup. If India wants to do something at all, it should leave the LET alone and start funding the Pakistani Taliban covertly. That will keep the Pakistani army occupied.

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