to every story
cannot afford to open another front”
and the US will continue to stumble along”
Admiral Mike Mullen’s statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee was the harshest ever to come from an American official but it didn’t come out of the blue. The mistrust it contained was manifested in the surgical strike on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad a few months earlier; and in a lot of other instances in the last ten years.
According to latest reports, efforts are underway to temper the impact of his remarks. The US has claimed that in saying that the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan was a veritable arm of ISI which it had assisted in launching attacks on the US in Afghanistan, Mullen overstated the “precision of evidence linking the ISI to the recent attacks”.
This was probably done to take the steam out of the All Parties Conference and the anti-American rhetoric it was expected to unleash on the Pakistani people. But the damage, it seems, is already done. The mantra that Pakistan must get out of this ‘humiliating’ partnership with the US is uttered from frothing mouths whether they’re heading political parties or appearing as anchors and experts on the electronic media.
In this din of denial, certain questions remained unanswered largely because they were never asked. In a single-minded acceptance of the thesis that Pakistan was made into a scapegoat now that the US was all set to leave Afghanistan, defeated, no one tried to find out what evidence did Admiral Mullen have in support of what he said (after all he was not making a press statement but speaking before a Senate committee). What exactly is happening in North Waziristan and what is the extent of involvement between the Pakistani side and the Haqqani Network? What is going to happen if Pakistan supports the US in breaking the back of this network?
We must ask ourselves: why were there no contrary voices on the media? As the radical elements spread vitriol, why didn’t they stop for a moment to ask what are the costs for Pakistan if the relationship with the US sours.
There were, of course, structural questions that should have been asked once again. Who indeed runs the foreign policy in this country and what constitutes the shaky pillars of our foreign policy apart from China which we believe will forsake the world and come stand by our side?
And lastly, no one raised saner questions like what is the leverage that the US can use in case we try to disengage. Aid relationship apart, what about the economic benefits of trade with the US? What about its reliance on “non-military punishment” like exerting influence on IMF, World Bank and Western Europe for trade quotas in case it decides to declare Pakistan a state sponsoring terrorism.
The crisis triggered by Mullen’s statement may mitigate in the short term. But the Pakistani state needs to have clear answers to the questions raised above. Because the choices it has are shrinking fast.
The affair between Pakistan and the United States, closest allies for a better part of Pakistan’s life as a state, is becoming curiouser and curiouser. Both sides are indulging in ungainly rhetoric of a confrontation neither of them can afford, and the reasons for all the sabre-rattling are not very clear to the people of Pakistan.
Whatever may have happened in recent months to make the spokespersons on both sides lose their cool, the root cause of the tension between them has been present all along, namely, the tendency on the part of each side to interpret their partnership exclusively in its own interest. The very first agreement between the US and Pakistan, the security pact of 1952, became the subject of conflicting interpretations. The US took pains to make it clear that it was helping the modernization and re-equipment of the Pakistan defence forces solely for use against communist powers but Pakistan stuck to the belief that it had a right to use the US military aid in its fight with India. When the latter’s illusions were shattered in 1965 it behaved as if it had been betrayed by its patron—ally.
Similarly, Pakistan saw in its strategic partnership with the US on Afghanistan during 1980-91 more than the other party and felt let down when the US withdrew from the scene once the Soviets had pulled out, leaving Pakistan to deal with the dangerous end-game.
The post-9/11 US-Pakistan partnership too has been rocked time and again by disagreements on the partners’ respective obligations. The ‘do more’ mantra had its origin in the US belief that Pakistan was less keen to support the American-Nato war objectives than to safeguard its future interests in Afghanistan and the region around it. A US attempt to find a solution by appealing to Pakistan’s civilian governments, vide the Kerry-Lugar Bill, only widened the cleavage in its relations with the operating partners on this side. This led to a serious erosion of the intelligence-sharing understanding between the allies and the beginning of the US strategy of unilateral acts. Pakistan ignored quite a few of such incidents, or contented itself with mild protest, but the raid on Osama’s hideout was seen as an act of unmitigated treachery and to this day Pakistan military’s actions and postures are influenced by the memory of that “stab in the back”.
The developments since Abbottabad raid of May 2 are too recent to need recounting. Matters have deteriorated to an extent that Pakistan is threatening the US that it too has other options (than US partnership) and the Americans are said to be thinking of leaving an ‘ungrateful’ Pakistan to stew in its own juice. The government, many political parties and the media, by and large, have chosen to follow the pied piper in military uniform. The tiff with IMF is being interpreted as a US design to put economic pressure on Pakistan. In reply the people are being told that Pakistan has the ability to survive any rupture in relations with the US. The possibility of a war with the US is being mentioned with a casualness that is quite bewildering and all sorts of arm-chair defence experts are reminding Washington of its humiliation in Vietnam.
As could have been expected the situation is being exploited by all and sundry to gain political advantage. The army is happy that fencing with the US top brass gives it an opportunity to salvage its reputation that had been tarnished by the Abbottabad debacle and almost all political parties are competing with one another for the military’s favours by offering to become the vanguard of the anti-American jihad.
It is a peculiar feature of the present confrontation that the military leaders of the US and Pakistan are talking to one another as repositories of sovereign authority over their countries and their governments are at best their coordinates. While some signs of uneasiness have been noticed in the White House, Islamabad seems incapable of any such heresy. Nobody is misled by initiatives such as Mr Gillani’s exertions to hold an all-parties conference. Its outcome, full-throated support to the military, was known even before the invitation letters were sent out. The omens for Pakistan are not at all good.
One does not know what to say about the jingoist noises being made in many quarters. Everybody knows about the people’s duty in the event of a showdown. That is not the issue. The issue is whether Pakistani people should fold up their thinking apparatuses, whatever of them has survived, at any appeal to their scarcely defined patriotism. Is there sufficient justification for a race to the brink?
There can be many valid reasons for reviewing the terms of engagement with the United States but the reported cause of the present estrangement — difference of opinion on the attitude towards the Haqqani network — does not seem to be one of them.
Unfortunately, Pakistani response to the US military leaders’ accusations has lacked finesse. First any contact with the Haqqanis was denied. Then contacts were admitted with a rider that contact did not mean support to the Haqqanis. It was also said that “others” too had contacts with the guerilla force. Finally, a photograph of Jalaluddin Haqqani sharing the limelight with Ronald Reagan was retrieved and released. This cannot be described as effective advocacy. It is like criticising the US for turning against Osama on the ground that they had been allies in the war against the Soviets.
Besides, nobody has tried to explain as to why Pakistan should defend Haqqani almost the way Mulla Omar defended Osama. The Haqqani network is resisting the US coalition in Afghanistan and Pakistan has no business to side with any of the parties to the intra-Afghan conflict.
One of the most weird theories going round in some circles is that the Haqqani group offers some kind of insurance for Pakistan’s relations with the Afghanistan of tomorrow or that this network’s disappearance will put Pakistan at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other regional powers. Such theories, if anybody is at all entertaining them, are based on assumptions that have been proved wrong in the past. Everybody in Afghanistan is biding time in the hope that the foreign troops will really withdraw from the land. The future rulers of Afghanistan are unlikely to be anybody’s stooges without any consideration. Like the Central Asians before them they could prefer the hands of rich patrons to an embrace with a resource-strapped Pakistan.
It is possible that the Pakistan military finds it difficult to take the US into confidence about the real causes of its inability to comply with their wishes. If it is afraid of a backlash from the people, or from within its own ranks, that matter will need to be tackled imaginatively; it will not be solved by making the country a hostage to militants and their sympathisers.
In any case, lack of information breeds cynicism. All those who do not see any logic in the present hysteria are saying that the negotiations going on behind the scenes will not fail. Eventually Pakistan and the US will recognise the compulsions of their partnership, notwithstanding the prohibitive costs. Things may not remain the same but there will be no radical shifts in the short run. Uneasy relationships between any two countries can have long lives if the parties concerned cannot spurn the demands of their vested interests.
Pakistani media’s handling of strained relations between the US and Pakistan has raised more questions than it has attempted to answer, if at all. Some media critics agree that raw nationalism and ill-informed patriotism is writ large over the face of the Pakistani media, others do not hesitate in claiming that media takes its cues from the establishment.
In this backdrop, how the media should or does approach a serious national issue, especially in a country like Pakistan where access to information is also a problem, is a question worth looking into. That is more important because a public opinion, based on incomplete, even biased or incorrect facts can invariably affect government’s response to a crisis, or direct public anger in the wrong direction.
Analysts agree that in this particular case—the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the alleged presence of Haqqani network in Pakistan—the print and electronic media in Pakistan, or the US for that matter, mostly served to raise the temperature rather than bring it down—a practice which the observers of media in Pakistan are not new to. And this media inclination of playing to the gallery, critics say, has evolved to this stage mainly due to lack of a sensible and clear editorial policy, inadequate training and a rat race for getting higher ratings, among other factors.
Nusrat Javeed, renowned TV host and senior journalist does not approve of how the media covered the issue, “There is no objectivity in how they have managed to deal with the issue. I call it defeatism and ill-informed patriotism.” However, Javeed agrees that there are chunks of sensible understanding and analysis of the issue, “Not all TV channels or newspapers have blindly followed each other but those that made sense are few, naturally, and do not make their presence felt.”
Javeed believes the Pakistani media is not alone in following the dictates of raw nationalism when it comes to the ‘enemy’ country, “The US media has not been very sensible and balanced in taking up the issue of the Haqqani network but they have not gone to the level where we have gone. India is no exception here. Take the example of Anna Hazare where we see rampant patriotism and little degree of effort for understating the issue,” he says. He is not optimistic as far as improvement in Pakistan media is concerned, “I don’t see the Pakistani media considerably improving in the near or distant future, at least not in my life-time.”
Senior journalist and intellectual, Khaled Ahmed, places the issue in context, “The media has responded on the basis of three impulses: nationalism, ideology and intimidation. The response was more a campaign on behalf of Pakistani establishment. As always, it aimed at unity but achieved uniformity, which is an enemy of creative thinking in times of crisis. Remember East Pakistan?”
Ahmed explains how the language in the media plays its part, “Pakistan has become intellectually crippled because of the media, and the media has become noxious because its most effective mode—the TV channels—is in Urdu, the language of our nationalism and ideology; and the TV anchors lean heavily on the legacy of the Urdu column. Because the dissenter keeps dying mysteriously, intimidation is also the motor of motivation.”
He points out how the media’s handling of an issue, such as this one, leaves its impact on the people and economy, “Nationalism is India-specific and additional hatred of America is aroused by linking the US with India, Israel thrown in as visceral lagniappe. The common man who will finally pay the price of this extravaganza is roped in to provide the populist mooring to this anarchic indulgence. The economy is responding more reliably to the crisis but ideology trumps all pragmatic indicators.”
Ahmed believes media can end up misguiding the people by portraying wrong perceptions, “The most reductionist function of the Pakistani media is the wool-gathering vision of China descending on Pakistan with a benign Confucian smile and bags full of foreign exchange to bail us out of our self-immolating fantasies. This is not the media’s finest hour,” he says.
Talat Masood, reputed defence analyst, believes the media—both US and Pakistan—takes its cues from the establishment, “Media on both the sides is largely reflecting the views of their respective establishments. They are more or less on the same wavelength. That makes the job of properly contextualizing the issue more difficult.”
“The US media and the establishment are showing a uni-dimensional picture of the Haqqani issue. The Pakistani media is also adamant on showing only their side of the picture. This is creating a nationalist hype and aggravating sentiments,” he says.
Masood sees the issue from another angle, “There is also peer pressure on the media and it is to some extent bound to satisfy the viewers’ expectations.”
He believes, “there are a few exceptions when it comes to a balanced assessment and understanding of the issue but their voice gets muzzled as the rest of the media refuses to accept their viewpoint, or any other independent take.”
Named after its founder and veteran Mujahideen commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Haqqani network is once again at the centre of a heated debate. Senior US officials have levied blunt warnings and accusations, claiming that this group of insurgents is responsible for majority of US losses in the decade-long Afghan war.
Is the group in question really capable of what the high US command in its recent statements have accused it of?
To understand the role of Haqqanis in the overall Taliban movement across the landlocked Afghanistan, it will be instructive to look at the history of the network and its areas of operation.
Belonging to the dominant Zadran tribe of the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan's Paktika province, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani was a cleric-cum tribal chieftain. Haqqani was affiliated with Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan but in the 1970s when the group split into two factions-respectively led by Maulvi Yunas Khalis and Engineer Gulbaddin Hikmatyar- Maulvi Jalaluddin stayed with the former.
He emerged strong, was considered a powerful commander and went on to play an important role for the rest of Afghan jihad against the former USSR.
Among his contemporary Mujahideen leaders, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani was considered very close to the CIA and ISI and their enormous financial and material support contributed to the might of Haqqanis, primarily meant to fight the Soviets.
Interestingly, some media organisations reported Maulvi Jalaluddin was so close to the CIA that the then US President Ronald Reagan invited him to the White House where they addressed a joint press conference. Section of national and international media even released a photograph showing Maulvi Jalaluddin standing next to the then US president Ronald Reagan, addressing a press conference at the White House. It was not true. The elderly person with his henna-dyed beard was in fact Maulvi Khalis also called as Khalis Baba and not Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, who never travelled to the US or met President Reagan
In the 1990s when Afghanistan plunged into civil war and all former Mujahideen were fighting for the control of Kabul, Maulvi Jalaluddin guided his fighters to capture Khost province from the communist regime of Dr Najibullah in 1991.
Later when the Taliban came into power, he joined the students' militia and was appointed the governor of Khost province and later as minister of tribal affairs and frontiers. He served as the commander-in-chief of the Taliban armed forces till they were ousted from power in the aftermath of the US attack post 9/11.
A 33-year old Sirajuddin Haqqani, also known as Khaleefa among his fighters, is the second son of Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani and is currently leading the network. Siraj was nominated as the operational commander of the network when Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani later sidelined himself from the ground offensive.
An active member of the Mulla Omar-led shura or council, Siraj is considered a fearless commander who used the influence of his ailing father not only to reactivate the Taliban Tehrik which was reeling after the US invasions but also its top leadership which had been underground, he soon made his network a force to reckon with.
The emergence of Haqqani network also paved way for the re-activation of other groups that became inactive after the fall of Taliban, earlier. In two recent exclusive interviews with me, Sirajuddin proudly recalled how he dared and risked his and his family's lives for reorganising the Taliban fighters to wage a 'jihad' against the invading forces in Afghanistan. In his view, when he started, none of the senior Taliban leaders were even willing to be called Taliban anymore as the United States, through false media propaganda, had created the impression of its power and intelligence.
The Taliban were initially a shattered and dispirited group, in shock and awe of American powers and Sirajuddin called those days 'the harsh days of his life'.
"After developing secret contacts with some of our old friends about jihad, we required resources, which we were lacking. I had to sell jewellery of our women for buying weapons and other material for launching jihad and that was the beginning of our journey," the Taliban commander recalled.
Also, he said they had rejected several offers from the US and Hamid Karzai governments in the past.
"They wanted us to leave the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate and play a role in the Afghan setup. They offered us very, very important positions but we rejected and told them they would not succeed in their nefarious designs of breaking the Taliban. We would support whatever solution our shura members suggest for the future of Afghanistan. The Afghan government sent several jirgas of Afghan ulema and elders wanting us to separately negotiate with them but we refused and advised them to approach our shura headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar," the Taliban commander explained.
He started off with over a dozen fighters only from Khost province in Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region. But now the number of his fighters is said to have exceeded 10,000 operating in the four provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika and Logar and sometimes in the capital Kabul.
"The Taliban are now more resourceful than in the past. We have acquired the modern technology that we were lacking previously. We have mastered new and innovative methods of making bombs and explosives," Sirajuddin had said during his last interview with this writer.
Maulvi Jalaluddin had two wives, one of them an Arab from the UAE, from whom he had two sons. His Arab wife lives in the UAE along with her two sons. It is said to be this Arab connection that enabled the senior Haqqani to develop contacts with the rich Arab Sheikhs and financed his armed struggle in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani family is said to have given enormous sacrifices, more than other Mujahideen leaders, first against the Soviets and later against the US-led NATO forces.
Two of his sons - a 17-year old Omar Haqqani and Mohammad Haqqani, 22 - have already been killed. Omar was killed in a firefight with US-led forces at Satto Kandao in Khost in 2008 while Mohammad was killed in a drone attack at Miramshah, North Waziristan, in 2009.
In 2009, the United States announced $5 million head-money on Sirajuddin Haqqani and later announced reward for his two other brothers - Naseeruddin Haqqani and Badruddin Haqqani.
After the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Maulvi Jalaluddin had predicted that Afghanistan would prove to be a graveyard for US and its allies. The United States has blamed the Haqqani network for some of the most spectacular attacks on the US and NATO installations in Afghanistan, including the latest attack on US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul that killed five Afghan police and eleven civilians.
Unlike the past, the Haqqani network did not take responsibility for the latest attacks in Kabul, apparently due to restrictions by the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan barring all militant groups from interacting with media and claiming responsibility for certain actions on the battle-field.
Similarly, the Haqqani network has also been blamed for an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai and suicide attack on Indian embassy in Kabul and reportedly helped a Jordanian national, Dr Human Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi attack the CIA camp in Khost and killed seven CIA agents in 2010.
Except for the Kabul Serena Hotel, the Haqqani network did not get the credit for other major attacks in the Afghan capital.
Some analysts familiar with the latest developments in Afghanistan think the western media has negatively projected the Haqqani network and its operations. Former Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand is not convinced that only the Haqqani network has created hardships for the foreign forces in Afghanistan.
He said the Haqqani network has been operating only in three provinces such as Khost, Paktika and Paktika having control over 65-70 per cent of the area, while the US and NATO forces suffered losses other than these provinces, meaning that there are other effective Taliban groups besides the Haqqani network.
The former envoy opined that the Taliban would never be able to defeat the US in Afghanistan, even if all the militant groups get united and utilised all their energies. But they can make their stay difficult by their guerrilla attacks. He said the US has made several attempts to divide the Taliban by engaging the Haqqani network in peace negotiation, but it did not work, due to reluctance of the Haqqanis to sit with the Americans.
The News on Sunday: What do you think of the Haqqani network’s strength and reach? Is it capable of defeating the US forces in Afghanistan?
Hameed Gul: Haqqani network is an integral part of Taliban which is the national resistance force of Afghanistan and Mulla Omar is the flag-bearer of it. Jalaluddin Haqqani has a religious commitment to follow his orders. Haqqani network is, in fact, based in North Waziristan in Pakistan and when America blames them, it actually blames Pakistan.
It is true that Taliban and Haqqani network are involved in many attacks on the allied forces in Afghanistan, including the latest Kabul attacks. They are doing so to show the actual security situation of their country after ten years of American occupation. They have shown many times that they can attack whenever and wherever they want in Afghanistan.
Obama, in fact, wants an early withdrawal from Afghanistan to get political benefits in the next presidential elections. But, there are some countries and lobbies which do not want early withdrawal because it will diminish their role there. India and Israel want America to stay in Afghanistan for maximum years and they are trying to create such a situation.
American authorities, including Mullen, have quoted an intelligence report of Afghanistan National Security Directorate’s (NSD) that during Kabul attack, the attackers were in contact with their masterminds in Pakistan like they did in Mumbai. Everybody knows the credibility and capability of NSD; it is the same agency that gave the information that Hameed Gul has been killed on Afghanistan border while transporting Mulla Omar there a few months back. This agency is supported by RAW.
TNS: Is Haqqani network an asset or a baggage of the past for Pakistan?
HG: Those who consider them a baggage of the past are fools. Can America stay in Afghanistan on a permanent basis? No, it can’t, it will have to leave it latest by 2014 and then it will become a story of the past. The present puppet government of Afghanistan cannot survive without American support. So, what is the future of Afghanistan? Taliban and Haqqanis are the future of Afghanistan. They are also likely to come into power in Afghanistan after occupied forces leave.
TNS: The Pakistan army has ruled out military action in North Waziristan for the time being. Can America go for a surgical strike alone?
HG: No way. No military option is available for US right now and if they go for it, it will lose allies. They are not in a position to open a new front and that too with Pakistan, from where more than 60 per cent of their supplies to Afghanistan pass through. All we have to do is to close Karachi terminal. Robert Gates has already said that the US cannot afford to open another front while Henry Kissinger in a recent interview warned the US government to not push Pakistan to the wall because it can lead to third world war.
TNS: What will be the consequences if Pakistan launches operation against Haqqani network and TTP in North Waziristan?
HG: At present, more than 150000 Pakistani troops along with scouts are deployed at Western borders of Pakistan. To go for a full-fledged military operation in North Waziristan, Pakistan will have to send at least 100,000 more troops there. We will have to withdraw them from our eastern borders. We cannot afford that. At present, it is being tried to convey to Pakistan that India is not a threat. Once it is proved we will be asked to shun our nuclear programme.
TNS: Can Pakistan survive a conflict, both military and diplomatic, with the US? Do you think China would support Pakistan in such situation?
HG: I am overruling that American would go for a military option and if it does so, China would definitely support us because Pakistan is very important strategically for China. We don’t need its physical support but we need military hardware from it and China has never disappointed us in the past.
It is true that US can squeeze us economically but if countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran help us fulfill our energy needs, we can easily survive it. The economic conditions of US are not good.
Pakistan being an Islamic country also has another very important option in its hands and that is the declaration of Jihad in the wake of an American attack. And if it goes for this option, we don’t need anything else to fight America.
The News on Sunday: What options does Pakistan have in the face of growing US pressure to go after the Haqqani network?
Ayesha Siddiqa: I don’t think Pakistan wants to try out this option at all which has always been made very clear to the US. It was on several occasions that Generals Kayani (COAS) and Pasha (chief ISI) have told Washington that they do not intend to attack the Haqqani network which is considered friendly to the Pakistani state. The US wants Pakistan to take action but hasn’t really pressured Islamabad to a point where the latter realises that it has to make a choice other than what it has made earlier.
TNS: The Pakistan army has ruled out a military action in North Waziristan for the time being. Can America go for a surgical strike alone?
AS: They could go on their own depending on their estimates of the dividends versus the costs.
TNS: What kinds of military, diplomatic and financial threats can Pakistan face from the West, particularly the US?
AS: The US continues to show willingness to engage Pakistan; else it could consider various options starting with economic sanctions in which it may involve other countries as well such as Western Europe. In such a case Pakistan will face tremendous problems and may not be entirely rescued by China as a lot of Pakistanis expect. In any case, the Chinese want Pakistan to eliminate terrorism that hurts China as well.
TNS: It is a common perception that US is losing its war in Afghanistan and is looking for a scapegoat, and that is Pakistan. Is it true?
AS: All nations (even if they are pulling out) would want to arrange things to their own benefit so there is not an issue of being made a scapegoat. What the US is certainly doing is rejecting the understanding that both states had agreed upon starting from the Musharraf days according to which the Pak military would capture al-Qaeeda and hand it to the US but had greater freedom in dealing with the Taliban.
As time has passed the US has become more concerned about the Taliban, which in Washington’s view hampers the peace process and an arrangement beneficial to the US and Nato forces. This has resulted in this bilateral friction in which both sides are trying to gain the maximum out of the Afghan end-game.
TNS: Can Pakistan survive a conflict, both military and diplomatic, with the US?
AS: Pakistan must not even consider taking on a militarily and politically superior power. But there is no indication either that Washington wants to start a war. It is trying to put pressure which is not working beyond a point. But the US will not gain a lot with a strike on Pakistan and this is realised in the American capital.
TNS: What if Pakistan cuts its links with the Haqqani Network and launches a full-fledged operation against it?
AS: Pakistan has to do far more before it gets to the point of attacking Haqqani. The military has to change its policy on militancy and this change will show.
TNS: Will both Pakistan and the US tide over the present impasse once again or is it a breaking point?
AS: They will continue to stumble along.
TNS: Where do you see the war on terror going after this tension?
AS: There has been no substantial change in the parameters of the war on terror.