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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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July 10, 2011

The US mounts pressure on Pakistan Army as
Washington-Islamabad relations get worse

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Obama administration officials believe that the country’s spy agency – Inter Services Intelligence - ordered the killing of a journalist who had written about ties between the country’s military and militants, according to a New York Times report.

The New York Times on July 4, 2011 quoted two unnamed two senior administration officials as saying that new classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism.

The intelligence, which several administration officials said they believed was reliable and conclusive, showed that the actions of the ISI, as it is known, were “barbaric and unacceptable,” one of the officials was quoted as saying.

A third senior American official was quoted as saying that there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed. “Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official.

Meanwhile, on July 5, Washington Post published a letter (dated July 15, 1998) purportedly written by Jon Byong Ho, a longtime confidante of the father and son who have ruled North Korea since 1948, to Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. The purported letter claimed that three million dollars were transferred to the then Pakistan Army Chief, General Jehangir Karamat and half a million dollars to General Zulfiqar Khan for approving sharing of technical know-how and equipment with North Korean scientists.

The Associated Press said if the letter is true, it could deepen the distrust between the United States and Pakistan, which are struggling to set aside their differences and cooperate in the battle against militant extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  General Jehangir Karamat and Lt. Gen. Zulfiqar Khan have called it “a fabrication.” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said of the report, “It is totally baseless.”

Pakistan has also rejected fresh US allegations against the ISI and called it an international conspiracy. Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters in Islamabad: "There is an international conspiracy to malign the law enforcement agencies and security forces. (These allegations) are part of that conspiracy."

Washington’s accusation against the ISI and the purported North Korean letter came amid reports that the United States has been pressing the Pakistan Army to allow the posting of a Security Liaison Officer (SLO) at every corps headquarters of the military but the army has rejected the demand considering it a security threat.

This is one of many irritants between US and Pakistan as the military establishment remains under constant pressure from US authorities to allow Washington these SLOs to facilitate effective intelligence sharing mechanism and also to launch covert and overt operations for hunting Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan, the report appearing in the leading English language daily The News said.

Both the civilian and military command of Pakistan have resisted the move for a quite long time and had even at times swallowed the serious and strong worded warnings during several high-profile visits of US officials to Pakistan in the past.

The News official sources as saying that the Government of Pakistan was not willing to allow such SLOs to be stationed within the premises and compound of corps headquarters but would be visiting the headquarters as and when needed. But this single SLO proposal also fizzled out.

The post of SLO used to be diplomatic post in embassies which work in close coordination of the intelligence agencies of both the countries and maintaining close liaison in the matters of mutual interests. Majority of these posts are generally considered under cover posting meaning they are intelligence guys posted under the garb of SLOs in embassies and foreign missions, the News said.

Meanwhile, the New York Times on July 3, 2011also reported that Pakistani military still cultivates militant groups. Quoting an un-named prominent former militant commander, the paper said the Pakistani military continues to nurture a broad range of militant groups as part of a three-decade strategy of using proxies against its neighbors and American forces in Afghanistan.

Interestingly, the ‘prominent former commander’ gave the interview to The New York Times on the condition that his name, location and other personal details not be revealed. 

The former commander was quoted as saying that he was supported by the Pakistani military for 15 years as a fighter, leader and trainer of insurgents until he quit a few years ago. Well known in militant circles but accustomed to a covert existence.

The New York Times also attributed the unidentified commander as saying that militant groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen and Hizbul Mujahedeen, are run by religious leaders, with the Pakistani military providing training, strategic planning and protection. That system was still functioning.

Commenting on the interview, The New York Times said that the ‘former commander’s’ account belies years of assurances by Pakistan to American officials since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that it has ceased supporting militant groups in its territory. “The United States has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid over the past decade for its help with counterterrorism operations. Still, the former commander said, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has not abandoned its policy of supporting the militant groups as tools in Pakistan’s dispute with India over the border territory of Kashmir and in Afghanistan to drive out American and NATO forces.”

The purported interview of the former commander echoes US accusations that the ISI has links with the militants.

In April 2011 Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while visiting Pakistan said: “ISI has a long-standing relationship with Haqqani network, that does not mean everybody in ISI but it is there. It’s fairly well known,” he said in an interview with a Pakistani TV channel. “Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners. And I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Mullen said Pakistan’s perceived foot-dragging in tackling strongholds in North Waziristan belonging to the Haqqani network and its continuing relationship with it was “the most difficult part” of the US-Pakistani relationship.

According to Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, US-Pakistan ties have been sorely strained for more than a year over the U.S. buildup in neighboring Afghanistan. But he says things really took a nosedive in January when Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. A Pakistani court acquitted Davis of murder charges in March after a deal that involved the payment of compensation, or "blood money," to the families of the two men he killed.

"During that time, it became quite clear that the United States was conducting covert operations against Pakistan and against the will of the Pakistani intelligence service. So that brought the rift out ... more into the open," Markey says.

A day after Davis was released from jail after compensation was paid to the families of his victims, an American drone missile strike killed 30 peace jirga tribal leaders close to the Afghan border, prompting Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani to make a rare public condemnation of the tactic, which Pakistan’s army had previously kept quiet about.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States took a nosedive after the May 2 US operation in Abbottabad that purportedly killed Osama bin Laden. The operation deeply embarrassed Pakistan's military and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment across the country.

Number of US troops in Pakistan reduced, Fusion Centers closed

In a clear sign of Pakistan's deepening mistrust of the United States, Islamabad has told the Obama administration to reduce the number of U.S. troops in the country and has moved to close three military intelligence liaison centers.

The reduction of US military personnel is another blow to mutual ties, which are enduring a rough patch. According to the Los Angeles Times, the move to close the three facilities, plus a recent written demand by Pakistan to reduce the number of U.S. military personnel in the country from approximately 200, signals mounting anger in Pakistan over a series of incidents.

The U.S. special operations units have relied on the three facilities, two in Peshawar and one in Quetta, to help coordinate operations on both sides of the border, senior U.S. officials said. The U.S. units are now being withdrawn from all three sites, the officials said, and the centers are being shut down.

The two intelligence centers in Peshawar were set up in 2009, one with the Pakistani army's 11th Corps and the other with the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which are both headquartered in the city, capital of the troubled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The third fusion cell was opened last year at the Pakistani army's 12th Corps headquarters in Quetta, a city long used by Taliban fighters to mount attacks in Afghanistan's southern provinces.

The closures have effectively stopped the U.S. training of the Frontier Corps, a force that American officials had hoped could help halt infiltration of Taliban and other militants into Afghanistan, the LA Times had quoted a senior U.S. military officer as saying.

The Frontier Corps' facility in Peshawar, staffed by a handful of U.S. special operations personnel, was located at Bala Hissar, an old fort, according to a classified U.S. Embassy cable from 2009 that was recently made public by WikiLeaks.

The cable, which was first disclosed by Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, hinted at U.S. hopes that special operations teams would be allowed to join the paramilitary units and the Special Services Group, a Pakistani army commando unit, in operations against militants.

"We have created Intelligence Fusion cells with embedded U.S. Special Forces with both the SSG and Frontier Corps" at Bala Hissar, Peshawar, the 2009 cable says. "But we have not been given Pakistani military permission to accompany the Pakistani forces on deployments as yet. Through these embeds, we are assisting the Pakistanis [to] collect and coordinate existing intelligence assets."

Another U.S. Embassy cable said that a "U.S. Special Operations Command Force" was providing the Frontier Corps with "imagery, target packages and operational planning" in a campaign against Taliban insurgents in Lower Dir, an area of northwest Pakistan considered an insurgent stronghold.

In September 2009, then U.S. ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, wrote in another classified message that the fusion cells provided "enhanced capacity to share real-time intelligence with units engaged in counter-insurgency operations" and were "a significant step forward for the Pakistan military."

On June 10, the United States said that it had 'nearly withdrawn' troops from Pakistan after it was asked to reduce their number due to tensions over the Osama bin Laden episode. Vice Admiral Michael LeFever, US defence representative in Pakistan, said that the decision to pull out troops was taken after a request from Islamabad. 'We recently received a written request from the government of Pakistan to reduce the number of US military personnel here, and we have nearly completed that reduction,' said LeFever.

Controversy over the Shamsi air base

In another twist in US-Pakistan relations, the United States is reluctant to comply with Pakistan's demands that American personnel abandon the Shamsi air base used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to stage drone attacks. The Washington Post has reported that that US personnel and Predator drones still remain at the air base.

American officials have also made clear that they have no plans to wind down the drone campaign against targets inside Pakistan. Unmanned CIA Predator drones carried out at least 12 strikes inside Pakistan in June, the highest monthly total of the year, according to Long War Journal, a Web site tracking the campaign. So far this year, the CIA has carried out at least 40 such strikes, killing an estimated 269 people, according to the site. Last year, the U.S. carried out a record 117 drone strikes inside Pakistan, double the 2009 level.

Shamsi was reportedly built by Arab sheikhs for falcon hunting trips in early nineties., but has been occupied by the CIA since at least 2004, when Google Earth images showed Predator drones parked on the runway. The base infrastructure has been expanded with new constructions like aircraft hangars coming up in last few years.

According to Retired Brigadier Farooq Hameed Khan, if there is one truth about Shamsi, it is PAF’s startling revelation in the 13th May in- camera joint parliament session that this airbase was under UAE Government’s authority and  not under PAF’s control. If Shamsi is a ‘no go’ area for PAF and out of Pakistan’s jurisdiction, then question arises, who owns Shamsi airbase, UAE or Pakistan?

The US occupation of Shamsi air base reminds us of the infamous American facility  established in Badaber known as  Peshawar Air Station,  16 km from Peshawar, that was a cover for a major communications intercept operation run by the United States National Security Agency . Because of its proximity to Soviet central Asia, the Badaber base  enabled the US to  monitor  Soviet ballistic missiles and nuclear test sites, key infrastructure and communications.

The U-2 high altitude" spy-in-the-sky" plane was allowed to operate from  Peshawar air base to gain vital photo intelligence in an era before satellite observation. US President Eisenhower reportedly also authorized few U- 2 flights from Lahore airbase in 1957.  These spy flights were suspended after a U-2 aircraft piloted by Gary Powers, that took off from Peshawar was shot down over Soviet Union on first May 1960.

Peshawar Air Station was established under a ten year agreement between USA and Government of Pakistan in July 1958.  Known as ‘Little USA’, Badaber base’s complete infrastructure including technical facilities, residential accommodation, sports facilities etc were constructed by US government. The US ultimately vacated Badaber base in July 1970 after failure of US efforts to get the agreement renewed amidst increased anti US public sentiments after the post 1965 Indo-Pak  war US arms embargo on Pakistan.

Brigadier Hameed argued, if the then military led Government of Pakistan could get the Badaber spy base vacated by US in 1970, then why cannot the current democratic leadership show the political will and courage to formally ask US to leave Shamsi air base? With the US drawing down its forces from Afghanistan, there remains no US justification to keep occupying Shamsi.

What strategic advantages do US derive from Shamsi? This airfield provides a discreet launch pad, 200 miles south west of Quetta, where the US believes hides the Afghan Taliban shura. Shamsi lies about 100 miles south of the Afghan border overlooking  Taliban infiltration routes into Afghanistan  and 100 miles east of the Iranian border enabling US to conduct covert intelligence missions into Iran. But most importantly, Shamsi is not too far from Pakistan’s nuclear testing sites in Chagai mountain ranges. Few hundred kilometers in the south lays the Balochistan coast, and off its shores remains stationed a US Naval and amphibious landing force!

In the final analysis, US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, has described the US-Pakistan relationship as a difficult challenge. “The relationship with Pakistan is at the same time one of the most critical and yet one of the most complicated and frustrating relationships that we have," He told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of America.