Protecting Pakistan’s nukes

I follow this timeline fairly obsessively, and the more you read the more worried you get [maybe the trick is to not follow the darn site?].

Last week, one of the stories I was editing for India Abroad related to a Brookings Institute conference on the Obama administration’s policy options in Pakistan — and it is perhaps a function of the times that the bulk of the panelists’ time appears to have been taken up by the question of Pakistan.

Representative Jane Harman, the California Democrat who heads the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment, trotted out the tired line that the key to Afghanistan and Pakistan lies in Kashmir — a theme Obama previewed during his presidential campaign and got considerable flak for.

That argument runs roughly thus: Pakistan sees India as its primary threat. Hence it focuses the bulk of its military/security infrastructure on its border with India. This leaves Islamabad lacking resources to adequately push its existential war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Ergo, solve the Kashmir problem and Pakistan will no longer perceive India as its main threat; hence it will be in a position to deploy its military/security apparatus to best advantage.

The naivete implicit in this line of thought is astonishing. For starters, Pakistan’s perception of India as the threat is a matter of political and military convenience, not a point of fact. As long as Islamabad can keep the India bogey front and center before its people, it can distract attention from domestic ills: a Balkanized country and a failed economy, with the over-arching threat of a fundamentalist takeover, being merely the most important of these. Similarly, as long as the military harps on India it can justify its enormous expenditure on hardware and, in fact, provide its own raison d’etre. And ‘harp’ is the mot juste: the state sponsors and actively promotes a steady drumbeat of programming aimed at convincing the ordinary Pakistani that but for the grace of the military and whichever political power broker is in office at the time, India would have swallowed Pakistan whole by now [more on that later].

Bottom line, the government and military need the India threat — which is why ‘solving Kashmir’ resolves nothing; Islamabad merely has to discover/invent another reason for feeling ‘threatened’. And it will. Too often, the military is accused of having created the India bogey for its own ends, but the fact is that successive prime ministers from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on down have equally held up the India threat to rally its people behind the political process.

Incidentally, just how does Harman and her ilk propose to go about ‘solving’ Kashmir? The most commonly propounded solution is to make the Line of Control the new international border. Assume that is acceptable to us — does Pakistan have a government in place that has sufficient popular support to proselytize that solution and gain widespread acceptance for it? Does it, hell — the reaction to that will be that Pakistan cannot accept formalizing the LoC because to do so means ‘ceding’ Kashmir to India, and negating a decade-plus of ‘jihad‘.

Harman is not the first US lawmaker to propose the ‘resolve Kashmir, solve Afghanistan-Pakistan’ solution — but none, including her, have as yet been able to indicate just how the US, or anyone else, proposes to solve the problem in the face of Pakistan’s continued intransigence.

Bruce Riedel, the former CIA analyst who co-authored Obama’s review of the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation and thus paved the way for the formulation of the administration’s Af-Pak strategy, had a different view [Riedel’s writings on the region here].

He believes among other things that Pakistan’s India-centric threat perception is dictated by self-interest and not because of India’s actions [So one would hope — what act of India’s can Islamabad point to, to justify this ‘threat’? Hell, we didn’t even go to war when Pakistani nationals trained, funded and armed in that country waged war in Bombay a year ago] but because of its own self-interest. And, further, that while it is mandatory for the US to support Pakistan in its current struggle, the US should also begin showing some ‘tough love’ [his words]  by calling them out publicly when they go down the wrong road — such as doing deals with the Quetta Shura or other extremist elements, for instance, or using the ‘India threat’ to justify deploying less than the required resources to its battle against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Riedel’s is, in administration circles, the unpopular line to take; for some weird reason, successive US administrations seem to prefer accepting — or at least, appearing to accept — Pakistan’s ‘concern’ about the ‘India threat’ as genuine, and even to feed that paranoia.

Maybe it is this paranoia — real, or a convenient creation — that Harman and her fellow travelers might want to try and ‘solve’. And fast. The October attack on the military complex in Kamra, which experts say is one of the storage points for Pakistan’s nuclear components, should have been warning enough [the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies had a think paper out on the theme]. More recently, Seymour Hersh has produced for the New Yorker a typically comprehensive effort on the safety — or lack thereof — of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal that is required reading [the only reaction out of Pakistan, incidentally, is the suggestion that its nukes are safe, thank you very much so shut up already].

Harking back to the question of the ‘India threat’, Venkatesh Varadarajan in email pointed at the sort of official media manipulation that breathes life into this perception. The relevant excerpt from his email:

On another note, was watching a Pakistani music channel the other day – decent music actually. But I was a bit surprised at the anti-India obsession on it. They had this junta interview segment where they interviewed the ‘man on the street’ plus some musicians. Constant underlying theme: we are waay better than those guys across the border; they suck, they force you to compromise on your principles, yada yada yada.

I mean, come on!! Grow up! I’m guessing it probably was a state sponsored channel. But still … The only way they’re going to get over it is if they get something else to do with their time other than listening to the mullahs.


When smoke gets in your eyes

Pakistan has an interesting way of dealing with terrorists.

First, it “means business”, but points out that action will “take time”. Then, it “arrests” him – or at least, “verbally” tells the culprit to stay put at his residence, No: 116E, Mohalla Johar in Lahore City in this instance. Verbally, too, the detainee is told there is no problem if he wants to lighten the tedium of such harsh incarceration by attending the occasional party.

During this time, various apologists make considerable noise about how the arrest du jour shows that Pakistan is taking severe action against terrorists.

And then, in a Hitchcockian twist, the detainee is released. [Déjà vu all over again – this is the second time Hafiz Saeed has been arrested and released after 26/11].

It is only following the release that we learn he wasn’t charged with terrorism-related offences after all [though during the ‘trial’, news reports presented a totally different picture – so now you know why these hearings are always held in-camera].

Saeed was merely charged with making speeches that could possibly incite violence [you know, like a Pakistani version of Varun Gandhi] and with trying to raise funds for what Islamabad says is a perfectly legitimate organization.

The word “legitimate” is used loosely here. Check this out, from the story of Saeed’s release:

He was also accused of appealing for funds for a banned group. Mr. Saeed currently leads Jamat-ud-Dawa, an Islamic charity widely viewed as a front for Lashkar-e-Tayeba.

His lawyer, A. K. Dogar, said he had argued that the government had not banned Jamat-ud-Dawa and therefore it was legal to solicit donations for it. “The court accepted my contention,” he was quoted by news media as saying outside the court.

An absolutely valid argument, and one with considerable legal force. The question it begs is: why did Pakistan not ban the Jamat?

Islamabad wanted to – or at least, it said so. It said, too, that it could not take action until the UN told it to [Why Islamabad required the United Nations to green light action against a terrorist outfit on its own soil is a question best left unasked].

“After the designation by the Indian government of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa under 1267, the (Pakistani) government upon receiving this instruction shall proscribe the JuD and take under (sic!) consequential action as required including the freezing of assets,” he [Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations Abdullah Hussain Haroon] said.

That was on December 10.

A day later, on December 11, the United Nations Security Council put it official seal on the contention of India and the United States that the Jamat-ud-Dawa is merely the Lashkar-e-Tayeba by another name [a deft bait and switch operation carried out in 2002 under the nose of then President Pervez Musharraf, when the UNSC named Lashkar-e-Tayeba a terrorist organization].

Even China, which had on three previous occasions blocked India’s bid to have the J-u-D proscribed, finally stopped objecting in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks and voted in favor of putting J-u-D on the proscribed list. Pakistan certainly cannot claim it didn’t know about this, as the fact of the ban was no secret – in fact, within hours of the ban, a J-u-D leader reacted with a press statement that can be summed up in two terse words: F**k off.

So that’s the story: The J-u-D was proscribed in December. Pakistan said it would ban the J-u-D in December. Immediately after the UNSC resolution, Pakistan acted [Note that the word ‘act’ has more than one meaning]:

It placed Hafiz Saeed under house arrest, as the New York Times describes; it froze the J-u-D’s assets in true horse, stable door style, as the WSJ reported;  and if the outfit remained open for business, well…

Pakistan has made no secret of why it took these ‘stern’ actions.

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar on Friday said the government acted against Jamaat-ud-Dawah in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution in order to prevent the country from being declared a terrorist state. “We are part of the international community and cannot afford confrontation with the whole world.”

Now, 10 months later and with the danger of being labeled a terrorist state averted, the courts say there is no problem with Hafiz Saeed proselytizing for the J-u-D because hey, the organization is not banned after all.

So what then were those proclamations of ‘action’ all about?

From the story of Saeed’s release:

India has given Pakistan evidence, based on its intelligence and the testimony of the sole surviving gunman, that it says showed that Mr. Saeed provided detailed instructions to the militants who carried out the attack. But Pakistan says there is not enough evidence to charge him.

Check out the highlighted bit. Without going into details, Home Minister P Chidambaram in an interview with Barkha Dutt discussed the nature of evidence India had built against Saeed.

Firstly we know when Kasab first met Hafiz  and where. We know what Hafiz Saeed told the trainees. We know at least a couple of places where the training took place. And that  Hafeez Saeed visited these camps. We know that it was Hafiz Saeed who gave names to buddy pairs. The final farewell call was made by Hafiz and Hafiz Saeed even tested Kasab and others on their training achievements. A terrorist actively, and demonstrably, involved in 26/11 testified that Hafiz Saeed played a role in prepping him and his mates for the attack. The testimony, and other details, has been passed on to Pakistan.

Further, the sole surviving terrorist involved in 26/11 testified to the meetings he and his team had with Saeed.

The dossier quotes from Kasab’s confessional statement before the Mumbai’s additional chief metropolitan magistrate in which he claims to have first met Hafiz Saeed in December 2007 at a 21-day training camp.

According to Kasab’s statement, he subsequently met Hafiz Saeed at other training sessions in Chelabandi, Sevai Nallah and a place called ‘Baitul Mujahideen’ where he ‘selected trainees and supervised their training’.

According to Kasab’s testimony, after the completion of training Hafiz Saeed formed five pairs of 10 fighters for carrying out attacks in Mumbai and gave the attackers operational instructions, including the hijacking of a boat and the timing of the attack.

He is said to have specified targets on a large screen in a ‘media control room at the training camp’.

Fahim Ansari, who was originally arrested on Feb 9 last year in connection with the Rampur camp attack case, also claimed in his statement that Hafiz Saeed had visited the training camp and exhorted the trainees to launch a ‘Jihad against India’.

It would be understandable – on a relative scale – if the courts had deemed that the evidence presented was not enough to convict Saeed. What is inexplicable is that the evidence is not even deemed enough to charge the man.

It’s a strange place, Pakistan. A land where you can get 14 years in jail if you make jokes about Mr Ten Percent President Asif Ali Zardari, but where you can walk free if you plot the killing of hundreds in a foreign land. [While on jokes, it is good to see that the sense of humor of the average Pakistani is not dead yet – check out this absolutely Onion-esque ‘news report’].

None of this should come as a surprise – the only truism about Pakistan’s “actions” against terrorists is that it is all smoke and mirrors. The state will act only when it has no other option; the action will last only as long as the perceived threat remains [vide Ahmed Mukthar’s honest, and disarmingly naïve, explanation cited earlier on why Islamabad acted against the J-u-D]; the moment the coast is clear, the terrorists will be freed either by the courts or by some other mysterious means.

Consider two recent incidents. On March 3, 2009 a suicide attack was launched on the Sri Lankan cricket team as the team bus approached the gates of Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. And earlier this month, on October 10, armed gunmen stormed the holy of Pakistan’s holies – the heavily fortified military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Pakistan says its military officials have arrested one Aqeel, aka Doctor Usman, who led the raid on the army HQ. Authorities say, further, that they believe Doctor Usman was likely linked to the attack against the Lankan cricket team.

I’m no lawyer, but I’ll defend this Doctor Usman for free – and guarantee to get him out. Here’s how:

On October 25, 2008, authorities ‘arrested’ four people in connection with the September 20, 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriott. One of them was Doctor Usman.

He could not have been part of the attack on the Lankan national team in March, because even five months later, on August 11, he was still in custody — it was on that date that the Anti-Terrorism Court completed its hearing into the Marriott bombing case.

And on September 22, 2009, the ATC rejected Doctor Usman’s plea for acquittal in that case.

Thus, your honor, my client could not have attacked the army GHQ last weekend even though he was actually captured on the premises, because he was demonstrably in ATC custody at the time. Or did someone fudge the books and let him out? If so, why is that person or persons not charged with complicity in the army HQ attack?

The problem with the smoke Islamabad keeps blowing in its farcical ‘war on terror’ is that it is increasingly getting into its own eyes.

Strike one

For the record: An analysis, with data, of US air strikes on Pakistan soil through September 2009.

Live and LeT die

Following on from yesterday’s post, doesn’t it gladden your heart that the war on terror continues to be fought with such vim?

Indian and Pakistani dossiers on the Mumbai investigations, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, offer a detailed picture of the operations of a Lashkar network that spans Pakistan. It included four houses and two training camps here in this sprawling southern port city that were used to prepare the attacks.

One highly placed Lashkar militant said the Mumbai attackers were part of groups trained by former Pakistani military and intelligence officials at Lashkar camps. Others had direct knowledge that retired army and ISI officials trained Lashkar recruits as late as last year.

“Some people of the ISI knew about the plan and closed their eyes,” said one senior Lashkar operative in Karachi who said he had met some of the gunmen before they left for the Mumbai assault, though he did not know what their mission would be.

Majoring in suicide bombings

What the fuck can you say about this story except, what the fuck?!

Ten new terror training camps have been opened inside Pakistan since the November 2008 terror assault in Mumbai, India, which was launched from Pakistani soil.

The 10 additional camps raise the total number to 62, according to Indian intelligence agencies. The report, which was first noted in the Hindustan Times, was confirmed by US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal.

In passing, an alumnus of one such institution is in trouble in the US.

100 per cent proof

Over the years, India has provided Pakistan with a rain-forest worth of dossiers on Dawood Ibrahim, Hafeez Saeed and various other criminals and terrorists living thriving on Pakistan soil.

What it has got in return are either denials that such a person is actually in the country [in the case of Dawood] or sham ‘arrests’, only for the courts to promptly free the arrested person on the grounds that there is ‘no evidence’.

And then this happens.

Although there is no extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan handed over the two foreign militants bypassing its law to oblige the Saudi authorities.

Just saying, is all.