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Report on Pakistan post assassination of Bin Laden


Wednesday 25 May, Ahmed Khan, who has followed politics in Pakistan for many years, was guest speaker to LALIT members, supporters and guests, at an open meeting on the situation in Pakistan post assassination of Bin Laden. In particular, Ahmed gave everyone present an idea of the relationship between the military and civilian parts of the State, and referred to the importance of the ISI, the secret services, and how there is a part of it that is even more secret than the rest, and how they react differently to the assassination of Bin Laden. He also related the military-political situation to the curious contradictory relationship between the USA and Pakistan, between their secret services, the CIA and ISI. So, he spoke on the situation from both political and geopolitical points of view. The talk, held at the LALIT headquarters in Grand River North West at 5:45 pm, was chaired by Ram Seegobin. At a previous session for LALIT in March, Ahmed had already spelled out the role of the army in the formation of classes in Pakistan, and spoken on history of the country, both in class terms, and also to elucidate different political currents and how the country had split in two (the Eastern part becoming Bangladesh), after the partition that the British had imposed.

Ram Seegobin's Introduction
Ram Seegobin in his introduction said that we were meeting to look at the situation in Pakistan, especially after the assassination, or summary execution, in Pakistan of Bin Laden by the USA armed forces. People present, he said, will perhaps remember that in March we had a session at which Ahmed filled us in on the different political forces present in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the time, in March, he said, perhaps it seemed odd that we chose that subject for an Open Session, but over the past two months gradually the focus has come more and more to be on Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was, he said, member Lindsey Collen who proposed that first session, and members will remember that when she proposed it, she had predicted that the focus would be on this area of the world. Now, with the execution in Pakistan of Bin Laden, the speed with which focus has come on to Pakistan has been accelerated. And the balance of forces has changed, in different ways. Ram Seegobin, himself a chess player, said how often, in games of chess, there is one square that becomes very important on the board. For the moment, it is clearly Pakistan that has become this square on the world of politics. The USA, as we all know, has been using drones, huge pilot free planes, to bomb sites in Pakistan, sometimes Taliban people are killed, and sometimes a marriage celebration is obliterated. In either case, in LALIT we see it as unacceptable that there is that kind of infringement of a country's sovereignty. Because this kind of infringement has continued, we ask ourselves if there is a secret agreement between the Government of Pakistan and the US to allow this. The Pakistani Government does protest, but very timidly, usually.

But, when we step back and look at this kind of incursion into the territorial space of another country, whether it was the bombing of Tripoli years back, under Bush Senior, bombing Sudan, under Clinton, and now Pakistan, Afghanistan, again Libya, then we realize that there is a relatively new phenomenon in geo-politics taking place. The US has gradually given itself this right to go in and bomb other countries. A new philosophy of international law has been spawned. You can, for example, declare a “war on drugs”, and invade Panama, under this pretext. This is totally new international law. And now, after declaring “war on terror”, the USA has accorded itself the right to invade anywhere on earth. Now, there is another new practice spawned, and it is the supposed “humanitarian intervention”, supposedly to protect civilians. You bomb them to protect them. It started in Kosovo, and now it is in Libya.

And then we see a further development in this trend. When there was this terrible action, when the US send 2 helicopters flying below radar into Pakistan and right near Islamabad, they land, go in and execute Ossama Bin Laden, announce he was not armed, take away his body and tip it into the sea somewhere, this is certainly a new level of military intervention on the part of the US. Without warning the Government of Pakistan, you go and kill someone, take the body and throw it into the sea.

This incident, if we can call it that, creates a new tension between the US and Pakistan. It threatens to destabilize the Pakistan regime. And we should not forget that there are nuclear arms in Pakistan. This means that the political situation in Pakistan has implications for everyone.

All this to introduce Ahmed, Ram Seegobin concluded. He will give us an outline of the situation there, and the different forces at work. It is with pleasure that I call on him to address us.

Conflict in the Alliance with the USA
Ahmed Khan said that at the outset there is one observation that needs to be made. The Pakistani State actors are not mere puppets. And to understand this, we will se that there are numerous roots to the mistrust between the ISI and the US secret services, the CIA. Although the Pakistani military establishment has been pro-imperialist all along, this does not mean that each and every one of its decisions coincides with the US's interests or plans.

What are the differences that have led to this dissonance? We will look at this question first, he said. And then we will look at the issue: What is the reaction within Pakistan today, after the assassination of Bin Laden?

The Pakistani military has been patronized by the US for decades. This patronage has taken the form of aid and weapons, and of ideological patronage. In fact, since the 1950s Pakistan has been “the bastion of free world” in Asia. However, the Pakistani military establishment has always maintained a streak of independence, despite being so geo-politically close to the USA.

Ahmed Khan gave two clear examples. In the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the USA and the West supported Saddam Hussein, but Pakistan, despite supporting the US in Afghanistan at the time, was busy supplying weapons to Iran. Pakistan and North Korea both helped arm Iran.

The second example, when US intervened in Iraq, Pakistan, despite the fact that the Arab Gulf had always relied on the Pakistani military to provide security, partly to put down dissent in Pakistan, Pakistan refused to engage its military against Iraq, in favour of Saddam Hussein. So, you can see that not each and every decision of the Pakistani State coincides with US positions.

This is relevant today. Today there is positive distrust between the Pakistani and US. This present, very real distrust between US and Pakistani intelligence and military establishment also began long ago. It began in the 1990s when USSR was on its last legs. In 1990, Pakistan admitted building the atomic bomb, and detonated one. The nuclear arms issue led to US sanctions against Pakistan. Until 1998, the US imposed sanctions on Pakistan. All foreign aid, that had been flowing since 1979, was stopped. Diplomatically Pakistan was isolated. They were left with China and North Korea as allies.

So, they felt they have to keep some “assets” in hand, and to them the Taliban and fundamentalist militias are these “assets”, that can be used when the US is recalcitrant. This is how the ISI thinks.

Here are their own interests, they think, which are not same as the CIA's. And this distrust came out of the sanctions regime, which lasted, as I say, until 1998.

Since the 1950s the US military had been trained by the USA. (As though this was an indication of professionalism!) But during sanctions, training was cut. So, from 1990 to 2001, there was a whole generation of Pakistani officers not trained by the US. Not indoctrinated by the US at all. Generals, brigadeers, the whole lot, were in an ideological vacuum. This ideological vacuum was swiftly filled up by the Saudis. Since the 1980s there had already been very close links with the Saudis. So political Islam became stronger in the Pakistani military establishment, as it became the rationale for the Pakistani military: “This is what you should be fighting for,” the army now “realized”. So, the fundamentalist Islamic trend began bubbling up in the army.

So, the army was not, and still is not, relying 100% on the US superpower. They defend their own interests, as the army. They also worry when there is a civilian government in Pakistan that their own interests will not be looked after. So, there is this defensive mode.

So, once again there is this idea of keeping “assets” in hand. The military establishment became more defensive of, more jealous of, their economic power, as the military, and their political and ideological influence. From 1990-98 two civilian governments were overthrown. The reason that the army gives in the Press is that there was “corruption”, but the real reason is that there was a defensive military establishment, outraged at some of the utterances of the civilian leadership which jeopardized military interests. It is a process of paranoia. The military wants to strengthen its stranglehold over the country. It keeps a tight control over foreign policy and military doctrine, and civilian leaders are not tolerated if they criticize these. The military establishment’s Kashmir policy, for example, is to support insurrectionists and secessionists. It can even, in the 1990s ensure that the Benazir Bhutto government encourages the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Twice Bhutto governments have been dismissed by the military and once a Nawaz Sharif government which was overthrown in a coup. This was following his criticism of the 1999 Kargil operation. And then during the last military dictatorship, during Parvez Musharaff's tenure, what we saw was a phase of cultivating fundamentalism so as to keep this “asset” which could preserve the military's interest.

At the same time, the Pakistani nuclear program, was another bargaining chip, or asset, in the military's hand. No civilian government is allowed to criticize this program, either.

If we fast-forward now to 2001, we find that the USA gets a change of heart after 9/11. It needs bases in Pakistan too badly now. It needs logistical support from Pakistan. It needs to use Pakistani roads for convoys. It needs to close down Al Quaeda bases in Afghanistan, and needs Pakistani assistance.

The Pakistani military establishment says “yes”. But, of course, they have not forgotten what they went through. They have not forgotten the sanctions. This they keep in the back of their minds. George Bush was lenient with Parvez Musharraff. You can read how the US establishment knew they had to depend on Pakistan, so were lenient. 'Milton Bearden, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan who helped run the Afghan war against the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and worked closely with the ISI, said that only China was left as an ally of Pakistan, and “Never mind that the only country in South Asia that always did what we asked was Pakistan”'.

Wikileaks recently showed that the US establishment knew all along that Pakistan was supplying North Korea, Iran and Gaddaffi with weapons and was co-operating with the Chinese to develop missiles. But, they simply turned a blind eye, so urgent was their need of Pakistani support. John Bolton, Bush's UN representative even complained that the Pakistanis had always voted against the US. In only 17.4% of time did they vote with the US, he complained. He even did the calculation. So, tension between ISI and CIA is not new. This is something that must be kept in mind.

But during Musharraff's time, until 2008, the military started to control political life more than before. We saw the emergence of large enterprises, big businesses, run by military officers. And all this is cloaked in secrecy. We don't know their profits, they pay no taxes, no-one knows how much this represents. No-one knows how big a proportion of the Pakistan's economy is run by military-related enterprises.

In the ISI and the intelligence establishment, we have seen another new development. There are two tiers in the ISI. And the CIA is aware that the boys they work with in the ISI are in two different organizations, the ISI and another ISI within the ISI. So, you see there is now an ISI in the ISI. This is an elite group that does not share intelligence with the US. It is undocumented, and it collaborates with the Islamists. The military establishment sees it as “safeguarding our two 'assets', the fundamentalists, the nuclear weapons”.

Under Musharraff, there was also a proliferation of private media. This was not because they were suddenly friendly towards a free media. The private media was kept in line very tightly. Ex-military men now appeared in a new profession, as journalists. And the media is not allowed to criticize the military. If you criticized Musharraff, all these capitalist institutions that are run by the military remove their advertising from your media. Serials that usually get advertising, stop getting it, for example.

This shows the paranoia for anything that the ISI sees as dangerous for them. And in all this, the fundamentalists and the nuclear program are like bargaining chips.

In 1998, Musharraff was overthrown by a popular uprising, mainly against poverty, the effects of neo-liberalism, and the education system not up to expectations. When a study showed that 65% of Pakistani children were born stunted as a result of maternal malnutrition, this came as a huge shock to Pakistanis, and there was a huge movement against Musharraff.

So Musharraff exits. But the contradiction remains. The military jealously guards its own interests. It is quite a case of paranoia.

There have been a series of “embarrassing” episodes for the military, the killing of Bin Laden, being only the latest. It is worth looking at these, to understand what is going on.

A couple years ago, there was a Bill in House of Representatives called the Kerry-Luger Bill that said that any aid from the US to Pakistan would be discontinued as soon as any military coup takes place. Dollars would be conditional on there not being a military coup, not being a military regime. Reasonable enough. However, the private media in Pakistan kicked up a storm, saying this would impinge on sovereignty, and who are the US to tell us if we can have a coup or not. Finally, the US was cowed into discontinuing with the Bill.

Various opposition parties, pro-Musharraff parties, have tried to dislodge the elected government. They use corruption as their theme. There are all sorts of opposition parties, many of them close to the military.

They say the Peoples' Party is corrupt, they attack Zadari for his first 100 days, and basically there is a media campaign against “incompetent civilians”.

Here is an example of the conflict. The civilian Government tried to revise the Pakistani nuclear doctrine. As it stands today, Pakistan has not got a “No First Strike” policy, so if war breaks out with India or anyone else, Pakistan reserves right to launch the first nuclear strike. Zadari tried to revise that. Let us, he proposed, adopt a NO FIRST STRIKE policy. Let us, he proposed, use nuclear weapons only in retaliation. The military saw this as an infringement on their territory, saying “Who are you to tell us who we can bomb, and when we can bomb?”

The old Cold War dictum holds, that of “mutually assured destruction”. Pakistan, by virtue of its relatively smaller size, cannot match India's spending on conventional military hardware. So, when India developed a nuclear weapon to match China's nuclear program, then Pakistan developed nukes to match India's. The reasoning was quite cold-blooded. India's rhetoric was that they could destroy all of Pakistan's cities, and Pakistan countered by saying that only had to develop the capability for wiping out New Delhi and Bombay to deter India. This kind of logic only leads to escalation. Pakistan is now the country with the fastest growing active nuclear program in the world. China has 40 warheads, Israel is thought to have some 80 – though its program is secret, India has 150 and Pakistan will by 2013 have 200.

Anyway, there are many conflicts. In the aftermath of the Bombay attacks, there was a conflict between the military and civilian government about sending the ISI chief to Delhi or not.

In Balushistan, where there is low level civil war going on, with an insurgency that persists. It is the largest province, and also the poorest and most undeveloped, and it borders on Iran. They want more rights, a greater share of royalties from natural gas, and so on. So, Pakistan's army wants to launch military operations against the insurgency, while the civilian leaders say lets negotiate as there are genuine grievances. The army retorts with things like: “Who are you to tell us to negotiate with secessionists? We'll end up losing part of the country, as we did with Bangladesh.

A year and a few months ago, when India and USA concluded a new military relationship, this ruffled feathers in the Pakistani establishment. Military intelligence and their media mouthpieces began saying, “We are the ones fighting the war on terror, we in the Pakistani military are giving everything, it is not Indians that are dying, we are the ones giving everything, then India gets the goodies.” In response, the Pakistan government, for no reason at all, closed the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was, as if by coincidence, just when a long queue of convoy vehicles were held up at the crossing, militant fundamentalists set off a bomb, and set alight the entire convoy. The message from the Pakistani military was “Don't take us for granted.”

Another case of this kind of conflict was around the murders committed by Raymond Davis, associated with Blackwater mercenaries, and the security services and intelligence for the US Embassy. When he was attacked by two people who tried to rob him, he killed them. The Pakistani military were furious, “They, the US, think they can come here and do what they want to. Like John Wayne in the Wild West, they shoot first, ask questions later”. Anyway, this conflict was circumvented by the US giving the dead men's families green cards, and some 22 million dollars as hush money. But, there was an outcry. The media then blames this incident on “civilians”, on these “incompetent civilians that allow mercenaries to get away with what they did.”

And then of course every drone strike raises the same conflict.

Killing of Bin Laden
This past sequence of events, gives rise to a defensive military establishment, one that feels itself under threat, and makes it and the civilian government constantly suspicious of each other.

After the killing in Pakistan of Ossama Bin Laden, there are two questions raised in the media, each by a different section of the media.

One lot ask, “What was he doing in Pakistan for 8 years, right near, right under the very noses of, a military base?” This area is closely linked to a military training institution. These are the English language, elite press, who take this line. They are interested in fashion shows, arty-farty articles, and are fairly westernized media. They cater to the English speaking elite, more secular, rationalist, anti-fundamentalist, even anti-army from time to time. But it is not so widely read, so the army allows them the odd jibe.

The other lot ask, “How is it that US armed forces cross our territory, not informing the army or anyone else, get to kill Bin Laden, take his body away, dump it in the sea, and then go away?” This is what we hear from the mass media in Urdu. But this media is heavily controlled by the military, as we have explained. It is read by the broad masses, but it also represents real conservatism, and is the section of the media that is most reliant on military enterprises for funding. The first question does not interest them. The only thing that interests them is “How did the US violate the sovereignty of the Pakistani state.” That is their narrative. “What have these incompetent civilians been doing to allow the US to come in and humiliate us? They don't know how to deal with the CIA!”

Neither the military nor the civilian leaders are interested in the important question of whether Bin Laden should have been brought to trial, even whether his body should have been thrown into the sea.

But just after Bin Laden was killed, Parliament met in Pakistan. The civilians saw this as a way to humiliate the military. They thought, “Let the people know what has been going on.” So, they invited the ISI to come and explain how this had occurred. But the Military and the ISI insisted that the Parliamentary session be held behind closed doors, in camera, in secret, no Hansard, no journalists, no public. Till today, no one knows what happened in that Parliamentary session. The Urdu language media blamed the civilians, pretending to know what happened, but not explaining what had happened.

Throughout all of this, given the history of the relationship between the US and the military establishment, and the deep-seated mistrust between them, the ISI felt free to contradict CIA.

In Pakistan, there was recently an attack on a military base in Karachi, where Islamist militants destroyed 2 planes, engaged the Pakistani army in gun battle for 6 hours. This gave the civilian leaders a chance to ask “How did they get access, how did they know where the planes were, and do all the damage in such a short time, unleash this destruction?” Again, there is the perception that elements of military were involved in this.

So it would come as no surprise to most Pakistanis to hear that some section of ISI had all along been keeping Ben Laden under wrap and cover. Contrary to what most of the media puts out, the perception on the ground is that it is the army's fault that the US could come in like that. Pakistani civil society is saying this.

After all of these events, the Pakistani military has now reaffirmed its friendship with China. By coincidence, they reaffirm their longstanding friendship, there are 2 nuclear reactors that they worked on together, in addition to four being built now with Chinese help. Pakistan is telling the US, that after the Bin Laden killing, we don't necessarily need you, so kindly don't put too much pressure on us.

So, this explains the progress on the nuclear arsenal, and that it is the fastest growing nuclear weapons industry. The Pakistani military feels paranoid, feels under threat. This is why we get statements, almost schizophrenic ones, with the Prime Minister saying one thing and the Press saying another. Saying “The US came in took Bin Laden out, we'll investigate”, while the military is saying “The US has violated Pakistani sovereignty”, with no question that there were elements of the military being involved.

So, all this to give you all an idea of the mind-set in the different parts of the State in Pakistan. Knowing that, will help us to understand anything that happens in future.

There were comments and questions from some seven of the 40 people present, and further replies from Ahmed that were as interesting as the talk itself. As well as LALIT members, there were students from the University of Mauritius, and other guests. The debate went on until 7:30 pm.

Since the evening of this talk organized by LALIT, Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton has been on a surprise visit to Pakistan. She seems to have made the strange public statement that the US is not accusing the top leadership in Pakistan of knowing all along where Bin Laden had been. But, suspicion remains.