Al-Qaeda's Progression On Pakistan's Demise
Schizophrenic Pakistan And The Coming Vacuum That Invites al-Qaeda
By Steve Schippert
The slow-motion insurgency in Pakistan is picking up pace in short order, and the elected Pakistani government shows no signs of stopping its rapid descent into disorder, fracture and weakness. What was once the Pakistani tinderbox has become a blaze, and Al-Qaeda is feeding the flames. And while all is not lost, there is little to instill confidence that the blaze will recede and avoid an inferno.
Identity Crisis And Live Rounds
In June, the United States bombed a Pakistan border post manned by the Frontier Corps, a national militia whose components and individual units are locally recruited and manned. Think of it as an American National Guard-like setup. And, as the ABC News report showed at the time, there was "outrage" in Pakistan about the attack.
At the time, the American military said they were pursuing a Taliban ambush that came across the border and attacked them in Afghanistan. This proved, of course, quite true and was not refuted. Outrage was the cry of the day, however, and one which plays right into al-Qaeda's game of divide and conquer.
The ABC article also noted at the time that "[v]illagers said US and Pakistani forces opened fire on each other." Not very descriptive and a lot left to the imagination. Namely, who shot first?
Well, the following excerpt is from Sunday's New York Times Magazine, and it sheds a whole lot of light on the subject. US bombers were called in to hit the Taliban units and positions - and initially the Taliban positions only - that were in retreat.
The mystery, at least part of it, was solved in July by four residents of Suran Dara, a Pakistani village a few hundred yards from the site of the fight. According to two of these villagers, whom I interviewed together with a local reporter, the Americans started calling in airstrikes on the Pakistanis after the latter started shooting at the Americans.
“When the Americans started bombing the Taliban, the Frontier Corps started shooting at the Americans,” we were told by one of Suran Dara’s villagers, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being persecuted or killed by the Pakistani government or the Taliban. “They were trying to help the Taliban. And then the American planes bombed the Pakistani post.”
Power Play: Khyber Pass NATO Supply Route Closed
In the past few days, Pakistan has shut down the Khyber Pass route, through which 70% of the NATO supplies reach the forces in Afghanistan. The official line is that Pakistan fears for the safety of the fuel tankers, which can be blown up inside Pakistan enroute to the Khyber Pass border crossing. However, it appears more than that and is more troubling than puzzling.
Much of the official Pakistani government 'outrage' could at one point have been considered 'for domestic Pakistani consumption,' playing to popular disfavor that Pakistan appears a tool of the United States in the War on Terror. But shutting down that critical supply line is something different.
If it has not been by the time of this publishing, it will soon be reopened. It is entirely too critical to the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Certain 'pressure' will certainly be applied to the appropriate points to ensure its reopening. But the government of Pakistan is making a point: "We are in control."
But who is "we," precisely? With an ally shooting at our planes bombing the same Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance that seeks to eliminate and ultimately replace the Pakistani government, this is a fundamental question. Yet, from within the same Pakistani government, some other "we" will shortly see to it that the supply route through the Khyber Pass is reopened.
Why is this important?
Al-Qaeda: Sowing Chaos
With the Pakistani government apparently in a hopeless crashing spiral of disarray and disunity, the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance stands ready to assert themselves as a solution to a vacuum that may likely appear once the descent gets far and deep enough. This is what al-Qaeda does.
They are winning the fight for the hearts and minds of Pakistanis in FATA - the Pakistani government has failed them for decades - and are now pushing for the hearts and minds more aggressively deeper into Pakistan. Zawahiri recorded his last message in English - commonly a second language of Pakistanis whose first language varies from Urdu or Pashto or others. A widening of the reach.
Taliban-al-Qaeda ploys have been to instigate an attack and, true to form, exploit the casualties as an American attack on Pakistanis. This has been the case with virtually every US strike on al-Qaeda within Pakistan. It was the idea behind goading Musharraf to lay siege to the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which al-Qaeda cites as Pakistanis' rallying cry against the government. And, unfortunately, it plays well.
The larger al-Qaeda aim is to sow uncertainty, friction, division and conflict internally inside Pakistan. It seeks to exploit the Pakistani-Indian long-standing tension in both Kashmir and Afghanistan in order to stir up conflict anew between the two. It seeks to drive a wedge between Pakistani political and military cooperation and partnership against them. And, it seeks to ultimately present itself to the Pakistani people as the solution to an interminable - and un-Islamic - mess.
And Pakistan currently is exhibiting the Three Faces of Eve, with locals in areas that strongly support the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance, a military which is at least partly comprised of senior leaders opposed to them and more friendly to the United States and Westernization in general, and a political class that is so divided and Balkanized that it lacks the ability to effectively govern. And from the latter comes the emerging vacuum.
Al-Qaeda's Liquidation of Assets
It grows daily. It's new president, Benazir Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari who leads the Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP), only months ago was in prison under charges of graft, taking kickbacks so brazenly that he is known to Pakistanis as "Mr. 10%." But thanks to Musharraf's sacking of justices and the resulting dismissal of charges, Zardari is here now to fill the populist shoes of his assassinated wife.
He is atop a Taliban-al-Qaeda hit list intended to accelerate the pace and scope of the coming vacuum. Also on the list is Chief of Army Staff General Kiyani, a Musharraf appointee who is American trained with American friends. As well, the PPP's Rehman Malik, advisor to the Interior Ministry - under which command of the Frontier Corps falls. Likewise, top leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP) make the list. The ANP is the majority ruling party in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and its capital is Peshawar, long a favorite roost for al-Qaeda. At least four of its top leaders have already gasped their last breaths.
And the PPP's Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Gilani is clearly on the list. Though he was not in it at the time, his motorcade came under sniper fire last Wednesday. Of particular note is that the round pierced through the double-layered bullet proof glass in the limo. The kind of rounds required to do that simply are not sold over the counter at the Peshawar Bass Pro Shops.
The change in tactics is clear: Just as in Bhutto's assassination, snipers and close range small arms are seen as more effective than the traditional suicide bombing for al-Qaeda's high value targets. The first attempt on Bhutto's life failed, recall. And that was a bombing that struck the vehicle but failed to kill her. A handgun at close range did not.
The intended targets are equally clear: All political and military figures seen as sympathetic to the United States and its pursuit of al-Qaeda.
Nawaz Sharif: Bought & Paid For By Al-Qaeda
Equally clear and critically important is that Nawaz Sharif is, as he has ever been, safe from the long knives of al-Qaeda. And al-Qaeda is executing a longer, drawn out 'Night of the Long Knives,' eliminating its foes inside Pakistan, sewing strife and chaos - the conditions under which it thrives, especially in under-developed (but not undeveloped) nations.
Nawaz Sharif, under current law, cannot be elected to office. Yet he craves the presidency for all the power and control it holds. And if al-Qaeda can create a large enough vacuum through political eliminations, key military assassinations and general accompanying chaos through a wave of terror, the law will not matter and Nawaz Sharif can rise to power as the only remaining national political figure of significance in Pakistan.
Understand that Nawaz Sharif, as reported in the Pakistani press and noted by Michael Scheuer in his first book, received approximately ten billion rupees in "campaign donations" from Usama bin Laden in his first failed run for Prime Minister in the 1980's. This sum is incredibly significant. He was largely bankrolled by bin Laden. A better way to term it is 'payroll,' especially in that part of the world.
Nawaz is not a part of al-Qaeda and is not ideologically inclined as they are. he is, rather, the consummate corrupt and power hungry politician who will take all suitors to seek his ambitions. The long and short of it is that Nawaz Sharif is and has been bought and paid for by al-Qaeda. This is why he does not ever appear threatened. Not then, and not now.
After Nawaz: Hamid Gul Awaits His Destiny
But he will one day have run his course and expended his usefulness to al-Qaeda and will then meet a similar fate as that which al-Qaeda now seeks for Zardari, Gilani, Kiyani and the rest.
Should al-Qaeda ever be able to manufacture that day, there will be but one Pakistani man left to rise and seize the nuclear-armed Pakistan's reins. Hamid Gul. Far more than a useful idiot, as al-Qaeda surely sees Nawaz Sharif, but a friend of bin Laden and former ISI director known as the Father of the Taliban. That's the man who waits partially in the shadows of a slow-motion insurgency. The man who would make al-Qaeda defacto ruler of a nuclear state.
"In a conversation with this reporter in October 2001, Gen. Gul forecast a future [Pakistani] Islamist nuclear power that would form a greater Islamic state with a fundamentalist Saudi Arabia after the monarchy falls." --Arnaud de Borchgrave, August 2004
That's the al-Qaeda progression. Nothing assures its completion, but little impedes it from within Pakistan.
Conclusion: Tough Choices, Limited Control & Influence
The schizophrenic and Balkanized Pakistani government grows weaker by the day, and conflict between the Pakistanis and the United States and India is stoked at an increasing pace. The Pakistani Army lacks the stomach to wage war against fellow Pakistanis in the decisive, face to face manner in which the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance must be defeated. (Distinguishing between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has rapidly diminishing utility.) The Frontier Corps, part of the Interior Ministry once seen as the only branch of the government solidly loyal to American ally Musharraf, is increasingly infiltrated and staffed by men sympathetic and/or loyal to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. And the Frontier Corps is Pakistan's 'front line defense' against the same.
The next President of the United States will inherit a seemingly irretrievably sinking Pakistan, the solution to which will make Iraq appear a walk in the park. But do not think that without Iraq that the problem of Pakistan would be lesser today. For unless we were ever actually inside Pakistan, boots on the ground, Pakistan's course is and was far beyond our control in the long run. In 2001, they had a choice. Musharraf made it, but could not keep it. The absence of Iraq could not have changed that, no matter how many troops were or were not in Afghanistan.
However, the ultimate solution to the defeat of al-Qaeda in Pakistan is one centered on a popular civilian rejection of al-Qaeda and the Taliban where they lay in Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. This was how al-Qaeda was defeated in Iraq, and decisively so. The central question is how can we (to ideally though not assuredly include Pakistani forces) protect the citizens and their villages in order to embolden them to stand up against the terrorists? We need to identify who they are and how we can gain their trust - and be prepared to do what's necessary to keep it, just as we did in Iraq. But even more fundamentally, do enough of them actually even want to?
What to do moving forward to impede al-Qaeda's sowing of chaos is a path fraught with daunting questions and difficult choices with none of them pleasant. But as Pakistan fails - and its leaders liquidated - the choices become exponentially fewer. The clock ticks and is not our friend.