By Karamatullah K Ghori

When the head of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) directorate of the Pakistan military makes a clean breast, as he did on June 21, that a serving brigadier of the army at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi is in detention on charges of having links with an extremist religious organization, one has to believe that something very serious must be wrong in the military.

Another announcement from the ISPR, a day later, added four majors of the army to the brigadier’s column. These four, however, are merely being questioned and not detained, at least not yet.

The Pakistan military is an exclusive club that doesn’t let out much information about itself unless there’s an overwhelming reason for it. And the current period in time is, no doubt, one such phase when a lot has happened that the denizens of this elitist club may never have wished to see.

The series of humiliations kicked off in early May with the embarrassment of Abbottabad and the macabre siege of the naval base Mehran, in Karachi, and shows little sign of abating.

As the sweltering heat in the plains of Pakistan is getting closer to making room for the annual monsoons – with the likelihood of another visitation of floods engulfing the country – dark clouds ominously dot the horizon for the army.

The open season that opposition politicians, led by two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, have declared on the military’s bloated but unwelcome role in governance is enough to test its resilience. And now United States President Barack Obama, too, has waded in to make the challenge even more onerous for the generals at GHQ.

Obama’s June 22 speech from the White House – in which he announced the commencement of his promised drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July this year and phased over the next three years – contains a list of veiled demands and warnings for Pakistan, particularly its military.

To Obama, the thinning of the American combat presence in Afghanistan doesn’t mean any dilution of his firm resolve to keep up the pressure on al-Qaeda and its militant comrades. He complimented Pakistan’s efforts that, together with the American punch, have led to more than half of al-Qaeda’s top brass being eliminated. However, he left no room for doubt that as long as he was in command, there would be no sanctuary for terrorists, anywhere.

That’s where Pakistan and the role of its military take on a pivotal position in Obama’s estimation. He was quite categorical that there would be no “safe havens for al-Qaeda”. That was a loud and clear message for Pakistan to ensure there are no hide-outs for al-Qaeda and its fellow-travellers in the “no man’s land” of Pakistan’s tribal belt straddling Afghanistan.

It’s an old but persistent demand of the Americans for the Pakistan army to do in its North Waziristan tribal area what it did in South Waziristan. The Pakistan army – for a variety of reasons – has been stalling on that demand. But Obama sounded more insistent and resolute than ever before. Indeed, his confidence has climbed since US special forces killed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in his hideout not far from a military compound in Abbottabad. So he hardly minced his words in articulating that “we will insist” that Pakistan keeps its commitments.

It’s easy for Obama to pile pressure on Pakistan, coupled with barely disguised warnings that if Pakistan didn’t, then he would go about it on his own, which in simple words means another Abbottabad-like solo operation.

However, the relentless demands from Obama for the Pakistan army to do still more – with himself holding a gun to its head, is a catch-22 dilemma for the generals. The price Obama could exact from them and the country is enormous.

The latest survey by the Washington-based Pew research in Pakistan in the wake of Bin Laden’s demise finds that 67% of Pakistanis questioned, a solid majority, don’t think the “war on terror” is Pakistan’s war. A fresh incursion by the army into North Waziristan to oblige the Americans could only trigger wider public uproar, which would be hard to stomach for an army leadership already forced onto the back foot.

The Pakistan army’s operation in South Waziristan has already brought a massive spike in acts of terrorism that has taken a heavy toll of public life. Another Quixotic venture would inevitably add fuel to a burning fire and push the country to the brink of anarchy.

In a nutshell, Pakistan could slide into civil war, given an already super-charged tension in its political culture, where tolerance of any kind is at a heavy premium.

On top of that, Pakistan is wary of the talks that Washington has been carrying on for some time with the Afghan Taliban behind its back. Keeping Pakistan out of the loop has only one meaning for Islamabad: the Obama administration doesn’t trust it enough to make it a party to the parleys, which could have far-reaching consequences for Pakistan, more than any other neighbor of Afghanistan.

Islamabad is also feeling increasingly leery of the traction that the so-called Blackwill formula – to divide Afghanistan along ethnic lines into a Pashtun south and a non-Pashtun north – is apparently receiving in top echelons of the Obama administration.

There’s near-consensus in Pakistan’s intellectual community, and policymakers, that the author of this prescription, Robert Blackwill, has absorbed a lot of Indian input into his brain wave. Blackwill was George W Bush’s ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003.

Pakistan’s intellectual community also fears Obama’s drawdown of forces, spread over three years, is calibrated to allow the Blackwill plan ample opportunity to take root in Afghanistan.

A divided Afghanistan would not only denude Pakistan of its strategic depth, vis-a-vis India, but may also become a cause for the Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line, the poorly marked border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, to unite. Such unity could only mean further dismemberment of Pakistan and open up a Pandora’s box. Pakistan simply can’t countenance such an outcome and will pull no punches to thwart it.

Karamatullah K Ghori is a former career ambassador of Pakistan whose diplomatic assignments took him to the United States, Argentina, Japan, China, The Philippines, Algeria, Kuwait, Iraq, Macedonia and Turkey.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

About Jaime C.

Uncovering the mainstream media lies

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