comedy show shows Pak chutzpah
It now appears that
Pakistan’s strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf has perhaps based his
anti-terror policy on the apocryphal quotation attributed to
legendary showman P.T.Barnum - “There's a sucker born every minute.”
The recent activities in the infamous “tribal areas” of Pakistan,
near the border with Afghanistan, have clearly demonstrated that
Gen. Musharraf would rather put out dog and pony shows for Western
media and governments, rather than seriously tackle terror.
The latest episode began on March 18th, when Pakistan’s President
Gen. Pervez Musharraf casually mentioned in an interview with CNN's
Aaron Brown that it is likely that Pakistani troops have surrounded
a "High Value Target" in the tribal "agency" of South Waziristan.
Some enterprising Pakistani official leaked to the eager journalists
that the person encircled could be Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number-two
man of Al Qaeda. Within hours, an entire army of international and
Pakistani media landed up in the town nearest to the fighting, Wana,
in the South Waziristan autonomous agency. After many days of
confusing reports, the whole operation ended like a damp squib, with
no "top terrorist" being apprehended or killed and the Pakistan Army
cutting a deal with terrorists by giving them blanket amnesty. In
return for this amnesty, Pakistan did not even require the
terrorists to surrender their weapons or give up further attacks on
Americans. In a speech to the jubilant tribal terror supporters,
Gen. Safdar Hussain, the commander of the XI Corps of the Pakistan
Army went as far as excoriating America for “unfairly” attacking
Afghanistan after 9/11.
Throughout this operation, the various military spokesmen, including
the head of the Pakistan army public relations agency, Maj. Gen.
Shaukat Sultan, played the role of Ringling brothers to Gen.
Musharraf's P.T.Barnum, by issuing contradictory and comical
statements about the status of the fighting. After the al-Zawahiri
claim went bust, word leaked out about an Uzbek militia leader who
later morphed into a Chechen guerilla. There was a claim of
Pakistanis looking for an al-Qaida spy chief "Mr. Abdullah", which
sounded like looking for a shaven-head man in Tirupati! The "Mr.
Abdullah" later turned out to be a "local spy chief" of al-Qaida,
whatever that meant. The Pakistanis also organized a “tribal force”
to supposedly nab the terrorists. But all they ever did was to wear
tribal costumes and stage a “war dance” for the cameras followed by
a charge at the hills with red tags on their guns, to prevent them
from shooting at each other.
Maj. Gen. Sultan also extolled the capture of about many "foreign"
fighters, who at first sight appeared to be elderly locals. In a
report in the weekly “The Friday Times,” Pakistani journalist Imtiaz
Gul said that after the Russian and Uzbekistan governments formally
petitioned the Pakistani officials to give them access to their
nationals allegedly captured, Pakistani authorities quietly
backpedaled on the "foreign fighters" claim. It now turns out that
the Pakistanis have released all but a handful of the captured
fighters, after tacitly admitting that they were local Pashtuns, not
foreigners. Unable to account for the remaining terrorists,
Pakistani authorities, including the tribal area security head,
Brigadier Mehmood Shah claimed that the fighters used secret tunnels
to escape the army dragnet. It later turned out that those "tunnels"
were decades old irrigation channels that had dried up due to lack
of water. Imtiaz Gul, who later called Pakistan Army’s “escape
tunnels” claim the “lie of the century,” also quoted unnamed
irrigation experts who have visited the area as saying that the
irrigation channels were well known amongst government officials for
a long time.
As a military operation, it is clear that this has been a disaster
for the Pakistan Army. Nearly 10,000 well-armed Pakistani troops,
supported by attack helicopters, could not even make a dent against
a few hundred lightly armed tribal fighters. After getting
humiliated and losing at least 150 men, the Pakistani troops
double-timed it back to base, making a “tactical retreat” as is
their wont. A retired Pakistani army officer commented recently that
the ineptitude of the Pakistani troops in the tribal areas was not
surprising because many of them stopped seriously training a long
time ago, instead spending time watching movies on videos!
Some analysts interpret the tribal area operations as Musharraf's
"Wag the Dog" move that went bad when the tribal fighters refused to
follow the script. The Pakistani leader is usually good at arranging
for spectacular arrests of "top" Al Qaida figures timed to coincide
with his visits to the US or the visits of American officials to
Pakistan. This time around, this operation coincided with the visit
of Secretary of State Colin Powell to Islamabad. Others see this as
a possible attempt by the wily General to change the subject from
the A.Q.Khan nuclear proliferation scandal.
The other fact is that this whole operation is a red herring. The
fighters threatening Afghanistan's stability are not Chechens or
Uzbeks, but Pashtuns loyal to the Taliban and warlord Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar and their Arab al-Qaida allies. Western journalists have
long known that the locus of these operations is not the tribal
areas but near big Pakistani urban centers of Quetta and Peshawar.
Intrepid British journalist Christina Lamb managed to interview top
Taliban ministers including Maulana Abdullah Sahadi, the former
deputy defense minister of the Taliban, in the Pakistani city of
Quetta before she was kicked out of the country by Pakistan's
spooks. Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor was not only
able to speak with a Taliban commander, Maulvi Pardes Akhund but was
allowed to observe him recruit Pakistani fighters in Quetta for
cross border attacks on American troops in Afghanistan. Another one
of Baldauf's reports mentioned that while he a group of journalists
were speaking with a Pakistani national legislator from the
Baluchistan province, which includes the city of Quetta, a local
reporter's mobile phone rang. The caller happened to be a Taliban
commander, and he asked the reporter to hand the phone to the
Pakistani leader for a "quick chat”. Indeed, if Gen. Musharraf was
serious about cracking down on the Taliban, his focus should have
been Baluchistan, not the tribal areas.
This fact is not totally lost on the US authorities. The commander
of American troops in Afghanistan has publicly criticized the
Pakistani amnesty charade. In a press conversation en route to the
subcontinent, Secretary of State Colin Powell wondered if Pakistan
could do "a better job of apprehending Taliban persons" identified
by America. The US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has
also repeatedly talked about the need for Pakistan to eliminate
Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries within its territory. Time magazine
recently quoted U.S. intelligence officials as saying that the U.S.
possesses satellite photos that show Pakistani army trucks picking
up Taliban troops fleeing back across the border after a failed
attack. After the U.S. confronted Pakistani officials with the
photographs, signs of visible Pakistani aid to the Taliban ended.
Despite all this, the State Department and other Bush administration
officials try to cover up for Gen.Musharraf by using bromides like
"The alternative is worse" or "Musharraf is doing his best". The sad
fact is that the Pakistan's "strong cooperation" against terror is a
mirage that looks good so long as one doesn't look for the
specifics. But the devil, as another bromide goes, is in the
details. Former Reagan administration official and Afghanistan
expert Dr. Elie Krakowski recently related his conversations with
Pakistani officials on a radio talk show. He said that many of the
Pakistanis he spoke to said that it was "very easy to con the United
States" and that to satisfy the Americans all the Pakistanis had to
do was make "a few arrests once in a while." By that standard, Gen.
Musharraf's actions would make even P.T.Barnum envious. The
Pakistani tribal joke, unfortunately is at America’s expense.