Pakistani top brass sell their loyalties to appease US

January 15, 2010 at 5:48 pm (Pakistan, Politics) (, , , )


Pakistan Military Makes A Stand

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

 Source: Asia Times

ISLAMABAD – After several months of backroom wheeling and dealing between the United States and the top brass in the Pakistani garrison city of Rawalpindi, Washington has expressed its full trust in Pakistan’s military leadership and its apparatus, including the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which in turn is preparing to fight the next phase in the South Asia war theater.

This will focus on the hunt for high-profile al-Qaeda targets in the Shawal and Datta Khel areas of Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area, where it is believed Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Dr Ayman 
Al-Zawahiri, and the shura (council) of al-Qaeda are hiding. Over the past few weeks, the US has stepped up drone attacks in the region.

United States Senator Joe Lieberman, who recently visited Pakistan, confirmed on Sunday that the Pakistani army “is on the move” and that there is the “possibility the US will see activity in that volatile northern region [North Waziristan]”. Lieberman met with Pakistan’s military chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani.

In the latest drone attack early on Thursday morning, two missile strikes were reported to have killed 10 suspected militants in a compound in the Pasalkot area of North Waziristan. Several days ago, the US said it had killed 12 people at a suspected Taliban training center about 30 kilometers west of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.

In the latter stages of last year, the Pakistan military waged a months-long offensive in South Waziristan against the Pakistani Taliban, with some success. The operation in North Waziristan, however, will concentrate solely on al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

This understanding was reached after some tricky negotiations. The US initially wanted a broader Pakistani campaign, even suggesting that if Pakistan did not cooperate, it would send in its own special forces for ground assaults and mount daily drone strikes inside North Waziristan.

Pakistan argued that its military was stretched as its forces were already committed in Swat, South Waziristan and the agencies of Mohmand, Bajaur and Khyber.

A senior Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity that Pakistan was also reluctant to undertake a full operation in North Waziristan because that region was not a main sanctuary for the Taliban, as is South Waziristan. The official said that the Americans were therefore told that Pakistan’s participation would be limited to the elimination of al-Qaeda and its affiliate groups. At the same time, he hinted at a possible role for Pakistan in facilitating negotiations with the Afghan Taliban.

The recent deadly suicide attack on a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) base in Khost province in Afghanistan was plotted by al-Qaeda in North Waziristan. (See US spies walked into al-Qaeda’s trap Asia Times Online, January 5, 2009.)

The dispute over the level of Pakistan’s involvement caused bad blood on both sides. At one point, the Pakistani military establishment clamped down on the many American defense contractors in the country, and even American diplomats were forced to tangle with red tape, so much so that the US ambassador, Anne W Patterson, made a public protest.

Nonetheless, this proved to be just another episode in the love-hate relationship between the two allies who both desperately need one another. As a result, communication began at new levels. Sources privy to the military establishment say that a major turnaround was the visit late last year of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Islamabad.

Washington conceded that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari had a “credibility deficit” and the only option was to rely on the Pakistan army. The visit of Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, in the second week of December was also a milestone. He returned to Washington and lobbied in favor of the US dealing directly with Kiani.

There followed a string of visits by American military officials and senators, including that of Lieberman, who confirmed that the Pakistan army was the only hope in tackling the troubles in South Asia.

One of the consequences of this is that Washington has informed Islamabad that the term of the director general of the ISI, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, should be extended. He is due to retire in March. A few months later, Kiani is due to step down, and if Pasha is not reappointed, Pasha will be the next chief of army staff by virtue of his seniority.

Understandably, Zardari’s government initially reacted badly to being snubbed – and dictated to – by the US. A senior member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), barrister Kamal Azfar, said in a statement that both the CIA and the Pakistani military headquarters aimed to derail democracy in the country. Then throughout the month of December, Zardari and cabinet members spoke out against the military establishment.

The military hit back, and under its pressure Zardari surprised everybody by giving up the chairmanship of the National Command Authority, which controls the country’s nuclear weapons. It is now firmly under the military’s wing.

On December 29, on the second anniversary of the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, Zardari delivered an inflammatory speech against the military, taking aback even members of his PPP.

Frantic meetings followed between Zardari and go-betweens for the military, resulting eventually in an understanding that the president would take briefs from the army chief on all issues and then speak accordingly.

The military has effectively put Zardari in his place, just as it has got its way with the US over North Waziristan: Washington and the Pakistani civilian government have no option but to follow the game accordingly.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at


1 Comment

  1. neel123 said,

    “The military has effectively put Zardari in his place, just as it has got its way with the US over North Waziristan: Washington and the Pakistani civilian government have no option but to follow the game accordingly”

    – is the author trying to suggest that the Pakistani army has both the Americans and the Civilian Govt under their thumb… ? If he thinks that the Americans can be intimidated by a bunch of Pakistani men in uniform, then he is halucinating … !

    Pakistani top brass did not sell their loyalties, they sold the entire nation, not today but many decades ago…. ! They did so, not to appease the US, but to seek economic and military support to fight India.

    The US preferred to deal with Kiani directly, because of what Dr Ayesha Siddiqa has described as the all powerful “establishment” in Pakistan.

    The whole article suggests to what extent the Americans now call the shots in Pakistans internal affairs. The Pakistani army will now move into North Waziristan, because their balls are in Uncle Sams grip … !

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