US-Pakistan Alliance Hits Snags

Posted in Pakistan , United States | 10-Nov-08 | Author: Muhammad Aslam Khan

Pakistan's paramilitary soldiers and local people look at a crater caused by last night's suicide attack near a police compound building in Mingora in troubled district of Swat on Friday, Nov 7, 2008 in Pakistan.

“Alas poor, Duke

The tasks he undertakes

Is numbering sand and drinking ocean dry

Where one on his side fights, thousands will fly

Farewell at once, for once, for all, and ever.[i]


03 November 2008 was a day characterized by high hopes and deep despair in Pakistan. Balochistan province was groaning under the agony of severe earth quake that hit Ziarat-Pishin area, leaving all mud houses flattened with several hundreds fatalities. The survivors, to whom aid trickled at snail pace, spent at least first two nights beside the crevices or rubles in temperatures below freezing point as some of their near and dear ones were still buried underneath.

In Rawalpindi, newly-elect President of Supreme Court Bar Association, Ali Ahmed Kurd, was addressing a huge lawyers’ rally who traveled from all the nooks and corners of the country to mark the black day of ruthless emergency, Musharraf clamped the previous year on 3rd November, sacking 60 sitting justices of apex courts at the federal and provincial level including Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Entire Pakistani nation was petrified by US endorsing of Musharraf’s abominable acts by continuing its support for the dictator so that he stayed in firm control of the Government. Mr. Kurd, sounded totally bruised and hurled vituperative remarks on him with unmatchable fluency though at times his exuberance flowed beyond his stature to contain. Hope prevails that democracy is budding again as PPP dominated Government, though opposed to restoration of Chief Justice of Pakistan despite its pre-election commitments with PML(N), not only tendered the rallies that day with utmost care, but pro-PPP lawyers also joined the protest with full force in support of the deposed Chief Justice.

President Asif Ali Zardari and the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani were head down for final scrutiny of list of 40 ministers to be added to make a jumbo-size cabinet of 55 federal ministers and ministers of state. The talk of the town is that cabinet number would soon touch 65. That much merciless big regalia for a poor country with the habits of the riches!

At a border check post in South Waziristan, a suicide bomber rammed his explosive laden vehicle into it and killed 10 security forces personnel. Anti terrorist operation in Bajaur Agency of FATA raged as usual, resulting several fatalities on both sides while militants’ positions were shelled and bombed by Pakistan artillery and Air Force.

Fire breathing ‘Predators’ had engaged several civil locations in FATA within last 48 hours, preceding 3 November, when the Western sources claimed killing of Arabs and Central Asian terrorists that could not be confirmed by the independent sources. Locals said that women and children were killed. Sea of anguish against the US killing of civilians in Pakistani tribal areas simmers. The cauldron needs to be cooled down but for the fact that U.S. and Pakistani interests are no longer in the sync, when it comes to the adoption of mode and operational strategy in FATA, adjacent to NWFP.

In come, at certain well kept hour, US emissaries, General David Petraeus, Commander US CENTCOM and Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Richard Boucher amidst doom and gloom prevailing thus on that fateful day. They met with the highest Government functionaries and Pakistani military top brass to get every thing and give none. In fact Richard Boucher presence in Pakistan any time he comes and so frequently is taken as an ill omen because he leaves plethora of controversies in the trail. The visiting envoys were presented with a copy of carefully drawn in-camera resolution, unanimously approved by the legislatures a couple of days prior to their arrival that called for retaliation with force against U.S ground and air violations. The President this time was bold enough to take shield of the legislatures to assert to the U.S. delegation that in an emerging democracy, ‘Predators’ attacks in Pakistan territory of FATA afflicted deeper wounds on Pakistan’s solidarity than the militants. The duo’s mission, like Captain Alexander Burnes’ was to Amir[2] Dost Muhammad of Afghanistan in 1837, had to return empty handed, at least apparently. The saga appeared a repeat of what Lt. General Sir George Macmunn wrote, “….energy and courage as travelers do not necessarily connote diplomatic abilities”[3], though he defended Burnes against all the criticism heaped on him, maintaining that it was lack of authority vested in him that failed his mission and never ever Burnes capabilities were to blame.

U.S. and Pakistan know that situation along Pakistan-Afghanistan border is serious. U.S. perhaps could draw some solace after our ever-reconciling Prime Minister sounded pragmatic to insinuate permission for Predators’ strikes by saying that the next US President has to stop drones’ attacks on our territory. A diplomat like Richard Boucher would quickly pull a leverage to assume that it was blanket approval of continuing the attacks till next President whose installation is at least a couple of months away (20 January 2009). One wonders, our marvelously sound slumbering foreign office noted the breathing space provided to US emissaries by the Prime Minister unwittingly. The alliance is at odds but why?

US considers that Pakistan has been able to muster military resolve to combat militants but blames the surge in Afghanistan insurgency on FATA people who harbor the terrorists while they recoup and refit. George W. Bush’s phrases have become ear grating that persistently demand of Pakistan military to ‘do more’ because ‘it is not enough’. It is a strange paradox that CIA ‘Predators’ always sniff out foreign terrorists on Pakistan soil who are either killed or injured while the locals not only deny but also manage to show the same number of dead bodies of elderly people, women and children. The debris left after the attacks also speaks of the dripping poverty of the families hit by drones. During the burial rituals of the targeted deceased, a quick ‘jirga’[4] of the elders follows to swear revenge on ‘infidel America’. The incessant military and aerial incursions prove that US do not believe in wooing the peace-loving tribals’ support against FATA militants but is hell bent to treat 13 million FATA populations as ‘terrorists’. In other words ‘force’ and not the soft power is accepted norm with U.S. Pakistan draws great solace when France, Britain and Germany not only dissent with US policy but also emphasize upon the need to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty. Fortunately US has found in Pakistan a very tolerant Government, more or less perceived by the masses as continuation of Musharraf’s mould in the realm of its status-quo sort of foreign policy but is always alive to the need to check rampant build up of teeming abhorrence a common man is inclined to show against USA. Whether Pakistan sinks or survives, public has come to the brink of ditching U.S. and the Government is compelled to take the brunt. Internal issues left by Musharraf and compounded by PPP itself are no less daunting. It would need Herculean effort to steer the country out of the quagmire through honest and selfless pursuit of the objectives. However, not even a streak of effort is visible and the political parties appear to be appeasing their vote-propping local leaders and hence hostage to them. Amidst such anti-U.S. sentiments and the government apathy, drone attacks have appeared as red rags in U.S. policy that is only adding insult to Pakistan’s injury.

Pakistan perceives clearly that U.S. is inclined to keep the conflict in FATA alive. Precisely for the same reason, whenever negotiations with the militants are about to reach fruition, U.S. acts in one way or another to eliminate the negotiating leader(s) as it happened in case of Nek Muhammad Wazir or the tribal ‘jirga’ with clear effort to wipe out the elders at the hands of dissident suicide bombers, hostile to Pakistani and hence FATA interests. The prominent tribes who have born the agonizing consequences of seeking settlement of FATA crisis are the Afridis, Auorakzais, Bajauris and Mohmands. Some veiled remarks from Mr. Rehman Malik, an Interior Minister-equivalent and a dedicated US-pro-fame, leave not even a shred of doubt that some splinter groups of TTP[5] militants are being equipped and supplied from Afghan territory. That by implication points fingers to Afghanistan, U.S. and India. The latter’s role being contemplated on Pakistan-Afghan border by U.S. administration and to acknowledge it as a party to the conflict, is shrouded by Himalayan size intrigue, yet not difficult to decipher. India, that has been bruised in Siachin (the world highest battle field ) and IHK[6] would have a chance of the century to see Pakistani forces mauled in FATA because she suspects that Pakistan has been conniving to insurgency in IHK militarily, a charge that has been denied by Pakistan, a few individuals’ admissions once a while notwithstanding. The blame on America has some weight because the present U.S. FATA policy to prolong militancy, has been able to, on one hand, draw U.S. public focus away from its administration’s grand operational strategy failure in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan and also affords it a pretext on the other hand, to resort to face-saving withdrawal of forces from Iraq, as if the two were mere adjustments through an operational pause and not a retreat in military jargon, a label dreaded and loathed by U.S. administration as well as public since Korean, Vietnam Wars and Cuban, Iranian and Somali tactical reverses of yester years. Along with that, Pakistani intelligentsia always fears that U.S. Afghan war, whether its allies agree or not, is now being orchestrated to create such a level of instability that Pakistan turns in voluntarily its ‘nukes’ control to U.S. being hazardous for the world if they landed into the hands of terrorists. Such a hypothesis, with unrelenting Western electronic media blitz, is likely to crystallize without much hassle to level international opinion. No wonders, some conscious segment of Pakistani society were bewildered on U.S. demand to Musharraf that she be represented at the national command level by a U.S. general, forgetting if the counter question was posed to it, how would U.S. feel if Pakistani Chairman JCSC[7] was also on the panel of Pentagon as a measure of congenial reciprocity that would have sobering effect while nuking any future target in the manner, U.S. struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW-II. Tragedy of the time is that some zealots in US Administration have already touted the idea of using tactical nukes against the ‘rogues and barbarians’!

The debate is rife that a gulf of mistrust in US-Pakistan alliance is widening and getting complicated as well. It also dispels the fear that by any diabolical design, Pakistan Armed Forces, a center of gravity in the national equilibrium, shall crumble under the weight of internal disunity because the quality of Pakistan Army Chief’s advice to the Government is very transparent, patriotic and absolutely professional. The hope, evil-mongers are sustaining upon is that prolonged conflict shall trigger cracks in the Pakistani forces system, and they draw pleasure while casting unholy looks over NWFP Para-military forces, fighting against their own kith and kins. Streaks of history testify that the ‘Pushtuns’ loyalties never broke down in the face of blood bonds while fighting even in support of British Army, incidentally in the same areas where they are spear-heading the fight against some relative militants now. During Battle of Ambeyla Pass[8] in October-November 1863, British forces led by (then) Brigadier Neville Chamberlain were overwhelmingly mauled by ‘Pathan’ warriors but the forces stood the ground. Charles Allen comments, “Soldiers in all Punjab Frontier Force[9] units present, found themselves fighting against men from their own tribes, and in several instances against brother and other relatives. After one engagement a sepoy from Buner recognized his father lying among the enemy dead in front of his position. Remarkably there was not a single desertion”[10]. The quote is enough to dash all false hopes being irrelevant by the present and historic precedence when Pakistan military machine is undoubtedly the darling of tribal and NWFP people as fond ways as for other Pakistanis.

Days of TTP splinter groups, fighting against Pakistan, are numbered ever since they have started killing Pakistan security personnel and tribal elders and at the same time making tribal population a human shield for protection and drawing succor out of them. Mullah Umar, ‘Amir’ of Taliban movement in Afghanistan is reported to have chided them for putting the resistance in the wrong perspective. Ironically the ‘Wahabi’, ‘Al-Ikhwan’ and ‘Al-Slafi’ brand of resistance movements have been simmering with varying intensity through a time span of about 200 years until now from Egypt to Bengal which were either indigenous or non-indigenous, stoked by the assortment of Arab and ‘Hindustani’ warriors. The latter had a hide out or operational base at ‘Sittana’, a village at the lower reaches of Mahabun Mountains which perhaps now sits under the water bed of Tarbela Lake. The objective and the opening thrust of such movements were totally in line with the freedom struggle ethics any subjugated community would initiate in any part of the world. However , Muslims always made religious ‘jihad’ as a mean to oust the occupation forces and in the subcontinent, no one would have lent ready ears to such calls traditionally more than ‘Pathans’ of the mountains, particularly the ‘Yousafzais’ inhabiting the vales of Peshawar, Swat and Buner mountains. Surprisingly the warring factions practiced perfect Islam but when the leaders were not getting enough followers, as it happened in Arabia in early 18th Century and also in the part of Subcontinent, what is now FATA and NWFP, their frustration intensified that led them to believe that it was their rightful and religious duty to even slaughter Muslims if they were not joining revolt against the ‘infidels’. Syed Ahmad Shaheed of Rae Breli, Ghulam Rasul of Benaras, Hajji Shriatullah and Mir Nasir Ali commonly known as Titu Mir, both from Bengal were the pioneers who brought the seeds of such centuries’ long resistance from Arabs land. Recently some of the Taliban faction leaders have fallen prey to exactly same kind of misbelieve that is bound to draw condemnation from entire lot of fiercely religious ‘Pashtuns’ of FATA and NWFP who are cultured by religion as well as the tribal code called ‘Pukhtunwali’[11]. TTP has no choice but to make peace with Pakistan Army otherwise its fate would be replay of ‘Pashtuns’ putting Mullah Muzhir Ali and his followers to sword in 1830 during a night raid from the mountains though the ‘Mullah’ was installed to govern Peshawar valley by the same very tribesmen. His fault: he enforced his brand of religion that in opinion of the tribesmen could not be sanctified by even ‘Wahabi’ school of Islamic jurisprudence and the code of ‘nang-e-Pashtuns’[12].

To maintain alliance intact, integration of some acts and facts would be necessary:

  • The powers, large or small ought to be treated as equal, in a way more caring than imposing itself by one as a bully. Such prerequisite when non-existent reduces the alliance into skeletal form.
  • U.S. fondness to pursue independent approaches shall remain a hurdle in the way of successful conduct of war on terror. Longer it remains obdurate in her faulty operational stance; the sooner its allies would desert her. Some feeble vibes from its NATO allies are audible even now that may lead to the crisis of legitimacy as with the Shakespeare character, “Farewell at once, for once, for all, and ever”.
  • U.S. has to realize that diplomacy is exercised the world over and particularly in post-Cold War scenario in two domains. One, in the context of foreign policy that gives the leverage to use of force in exceptional circumstances and the other in the context of World Politics that limits the choice of any power, big or small, to, “seek through negotiations to resolve conflict short of war”[13]. The international theorists believe that this process has already been refined, institutionalized and professionalized over many centuries. U.S. policy pundits ought to heed to the universal wisdom. Some scholars believe that Iraq war could have been averted, had U.S. not shut down the window of diplomacy despite significant role played by then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, nudging the U.S. to keep engaging Iraq in the domain of diplomacy. Therefore, prudence demands that U.S. should get over its difficulties with Afghans, Taliban and Pakistan through recourse to such mechanisms and not the use of force on an alien territory.
  • U.S. and Afghanistan have to meticulously work with Pakistan government to trace and squelch the source of latest arms and battlefield support equipment trickling from Afghanistan to TTP. With state of art real time intelligence gathering capability, it can not remain a mystery anymore. Longer it persists, harder the doubts would grow that it is happening with the connivance of NATO and Afghan’s command structures.
  • Pakistan in the same spirit has to ensure that aliens and FATA Taliban do not cross border to raid Afghan or Coalition Forces on Afghan soil. U.S. drone operations in a contingency appear to be a factor to coax Pakistan to expedite this aspect of war on terror. Pakistan is confronted with Hobson choice. If it proceeds with full might, it can not sustain collateral damage in form of massive killing of own tribesmen, women and children, loosing national consensus as well in the process. If it does not, it affords U.S. a pretext to exercise its ‘preemption’ right as she expects the world now to amend International law for such situations but the world has played cool for obvious reasons. Khalid Aziz, a former Chief Secretary of NWFP reproves US macho bids, “… however serious anomalies arise in its implementation when the doctrine of pre-emptive strike is cut and pasted into poorly defined, amorphous world of non-state actors and their organizations”[14]. International Law, never-the-less, does not absolve Pakistan of the responsibility to punish militants severely, forcing them to surrender, keeping friendly tribal ‘lashkars’[15] at the forefront and also holding the carrot of amnesty to those Taliban and foreigners who lay down their arms. U.S. must support such strategy whole heartedly and not wreck it.
  • Pakistan Army, in any case is pounding the militants’ hide outs without affording them any relief. When the ‘Predators’ have become bone of contention, the operational control over their launch be passed on to Pakistan Army. The decision to execute drone strikes would thus rest with Pakistan and battle field intelligence through a special and classified channel be reinforced by NATO forces for the end user, Pakistan. Such arrangements may amicably give a face saving to Pakistan that ‘Predators’ were now operating as integral part of Pakistan Army. Threat of possible breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty would also be neutralized.
  • U.S. must have faith in its ally that Pakistan is sincerely striving to uproot the militancy and shut the safe sanctuaries in FATA. Inviting India to play any role at Pak-Afghan border would have been possible only if Kashmir dispute had been resolved according to the international norms and wishes of ‘Kashmiris’. That pending as it was, if Indian troops appear on Pakistan’s western border, the whole regional and perhaps even larger cauldron of conflict may become inevitable.

One would conclude that:

  • As a world leader, U.S. are obliged to take care of the nations that are, at least in the comparative material model, pigmies and need tremendous support for building up their societies instead. One would admire uneasiness that gripped Donald Rumsfeld when U.S. attack was about to be unleashed on Afghanistan. His only worry at that time: Afghanistan was not a prestige target. From day one he was stubbornly though wrongly advocating taking on Iraq.
  • Having annihilated Taliban conventional military capability within a few weeks, it would have measured up to the U.S. grace to fold its kit and leave Afghanistan, assigning reconstruction part to the valid institution (UN) that has been tragically sidelined.
  • Going by the dictum, “It is never too late”, there is no harm if UN jumps into the arena for managing FATA crisis as well as of Afghanistan, affording exit to NATO and rushing troops from non-Muslim but neutral countries, the list of which has to be agreed upon by Afghan Government, NATO and Taliban. The sides remaining in Afghanistan have not only to disarm but freeze their war like operations as well. Such a success model, Cambodia, is available to us. It is vital need, though Coalition would spurn such recommendation. History is in the store that Afghans would never reconcile with foreign troops’ presence even if the conflict rants and raves for another 100 years. Since Soviets occupation of Afghanistan, for them the conflict has blazed already for about 30 years. A generation born in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran has been sucked into the conflict. Whatever may happen, the ‘peace’ would remain a pipe dream as long as the coalition forces are operating on Afghanistan soil. Exit of the forces from Afghanistan would enable them to avail yet another advantage of relinquishing as desolate a country like Afghanistan. This way trauma of, “Alas poor, Duke/The tasks he undertakes/Is numbering sand and drinking ocean dry”, shall also stand side tracked.

(BrigGen (Retd) Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi is a member of WSN International Advisory Board and has also authored a book, “The New Great Game: Oil and Gas Politics in Central Eurasia”. (E-mail:


[1] . William Shakespeare, “Richard II”, Trans/revised by H.M.Das Gupta (Allied Publishers, Urdu Bazaar, Lahore, n.d), p.131.

[2] . ‘Amir’ denoted the title of Afghan Rulers; first chosen by Amir Dost Muhammad till Afghanistan was declared a monarchy by Amanullah who assumed the title of ‘King’.

[3] . Lt. General Sir George Macmunn, “ Afghanistan: From Darius to Amanullah”, (Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore, 2002), p.107

[4] . ‘Jirga’ is a Pushto word, meaning council of elders for settlement of disputes or coordination of war efforts among the tribesmen.

[5] . TTP stands for ‘Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan’ that is mainly headed by Baitullah Mehsood in Waziristan with some of its splinter groups operating in other agencies of FATA as well.

[6] . IHK is an abbreviation for Indian Held Kashmir, a disputed territory that provoked three conflicts since partition of the Subcontinent in 1947 between India and Pakistan.

[7] . Means Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee that evolves and coordinates joint military strategy among the services (Army, Navy, air Force).

[8] . The pass is situated about 30 kilometers north east of Mardan that affords a natural approach to Buner and to the back of Mahabun Mountains range. In early British days, Headquarters Corps of Guides were located at Hoti Mardan.

[9] . The same force later came to be called as PIFFERs, meaning Punjab Irregular Frontier Force Regiments. After creation of Pakistan, PIFFERs, predominantly ‘Pathan’ units, were to make a very formidable component of Pakistan Army. Simple and dedicated soldiers who are always legends by themselves for last about 150 years. A recent notable personality from PIFFERs has been the former commander of Peshawar Corps and later Governor NWFP as well, Lt. General Ali Muhammad Jan Auorakzai, from Auorakzai Agency. Once I met him in Berlin Conference last May 2008, he sounded displeased with U.S. Afghan and FATA policy. No wonders, America is reaping the rich harvest of dissent.

[10] . Charles Allen, “God’s Terrorists”, (Abacus, 2007) p.177

[11] . Pukhtunwali is a prevalent code among ‘Pushtuns’ which regulates the social aspects of ‘Pathans’ life that is in consonance with Quran and Sunnah. Some deviation arising out of ignorance may be encountered but those have gone so deep in ‘Pushtun’ society that if one confronts them to vet their actions through religious provisions, they would better remain quiet than make their stance flexible, say in case of ‘honor killings’.

[12] . The code of honor among ‘Pushtuns’.

[13] . Brian White, “ Diplomacy”, in John Baylis and Steve Smith, “ The Globalization of World Politics”, (Oxford University Press, 3rd, 2006) p. 388

[14] . Khalid Aziz, “The News”, 4 November 2008, Pakistan, p.6

[15] . Armed groups of tribal warriors, carrying conventional weapons and executing the terms of ‘jirga’ against the miscreants.