Targeting Pakistan and silencing the critics

Thursday, September 03, 2009
Shireen M Mazari

While US diplomats target their critics in Pakistan with a new ferocity, the US media and politicians target the Pakistan’s nuclear and military capability. Taking the latter first, Dr Khan had barely gained his “freedom” when that murderous former Vice-President Dick Cheney, in a pre-taped interview to Fox News (Aug 30), declared that the Obama Administration should use the CIA to find out what Dr Khan was up to. Cheney also expressed pride in the Bush administration’s aggressive use of drones in FATA. So should we assume that the increased presence of Blackwater and other unidentified US personnel in Islamabad may also have Dr Khan as a possible target?

Nor was it just Cheney firing off on one of America’s obsessions – Dr Khan – while quite unconcerned about the massive proliferation that the US continues to Israel (this is all now part of the published and publicly available data). More irritating than disturbing, has been the story in The New York Times (NYT), citing unnamed senior administration and congressional officials (of course when we cite similar sources, US officialdom is not amused), accusing Pakistan of modifying Harpoon missiles given to the Pakistan navy so as to be able to hit land-based targets.

Had the NYT bothered to do some basic research they would have realised that Pakistan has no need to modify the old Harpoon missiles when they already have far better land-based missile systems already battle-tested and in their arsenal. As it is, the Harpoon does not have the range that would be required to hit land-based targets.

The question that arises then is why plant this story now – apart from the continuing US effort to undermine the Pakistan’s military capability and keep the military institution under pressure (or so they assume)? One reason may have to do with putting pressure on the Pakistan Navy to give its go-ahead to a US request, forwarded by Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence to the naval chief, to allow them to build a landing strip near Gwadar (their own miniport facility) which US marines can use ostensibly as part of their anti-narcotic activities. So far there has been no response from the Pakistani side. Why they can’t do that at the existing facilities in the area is the question some Pakistanis are asking?

Interestingly, in relation to the Pakistan Navy and the Harpoon issue, there are also unconfirmed (but reliable) reports that the Special Services Group Navy (SSGN) is constructing operational facilities in Gharo, Sindh (close to the Indus delta, south of Thatta) which are purpose-built to serve as a base for an army unit – comprising halls, residential units and storage facilities. Some years back the Navy had decided to shift the SSGN headquarter (PNS Iqbal) from the dockyard to a coastal area, but Gharo was not the likely site at the time. Because there has been a sudden increase in assistance to the SSGN from the US, questions are being raised whether this shifting of the SSGN to Gharo is actually a ruse to allow US Marine ‘trainers’ to arrive there in large numbers on the pretext of training SSGN commandos in newly-acquired weapons and tactics? So, the old carrot and stick approach – assistance and then the ridiculous Harpoon story – continues to be at work. What is disturbing here is that perhaps this whole Gharo “deal” is being done at a micro-tactical level with the overall military high command not totally in the know. Certainly it merits a closer examination by the military leadership and more transparency.

Clearly, the Americans do not understand the ordinary Pakistani. Their interaction with the ruling elites has led them to assume that this elite, with its tendency towards subservience and a constant gaze towards Washington (with a few exceptions) is reflective of the Pakistani nation at large. Again, subtlety having never been a strong American trait, they are responding to negative responses of ordinary Pakistanis in the usual ham-fisted manner in an effort to silence the critics.

This writer has had the honour of being one of their targets especially since 2008 when stories regarding General Hood and the 11 conditions relating to unfettered access in Pakistan for US personnel with no legal restraints surfaced in the media. But even earlier, when Riaz Khokhar was Foreign Secretary, the US embassy had sought to have me either silenced or removed from the Institute of Strategic Studies — or else the embassy would assume that I was reflecting (heavens forbid) the official views of the government of Pakistan. That is why some readers may recall for a while at the bottom of my column there was a one-liner stating that the views expressed were my own. Full credit to Mr Khokhar for standing his ground, but I knew it was simply a matter of time when I would be liberated from all official strangleholds.

Now, once again, this scribe as well as some electronic media hosts – all of whom have been exposing the increasing muscle flexing by the growing number of non-diplomatic Americans now in Pakistan (especially Blackwater – now re-christened Xe Worldwide) are being targeted. Just for the record, whatever has appeared in these columns regarding this group and the dubious Creative Associates International Inc (CAII) has been gleaned from Western media sources including the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), but then verified from reliable local sources.

Especially with the Blackwater issue refusing to die down in the media despite a strange silence in Parliament and in spite of threats of multiple types from the yet-to-be-expanded US embassy in Islamabad; new revelations are made on a daily basis about US shenanigans in Pakistan. Here in Pakistan it has got to the stage where one is not sure who is an “official” American and who is not. After all, the guard who abused Pakistan and an SHO in the diplomatic enclave was a member of the US government; but who were the three Americans who beat up a Pakistani citizen, Mohsin Bokhari, in Islamabad’s Aabpara last week? After using violence against this citizen they did eventually apologise, but the police refused to register a case because they felt that if the case registered by the SHO of the diplomatic enclave had no impact in terms of justice – thanks to the pusillanimity of the present MFA set up – it would simply be a waste of their energy in the month of fasting to register yet another case of violence by Americans against a Pakistani citizen.

Further, as the growing disaffection hits the more conscientious Pakistanis in officialdom, what should one make of the information (from frustrated police officials) regarding four Americans initially arrested on Aug 25 at FIA headquarters, Peshawar Morrh, Islamabad with unlicenced automatic weapons (seven MI-6) and no identification – although the arresting officials say they were “kala pani” (Blackwater) personnel around 14:45. When they were brought to the Margallah police station, SP Nasir Aftab, who had previously been serving in the diplomatic enclave, also arrived, followed by US embassy’s security officer, a retired Pakistan army officer, Captain Ijaz. The latter abused and threatened the policemen and in front of SP Aftab had the four Americans, with no diplomatic identity, released from custody. When the SHO protested, SP Aftab also adopted Captain Ijaz’s tone and later confessed he was helpless as he had orders from “above” for the release of the men. (This was reported in at least one major newspaper the following day.)

So how much pressure will we all be able to endure and when will we all be silenced one way or another? If the Americans understood us they would realize that the Pakistani nation cannot be silenced into submission despite its leadership.

The writer is a defence analyst. Email: