We can pray that Bob Woodward made up the facts in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Obama’s Wars. He quoted Joe Biden’s conversation with Obama and other senior administration officials, “We can’t lose sight of Pakistan and stability there. The way I understand this, Afghanistan is a means to accomplish our top mission, which is to kill al Qaeda and secure Pakistan’s nukes. We must be making progress separately against al Qaeda and separately in Pakistan...” (Woodward: 328, Chapter 28).
Likewise, Mel Gibson’s 2010 film, The Edge of Darkness, may look Kafkaesque but carries grave implications. The US can make a dirty bomb by using traces from another country’s nuclear material, explode it on its own soil, give false proof in justification and then punish the target country. Or the US can transfer such a dirty bomb to the target country, non-state actors (NSAs) explode it, the state is declared unstable and the US ‘helps’ that country by securing its nuclear arsenal under a UNSC mandate. Can these scenarios be applied to Pakistan? The American leadership has repeatedly denied having any intention to secure Pakistan’s nukes. Yet, after the PNS Mehran attack, Pakistan is probably being driven to the edge of darkness.
On May 23rd, security forces ended a 17-hour standoff with NSAs at the naval base Mehran. The attack showed that the NSAs, have not only augmented their abilities, but have also enhanced these to the point that they can now operate far beyond Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. Who benefits from these attacks?
The May 22nd attack highlights the fact that NSAs have managed to permeate the security apparatus in a continuous war against the army and the ISI. Hence, the NSA’s have access to numerous targets in the military-intelligence complex. These NSAs cannot operate so effectively without external support.
Why would the CIA support NSAs? On the one hand, the US government expresses comfort with the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear programme and on the other, it points out that a weakening government and increased militancy makes them vulnerable.
Let’s take Woodward’s book and reputation seriously. If America’s aim is to secure Pakistan’s nukes, then the best approach is to create an environment in which Pakistan can be declared an unstable nuclear-armed state. The next logical step would be a UNSC resolution offering help to the people of Pakistan in securing their crown jewels.
The ISI has serious intelligence limitations against the NSAs. The latter have different requirements for survival. These ghosts are a hidden force, fighting a conspicuous one. The ISI’s cumbersome structure and bureaucratic mechanisms act slowly on information while the intelligence needs of the NSAs are more restricted. Hence, the ISI can only hope to succeed if it can penetrate the NSAs.
The army has engaged in generally, successful counter-insurgency operations in Swat, South Waziristan and other parts of the tribal belt. Yet, the NSAs continue to demonstrate the capability to attack hard and soft targets across the country. The military operations in 2009 and the killing of several NSA leaders did slow them down and the temporary calm before the recent storm was probably because the NSAs were flushed out of South Waziristan. Or the CIA-sponsored NSAs are increasing the momentum to accomplish their ultimate aim.
Why the focus on the navy? The raid on Abbottabad exposed the surveillance capability against the Isaf in Afghanistan but the Navy’s P-3C Orion aircraft have a credible capability against navies operating in the entire Indian Ocean. Extra-regional forces would find it difficult to operate in the Indian Ocean and secure Pakistan’s nukes so long as surveillance capability exists. What can Pakistan do? With all eyes on the safety and security of Pakistan’s nukes, the security apparatus must be entirely focused on defending the nukes. If Pakistan has evidence of Indian or US involvement, it must be exposed now. Pakistan must further reduce US presence in the country and the Shamsi base must come under its control. Remaining naval assets like submarines should be dispersed immediately, to avoid further damage. Lastly, Pakistan must find its spine, take a strong stand and ensure that it has the last laugh.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2011.
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