Simon Tisdall writes:
Pakistan was already under the American hammer before the WikiLeaks crisis blew. But leaked US diplomatic cables published by the Guardian show the extraordinary extent to which Pakistan is in danger of becoming a mere satrapy of imperial Washington.
The US assault on Pakistani sovereignty, which is how these developments are widely viewed in the country, is multipronged. At one end of the spectrum, in the sphere of “hard power”, US special forces are increasingly involved, in one way or another, in covert military operations inside Pakistan.
These troops are being used to help hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in the tribal areas and co-ordinate drone attacks, as revealed by the Guardian’s Pakistan correspondent, Declan Walsh. Their activities come in addition to previous air and ground cross-border raids; and to the quasi-permanent basing of American technicians and other personnel at the Pakistani air force base from which drone attacks are launched.
The US hand can be seen at work in Pakistan’s complex politics, with the standing and competence of President Asif Ali Zardari seemingly constantly under harsh review.
The Guardian reports:
Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, considered pushing President Asif Ali Zardari from office and forcing him into exile to resolve a political dispute, the US embassy cables reveal.
Kayani aired the idea during a frantic round of meetings with the US ambassador Anne Patterson in March 2009 as opposition leader Nawaz Sharif rallied thousands of supporters in a street movement that threatened to topple the government.
Kayani said that while he disliked Zardari, he distrusted Sharif even more, and appeared to be angling for a solution that would prevent the opposition leader from coming to power.
Syed Saleem Shahzad reports that a decision on a major military operation that the US is pressing Pakistan to launch in North Waziristan now rests in Kayani’s hands.
The real American pressure on Pakistan to mount a military operation in North Waziristan began in October 2009, but Pakistan stalled.
In the meantime, the US tried to initiate talks with the Taliban, which gave Pakistan further reason to delay taking action. By October this year, the US had come to realize that the wish to talk to the Taliban was a mirage, and in a strategic dialogue in Washington the US made a clear demand for Kiani to let loose his men.
In November, Richard Holbrooke, the US’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, announced the US would reallocate US$500 million in aid funds to benefit flood victims – a clear encouragement for Pakistan.
Kiani could not be that easily swayed – the reality remained that even firing a single shot in North Waziristan would mean opening up a battle front. He advocated that such a momentous decision should be taken by parliament.
Kiani put out feelers for this. First, he contacted the president of the second-largest political party, the Pakistan Muslim League, and the chief minister of Punjab, the largest province, Shebaz Sharif, the younger brother of former premier Nawaz Sharif. He is a progressive politician and committed against militancy, especially since the recent attacks on shrines in Punjab. However, Shebaz said it would not be wise for Pakistan to exhibit such a political will. He, however, assured the army chief of his support.
Minister of Interior Rahman Malik, a close aid of President Asif Ali Zardari, expressed the same sentiment. Similarly, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, when asked about an operation in North Waziristan, threw the ball into the army’s court. “The military chief is fully empowered to take any decision regarding military operations.”
A Pakistani counter-terrorism official involved in the recent unsuccessful peace overtures with the Taliban commented, “The Pakistan army was trying to make ground with the Taliban for negotiations, but now the Americans have abandoned everything and are pushing for an operation.
“They had said they wanted to speak to the ‘good’ Taliban, but the Haqqani network is no longer defined as good. If an operation is begun in North Waziristan, no matter how low-intensity, any chance for an end game through peace negotiations is gone. They cannot be switched on again and off again at will,” the official said.
Kiani is in an unenviable position – damned if he mobilizes his troops, damned if he does not, and abandoned by his political masters.