June 16, 2011

Pakistan - our "ally"

Click image for larger viewUsamah Bin Ladin compound - Abbottabad, Pakistan

In the aftermath of the successful U.S. special operations assault on the Usamah bin Ladin compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, there has been a chilling of relations between the intelligence services of the two countries. This is understandable since the United States and Pakistan are supposed to be allies, yet a team of U.S. Navy SEALs launched a covert raid from Afghanistan into Pakistan, conducted an attack on a residential compound and killed al-Qa'idah leader Usamah bin Ladin (among others) and removed his body from the country. How would we react to such a raid on American soil?

That said, it is important to consider the nature of the alliance between the United States and Pakistan as well as the intelligence cooperation aspect of that alliance. The American military and intelligence establishments have had a longstanding relationship with the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, more commonly known as the ISI. That relationship was very close in the 1980s during the American effort in support of the Afghan mujahidin fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Virtually all American support to the mujahidin, be it money, weapons or training, was funneled through the ISI. That was not without its controversies. Chief among these was the lack of strict accountability of the FIM-92 Stinger man-portable, shoulder-fired air defense missile system, regarded by many even today as the most effective system of its type in the world. Its use was one of the key factors that led to the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Defense Department was concerned that a lack of strict control of the Stingers might lead to them falling into the hands of potential adversaries, and that the missiles might in the future be used against American pilots. This is exactly what happened. At least one Stinger captured later from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was traced to a shipment sent to the the ISI for provision to the mujahidin.

Since the Stinger-IRGC issue, there has been a well-deserved skepticism of the trustworthiness of the ISI. That has been compounded by the ISI's role in the creation of the Taliban and that group's subsequent seizure of power in Afghanistan.

Following the Afghanistan-based al-Qa'idah attacks on the United States in September 2011 and then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to support American military operations against the Taliban and al-Qa'idah in neighboring Afghanistan, there has been suspicion of the ISI's true loyalties and allegiance. This suspicion on the part of the U.S. military and intelligence service extended to elements of the Pakistani military as well. Given the lack of alternative allies, working with the Pakistanis was the only, albeit unpalatable, option.

The recent successful hunting down and killing of Usamah bin Ladin has again called into question the loyalties and allegiance of our Pakistani "allies." The world's most wanted man was living in a city that is home to many retired military and intelligence officials, and home to Pakistan's military academy. Bin Ladin had been living there for as long as seven years. The thought that no one in the Pakistani military or intelligence services were not aware of his presence, or that he was not being assisted by some members of these organizations stretches the bounds of credibility.

We are left with one of two conclusions - either the Pakistani military and intelligence services are complicit, or they are incompetent. Neither conclusion is comforting.

I am voting for complicity. Governments, or more properly, regimes in this part of the world survive through the creation of excellent internal security services. To think that the Pakistani intelligence and security agencies were not aware of the presence of Usamah bin Ladin in their country is hard to believe. The recent arrests of those who supported the American operation against bin Ladin seem to bear out my theory.

How better to silence any witnesses that might be knowledgeable of Pakistani complicity than to place them under arrest? From reading reports of Pakistani treatment of suspects, being under arrest in Pakistan at the hands of the dreaded ISI is potentially life threatening. This is exacerbated by Pakistan's foot dragging on issuing visas for the American investigators with whom the Pakistanis have agreed to cooperate.

Al-Qa'idah's General Command (al-qiyadat al-'amah lil-jama'at al-qa'idah al-jihad)* issued a statement that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri has been named as the new new leader of the organization, succeeding Usamah bin Ladin.

One has to ask the question - where is al-Zawahiri? Most analysts believe he is in Pakistan, just as was bin Ladin. Can we expect cooperation from our "allies" the Pakistanis in hunting down and killing Ayman al-Zawahiri? Probably as much as we got in the hunt for Usamah bin Ladin.

Call me cynical....

* The Arabic used in the al-Qa'idah statement is interesting. Normally they refer to themselves as tanzim al-qa'idah, or "the al-Qa'idah organization." This statement used the words jama'at qa'idah al-jihad, which translates to "the al-qa'idah jihad group." Does this indicate the organization describing itself as a parent group of subordinate terrorist entities?