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Time to admit the realities of Pakistan

By Frank Salvato
web posted February 9, 2009

For as long as the United States has been fighting the "War on Terror" the nation of Pakistan has pledged its alliance. Throughout the tenure of Pervez Musharraf's administration and during the prospect of a Benazir Bhutto government, those in control of the Pakistani message have openly pledged their support to the US-led effort in the conflict with radical Islamist aggression. Today, President Asif Ali Zardari continues that line of rhetoric in the face of an explosion of radical Islamist influence within his country. But reality often betrays rhetoric and as we continue in this global, generational and ideological conflict we in the West would be wise to reevaluate the actions of Pakistan in the face of their pledges of alliance.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda, the Bush Administration had to make some hard choices with regard to Middle Eastern and Asian relations, especially where the initiation of the military retaliation was concerned. Having benefited strategically from observing the Soviet-Afghan Conflict of the 1980s, the Bush Administration knew that defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan would require a working relationship with Pakistan if, for no other reason, to secure the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The Bush Administration wisely set out to avoid the strategic error committed by the Soviets of allowing the Mujahideen the ability to retreat into the FATA only to reemerge once the superior Soviet military had receded from their offensive. Additionally, the Bush Administration understood full well the difficulty of supplying US military operations in Afghanistan without the cooperation of the Pakistani government.

As the argument continues on whether or not then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage actually told then Pakistani President Musharraf that unless he sided with the United States his country would be "bombed back to the Stone Age," one thing is abundantly clear, Pakistan was not an enthusiastic volunteer in forging the US-Pakistani anti-jihadist alliance. In fact, as is the status quo for most cooperative measures between two or more parties in Pakistan, Musharraf had to be financially enticed to join the United States and the Coalition of the Willing.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Pentagon created the Coalition Support Funds Program (CSFP). This program reimbursed Coalition partners for their logistical and combat support of US military operations in the global war on terror. As of May of 2008 the Government Accountability Office stated that the CSFP has reimbursed 27 Coalition allies for their direct support of US military operations. Pakistan is the largest recipient of CSFP payments, having received $5.56 billion (81%) of the $6.88 billion CSFP reimbursements made. It is estimated that when all aid to Pakistan is totaled (military, governmental and humanitarian) the amount is in excess of $10 billion.

Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, then majority clerk on the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Tim Rieser said:

"With the possible exception of Iraq reconstruction funds, I've never seen a larger blank check for any country than for the Pakistan CSF program."

It can be argued successfully that even in the face of al Qaeda's intentional slaughter of over 3,000 innocent Americans, the Pakistani government required monetary compensation for its alliance.

Troublingly, even as the United States apportioned over $10 billion to Pakistan, the bulk of which was to finance Pakistan's engagement in the war against radical Islamist aggression, the existence of Taliban and al Qaeda flourished in the FATA while public sympathies for fundamentalist Islam advanced among the Pakistani people. Evidence to this affect is provided in the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh were both captured in Pakistan (Rawalpindi and Karachi, respectively) before their detainment at the Guantanamo Bay Military Detention Facility in Cuba. Further, credible intelligence from multiple sources indicate that both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri – al Qaeda's number one and two – are currently hiding in the North-West Frontier Province of the FATA.

It should be noted here that there are elements in the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military that are engaged in the conflict against radical Islamist aggression. There are military operations that do take place along the Pakistani border with the FATA and many Pakistani soldiers have given their lives fighting Taliban and al Qaeda forces. That said, the overall commitment of the Pakistani government is lackluster at best, even as they attempt to extract additional funding from the United States (unacceptable as the results have been to date) while imposing increasingly restrictive caveats on US military action relating to Taliban and al Qaeda forces fighting in Afghanistan and retreating to the FATA.

Several questions are generated by the status quo in Pakistan, chiefly:

▪ Why the Taliban and al Qaeda have been given almost uncontested freedom to train, re-group and re-arm in the FATA;

▪ Why the influences of radical Islam have been allowed to actually grow among Pakistan's populace;

▪ Is the Pakistani government actually aligned with the United States or are they manipulating the realities of the conflict with radical Islamist aggression to their financial benefit.

Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Agency

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) has long been suspected of playing both sides of the fence where the conflict with radical Islamist aggression is concerned and rightly so. The organization, charged with intelligence gathering, counterterrorism operations and the training and arming of operatives (both officially recognized ISI agents and those who are members of some of the most tyrannical jihadist organizations), has significant relations with both the Taliban and al Qaeda stemming back to the Soviet-Afghan conflict.

During the Soviet-Afghan conflict, the Central Intelligence Agency relied on the Pakistani ISI to train the fighters of the Mujahideen, distribute arms to them and channel finances for their efforts. Throughout, ISI trainers motivated and supported Mujahideen fighters to fight as a unified force under the guise of "protecting fellow Muslims" in Soviet occupied Afghanistan. It is estimated that the total number of Mujahideen trained by the ISI numbered in the 83,000 range.

Just as the United States, Britain and Russia did after Germany's defeat in World War II with German scientists and specially trained military commanders, the Pakistani ISI evaluated its relationships with the plethora of organizations that comprised the Mujahideen and made a conscience decision to maintain many of the relationships forged.

Many terrorist operations since the attacks of September 11, 2001, including the 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan and the more recent Mumbai massacre have found the ISI being charged as complicit by the Indian Government. Further, the US has questioned whether the ISI was leaking top secret intelligence regarding immanent strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda assets in the FATA to the jihadist organizations' leadership. Given the sustained relationships the ISI has maintained with Taliban and al Qaeda leadership, the question is valid.

The Spread of Radical Islam within Pakistan

The fact that the Taliban and al Qaeda exist without significant restriction in the FATA serves as but one reason – and a relatively modern one – that the radical Islamist influence is flourishing in Pakistan.

In his 2005 Washington Quarterly article, The Role of Islam in Pakistan's Future, Husain Haqqani, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, points out that:

"Radical Islamic groups, which portray themselves as the guardians of Pakistan's ideology, have had a special status conferred on them by the military and civil bureaucracy that normally governs Pakistan...Secular politicians who seek greater autonomy for Pakistan's different regions or demand that religion be kept out of the business of the state have come under attack from the Islamists for deviating from Pakistan's ideology.

"Establishing Islam as the state ideology was a device aimed at defining a Pakistani identity during the country's formative years...Pakistan's secular elite used Islam as a national rallying cry against perceived and real threats...This political commitment to an "ideological state" gradually evolved into a strategic commitment to exporting jihadist ideology for regional influence."

Therefore, it is not unusual that institutions such as the Lal Masjid in Islamabad – or the Red Mosque – would exist. The Lal Masjid, patronized by many influential members of Pakistan's government and military, was influential in recruiting and training the Mujahideen that fought in the Soviet-Afghan conflict. After the 1998 assassination of its founder, Maulana Muhammad Abdullah (who taught a radical form of Islam and routinely preached jihad), the Mosque, then run by his sons, Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi, dedicated itself to becoming a center for hard-line Sunni Deobandi teaching and open opposition to the government.

Mosques and Islamic Centers like-minded to the ideology that thrive at Lal Masjid, flourish throughout Pakistan even as its elected officials in government declare their opposition to radical Islam and jihad.

Radical Islam and jihadist ideology are so prevalent in Pakistan that directives from al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan are carried out on Pakistani soil. The most notable example of this is the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan circa 2007, claimed responsibility for the assassination that killed Bhutto and 20 by-standers at a political rally outside Rawalpindi. Al-Yazid described Bhutto as "the most precious American asset." The al Qaeda-linked group, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, a Wahhabi jihadist organization, was officially blamed for Bhutto's assassination by the Pakistani government and for hundreds of additional killings throughout Pakistan. The Bhutto family and government opposition leaders, including Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban umbrella group, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, implicate the complicity of the ISI in Bhutto's assassination.

The Pakistani Government's Loyalty

Recently, Pakistan's President, Asif Ali Zardari, called for an increase in US financial aid in order to combat Pakistan's ailing economy. He also stressed a need to enhance intelligence sharing between "the partners in the war on terror."

Addressing the United States Congress directly during a meeting with congressional delegates in Islamabad – and, it should be noted, usurping the formal lines of diplomatic communication through the Executive Branch (State Department) – Zardari urged the passage of legislation that would provide increased financial assistance to Pakistan as early as possible, alluding to a line of rhetoric that has seen little achievement in the past, saying the assistance would "strengthen Pakistan's efforts against terrorism."

In the same meeting Zardari addressed the issue of US drone strikes inside the FATA. He reiterated his government's stance that "such attacks hinder Islamabad's efforts for broader support against terror."

These statements present additional questions:

▪ Being that the $10 billion already allocated to the Pakistani government was given in a blank check form sans accountability, what exactly was the money spent on that Zadari is asking for more?

▪ Given that the Taliban, al Qaeda and myriad jihadist organizations are more powerful now than before Pakistan received this stipend, what exactly are Pakistan's "efforts for broader support against terror?"

▪ Acknowledging the indisputable fact that radical Islamist and jihadist ideology continues to flourish in Pakistani society, aided by mosques, madrasahs and Islamic centers, how exactly is Pakistan committed to the eradication of these virulent and murderous ideologies?

In the end, it can be successfully argued that the US government, by the specific nature of its financial outlay, resorted to bribery in attaining its alliance with Pakistan in the execution of military operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda after the September 11, 2001, attacks. As well intentioned as our elected officials may have been at the time and as chaotic as the world was in the aftermath of the attacks, responsibility for this decision must rest with the elected.

As radical Islam prospers not only in the FATA but in Pakistan proper, and as the Pakistani ISI maintains its working relationships with jihadi organizations the likes of the Taliban and al Qaeda, the continued declaration by Pakistan's president that his nation remains allied with the United States and the remaining Coalition of the Willing nations must be questioned in the most serious of ways. With no progress being made by the Pakistani government in the fight against radical Islamist ideology and jihad, but for the occasional arrest of mid-level terrorists, the Obama Administration must give credence to the reality that the government of Pakistan is a disingenuous partner in the conflict against radical Islamist aggression. To continue funding their alleged efforts in the conflict against radical Islamist aggression is to throw good money after bad. In this economic climate the United States can ill-afford to fund jihadi enablers. ESR

Frank Salvato is the Executive Director and Director of Terrorism Research for BasicsProject.org a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) research and education initiative. His writing has been recognized by the US House International Relations Committee and the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention. His organization, BasicsProject.org, partnered in producing the original national symposium series addressing the root causes of radical Islamist terrorism. He is a member of the International Analyst Network. He also serves as the managing editor for The New Media Journal. Mr. Salvato has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News Channel and is a regular guest on talk radio including on The Right Balance with Greg Allen on the Accent Radio Network and on The Captain's America Radio Show catering to the US Armed Forces around the world. His opinion-editorials have been published by The American Enterprise Institute, The Washington Times & Human Events and are syndicated nationally. He is occasionally quoted in The Federalist. Mr. Salvato is available for public speaking engagements. He can be contacted at newmediajournal@comcast.net.


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