A post-9/11 state with a pre-9/11 mindset?

Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf.

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For Pakistan, every year of the 9/11 decade has been harsher than the last. But ten years after worlds collided over New York City, has Pakistan learnt the right lessons? Did it fully understand the flux of strategic opportunities and threats that 9/11 produced and undertake the long-term course corrections necessitated by a post-9/11 world?

In a series of conversations with The News, state officials, diplomats and security analysts involved in the 9/11 moment, and aftermath, discussed whether it was possible to have done things differently on the eve of 9/11, and if much has changed ten years later.

“Pakistan was not ready to face the combined might of the US and India after 9/11,” General Pervez Musharraf told The News. “India was ready to extend all out support to the US if we did not. Not only would our airspace and land have been violated, the Kashmir cause and our nuclear capability would also have been badly compromised.”

“I wanted to do the right thing and I did,” Gen Musharraf said. “The decision to side with the US was one of the most difficult decisions of my life but it was the correct decision and it was a decision in the interest of Pakistan.”

The general rejects as ‘nonsensical’ the idea that he accepted all preconditions of the United States after one telephone call from Colin Powell. “I decided to join the global war on terror after developing a deep and broad consensus. Between September 18 and October 3, I took the proposal to Cabinet; to army garrisons; to senior journalists; I talked to tribal chiefs; I even talked to the Chinese,” says General Musharraf.

He also denies giving the Americans ‘blanket permission’ to act. “The US ambassador [Wendy Chamberlin] gave me seven demands. I had reservations about four and outright rejected two.”

Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, who became Pakistan’s foreign minister in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, similarly argues that Pakistan had no choice but to cooperate with the US. “Mian Nawaz [Sharif] was not even able to lodge a protest when six US Tomahawk missiles accidentally crash-landed in Pakistan [during air strikes on targets in Afghanistan in 1998],” Kasuri told this correspondent. “So imagine the pressure after 9/11. India was itching to help the US; it was ready to offer up its bases. Does no one remember Pearl Harbour and the US reaction? They nuked the Japanese; put them in concentration camps.” “It [9/11] was a difficult time,” Kasuri says. “There were UN resolutions supporting the war. It had international legitimacy. How could we have taken an opposite stand?”

Kasuri also rejects that the Musharraf regime sold Pakistan’s cooperation for cheap. “We have pursued our interests in Iran despite intense pressure from the US; we refused to support the Iraq war; we didn’t give them over flight rights. We were aware of realities but we were also clear that the time and pace of cooperation would be on our terms. There was no dictation.”

A senior serving military officer says that Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, a darling of the Americans until 2010, is now considered by some of President Barack Obama’s closest aides to be stonewalling Washington. “Kayani has really pushed back,” the officer said on condition of anonymity. “He refused to adhere to any of the four demands the US conveyed to him during a trip made by top aides just after the Faisal Shahzad incident. He did not oblige the American president at the Strategic Dialogue in March 2010. There are many examples.”

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA, Ahsan Iqbal disagrees and believes that the current set-up, military and civilian, has continued the policy of the Musharraf regime in capitulating before the US. “Before 9/11, President Bush did not even want to be photographed with Musharraf. So 9/11 was the perfect opportunity for him to get international, especially American, legitimacy. And for that he sold out Pakistan.”

Indeed, even those part of the political and security set-up at the time admit that one of the biggest blunders Pakistan committed was not getting into a formal bilateral agreement with the US. “We could have negotiated better terms for use of road transit and base facilities,” says Riaz Mohammad Khan who was Pakistan’s Foreign office spokesman during the critical months following the 9/11 attacks. “The Coalition Support Fund is a very poorly negotiated arrangement. The Foreign Office only realised this when problems of reimbursement started surfacing.”

What is also debatable is whether Pakistan has put enough pressure on the Taliban. “Look, we didn’t want to go after everyone. We wanted to talk, not attack,” says Kasuri. “You can see what happened after our government ended: incidents like Angoor adda,” he adds, referring to the covert raid conducted by US Special Forces against Taliban fighters on September 3, 2008. “The first time US troops physically fought a ground-based battle within Pakistani borders was not on our watch.”

Yet, many believe that Pakistan could not have escaped getting sucked into the conflict because its homegrown extremist and militant groups had joined hands with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda who found shelter mainly in the Fata area.

“Had the public been taken into confidence, we could have seen less confusion on the ground after 9/11 and higher support for prosecuting sustained action against terrorists,” says PPP’s Sherry Rehman, the president of Jinnah Institute. “That was the time to have nipped many sanctuaries in the bud. Now the problem has magnified.”

So did the generals and civilians understand that the old ways of thinking had to go after 9/11? “Neither the military, nor civilians, understood the impact of 9/11 – not then, not now,” says Gen Mahmud Durrani, who was appointed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US by Musharraf in 2006, and later served as the national security advisor to Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani. “9/11 redefined the world. But we didn’t understand its impact on our own geopolitical landscape – not ten years ago, and not now.”

Though Gen Durrani admits that Pakistan was taken by the ear and dragged to the well after 9/11, he also maintains that it failed to choose well even when choices were present. “We have not grappled with the issue of extremism seriously – neither the public, nor the government nor army. Salman Taseer’s assassination is an example of how much we have ignored this problem and to what end,” said Gen Durrani.

Indeed even before 9/11, as early as 2000, GHQ commissioned a classified report called “Pakistan’s Security Imperatives in the Medium Term,” which concluded that Pakistan’s security threat was primarily internal and unless there was a change in strategic thinking the country could be dragged in an undesirable direction by a tiny but well-organised minority.

“And that’s exactly what is happening today,” says Gen Durrani. “But to this day the army doesn’t quite get the threat. We continue to court some of the elements responsible, either out of fear or because we genuinely believe our interests lie in doing this.”

Indeed, the Osama episode, as Sherry Rehman points out, was the terrible culmination of all that is wrong with Pakistan’s policy towards terrorism, and the complex tangle of dangers that potentially lie ahead. “Sovereignty encroachment by another state is a red-line issue in Pakistan, but we have internal terrorist challenges that pose an equal threat to our national security as a nation,” she says.

But those in Musharraf’s administration reject that the regime continued to court non-state actors in the aftermath of 9/11. “The Musharraf era was the most positive era for relations between India and Pakistan. Do you think India would have talked to us if we were supporting non-state actors against it?” Kasuri asked.

Riaz Mohammad Khan agrees. “On al-Qaeda the policy has been consistent and Pakistan cooperated with the US in dismantling the organisation,” he says. “Blaming Pakistan for double dealing is unfair and propagandistic and is only meant to put pressure. The US should have realised and we should have clearly conveyed that Pakistan could not treat the Afghan Taliban in the same way as it treated al-Qaeda.” But how much have things changed today? For some, counter-terrorism policy has taken a turn for the worst under the current civilian set-up.

The News got in touch with Interior Minsiter Rehman Malik and asked him to explain the perception about the PPP-led government’s lack of seriousness vis-‡-vis terrorism, and what lessons the government had drawn in the aftermath of 9/11 to tackle the internal threat, particularly in Punjab. “These questions pertain to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Malik told this correspondent. “They are best put to the MOF which will be better placed to answer them.” Malik’s unresponsiveness was surprising in the face of reports that banned extremist groups of Punjabi origin are increasingly supporting Taliban elements from Pakistan’s tribal regions to conduct attacks in sensitive cities such as Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

“There is not a single inch of territory in Punjab under the control of any extremist or terrorist group,” says Ahsan Iqbal. “Nowhere in South Punjab, or any other part of the province, will you find training centres or control and command set ups of extremists groups. And look at the Joint Investigation Team reports on Karachi violence. All major political parties have been named except the PML-N. We are the only ones with zero tolerance towards militancy.”

So what ails the current government’s approach towards counter-terrorism? “The capability to fight terrorism, to make hard decisions – this needs credibility. And this government does not have that,” says Kasuri. “The only reason these guys are still around is because the army hasn’t kicked them out.”

According to Sherry Rehman, however, this government has demonstrated a higher level of commitment to regional and internal peace than any other regime. “But our state’s ability to execute policy has diminished in the last ten years,” Rehman explains. “We have to pay attention to enhancing governance at all levels of the administrative pyramid, otherwise many policies and consensus announcements will fall by the wayside.”

As things stand today, Pakistan has no nationally understood and backed strategy for fighting terrorism and has made little attempt at creating a national discussion on the topic. A good example of this is the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) set up by the PPP in 2009 to draft a national counter-terrorism strategy.

“A draft of the Nacta legislation has been sitting with the Interior Ministry since April 2010 but two years after Nacta was formed, the government continues to defer cabinet approval of the ordinance,” Iqbal laments.

Insiders also cite another hurdle in the way of Pakistan’s anti-terror efforts: its India obsession. “The army continues to see terrorism merely as a latent threat and India as the more clear and present danger,” says Gen Durrani. Besides repercussions domestically, Pakistan’s lackadaisical approach towards terrorism has also pushed relations with the United States to the brink of collapse.

“Fixing ties now will be hard, but it is possible,” says Dr Ashley Tellis who has served on the National Security Council staff as special assistant to the US president. “But this will require Pakistan to make some hard choices: bringing the Quetta Shura to the table; ceasing to support the Haqqani network; prosecuting LeT, and so on.”

But Dr Tellis does not expect Pakistan to comply with these demands. “Both sides will do the minimum necessary to sustain a working relationship, but neither will feel induced to take any risks to build a genuine partnership,” he says.

Shuja Nawaz, Director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States, says the Pakistani leadership has to first create trust with its own population and with its support craft a stable and mutually respectful relationship with the United States and other countries.

“Absent honesty at home and abroad, the divergent aims of the United States and Pakistan will lead to an inevitable split,” says Nawaz. “As the weaker partner, Pakistan will suffer a more serious loss, unless it can improve its own economic governance and learn to stand on its own feet.”

But there are also those who point out that one of the major problems with the relationship is that Washington has not yet found a way to reconcile Pakistani and Afghan interests. “I don’t think the current mood in the US takes into account the reality that Pakistan acts out of anxiety, not ambition in the region,” says Sherry Rehman. “The US must not imagine that Pakistan will look the other way if international failures in Afghanistan once again become Pakistan’s problem in terms of refugees, attacks, violence and weapon escalation. We have enough of our own extremist nightmare to worry about.”

(From The News, Pakistan)

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