Pakistan on the spot over Iran
nuclear secrets By Syed Saleem
KARACHI - Reverberations continue
from the attack by a US Predator drone on the
village of Damadola in Pakistan's Bajur tribal
area last week. The raid was designed to root out
al-Qaeda operatives believed to be in the area,
but larger forces are at play.
On the one
hand, some call the strike, in which 18 people
were killed, a calculated risk by the US in the
"war on terror". Others
claim that it was a part of
President General Pervez Musharraf's delicate
tightrope walk to balance his image at home with
that of the face he projects abroad as a US ally.
President Shaukat Aziz, on a visit to the
United States, has categorically denied on US
television that Pakistan was told in advance of
the raid, and also rejected US claims that a few
senior al-Qaeda figures died in the attack.
However, Asia Times Online has reported that
Islamabad definitely knew of the attack (see
Pakistan's misplaced ire over US
misfire, January 18).
attack in Bajur has many facets to it. On one
side, it has broken the semblance of niceties and
courtesies between Washington and Islamabad, at
the same time conveying the United States'
desperation in making significant progress against
And at least one person well
versed in the labyrinthine geopolitics of the
region sees the attack as a way of ratcheting up
pressure on Musharraf to hand over nuclear
scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan for direct
interrogation by the US.
the former director general of the
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), retired
Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, Washington wants Khan, the father
of Pakistan's nuclear-weapons program, to provide
the smoking gun it needs to prove that Iran has
a clandestine nuclear-weapons program. Khan,
under virtual house arrest in Pakistan, has confessed
to nuclear-proliferation activities,
including dealings with Iran. Pakistan refuses any access to
The issue now, therefore, is just how
much further the US will go (more attacks on
Pakistani territory?), and how much Pakistan will
cooperate in such endeavors, given the growing
groundswell of anti-US sentiment in Pakistan.
Pakistan is definitely caught between a
rock and a hard place. But then so, too, is the
Blame it on Afghanistan Suicide bombings in Afghanistan are now
widespread. These began last winter - for the
first time in the history of the country - and
have escalated this cold season, allowing the
resistance to show its muscle in this
traditionally quiet period for militant
The US has invested millions
of dollars in Afghanistan to nurture loyalties
among clerics, soldiers, the administration and
political leaders. It applied a technique of
creating vested interests, which initially worked.
However, the organized terror tactics of
the Taliban have seriously undermined these
efforts, and with the way in which the Afghan
resistance is growing, there is a strong chance
that all pro-US political developments will go
back to square one.
The difficulty for the
US is that the resistance uses Pakistani territory
both as a haven and to obtain supplies. More than
a dozen remote passes in the
Pakistani-administered tribal areas link the two
countries, and a wild no-man's land also provides
a sanctuary for hit-and-run militants launching
attacks in Afghanistan.
The United States'
frustration at this situation has forced it to
undertake its own raids inside Pakistan.
Pakistani intelligence agencies have been
sharing intelligence with the US ever since
Islamabad sided with Washington in the "war on
terror" after September 11, 2001, and they have
never hidden the fact that the tribal areas were
likely sanctuaries for the Afghan resistance,
including Taliban commanders, al-Qaeda members and
commanders of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, a key
component of the resistance.
Pakistani agencies confirmed with US intelligence
that there was a strong pro-Taliban movement in
North Waziristan's area of Dand-i-Darpakhel, from
where attacks were launched on Khost across the
border. A joint team of the US Federal Bureau of
Investigation and the ISI conducted a raid, but
except for a few foot soldiers they failed to
arrest any significant figures, such as Jalaluddin
Haqqani or any of his top commanders, including
his son Siraj.
In sharing intelligence
with the Americans, Pakistan's strategic quarters
did not believe that the US would dare step into
the tribal areas as traditionally they have been a
death trap for invading armies. However, the US
had other ideas.
Commander Nek Mohammed
was the first target. Nek, a charismatic former
Taliban commander, was killed in a raid near Wana,
the district headquarters of South Waziristan, in
June 2004. Pakistan and the US had shared all
information on him, but while Pakistan wanted to
strike a deal with him, the Americans saw him as a
key enemy and wanted him eliminated - which they
did with a laser-guided missile.
commander Hamza Rabia is a second example of US
intervention in Pakistan. He was tracked and then
killed by a missile fired by a US Predator in Mir
Ali, North Waziristan, last year.
there is the incident at Bajur. The Americans had
tracked the movement of militants to and from
Kunar in Afghanistan, and they informed the
Pakistani authorities that they would carry out
action against them. US spy drones had been flying
in the Bajur-Kunar area for three days prior to
the attack, and had been tracked on Pakistani
Security officials tell Asia Times
Online that these three examples are a prelude of
things to come as the US tracks more bases of the
Afghan resistance in areas along the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This region starts in
Jalalabad-Torkham and ends at Kandahar-Chaman. At
times it branches into areas controlled by
Pakistan argues that it is
extremely difficult to send the military into this
rugged territory, and that if US forces were
allowed to operate there, the Taliban-led
insurgency would be dragged into Pakistani
The US appears tired of hearing
this, and can be expected to take matters more
into its own hands.
The Iran factor "The Bajur attack is more political than
military," said former ISI chief Gul. "On one side
it carried a message that they [the Americans]
would play their game of 'war on terror' on their
terms, and would destroy their enemies, even on
Pakistani soil. The killing of Nek Mohammed, Hamza
Rabia and the current incident of Bajur are
"However, there is reverse swing
[an unexpected angle] in this game," said Gul.
"The Americans cannot get any concrete evidence on
Iran's nuclear program [that it plans to build
nuclear weapons], and without such evidence they
will not take the matter to the [United Nations]
Security Council. They have been pressing hard on
Pakistan to hand over Dr A Q Khan for
interrogation because they understand that this is
the only way to get evidence on Iran's nuclear
program. So apparently they are trying to put
Pakistan in a serious quagmire by giving it the
option to either bear constant air strikes in
Pakistani territory or hand over Dr Khan," Gul
"At the same time, to further
strangulate Musharraf, they are once again beating
the drum of democracy. Now there are clear voices
from Washington in favor of democracy in Pakistan.
I recall a situation in which the late Pakistani
premier, Mohammed Khan Junejo, visited the US [in
1986], and when he returned, his attitude towards
the late [dictator] General Zia ul-Haq changed. To
me, Shaukat Aziz' [present] US visit, given the
current situation, is of significance and we will
have to see what secret message he brings back
with him," Gul said.
Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times
Online. He can be reached at [email protected].
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