Washington loses a vital link By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - In line with a compliance list recently handed over by US Assistant
Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia Richard Boucher, Pakistan
was was due on Thursday to launch a crackdown against the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET)
and other jihadi organizations.
But the operation, which was to be coordinated by the Ministry of Interior,
police and the Intelligence Bureau, was halted at the 11th hour by the
Pakistani military establishment, well-placed contacts in Pakistan's
intelligence quarters have told Asia Times Online.
And instead, powerful National Security Advisor retired Major General Mahmood
Durrani was fired. He and other senior government officials had earlier
admitted that Ajmal Qasab, the
sole survivor of the 10 terrorists who launched a bloody attack on the Indian
city of Mumbai on November 27, was Pakistani. The men had already been linked
to the LET, a banned group in Pakistan.
Durrani has been a crucial link between the US, the government of Pakistan and
the Pakistan military.
The new year began with a fresh initiative in the US-led "war on terror" in
terms of which Boucher unfolded a two-prong approach: Pakistani President Asif
Ali Zardari was to seek reconciliation with India by complying with its demands
following the Mumbai attack, and Zardari was to visit Kabul to establish better
coordination with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The head of US Central Command, General David Petraeus, is soon to launch a
surge in Afghanistan that will double the number of US troops from 30,000 to
60,000. At the same time, Pakistan's tribal areas, where militants have
extensive bases, will become open hunting grounds for Afghan and Pakistan
tribal militias backed by joint patrols of the national armies of the two
countries, in addition to North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.
The first segment of the American package concerning India has, however, now
been shot down with Durrani's dismissal, throwing into doubt the remaining
part. This leaves Zardari's civilian government awkwardly caught between the
competing desires of the US and its own military establishment.
A missing linkman
After the exit of former president General Pervez Musharraf and the election of
a civilian government early last year, Durrani's role as a go-between became
crucial as he tried to balance the pressures on the government.
Durrani had a close rapport with American decision-makers on South Asian
affairs and had been involved in backchannel American-sponsored efforts on
disputed Kashmir and on Afghanistan. He was for a time Pakistan's ambassador in
After the Mumbai attack, a move was made to establish a National Intelligence
Authority as a counterweight to the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, which
has consistently been accused of dragging its feet in the "war on terror". A
Pakistani professor at Harvard, who used to work as Zardari's staff officer and
once was in the police service, was suggested to head this new body, but on the
military's intervention the scheme was shelved.
Earlier, under US pressure, the Pakistani government had managed to outmaneuver
the military by having the Jamaatut Dawa declared by the United Nations a front
organization of the LET and having it placed on a terror list, along with the
Taliban and al-Qaeda.
This gave the government justification to arrest leaders of the Jamaatut Dawa.
However, the military establishment warned that unless India provided evidence
against them, they must be released, and the government concurred.
The government then prevaricated, even claiming that leader Masood Azhar was at
large and could not be traced anywhere in Pakistan. Neither Washington nor
Delhi bought into this, and pressure was exerted for civilian agencies such as
the police and the Intelligence Bureau to take action.
Provincial Home Departments prepared lists of wanted militants and action was
about to start on Thursday after Durrani and others had set the scene by
admitting that Qasab was Pakistani.
This was too much for the military leaders and they issued a "note of advice"
to the president and Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani that Durrani had to go
The government buckled, and Washington has lost a vital point man as it
prepares for a new phase in Afghanistan. US vice president-elect Joe Biden, who
is due to visit the region soon, has much to be concerned about.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com