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    South Asia
     Jan 10, 2009
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 Washington.

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 immediately.

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 saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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