by Waseem Shehzad (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 1, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1430)
Will the deal announced on February 16 in Swat bring peace to the troubled region that has been engulfed in violence for nearly two years now? More importantly, will it hold considering that it was criticized even before all the details were known? Both the US and its agents in Pakistan have launched a vicious campaign, raising the specter of a Taliban takeover of the rest of the country as well. Is this true and whose purpose does it serve if the military campaign against the people of Swat continues that has claimed hundreds of lives and turned an estimated 800,000 people into refugees that are now herded into the Jalozai camp (located between Peshawar and Nowshehra) in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)?
Prior to the deal, the Taliban, or whosoever was involved in fighting against government forces, announced a 10-day truce. The following day, Pakistani officials said they had struck a deal to accept a legal system compatible with Shari‘ah in Swat in return for peace. This essentially amounted to accepting a de facto situation that had already existed on the ground for years. In much of the tribal belt, local customs mixed with a sprinkling of Islamic laws are applied. In Swat, a group led by Maulana Sufi Muhammad calling itself Tehrik Nifaz-e Shari‘at-e Muhammadi (TNSM) has operated for decades. Sufi Muhammad came to prominence just prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 when he sent thousands of volunteers in support of the Taliban. Many were butchered when US B-52 bombers dropped 1,000-pound bombs. Now his son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah has also joined the fray and rules the roost in Swat.
“After successful negotiations, all un-Islamic laws related to the judicial system, those against the Quran and the Sunnah would be subject to cancellation and considered null and void,” said the Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain who belongs to the secular Awami National Party. This is, in fact, exactly according to the constitution of Pakistan but this provision has never been followed. Though unknown to him, Sufi Muhammad who had long advocated the restoration of Shari‘ah in Swat and pledged in return to persuade Taliban fighters to lay down their arms, was trying to fulfill an article of the Pakistan constitution. It appears that as part of the deal, a Chinese engineer, Long Xiaowei, who had been held hostage since August, was also released.
The fact that the deal materialized amidst intense fighting between government forces and the militants indicates that backdoor discussions were underway for sometime. Further, that the attack on Swat, as elsewhere in the tribal region, was instigated at the behest of the US. Several months earlier, the US ambassador in Islamabad, Anne Paterson had called the World Food Organization (WFO) representative and USAID officials in Pakistan for a meeting. During the meeting the US envoy told the WFO official to prepare plans to cater for 800,000 refugees from Swat to be housed at the Jalozai camp. The US would pay the costs. Why would the US be interested in looking after Pakistani refugees and how did the US envoy know that there would be 800,000 of them from Swat? This clearly points to prior knowledge of what the US expected the Pakistan army to do and what its consequences would be.
It is also interesting to note that the Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani accompanied by Pakistan intelligence chief, lieutenant general Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was in Washington a week after the Swat deal was announced. Kiyani’s visit was aimed at coordinating strategy with US military planners for a major offensive against the Taliban and al-Qaeda both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama has made Afghanistan the central plank of his war strategy that includes the tribal areas of Pakistan as well. Last month, the region was attacked twice: in the first drone attack in North Waziristan, 30 people were killed while in the second attack on February 16 another 31 persons perished, this time in Sur Pul in the Kurram Agency. Since becoming president, Obama has intensified attacks against Pakistan despite claiming to change policy to improve US image globally. It would appear the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan are dispensable and not included in this “change of policy” deal.
The Swat deal must be viewed in the context of the larger US aim. It is not true that the Pakistani government led by Asif Zardari struck a deal with the Taliban in Swat on its own; Zardari cannot do anything without American permission. The deal is a ruse to draw the fighters into disarming with the ultimate aim of eliminating them. It will, therefore, not be allowed to succeed even if the people support it. There is an even more sinister plan at work. Many of these so-called Taliban leaders, including Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah, are on the US payroll getting huge sums of money to keep the region in turmoil. Pakistani commentators have asked why Imam Dera, Faz-lullah’s madrassa that sits across Fiza Ghat on the Indus River in Swat, has not been attacked while Jalaluddin Haq-qani’s compound in Waziristan has been repeatedly bombed? Fazlullah is a CIA asset; he serves the US plan to create so much mayhem that the ground would be prepared to remove Pakistan’s nuclear wea-pons for “fear” that they might fall into the hands of “terrorists”.
This is not merely Pakistani paranoia. Carefully placed leaks in the US media point to this fact. In one particularly detailed article, David Sanger of the New York Times wrote on January 11, 2009 about the “threat” posed by militants to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. To get a feel for how US officials think, consider the following from Sanger’s article, “Just last month [December] in Washington, members of the federally appointed bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proli-feration and Terrorism made it clear that for sheer scariness, nothing could compete with what they had heard in a series of high-level intelligence briefings about the dangers of Pakistan’s nuclear technology going awry. ‘When you map WMD and terrorism, all roads intersect in Pakistan,’ Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and a leading nuclear expert on the commission, told me. ‘The nuclear security of the arsenal is now a lot better than it was. But the unknown variable here is the future of Pakistan itself, because it’s not hard to envision a situation in which the state’s authority falls apart and you’re not sure who’s in control of the weapons, the nuclear labs, the materials’.”
Through their policies, the Americans are working to make sure that the State authority in Pakistan collapses. The release on February 6 of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan from house arrest has provided further grist to the American rumor mill. For the record, Dr Khan, a highly respected Pakistani nuclear scientist and considered father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, was not charged with any crime. In fact, in 2005 he was forced to “confess” on television that he was “solely responsible for smuggling nuclear weapons” and then promptly pardoned by then president, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, for obvious reasons. Musharraf also declined to allow US interrogation of Dr Khan. Instead, he placed him under house arrest in Islamabad. Dr Khan challenged this in court that finally quashed his house arrest order. The US and Western media outlets paint Dr Khan as a person walking around with nuclear weapons in his suitcase. Regrettably, the ill-informed public in the West believes such propaganda. Dr Khan has not been involved in Pakistan’s nuclear program for many years. Besides, a nuclear bomb is not a toy that people carry in a suitcase but who should educate the ignorant people of America when there is such relentless propaganda against Pakistan? Nearly 30 percent of Americans still believe that Saddam Husain was involved in the 9/11 attacks and that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Lies repeated endlessly can make people believe anything.
There is another dimension to the Pakistani nuclear file that the US is peddling: they allege Pakistani nuclear scientists with Islamic sympathies could pass critical knowledge to the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Western journalists including Sanger, have a habit of quoting unnamed “senior intelligence officials” about how “foreign-trained Pakistani scientists, including some suspected of harboring sympathy for radical Islamic causes, were returning to Pakistan to seek jobs within the country’s nuclear infrastructure…” This is not very different from what the Sunday Times of London had reported on January 4, 1992 when it ran a screaming headline about Iraqi nuclear scientists “helping” Algerian scientists to make nuclear bombs. The story was based on information from the same “anonymous western intelligence sources”. Only a week earlier the Islamic Salvation Front had won a majority of seats in the first round of parliamentary elections in Algeria and was poised to take power. Before the military struck — with the blessings and encouragement of the West — the Sunday Times front-page story was aimed at raising the bogey of a “nuclear-armed Islamic Algeria”, and therefore, preparing the ground for Western action to prevent “Islamists” from getting hold of nuclear weapons. When the military in Algeria unleashed its reign of terror and the Islamic Salvation Front was destroyed, the London Times story vanished into the same thin air from where it had emerged, never to be heard again.
Sanger’s January 11 story uses the same technique that the Times story on Algeria utilized 17 years ago. Here is how Sanger’s story continued: ‘“I have two worries,” one of the most senior officials in the Bush administration, who had read all of the intelligence with care, told me one day last spring. One is what happens “when they move the weapons,” he said, explaining that the United States feared that some groups could try to provoke a confrontation between Pakistan and India in the hope that the Pakistani military would transport tactical nuclear weapons closer to the front lines, where they would be more vulnerable to seizure. Indeed, when the deadly terror attacks occurred in Mumbai in late November, officials told me they feared that one of the attackers’ motives might have been to trigger exactly that series of events. “And the second,” the official said, choosing his words carefully, “is what I believe are steadfast efforts of different extremist groups to infiltrate the labs and put sleepers and so on in there.”’ The function of these “sleepers”, Sanger’s intelligence officials tell us, is that they would “walk out the door with the knowledge of how to produce fuel.”
This knowledge of fuel production would then be passed on to Osama bin Laden in his cave in Afghanistan or wherever he might be, if he is still alive, or to the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar who would promptly build a nuclear bomb! So there you have it from the top intelligence officials of the United States of America! Obviously, the Americans would like the world to believe that making a nuclear bomb is no more complicated than baking bread and since most Pakistani nuclear scientists are either open or closet “Islamists”, the world has much to fear. They are also trying to find out how many nuclear bombs Pakistan has, where they are stored and how they are protected. No self-respecting State would give such critical information away yet Pakistan is under pressure to do so. Not surprisingly, Pakistani officials suspect that the real intent of the US is to gather the information needed to grab, or neutralize, the country’s arsenal.
But the US is not content with mere sniffing for nuclear information; it also has its Pakistani agents in the media, the political establishment, universities and indeed in the tribal belt itself that help advance its agenda. Further, US drone attacks and Pakistani military operations in the tribal area are meant to turn the people of this region against Pakistan. Nobody enjoys being bombed. A commonly heard refrain among the Pathans these days is that they do not wish to live in Pakistan anymore because they are being bombed and butchered by their own army. The US also continues to harp on the point that Pakistan cannot control its own tribal belt so the US must intervene to do it. Successive Pakistani governments—both military and civilian—have provided bases and other facilities to the US to operate there. For instance, the US has established a huge military base near Tarbela Dam where massive stockpiles of weapons are stored. There are fears that an accident could lead to a massive explosion causing breach in the earth-filled dam. This would inundate large parts of the Frontier province causing millions of casualties.
US-instigated mayhem in the tribal area has now seeped into the rest of the country as well. This is what the US wants to have a pretext to go in and take out Pakistan’s nuclear weapons before they “fall into the hands of the extremists”. This has been the US plan all along; only the naïve rulers of Pakistan have been unable, or unwilling, to see it.