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Cheney's Far From Sweet Message To Musharraf - International Terrorism Monitor

Cheney's Far From Sweet Message To Musharraf - International Terrorism Monitor

Author: B. Raman
Publication: South Asia Analysis Group
Date: February 27, 2007
URL: http://www.saag.org/papers22/paper2153.html

After his official visits to Japan and Australia, the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, stopped over in Islamabad on February 26, 2007, for talks followed by a lunch with President Pervez Musharraf. His plans to stop over in Islamabad were not announced in advance by the Pakistan Foreign Office and the US State Department due to concerns over likely threats to his security in the background of the recent incidents of suicide terrorism or attempted suicide terrorism in Pakistani territory. Two of these attempts, which were unsuccessful, were made in Islamabad itself. An official announcement about his visit and his talks with Musharraf was made only after Cheney had left Islamabad.

2. While the Pakistani authorities have not made much headway in the investigation of these cases, they suspect that at least some of these incidents were triggered off by a Pakistani air strike on a madrasa in the Bajaur agency on October 30, 2006, in which 83 persons were killed. This strike was reportedly made on the basis of information originating from the US agencies that this madrasa was being used by Al Qaeda and the Taliban to train their new recruits. The local tribal leaders have strongly denied this and have been accusing the Musharraf regime of killing innocent civilians at the behest of the US. This was followed by another controversial Pakistani air strike in South Waziristan on January 16, 2007, in which the Pakistani army claimed to have killed eight terrorists. As a result, anti-US feelings are high in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, from where the suicide terrorists are alleged to have come.

3. According to reliable Pakistani sources, Dick Cheney's talks with Musharraf were partly Afghanistan related, partly Al Qaeda related and partly Iraq related. They deny that the discussions covered the current crisis on Iran also. They insist Iran was not raised by either side. It is not yet known whether Cheney raised the long-pending US request for handing over A. Q. Khan, the nuclear scientist, for interrogation regarding his collusion with Iran and North Korea.

4. The Afghan-related discussions were about the failure of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Army to locate and arrest the leaders of the Taliban and the Hizbe Islami of Gulbuddin Heckmatyar operating from Pakistani territory, stop the recruitment and training of Taliban cadres in camps operating in Pakistani territory and to prevent their infiltration into Afghanistan for attacking the NATO forces. In fact, Gen. Musharraf has been following a policy of calculated inaction against the Taliban leaders and cadres operating from Pakistani territory ever since the US-led forces went into action in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. The US used to close its eyes to it so long as he was co-operating against Al Qaeda. His co-operation against Al Qaeda has declined since August last year.

5. The last instance of co-operation by Musharraf against Al Qaeda was in the beginning of August last when the Pakistani agencies arrested Rashid Rauf, a Mirpuri from Birmingham, UK, whom they projected as close to Al Qaeda. It was reported that it was he who gave the information about a plot of Al Qaeda to blow up a number of US-bound planes originating from the UK. An announcement about the discovery of this plot and the arrest of a number of Pakistani-origin residents of the UK in this connection was made by the British Police on August 10, 2006. Since then, Musharraf has been avoiding action on a British request for handing him over to them for interrogation. Reliable sources in Pakistan say that he has made the handing-over of Rashid Rauf conditional on the British arresting and handing over some Baloch nationalist elements living in the UK. The British are reportedly not prepared to do this.

7. Since the so-called peace agreement signed by him with the pro-Taliban tribal leaders of North Waziristan in September last year, he has called off all ground-based operations in this area ----whether directed against the local tribals, or against the Taliban or against the remnants of Al Qaeda. He has been content with a promise made by the tribal leaders that they would not allow the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements to infiltrate into Afghanistan and attack the NATO forces. But even this commitment---of a dubious nature--- has not been kept by them. They are now saying that their commitment was that they would not allow these foreign elements to pose any threat to Pakistani security forces and nationals in Pakistani territory. They deny any commitment not to allow them to operate in Afghan territory.

8. Earlier, in March 2005, Musharraf had entered into a similar peace agreement with the pro-Taliban tribal leaders of South Waziristan and has now been negotiating a similar peace agreement with the pro-Taliban tribal leaders of the Bajaur Agency. Taking advantage of the suspension of the military operations in South and North Waziristan, Al Qaeda has set up its own training camps there, which are different from those of the Taliban already existing. In these training camps, not only Al Qaeda cadres meant for operations against the NATO forces in Afghanistan, but also old cadres and new recruits meant for operations in Somalia and elsewhere are reportedly being trained by Arab, Chechen and Uzbeck instructors.

9. Al Qaeda has in recent months shot down at least seven --- possibly eight --- US helicopters in Iraq. Initially, when they sustained one or two losses, the Americans tended to believe that those were random successes with small arms and ammunition. The repeated successes of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the examination of the videos disseminated by it after some of the strikes have brought out that these helicopters were brought down---despite the expert evasive action taken by the specially trained US pilots--- by specially trained terrorists of Al Qaeda with the help of surface-to-air missiles. The techniques used by them were similar to the techniques taught by the US to the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s for use against the Soviet helicopters. These techniques had not been used by the Iraqi resistance fighters and Al Qaeda terrorists against the US helicopters during the last three years. They have started using them only during the last three or four months---indicating the infiltration into Iraq of terrorists specially trained in anti-helicopter warfare. The Pakistani sources say that the Americans seem to suspect that these elements were trained in the Al Qaeda training camps in North Waziristan and then infiltrated into Iraq.

10. Both Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban have stepped up their anti-US propaganda and PSYWAR. While Al Qaeda had been showing signs of sophistication even earlier for the last two years, the Neo Taliban has recently been showing similar sophistication. Such sophisticated propaganda material cannot be produced in the tribal areas of Afghanistan, where there are no facilities for their production. All indicators are that the material is being produced in Pakistani territory with the help of Pakistani experts and disseminated from there. The Pakistani agencies have not taken action to identify those involved in the production and dissemination of the propaganda and PSYWAR material and neutralise them.

11. The Americans, who had been keeping their eyes closed to the Pakistani collusion with the Neo Taliban in the past, are no longer prepared to do so in view of the sharp increase in its activities in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan last year and its threats of an even more ferocious offensive starting from the forthcoming spring. Musharraf's repeated suggestions for talks with the Neo Taliban and a peace agreement with it by the Hamid Karzai Government similar to the two agreements signed by him with the tribal leaders of Waziristan have convinced the junior and middle-level NATO officers in Afghanistan that he is decreasingly acting as the front-line ally in the war against terrorism and increasingly acting as the launderer of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

12. The Pakistani sources say that during his talks with Musharraf, Cheney said that while the Bush Administration still stood by its long-term commitment to support Pakistan and the Musharraf regime, this commitment is likely to become untenable if his security agencies continued to avoid action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. He also drew his attention to the concerns expressed in the Democrat-controlled Congress over the perceived inaction of his Government against not only the Taliban, but also against Al Qaeda.

13. The US has not yet come to a parting of the ways with Musharraf. It still considers him a very good bet in Pakistan and in its war against terrorism. But, it no longer considers him the best bet and would not hesitate to consider other options if Musharraf continues to drag his feet.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com)

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