By Dr. Shireen M Mazari
Is what is happening in the Arab World and in our region a set of coincidental events? Does the Indo-US cooperation unfolding as per the Vision document signed by the US and India during the Clinton Presidency have a link to the wider regional environment?
What seemed far-fetched at the time now seems more real. When a retired US Army Intelligence officer, Ralph Peters’ article Blood Borders was published (July 2006) in the US Armed Forces Journal showing US intent of undermining the strong non-monarchic Muslims states of the Middle East and West Asia from Egypt to Pakistan, the design wasn’t given much attention. But if we see what has happened since then to these states, we can see that events have linkages and designs and are not mere coincidences. We should also recall the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice most callously referring to the death and destruction wreaked on Lebanon by Israel as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”. This was also the time, now probably forgotten by most, when US commentators had begun increasingly writing about the need to break the very structures of the existing state system in the Greater Middle East (GME) – which included Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Leslie Gelb and Peter Galbraith wrote about the need to create three states out of Iraq and other analysts followed suit as the US got more deeply drawn into the Iraqi quagmire which it had itself created by invading that country.
The Peters article (he was a retired US Army intel officer) was the most explicit expression of what the US intended to do in the GME region and it scaled new heights of ignorance and imperial hubris. As usual the European allies of the US were quick to jump on the GME redrawing bandwagon by couching it in terms of bringing democracy to these Muslim states through the Broader Middle East Initiative (BMEI).
What has followed since has been a destruction of non-monarchic Arab states – from Iraq where the tripartite division still casts a dark shadow to Libya to Egypt where the Arab Spring quickly turned into a winter of democratic reversals. Then there is Syria which is rent asunder by a devastating civil war and periodic attacks by Israel as well as the war being waged by Islamic State In Syria (ISIS) now moving forward militarily as the IS into Iraq. As Al Qaeda has waned, IS has replaced it with a brutality that is beyond comprehension. As the Arab states mentioned above have weakened and been rent by fissiparous tendencies, a strategic vacuum has been created inviting even greater external intrusions especially by the US and its allies like French proactive military action in Libya and the US along with its European allies bombing Syria and Iraq ostensibly to target IS forces. Israel has also used the opportunity to bomb Syria.
Beyond the destruction of the non-monarchical Arab states, Iran has also been a focal point of the BMEI with the US seeking to simultaneously isolate and internally weaken the Islamic Republic of Iran. The nuclear issue was the pretext for sanctions and isolation attempts but eventually the US had to come to the dialogue table with Iran. In fact Iran showed the limits of a military hegemon and its preemptive doctrine that the US had unveiled in 2002. Nevertheless, the US also used Jundullah to launch covert operations in the Sistan province of Iran from Pakistan’s Balochistan. But the wheel has come full circle in the case of Iran with the Obama Administration now advising Congress that additional sanctions on Iran would undermine chances of a nuclear settlement with Iran which in turn would undermine US interests.
Closer to home, after years of fighting a non-winnable war in Afghanistan the White House has suddenly declared that the Afghan Taliban are not terrorists but armed insurgents. So where do all these developments leave Pakistan?
To begin with a nuclear Pakistan has always been part of the plan revealed in Blood Borders to weaken and possibly divide powerful Muslim states – and a nuclear Muslim state was central to that plan. In 2005 the US delinked Pakistan’s nuclear weapon status from that of India’s, and sought to legitimize the latter. Dr A Q Khan issue has been the perennial excuse for this de-linkage but the record of India’s proliferation as a state is well-documented by US sources and is available on many sites including the SSII website. But the rise in domestic terrorism in Pakistan which became enmeshed in the Al Qaeda international terrorism; the radicalization within Pakistan aggravated by the US War on Terror, especially the illegal use of CIA drones on Pakistani territory, which turned into a War of Terror for Pakistan; the free access given to US covert operatives across Pakistan by the Musharraf regime and followed by his civilian successors; all these factors ensured a weakening of the Pakistani state which became and continues to be a direct target of terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile external threats were accentuated by the US-led war in Afghanistan and the US-India military deals including the nuclear deal. Pakistan’s US-obsessed leadership remained shell-shocked or too much in a dependency mindset to activate a long term diplomatic policy to counter the negative impact of the US-India strategic cooperation with its strong weapons component. Now suddenly Pakistani officialdom is muttering some words of protest over the Obama visit especially the “nuclear deal” an US commitments to get India a permanent seat in the UNSC and membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group – a supplier cartel having no international law standing in contrast to international treaties.
Shows how ignorant our decision makers are. All these US moves have been in place since the Clinton Administration and some even earlier. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, India, along with some other states, has been demanding permanent membership of the UNSC with its accompanying veto. The US made the commitment to support India as part of the Vision agreement. After the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005 the US has supported India in getting an NSG waiver to allow it to import civil nuclear technology including dual use technology; the US has been less successful in getting India NSG membership but it has been trying for some time now. The US also pushed the IAEA into giving India a special Safeguards Agreement along with aiding India’s development of a Ballistic Missile Defence system in cooperation with Israel. So what happened with the Obama visit was merely further progress of this strategic US-India relationship. There was no new nuclear deal but India agreed to alter its liability laws to allow US firms to sell nuclear reactors to India. So far US firms were wary of coming into the Indian market while other countries were moving ahead to reap the benefits of the Indo-US nuclear deal and the NSG waiver.
More critical has been the US support for India’s intrusion into the South China Sea – signaling for the first time a formal agreement by India to contain China in collusion with the US. Equally important India agreed to revive the 2007 Quadrilateral Initiative – a military coordination agreement between India, the US, Australia and the now increasingly militarized Japan. This agreement had been put in cold storage earlier after a strong protest from China.
So is it a mere coincidence that terrorist attacks on a large scale against civilians rise just at this time in Pakistan and the US moves away from its earlier position on the Taliban just as Pakistan formally ends a distinction between “good” and “bad” Taliban and invokes an anti-terror action plan with a strong military component; and initiates a better understanding with the new Afghan government? Is it a mere coincidence that IMF pressure over a compliant government is creating economic and social chaos in Pakistan which for the first time in its recent history at least saw petrol shortages – adding to the gas and electricity shortages? Are these developments creating heightened instability and polarization within Pakistan simply independent events or is there an overall pattern emerging? Of course an inept government in power is willy nilly aggravating the situation but is there a wider dimension to the state of affairs confronting Pakistan today? Is it a mere coincidence that some European states are presently sheltering Baloch dissidents including those using arms against the Pakistani state? What should one make of US Congressional and American think tanks support for Conferences on Greater Balochistan seeking to break up Pakistan? What should we make of the Yousaf al Salafi – allegedly the Pakistan commander of Islamic State (IS) or Daish – confession after being arrested in Lahore in December 2014 (but only made public in January 2015) that he has been receiving funds routed through the United States to run IS in Pakistan and recruit fighters for Syria? Ironically the US has issued any denial of this information that was in the print media!
We should revisit events post-9/11 to fully understand developments happening within Pakistan and around the region. A re-read of Blood Borders and US-EU statements on the BMEI would also help us see the bigger picture. It is not only about the Indo-US nuclear deal – that is an old outcome of the larger game plan. The dots have a clear connecting line – we just need to see it.