US-Pak crisis: Cheque-mates and checkers

By Ameen Izzadeen

In a game of checkers or chess, the two players ponder over each other’s moves, unless there is match-fixing. As politics is often akin to a game of checkers or chess, a move by a nation, a group or a person makes others wonder why, unless the move is a pre-arranged one, like in a fixed match.

When the United States announced this week it was withholding US$ 800 million in military aid to Pakistan, it was like a move in a game of checkers or chess. If the game is a genuine one, then the move must have surely made Pakistan wonder why. After all, Pakistan is fighting the United States’ dirty war, not only killing its own people but also allowing the Americans to kill them. But if the move is a pre-arranged one, then it is the people who are being taken for a big ride, like the spectators at a fixed match.

The relations between Pakistan and the United States appear to have been on the rocks since al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by US troops in an operation that gave a damn about Pakistan’s sovereignty. Signs are emerging of a major turmoil in the atmosphere that sustains US-Pakistan relations.

Since, the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was forced to join the US war on terror, a euphemism for the imperialist war, in October 2001, Pakistan and the US have been engaged in a kind of politics that bears features of match-fixing.

Be it the case of Raymond Davis, the CIA mercenary who killed two Pakistani youths in Lahore in January this year and got away like in a case of detective fiction or the US raid on the bin Laden hideout in Abbotabad near Islamabad or even the regular US drone attacks on the Pakistani people, there is high level of collusion between the two countries.

Award-winning journalist Bob Woodward in his book Obama’s Wars claims that when the then CIA chief Mike Hayden visited Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari at New York’s Intercontinental Barclay Hotel and broached the subject of drone attacks and civilian deaths, the Pakistani President, who was then just months in his office, said, “Kill the seniors. Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”

Woodward interprets this statement as an important green light from the Pakistani president for the Americans to kill Pakistani civilians in the hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

Understanding the match-fixing-like relations between the two countries in the post 9/11 period is as tough as an American trying to understand a game of cricket.

It is more complicated because Pakistan has two centres of power – one dominated by elected leaders and the other by the military which itself is further divided with Pakistan’s spy arm, the Inter-Service Intelligence, being a law unto itself. The US maintains its relations with all the centres of power. For example, on Thursday night, the ISI chief flew to Washington for one-day crisis talks.

With power so divided, the Pakistani government and the military, at times, do not know each other’s moves or secret deals with the US. A classic example is the military’s demand that the United States wind up the drone base in Balochistan. The defence establishment wanted it closed but the information ministry said no such decision was taken.

Given the history of Pakistan’s collaboration with the US at the cost of the country’s sovereignty, one wonders whether the current crisis in the US-Pakistan relations is genuine. But it appears that Pakistan — more so, its military — is playing a serious game this time.

All of a sudden, Pakistan has woken up and asked the Americans to close down the drone base and downsize its military presence in the country. Days before this order, the military asked the British military personnel operating in Pakistan to pack up their bags and go home. In return, the US military chief Mike Mullen embarrassed the Zardari government by suggesting that it sanctioned the killing of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. Admiral Mullen, who is the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, has little or no authority to make a politically-sensitive statement, unless he has the approval of the White House. Of course, the Pakistani government slammed the statement as irresponsible. Then came the announcement that the US was withholding military aid to Pakistan, which had over the years obtained more than US$ 14 billion in military and economic aid.

The sense of alarm that Pakistan is suddenly displaying may be linked to the US willingness to take the war to Balochistan, a region troubled by separatist politics and lawlessness. It is here that Pakistan finds it difficult to compromise its national interest to please the US. The US appears to be highly disturbed over Pakistan’s oil and gas pipeline deal with Iran. Iran has completed its part upto the Balochistan border.  It is now left for Pakistan to complete the project. The project, on the one hand, will cut down Pakistan’s energy bill and give the much-needed fillip for an economic boom. On the other, it will also give Iran a strategic outlet to export its oil and gas not only to Pakistan but to other countries such as India and China. India has withdrawn from the project under US pressure.

Then there are fears that the US may work towards dismembering Balochistan from Pakistan.

Pakistan’s decision to close down the US drone base probably is a bid to thwart US moves aimed at taking the war to Balochistan. Pakistan accuses India of aiding and abetting the Baloch separatist movement, which also receives covert US support.

If Pakistan’s Balochistan becomes an independent state with US support, Iran will be surrounded and it will be only a matter of time before the new state extends its borders to incorporate Iran’s Balochi region where the US-linked Jundullah group is resorting to terrorism and spreading separatism.

If the war engulfs Balochistan it may also deny China the much looked-forward to a land-and-sea link with the Middle East through the Gwadar port and the Karkoram Highway across Pakistan.

Nuclear power Pakistan, or its military, seems to have woken up. But corruption being the bane of Pakistan, match-fixing a la politics cannot be ruled out.

(This article also appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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