Gilani and the genie

The story of the two wishes

The farce continues to remain with Yusuf Raza Gilani. The hapless Pakistani prime minister told his surprise guest from Washington DC that he was surprised at the recent raids by US forces into Pakistani territory.

Gilani said he had reminded the visiting US admiral on Wednesday that in his closed-door meeting during his recent trip to the US, President Bush had asked him to make two wishes which Bush was ready to accept in front of the media to please his guest from Islamabad.

“I had told him that the first wish was to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and the other was to respect Pakistan’s democracy,” Gilani told The News. [The News]

The Zardari dilemma

Balancing the pushes

If Asif Zardari doesn’t push back against the Americans, Cyril Almeida, a columnist at Dawn argues, he will be “pushed out by the army.”

What Mr Almeida doesn’t consider, and what must be weighing on President Zardari’s mind, are the implications of pushing back against the Americans.

The Americans won’t merely push. They’ll shove.

Shoot the invaders

Pakistani troops fire at US helicopters

Bruce Loudon might have gotten it right. Because wire services are reporting that Pakistani troops fired at a heliborne US raiding party near Angoor Adda, South Waziristan (or, if you prefer the ISPR spin, the Pakistani soldiers sounded their bugles to alert the tribesmen who then fired at the Americans). (linkthanks Swami Iyer)

What should you make of this? Well, since no one actually got hurt, it is hard to completely dismiss the possibility that this is the action sequence in a drama, the kind the local audience love. But then again, other audiences might not love it all that much.

But if it is for real—and the bugle and tribesman story suggests that it might be—then we are living in interesting times.

Update: The Pentagon denies that there was even such a raid, less that it was fired upon.

London undiplomatese

With ambassadors like these…

Today’s cake goes to Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s recently ‘re-appointed’ high commissioner to the United Kingdom. Complaining about American raids against al-Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in Pakistani territory he said:

“This will infuriate Muslims in this country and make the streets of London less safe,” he said. “There are 1m Pakistanis in the diaspora here and resentment is mounting. I’m being flooded by text messages from community leaders saying we must organise our anger.

“The Americans’ trigger-happy actions will radicalise young Muslims. They’re playing into the hands of the very militants we’re supposed to be fighting.” [Times]

Thus Mr Hasan joins the ranks of those warning Britain of dire consequences (linkthanks Swami Iyer).

Kill the invaders

Say the corps commanders of the Pakistani army?

Bruce Loudon of The Australian reports that the Pakistani army’s corps commanders have ordered their troops to retaliate against US troops crossing over into their territory.

What amounts to a dramatic order to “kill the invaders”, as one senior officer put it last night, was disclosed after the commanders—who control the army’s deployments at divisional level—met at their headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi under the chairmanship of army chief and former ISI spy agency boss Ashfaq Kayani.[The Australian]

That is something if at all it is true. No other major news sources are reporting this, and there is no official announcement to this effect. So the dramatic order might have been intended for purposes of drama. In any case, these orders are not too useful against Predator strikes.

But it will be interesting to see what happens the next time US special forces conduct a raid into Pakistani territory.

Strange stories on the LoC

Pakistani soldiers get killed…by jihadis

Last week Pakistani soldiers were killed in an air-strike by US forces in the Mohmand Agency, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

And yesterday, four Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir…by jihadis, who, it is suspected, failed to cross over to the Indian side.

Allies are killing Pakistani soldiers on both sides.

Why the US paid big money to Pakistan

The US government’s complicity is not without reason. Although the reasons wouldn’t be the ones it can put in front of Congressional auditors. That’s because the money that the US was paying the Musharraf regime was the only way—short of messy, and far more expensive, military methods—it could retain a hold over its actions.

American dollars were not “wasted”, even if they won’t please prissy auditors

So the New York Times reports that all that money that the United States is giving to the Pakistani military establishment is being “wasted”. Musharraf’s regime is not only overcharging the United States, siphoning off much of it and not spending the money on fighting terrorism, as it should. One European diplomat is quoted as saying that the Americans are being taken for a ride.

Yet none of this is the least bit surprising. The US government knew before and during the entire period that the Pakistani establishment would behave exactly as it is behaving. The lessons of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s in Afghanistan point to that. Musharraf’s contemporary shopping list—F-16 fighter aircraft, P3-C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and anti-ship missiles—was not exactly secret either. The smart people in Washington won’t be unaware of the principle of fungibility of money, as also the fungibility (to a large extent) of military hardware and training. The European diplomat is either being charitable or being naive. The US government is not a victim of the Pakistani military establishment: it is a willing accomplice.

But its complicity is not without reason. Although the reasons wouldn’t be the ones it can put in front of Congressional auditors. That’s because the money that the US was paying the Musharraf regime was the only way—short of messy, and far more expensive, military methods—it could retain a hold over its actions. The US essentially bought the co-operation of the Pakistani military establishment. The itemised billing was for show. Indeed, this strategy required the US to allow its money to be used, abused, siphoned and spirited away by the Musharraf regime. The idea was not to insist on transparency and accountability on how the funds were spent. Rather, it was to hold Musharraf accountable for the results. The pertinent question that needs to be asked—and criticism leveled against the Bush administration—is how far it pursued the latter. It is also reasonable to ask, in the interests of good governance design, how far the former affected the latter.

Let’s not forget externalities. Supplementing Pakistan’s military budget allowed the Musharraf regime to purchase more weapons than it could otherwise have changing the military balance with respect to India. And the US stands to benefit (via Atanu Dey, who has a lucid explanation of dollar auctions and deadly games) from the inevitable Indian response. If there is a victim in this story, it is the poor Indian taxpayer.

Who orchestrated Rashid Rauf’s escape and why

Seven possibilities

1. The ISI—because Rauf was working for them, and, like Omar Saeed, just can’t be allowed to fall into the hands of British or American authorities. Like what Rauf’s lawyer alleges, he could have been “mysteriously disappeared”. If this is so, the good people at the Gulshan-e-Abad mosque might be the last ones to have seen him alive.

2. The ISI (Musharraf & Co)—because they wanted to hand him over to British authorities in an off-the-books transaction. The British authorities might, after a decent interval and due process, extradite two Baloch nationalist leaders that Pakistan wants in return. Since there would be no formal quid pro quo, the British government will avoid criticism for engaging in this ugly trade.

3. Jaish-e-Mohammed/Al-Qaeda/The ISI (Gul & Co)—because he was working for them and there was a risk that he would be extradited to the UK.

4. The British/Americans—because they suspected that the Pakistanis will never let Rauf fall into their hands, ever.

5. Rashid Rauf’s family—because he was family. The Rauf family does not lack resources or connections. The story of his escape suggests that the family did play a role in facilitating his escape. Whether they did so on their own accord, or were merely acting on behalf of someone else is the question.

6. The Baloch insurgents—because they wanted to prevent him being exchanged for Faiz Baluch and Hyrbyair Marri, Baloch nationalist leaders currently in British custody. The fact that there was official collusion in Rauf’s escape makes this explanation extremely unlikely.

7. Rashid Rauf himself—because the story of his escape, incredible as it seems, could actually be true. He seized the moment and fled.

Weekday Squib: How Rauf escaped

Please make it more believable!

When it was time to take Rashid Rauf back to Adiala jail after his court appearance, one of his uncles convinced the policemen on duty to use his comfortable Mitsubishi station wagon for the journey, instead of the usual police van. They stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant at Jinnah Park along the way. And then allowed Rauf and his uncle to pray at a mosque at Gulshan-e-Abad while they waited in the car outside. They even unlocked his handcuffs. After twenty minutes had passed, the policemen went in to see what was taking Rauf so long. And found that uncle and nephew had slipped out through the back door.

Quite a lot to swallow. Especially when Rauf’s lawyer says the uncle could not have been in the mosque because he was away in the Kashmir region.

They’ve formed a team to investigate how all this happened. They have started arresting uncles. But they are also saying that “at this time it is impossible to tell if Rashid Rauf is in Pakistan” and dropping hints that “it would be such a terrible thing” if he were to head for the North West Frontier Province and then on to Afghanistan.

One can understand that why the ISI should want to spirit him away. But taking the plot from Bollywood comedies is just too much.

Things that go Rauf into the night

The screenplay takes a surprising turn

Rashid Rauf freed himself from his handcuffs and melted away into the crowd. That he could unlock handcuffs is not the most surprising about his escape. For Rauf, one of Britain’s most wanted terrorists was being escorted to court by a grand total of two constables of the Pakistani police force. And Pakistan—where he pulled the Houdini act—is still a FATWAT. [Related Posts: Rauf and court]

But even that is not the most surprising thing about his escape. For he was treated as ordinary criminal because an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan dismissed charges of terrorism against him for the lack of evidence, and referred him ordinary courts to be tried for ordinary crimes, like forgery.

The Pakistani authorities just sprung the the prime suspect in a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners from their own custody, to prevent his extradition to Britain. So here’s the most surprising thing of all: there are still some people in this world who believe they’ll help catch Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Update: Before he escaped, Rauf was allowed to stop by for lunch at a fast food restaurant and pray at a mosque.