Saturday, February 28, 2009

As Political Crisis Deepens, U.S. Special Forces Secretly Train Pakistani Commandos

Wednesday's ruling by Pakistan's Musharraf-installed Supreme Court to bar former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shabaz, the chief minister of Punjab--the country's most populous and powerful province--from elected office, has widened that nation's growing political chasm.

The faux alliance between the two main parties of the capitalist grift, President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), forged in the wake of the reemergence of Pakistan's pro-democracy movement in 2007, has definitively broken down, hurtling the country further along the bumpy road of political crisis.

Sharif, every bit as corrupt and venal as Zardari, for tactical reasons hitched the PML-N's political wagon to the mass movement launched by lawyers' groups, democracy activists and the labor movement to restore Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry to office.

The Sharif family, rich Punjabi industrialists, came to prominence during General Zia ul-Haq's military dictatorship during the 1980s. Sharif, a right-winger with close ties to the Saudi monarchy, spent a comfortable exile in Riyadh after being deposed by Musharraf. Indeed "democracy champion," the late Benazir Bhutto, had initially welcomed Musharraf's 1999 coup.

As socialist critic and historian Tariq Ali points out in The Duel, "neither Bhutto's daughter, Benazir, nor Zia's protégé, Nawaz Sharif, showed any ability to govern the country in interests other than their own. Clientilism, patronage, and corruption on a gigantic scale were the hallmarks of their weak regimes."

Dismissed by Musharraf when the General-President imposed emergency rule on November 3, 2007, Choudhry had challenged the Army, Police and intelligence agencies' practice of disappearing, torturing and murdering dissenting citizens. In the wake of the Court's removal and a clamp-down on independent media (described by analysts as a "coup within a coup"), the democratic secular movement launched by outraged lawyers and broad sections of the citizenry offered a potential opening for progressive political change in Pakistan.

Seeking to deflect popular opposition against Musharraf, the PPP and PML-N forged an unprincipled alliance based on their common desire to abort the popular movement against the dictatorship along "traditional," i.e., clientilist lines that would leave privileges in tact, while divvying up the spoils between the two parties; real power in other words, would remain in the hands of the comprador elites.

Sharif, as the World Socialist Website points out, "was viewed warily by Washington" because of his "intense personal hostility to Musharraf--who, it needs be remembered, had originally wanted to execute shim--and because of his connections to the Islamic fundamentalist right (sections of which are sympathetic to the Taliban.)"

The motivation for Zardari's judicial coup against the PML-N bigwigs, the brothers Sharif, was intended to preserve the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a corrupt deal struck by Bhutto and Musharraf--under the watchful eyes of Bush administration "fixers"--whereby Musharraf would be "reelected" President in return for absolving the gross criminality and corruption of Bhutto and other PPP leaders. Sharif had been cut out of the deal, a point of considerable contention between the aggrieved parties.

Choudhry, under the "fix" worked out between Zardari and Sharif, would be restored to office, but Zardari, ever-fearful of provoking the all-powerful General Headquarters (GHG) of the Army which opposed judicial scrutiny of their actions under Musharraf, including the sordid NRO, reneged. This set the stage for the current confrontation.

But in a country viewed as a strategic ally of the United States, democracy, especially when it escapes "management" by elites favored by America, is always an iffy proposition. While the Obama administration has largely remained silent, it is well-known that the new regime in Washington, at least for the time being, has hitched its wagon to the Zardari government. Indeed, Army Chief of Staff General Asfaq Parvez Kayani, was in Washington this week for "comprehensive multilateral talks." The General told U.S. Congress members that the Army would not intervene in political affairs.

Kayani, a former chief of the shadowy Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), vowed that GHQ "would not intervene even if the political situation deteriorated further," according to Dawn. The Karachi-based newspaper also reported that "on Thursday, General Kayani was inducted into the US military's international Hall of Fame in a small yet refined ceremony at Fort Leavenworth."

As a result of the Court's action Wednesday, massive protests have broken out in cities across the country. The main highway between the federal capital of Islamabad and its twin city, Rawalpindi, the site of Army Headquarters, were cut by thousands of protesters who burned tires--and police vehicles. The News reports,

Angry demonstrators virtually paralysed the federal capital to register their protest against the disqualification of the Sharif brothers. ...

At least 10 vehicles, including the cars of top officers of the district administration and police were burnt down on the Islamabad Highway. The official cars of deputy commissioner, senior superintendent of police (SSP) Islamabad, additional deputy commissioner general (ADCG) and additional deputy commissioner (ADC) West as well as jeeps of DSP (Shahzad Town) and SHO were torched. Banks, petrol pumps, government and private property and vehicles were damaged. (Muhammad Anis and Shakeel Anjum, "Protesters bring life to a halt," The News, February 27, 2009)

Since Zardari's ascension to the presidency in 2008, imperialism, having identified Pakistan as the "central front" in the "war on terror" has expanded military operations across the board. Since September, attacks by CIA Predator and Reaper drones have increased dramatically, indiscriminately raining high-tech death upon jihadi militants and ordinary citizens alike, sparking deep outrage and broad anti-American sentiments among ever-widening sections of the population.

And with the lawyers' and democracy movement planning a "long march" scheduled to kick-off March 12 in Lahore, culminating in what organizers hope will be a gigantic sit-in in the capital, there are signs that the Army and shadowy intelligence agencies with American "guidance," are growing restive and may soon come to believe they have "no choice" but to step in and once more, impose a martial law regime in order to "save" Pakistan--from its citizens.

In American parlance, this is referred to as "restoring order" and preventing the discredited and despised jihadi Frankenstein from "seizing power," an absurdist fantasy considering the jihadists' aversion to "un-Islamic" practices such as democracy and human rights. Indeed, the leader of the outlawed jihadi group Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, TNSM) Maulana Sufi Mohammed, told Daily Times, "I do not believe in democracy. ... That is impossible. Sharia and democracy clash with each other and one cannot bring in Islamic laws through a democratic set-up."

One cannot however, take American expressions of apprehension lightly. As The Atlantic Council, representing the views of the Obama administration and the Pentagon alike, claim in a new report widely trumpeted by the U.S. corporate media,

First, this report sounds the alarm that we are running out of time to help Pakistan change its present course toward increasing economic and political instability, and even ultimate failure. The urgency of action has been brought home by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in late November that set Pakistan and India on a dangerous collision course. Simply put, time is running out for stabilizing Pakistan's economy and security. As Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari told the Atlantic Council during our December 2008 trip to Islamabad, "we--[the United States, Pakistan, NATO and the world at large]--are losing the battle" to keep Pakistan stable, at peace and prosperous.

Unlike Afghanistan--where the international community is losing the struggle because of its failure to reform the civilian sector--Pakistan has the manpower and infrastructure to win its battles. But Pakistan can only do so if it gets the necessary support urgently. And it is self-evident that a secure, stable, and prospering Pakistan is in the best interests of the international community.

We--meaning Pakistan and its friends--can and must win collectively. The starting point must be a full and objective understanding of today's Pakistan and the fact that it is on a rapid trajectory toward becoming a failing or failed state. That trajectory must be reversed now.

Second, this report provides a conceptual framework, strategy, and specific actions that are needed to begin the long process of bringing peace, prosperity, and stability to Pakistan and to the region. The issue is not Pakistan alone or Pakistan and Afghanistan. The issue is broader and is inextricably linked with India, the Gulf, and Pakistan's other close neighbors. As a senior Pakistani military officer told us: "If Pakistan fails, the world fails." (The Atlantic Council, URGENT. Needed: A Comprehensive U.S. Policy Towards Pakistan, Honorary Co-Chairs: Senator Chuck Hagel, Senator John Kerry, February 2009, emphases in original)

What "conceptual framework" and "specific actions" do these "friends" of Pakistan propose? Let's take a look.

U.S. Special Forces and the CIA "Lend a Helping Hand"

In a further sign that U.S. military intervention is increasing, The New York Times revealed that "More than 70 United States military advisers and technical specialists are secretly working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the country's lawless tribal areas, American military officials said."

According to the Times, the Americans "are mostly Army Special Forces soldiers who are training Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops, providing them with intelligence and advising on combat tactics."

The secret task force, jointly run by United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), began operating last summer "with the support of Pakistan's government and military." Allegedly, the task force is part of an administration effort to "root out" the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets also known as al-Qaeda, and Taliban units operating on both sides of the "Afpak" border.

That the New York Times has published information that can only be characterized as a controlled leak by the Pentagon, indicates that Washington is delivering a pointed message to the Zardari government: "Play ball, or else!"

The growing U.S. military presence, including operations by Special Forces and CIA paramilitary units in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and elsewhere, demonstrate the precarious nature--and hold on power--of Pakistan's civilian government vis-à-vis their American "allies" and the Pakistani Army itself. In this context, the dispute between Zardari and Sharif must be viewed as Washington's grave concern that the restoration of Chief Justice Choudhry may threaten the disreputable NRO, U.S. military operations and further discredit the Army were its high crimes against the Pakistani people revealed to the public at large.

The latest revelations follow multiple press reports that the CIA is flying Predator and Reaper drones from bases inside Pakistan, used to attack Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in the NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). While the Zardari administration has denied that the CIA operates from its territory, the latest Times' report should be viewed as a gesture by Washington to embarrass--and further pressurize--Zardari into accepting America's terms for waging the so-called "war on terror." The Times avers:

In addition, a small team of Pakistani air defense controllers working in the United States Embassy in Islamabad ensures that Pakistani F-16 fighter-bombers conducting missions against militants in the tribal areas do not mistakenly hit remotely piloted American aircraft flying in the same area or a small number of C.I.A. operatives on the ground, a second senior Pakistani officer said. (Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez, "U.S. Unit Secretly Lends Ally Support," The New York Times, February 23, 2009)

Throughout its sixty year history as a nation, the Pakistani Army and its intelligence services have been strategic assets of the United States. During the Cold War, Pakistan was a reliable anti-communist bulwark against the Soviet Union and, just as importantly, against the domestic left which a succession of military regimes--in cahoots with far-right Islamist parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI)--hunted down and smashed. In this, the Pentagon and Pakistan's ruling elites are fully in sync.

Citing unnamed "senior American military officials," the Times reports their "frustration" at having been "unable to persuade the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to embrace serious counterinsurgency training for the army itself."

However, in a move that will further undermine Pakistan's already tenuous civilian control over its military and intelligence apparatus, the Times reveals that a "newly-minted" 400-man Pakistani paramilitary commando unit vetted, trained and armed by U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary "specialists," is now operating in NWFP and FATA.

"As part of the Frontier Corps," which falls under a separate chain of command from that of the Army, after undergoing seven months of "intensive training" from American Special Forces, the new unit is now primed for action. According to the Times, the commandos have "used information from the Central Intelligence Agency and other sources to kill or capture as many as 60 militants in the past seven months, including at least five high-ranking commanders."

As I reported in early February, operations such as those described above fall under the rubric of Pentagon Foreign Internal Defense (FID). Citing a USSOCOM manual, Special Forces Foreign Internal Defense Operations, published by Wikileaks, we discover the following:

FID is the role the U.S. military plays in the overall effort of the USG to help a nation free or protect its society from an existing or potential threat. U.S. FID operations work on the principle that it is the inherent responsibility of the threatened government to use its leadership and organizational and materiel resources to take the political, economic, and social actions necessary to defeat subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, and terrorism. The U.S. military can provide resources such as material, advisors, and trainers to support these FID operations. In instances where it is in the security interest of the United States, and at the request of the HN [Host Nation], more direct forms of U.S. military support may be provided, to include combat forces. The following principles apply to FID:

* All U.S. agencies involved in FID must coordinate with one another (Figure 2-1, page 2-2) to ensure that they are working toward a common objective and deriving optimum benefit from the limited resources applied to the effort.

* The U.S. military seeks to enhance the HN military and paramilitary forces' overall capability to perform their IDAD [Internal Defense and Development] mission. An evaluation of the request and the demonstrated resolve of the HN government will determine the specific form and substance of U.S. assistance, as directed by the President.

* Specially trained, selected, and jointly staffed U.S. military survey teams, including intelligence personnel, may be made available. U.S. military units used in FID roles should be tailored to meet the conditions within the HN.

* U.S. military support to FID should focus on assisting HNs in anticipating, precluding, and countering threats or potential threats. (Headquarters, Department of the Army, Special Forces Foreign Internal Defense Operations, FM 3-05.202, September 2007, p. 2-1, emphasis added)

And when the "demonstrated resolve" of the "Host Nation" hesitates when it comes to "assisting" the U.S. implementation of it's geopolitical agenda in "India, the Gulf, and Pakistan's other close neighbors," as The Atlantic Council avers? Then serious problems inevitably follow. This is further underscored by the Times, who again citing anonymous Pentagon officials, wring their hands over "tensions between the sides."

Those tensions, resulting from a lack of democratic institutions and a severe economic crisis that threatens to bring the entire house of cards crashing down, is the root cause of Pakistan's approaching zero hour.

Economic Crisis and Destabilization: Made in the USA

Across the planet, the global capitalist crisis is fueling social instability as broad masses of the world's population are plunged into poverty and despair. These tensions are compounded in Pakistan by the economic slow down, fueled in large measure by the militarization of society, the underdevelopment of social resources, epidemic levels of corruption and pressure by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In November, the Zardari government accepted the IMF's onerous terms in order to secure a $7.5 billion loan. While most bourgeois government's in the West have slashed interest rates, cut taxes on working people, small- and medium sized enterprises, expanded the state sector and funded spending on critical infrastructure in order to cushion the ravages of unemployment, Pakistan has done the opposite.

The effects have been as predictable as they are disastrous for Pakistani workers and farmers bled white by a corrupt and venal comprador elite. Demanding that the Central Bank control its deficits, inflation is nearly 20% per annum, and the country's economic output has slowed to a crawl. According to USA Today, "Pakistan's economy is slowing dramatically--from growth of 6% or more in recent years to just 0.6% in 2008 and a projected 2.4% in 2009, according to HSBC bank."

The economic "shock therapy" imposed by Washington is taking its toll. As I reported February 22, the Cabinet Committee on Privatization approved the sell-off of some 21 state-owned enterprises including "four power companies and other state-owned entities including SME Bank, National Power Construction Company, Pakistan Railways and Pakistan Post," according to The Nation.

The Lahore-based newspaper reported February 26, that the IMF has approved "a second tranche of 800 million dollars of its 7.6-billon-dollar programme to save Pakistan from defaulting on external payments, a senior official said on Wednesday."

Note the IMF's "second tranche" is not intended to ameliorate the horrendous economic straits faced by the majority of Pakistan's citizens but as a guarantee that the country won't default on external payments owed to financial grifters in Western banking and financial sectors!

With widespread power blackouts crippling industry and drastically curtailing the income of impoverished workers and farmers, unemployment and soaring prices have driven people over the edge; not that it matters to the IMF. According to The Nation,

The organisation said the country was on track to comply with its economic programme.

In a statement following a 12-day staff mission to review a $7.6 billion stand-by lending programme, the IMF said it was "impressed" by Pakistan's resolve to sustain prudent policies, strengthen the social safety net and pursue reform. ...

The IMF said Pakistan's current monetary policy stance was "appropriate and will continue to promote domestic and external stability". ("Fund okays $800m second tranche," The Nation, February 26, 2009)

With real wages falling precipitously due to inflation and spiraling unemployment, IMF policies and endemic corruption by ruling class elites has ceded the social and political ground to "faith-based" fundamentalists. Operating on the "Saudi model," rightist "charities" do provide social services to the poor. That health care and educational opportunities are largely absent due to state largesse towards "Military, Inc.," a decades-long vacuum has provided entrée to religious obscurantists and sectarians of all stripes who gladly fill the void.

In Pakistan Marx's apt phrase, "religion is the opium of the people," is rich with unintended irony. One Pakistani analyst told USA Today that despite the economic downturn, "militant groups draw donations from sympathizers across the country and the oil-rich Middle East." And when all else fails, criminal enterprises fill the breech. "Their economy doesn't go down--their narcotics, their smuggling, their kidnappings." Indeed!

Here, as elsewhere, speaking of organized crime and organized religion, the jihadi outfits bear a striking resemblance to their "adversaries" in Islamabad--and Washington. As Tariq Ali points out, "Throughout the nineties, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had scolded civilian governments for failing to keep their restructuring promises. Musharraf's regime, by contrast, won admiring praise from 1999 onward for sticking to IMF guidelines 'despite the hardship imposed on the public by austerity measures'."

One might reasonable ask, hardship for whom? Certainly not the clique formerly surrounding Musharraf and now, Zardari or the "opposition" Sharif brothers. And with nearly 30 percent of the population living below the poverty line, IMF structured debt repayment (theft) schemes will only further exacerbate and compound the problem. Ali avers,

A recycling of the country and its modernization is perfectly possible, but it requires large-scale structural reforms. To isolate Pakistan's problems to religious extremism and dual power in Waziristan or the possession of nuclear weapons is to miss the point, to become marooned in a landscape behind enemy lines. These issues ... are not unimportant, but the problems relating to them are a direct result of doing Washington's bidding in previous decades. The imbalance is glaring. In 2001, when U.S. interest in the country resumed, debt and defense amounted to two-thirds of public spending--257 billion rupees ($4.2 billion) and 149.6 billion rupees ($2.5 billion) respectively, compared to total tax revenues of 414.2 billion rupees ($6.9 billion). In a country with one of the worst public education systems in Asia--70 percent of women and 41 percent of men are officially classified as illiterate--and with health care virtually nonexistent for over half the population, a mere 105.1 billion rupees ($1.75 billion) was left for overall development. (The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, New York: Scribner, 2008, pp. 255-256)

In this context, The Atlantic Council's call for "a secure, stable, and prospering Pakistan" is a cruel joke designed to lull the American people into accepting imperialism's new geopolitical "mission" in South Asia. But as in Afghanistan and Iraq, such corporatist fantasies will prove short-lived; the consequences however, will be as disastrous as they are long-lasting.


Anonymous said...

WE should not blame others when the leaders of Our own nation; Pakistan , are corrupt.

Pakistanis must realize that military and all politicians only run for their own sake.

We have to elect ourselves , people who are honest and not puppet of US or NATO

Anonymous said...

Good luck getting honest politicians elected. We in the US haven't managed that for decades. Don't count on democracy to save you from an infestation of corruption in your government. The most powerful players can divide and conqueror the electorate. Every few generations the people have to rise up and take the power away from the political and economic powers to start over with a clean slate.

Anonymous said...

You might wish to check out “the Lynx Lair”, recently created, a work in progress,

How We Got To Where We Are

(an as-yet unassembled, unpolished, unedited collection
of some very interesting stuff
linking Iran-Contra to the current economic cris/bailout/theft)

including at least one piece of yours


If you wish to comment, correct or contribute, e-mail me at epudirection [at]