With US Attention on Memogate Fallout and Taliban, Khan’s Tsunami Gathers Strength

As reported late yesterday by the New York Times, the US is finally acknowledging that it faces a diminished role in Pakistan. However, restoring even a diminished level of relations with Pakistan after the November 26 airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani troops is complicated by the fact that “civilian and military leaders are clashing over purported coup plots”. At the same time, the US continues its efforts at negotiating with the Taliban on a peace agreement for Afghanistan once the US leaves, and has even arranged for the Taliban to open an office in Qatar. These diplomatic moves are all focused on the scheduled 2014 withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan, but standing between now and then are the scheduled Pakistan elections in 2013.  Former cricket star Imran Khan appears to be gaining a huge political following and so it seems likely that whether it is the long-rumored military coup or an electoral loss, the Zardari government appears to have lame duck status while participating in these critical discussions.

The Times describes the reduced US role with Pakistan:

With the United States facing the reality that its broad security partnership with Pakistan is over, American officials are seeking to salvage a more limited counterterrorism alliance that they acknowledge will complicate their ability to launch attacks against extremists and move supplies into Afghanistan.

The United States will be forced to restrict drone strikes, limit the number of its spies and soldiers on the ground and spend more to transport supplies through Pakistan to allied troops in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said. United States aid to Pakistan will also be reduced sharply, they said.

It appears that the reduced number of “spies and soldiers” is down to about 100 from a high of 400. It is also very interesting to note that there have been no drone strikes in Pakistan since November 16, a full ten days before the November 26 border post attack. Today marks the one month mark for the blocking of supply lines through Pakistan in response to the border post attack.

While trying to sort out whether the Zardari government is stable enough to negotiate with over US involvement, the US is continuing its frequently ill-fated attempts to negotiate with the Taliban.  The newest development is the agreement for the Taliban to open an office in Qatar. It appears that Afghanistan is going along with that proposal, even though they would have preferred for the office to be in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. I’m assuming these are State Department negotiations and that an office outside Pakistan is needed because the US military would carry out a drone strike against any organized office facility for the Taliban inside Pakistan.

As if the difficulty of determining whether the military will remove Zardari’s government isn’t enough, it appears that should Zardari stay in office until the 2013 elections, his PPP party will face very stiff opposition from former cricket star Imran Khan’s PTI party. Khan staged a rally over the weekend in Karachi that drew a huge crowd that overflowed a site that holds 250,000 people.

Khan’s platform is aimed against government corruption, at improving the fate of the poor and railing about a failing economy. His plan is to achieve an Islamic welfare state:

In his speech to the assembled crowd, Khan said that his vision was for Pakistan to be an “Islamic welfare state”, where citizens would be entitled to free and equal access to education, healthcare and justice.

Under Pakistan’s current of government, citizens are entitled to these services for free, but Khan alleged that the system was not reaching those who needed the most state assistance.

This attitude within the PTI carries a strong message condemning the rich-poor divide. A recent recruit into PTI, Javed Hashmi, who joined from PML-N, expressed it this way at the rally:

“People began looting the country. People were divided into different classes. There was a Pakistan for the rich and the poor. The poor have no personal security while the rich roam around with 1,000 police officers.”

Speaking at the rally, former PPP Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Querishi addressed the PTI’s position regarding the US:

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan did not harbour any aggressive designs against any country and sought friendship with India and the US, but could not opt for slavery. “If the nation wants to have an independent, sovereign, prosperous, credible and strong Pakistan, it must elect a party whose leadership could offer their heads rather than surrender.”

He said the message of this massive rally was clear to the world that no one could bargain over the nuclear program.

The US would be well-advised to keep the PTI’s views in mind when developing the new, reduced relationship with Pakistan, lest it risk having the entire agreement thrown out just months before the US is scheduled to leave Afghanistan.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
26 replies
  1. Arbusto says:

    [C]itizens would be entitled to free and equal access to education, healthcare and justice.

    Wait ’til our Congressional bible thumpers read that statement. “A goddamn Islamic, Communistic, godless heathen who should be shot”, might be their studied reply.

  2. Jim White says:

    @Arbusto: Yes, isn’t it funny how if you take away the loaded “Islamic” and “welfare” descriptors, the cry for equal access to such basics as education, healthcare and justice could actually even pass as small “d” democratic values…

    Well that “free” part on healthcare would scare the Republicans, I guess.

  3. Bob Schacht says:

    I’ve long thought that our money earmarked for Pakistan would be better spent on education(foremost) and health care services would be a much better investment of our money than bombs and drones. It just doesn’t make sense if we think the American system is superior, to cede the education of the next generation to a movement based on radical opposition our values.

    Bob in AZ

  4. MadDog says:

    Via an NYT article tonight, we finally get to see the US report (an unclassified and redacted version) on the Pakistan border post incident where US airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

    The US report is on CENTCOM’s site here.

    The redacted and unclassified version of the report itself is here (30 Page PDF).

    Of note, there are additional Annexes at the CENTCOM link (A, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J.) as well as a separate Table of Contents.

  5. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: A couple of thoughts thusfar on the report (30 page PDF):

    1) The Pakistanis have claimed that the US attack on their outposts was deliberate. The answer to that is, yes, it was indeed deliberate though perhaps not in the way the Pakistanis mean it.

    Let me explain myself. The US forces did indeed deliberately strike at those outpost locations where they were taking fire, but probably not with the knowledge they were occupied by the Pakistani military (There still exists the possibility that the US deliberately attacked the Pakistani military, but I will describe my thoughts on why this is still improbable later).

    2) There is an aspect within the US report that does intimate that the US has a more deliberately aggressive policy toward attacks from the Pakistani border. Footnote 7 on page 11 of the report states:

    “Air platform videotapes, commonly known as ‘gun tapes’ record what is seen by the crew using imagin devices; these tapes record exact position (latitute/longitude) and Global Positioning System (GPS) time in ZULU hrs…”

    (My Bold)

    Additionally, item 5 from page 1 of Annex D states the following in describing the Event:

    “AC-130 states they have tracer fire from [redacted approx. 16 characters] declares ‘going hot’ (prepared to engage)”

    Given that the US aircraft had exact position information as described in Quote 1, it would seem that the redacted information of Quote 2 would likely be information that identified the tracer fire as coming from within Pakistan’s territory.

    The US has had a longstanding “hot pursuit” policy in Afghanistan that allows for US forces to “temporarily” broach Pakistan borders when in immediate pursuit of insurgents. After the Osama Bin Laden operation, news articles reported that the US might implement a more muscular version of that “hot pursuit” policy if and when the Pakistanis did not take action themselves to deter cross-border insurgent incursions.

    It is one thing to have cross-border artillery duels between the US on the Afghan side of the border and “other forces” (both insurgent and Pakistani forces) on the Pakistan side of the border as has happened on a number of occasions.

    It is another thing to have US military forces cross the border into Pakistani territory. The OBL operation was conducted by US Navy Seals (and US Army helicopter crews), but under the slimmest of “figleaf” covers as a CIA operation. While that “figleaf” may not mean much to you or I, in foreign policy circles, it purportedly is imagined as a bit of statecraft that magically means the offending force never has to say it is sorry.

    As the following from page 2 of Annex G confirms, the US military was most assuredly, and deliberately, flying their AC-130 within Pakistani territory:

    “…The AC-130 crossed into Pakistan’s airspace up to two nautical
    miles in order to engage, based on the weapon system characteristics…”

    A note about AC-130s: Their weapons systems are all on the left side of the aircraft. These include:

    “1× General Dynamics 25 mm (0.984 in) GAU-12/U Equalizer 5-barreled gatling cannon
    1× 40 mm (1.58 in) L/60 Bofors cannon
    1× 105 mm (4.13 in) M102 howitzer”

    The pilot of an AC-130 flies counterclockwise in a circle around a target in order to continously maintain its weapon systems’ “lock” on the target, to monitor the effects of its strikes on the target, and to continously visually surveill the target with its imaging systems.

    The AC-130 used in this Pakistan outpost strike incident was one of the primary weapons systems used (the other being the AH-64 attack helicopters), and the fact that it was on-station for the entire 1.5+ hours duration of the Pakistan outpost strike, the AC-130 would have been constantly within Pakistani territory as it continously circled counterclockwise around its “targets”.

  6. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: I said I’d come back to the point about a deliberate US strategy to attack Pakistani military forces.

    I find that while it remains a “possibility”, I still think it is an improbable US strategy.

    Why it remains a “possibility”:

    1) As part of the Osama Bin Laden operation, news articles reported that the US had additional Special Operations forces in MH-47E Chinook helicopters prepared to help the US Navy Seals “fight their way out” if the OBL operation was under attack from Pakistani forces in Abbottabad.

    Additionally, news articles reported that the US was prepared to prevent Pakistan’s US-supplied F-16 aircraft from interfering in the OBL operation. This was likely to be done by US fighter aircraft like F-15s which were likely flying Combat Air Patrol (CAP) near the Afghan/Pakistan border for that very possibility.

    Consider what that US strategy meant. It meant that the US was prepared to fight the Pakistani military in furtherance of taking out OBL. That is not a strategy that one uses with a “putative” ally.

    2) That very same US strategy might have also been in play with the Pakistan border outpost strike. I could imagine a scenario where the US regional command decided that they had had enough of the Pakistani double-games regarding Pakistan’s intransigence in preventing groups who cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to attack US forces, or that the US regional command determined that Pakistan itself was deliberately instigating these attacks.

    I find it improbable that the US national leadership has changed its policy towards Pakistan to such a degree that we now consider them “enemies” rather that “transactional allies”, but I won’t dismiss the possibility, nor the possibility that local regional US commanders decided on their own to get some “payback” on Pakistan.

  7. nomolos says:

    @MadDog: Of course there also remains the probability that USACorp has not a bloody clue about how to deal with Pakistan. Incompetence is far more likely than any other scenario.

    The gas, that USACorp wants to steal, pipe line from Turkminestan has to go through “hostile” territory i.e. Afghanistan and Pakistan but how that is to be achieved is beyond the ken of the Capitalist Ovines running Washington. The very idea of doing it any other way than bombing the shit out of the people is an anathema to them and their military industrial financiers. Also Iran is next door just waiting to assist Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and any other country against the oppressors from the US.

  8. Bob Schacht says:

    @MadDog: Thanks for this analysis. I think its been pretty well established by now that the ISI is a powerful intelligence and action outfit (I imagine a lot like our CIA and JSOC) that is not entirely under military control, and the military command itself, like the ISI, has some “rogue” elements. So I think rather than considering the entire PAKCOM as enemy goes too far. But I am quite prepared to think that our CENTCOM does not trust the Pakistan Military, and has its own intelligence about which Divisions (Battalions?) of the Pakistan military are allies, and which are in cahoots with the Taliban, the Haqqani network, etc. In terms of ordinary statecraft, this is very unusual, but in the case of Pakistan, it is not out of the possible.

    Remember that in Iraq before our invasion, distinctions were being made between Saddam’s “elite” battalions and the Iraqi national army.

    Bob in AZ

  9. PeasantParty says:

    Very Interesting along with the report MadDog has.

    I don’t have the links right now, but I’ve read a couple of articles where China and Iran are making bids right now on Afghanistan oil fields that have recently been discovered. I know that really tics off the NeoCons. However, they repeatedly show how stupid they are in planning their occupations, er wars for spoils.

  10. Bob Schacht says:

    @PeasantParty: Gee, whaddya know, the Chinese are also building a MAJOR sea port, Gwadar, on the south coast of Pakistan. I wonder what they were planning to do with that? Oh, look here:

    China has acknowledged that Gwadar’s strategic value is no less than that of the Karakoram Highway, which helped cement the China-Pakistan relationship. Beijing is also interested in turning it into an energy-transport hub by building an oil pipeline from Gwadar into China’s Xinjiang region. The planned pipeline will carry crude oil sourced from Arab and African states. Such transport by pipeline will cut freight costs and also help insulate the Chinese imports from interdiction by hostile naval forces in case of any major war.

    Bob in AZ

  11. rugger9 says:

    @Bob Schacht: #11
    I would agree, painting the entire military leadership in that way is out of line with my views as well, but MadDog has a point in that we really cannot know what factions are where there, and that means preparation for the worst possibilities since the boots on the ground deserve it. All the more reason to leave, but the MOTUs want free protection for their pipeline.

    Bob’s note in #13 about the Chinese tells us who’s going to “win” here.

  12. Bob Schacht says:

    @rugger9: But I’ll bet the DOD is very busy trying to figure out what the factions are. If not, they’re idiots. I’ll bet they have book on everyone on staff in the top 3 levels and maybe more. Don’t forget that they have nukes, so our DOD & CIA are VERY interested in knowing who controls their nukes and where they are, from top to bottom. Pakistan has been a trouble spot for so long that we just can’t be satisfied with dealing with only the top 2 command levels. For every level, at least the top 4, I’ll bet they know
    * Full name
    * Age/year of birth
    * Languages spoken
    * Ethnic background
    * Place they got their military training and, if possible, the names of the people who trained them, and when they finished;
    * Names of all U.S. command staff who have interacted with them
    * If married, the name of wife, wife’s ethnic background, and names of her male family members, and where they live;
    * Chain of command; places where they are, or have been, stationed,
    …and any other info they can get their hands on.
    * Who they have dealt with on the American side.

    Bob in AZ

  13. rugger9 says:

    @Bob Schacht: #15
    No doubt they have that info, but how accurate is that info going to be? Can they connect the right dots knowing what they’re being fed is truthful? It’s not like they pegged the acquisition of the nukes and the proliferation to the DPRK and elsewhere before the news made it into the press. So, while the guys in-country are trying to figure this out for their self preservation, the policy makers that send them there need to figure out why they’re there.

    Until we can reliably separate the sheep from the goats, we need to leave.

  14. PeasantParty says:

    @Bob Schacht: Yeah, well that is SO just a big surprise! I went back to get the link on Iran.

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/12/27/iran-signs-fuel-deal-with-afghanistan-media/

    Never allow the leaders in Government to tell you that we are doing these things to protect America and it’s Freedoms! It is theft of resources pure and simple. Sorry, but I find it funny that while the US war thinkers are scratching their arses over things that China and Iran are going in for the resources they intended to grab. Why doesn’t the bulk of America see and understand these wars have nothing to do with Boogey Men in Afghanistan?

  15. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: To further examine the US attack on the Pakistani border outposts, consider the following:

    From pages 12-13 of the report:

    “…GF came under fire from a heavy machinge gun (HMG) at 2309 hours; the firing point of origin (POO) was positively identified by the GF Team Leader (GFTL) and AC-130H and MC-12 crews as a position on the eastern ridgline [Engagement Area 1 (EA-1) for the purposes of this report]. This location was understood to be in the vicinity of the Pakistan border…

    [snip]

    …Knowing the vicinity of the PAK border, the GFTL called his superior to verify that the fire was not coming from PAKMIL positions…”

    MD’s note: GF = Ground Force.

    MD’s note: Ground Force Team Leader = I assume this to be the US Special Operations officer on the ground commanding the 14 US Special Operations force members of Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 3133.

    MD’s note: MC-12 = A “medium- to low-altitude, twin-engine turboprop aircraft. The primary mission is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, support directly to ground forces.” It provides real-time Full Motion Video. (My Bold)

    Additionally, from page 2 of Annex D comes this:

    “…GFTL calls SOTF-E to warn of his suspicion this could be PAKMIL, being so close to the border…”

    MD’s note: SOTF-E = The US Special Operations Task Force-East which commands Special Operation force members in this region of Afghanistan.

    So what to make of these points you ask?

    1) The GTFL (Ground Force Team Leader) who was the US Special Operations officer on the ground commanding the operation and could see the incoming fire from atop the ridgeline, which also happened to be the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, had the situational awareness to recognize that the fire might be coming from the Pakistani military and calls his superior on the radio to warn of his suspicion.

    2) The Pakistani border outposts – As the video in a previous Jim White post shows, the Pakistani border outposts sit atop a mountain ridgeline.

    Common sense or a minimal military background would tell one that insurgents don’t ever build permanent outposts on top of ridgelines where there is no cover at all from prying surveilling eyes. Insurgents try to hide their locations in areas that have tree and brush cover, or in canyons and caves where they can’t be seen and thus can’t be targeted.

    Common sense or a minimal military background would also tell one that you don’t build permanent outposts on top of ridgelines to conduct offensive operations. You build them for defensive purposes.

    And common sense or a minimal military background would also tell one that the folks who traditionally build and occupy permanent outposts on top of ridgelines for defensive purposes are military folks. Like the US military does. And like the Pakistani military does.

    Thanks for bearing with me so far!

    3) How is it that a relatively junior officer (the Ground Force Team Leader who was the US Special Operations officer on the ground commanding the operation) could come to the suspicious conclusion that he was receiving fire from the Pakistani military?

    How is it that the more senior officers with vastly more experience back at the base (otherwise known by the grunts throughout the ages as REMFs – Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers who are far from the battlefield either safely sipping their tea and crumpets or heading to the bars for broads) could not come to the conclusion that the fire was coming from the Pakistani military?

    Remember those AC-130H and MC-12 aircraft? They both have real-time visual imaging systems that allow their operators, the ground forces, and higher headquarters to see in explicit detail what is taking place on the ground.

    How is it that the aircrews of the AC-130H and MC-12 aircraft didn’t also recognize that permanent outposts on top of ridgelines without any cover at all aren’t used by insurgents for offensive purposes? Someone might claim that since these aircrews were Air Force pukes, they couldn’t/shouldn’t be expected to understand ground and terrain tactics. I’d call BS but this former Navy veteran doesn’t want to offend any visiting Air Force pukes.

    Anyways, the aircrew of the AH-64 attack helicopters who pounded those permanent outposts on top of ridgelines with machine gun and Hellfire missile fire, are members of the US Army, and they have no excuse for not knowing that permanent outposts on top of ridgelines without any cover are not the terrain tactics of insurgents.

    So in closing, if there is blame on the US side, it cannot be laid on the ground forces conducting their operation. Instead it is explicitly on the shoulders of REMFs back at higher headquarters and the aircrews of the AC-130, MC-12, and AH-64s. Those folks had all the detailed real-time visual imagery that anyone with common sense or a minimal military background would have known could not be permanent insurgent outposts on top of ridgelines without any cover at all.

    And don’t get me started on what happened to missing US operation planning intelligence with all its vaunted surveillance, mapping and imaging capabilities that should have been used far in advance of this operation that would have definitively shown the Pakistani border outposts.

  16. matt carmody says:

    As has been seen many times since the Son Tay raid in 1970, when the remfs are doing the planning the grunts are in trouble. Essential info doesn’t get transmitted in a timely manner and since so many fingers are in the pie, accountability is hard to fix on anyone party.

  17. rugger9 says:

    @MadDog: #18
    Yup, but the REMFs are politically driven and frequently politically protected from any blame, otherwise those who put them in charge would have questions to answer as well.

  18. Petrocelli says:

    In Pakistan & India, only Cricket generates more fervor than religious zealots. Imran Khan is the most legendary Pakistani Cricket player and certainly has the people’s confidence. 2012 is going to be an amazing year for him and for Pakistan.

  19. Timbo says:

    “Negotiating with the Taliban”. Maybe we can promise them Iraq?

    What the heck are we going to get out of negotiating with the Taliban? When they come back to power, whenever that may occur in Afghanistan, are they going to maintain relations with the US or give an Allan be damned red cent about what the US wants in the Hindu-Kush-Bactria region?

    Is this negotiation resulting in less civilian casualties? That’s the only hope in my opinion.

    Negotiating. This is the kind of “negotiations” the Russians “enjoyed” there two decades ago. Negotiating…with “freedom fighters”.

  20. may says:

    @rugger9:

    if Imran khan can survive,and i think he will,a little bit of attention to the ethos of the game of cricket(ignored by USA,China etc,but played with almost overweening zeal by a huge portion of the worlds people) would be a good thing.

    winning is important but more important is the individual grace of the player within a team.

    play up, play up and play the game.

    as far as Afghanistan is concerned no one seems to be aknowleging the fact that the taliban are as much foreigners to the Afghanis as are the remnants of the “coalition of the willing”.they come from foreign madrassas and have no purpose except to impose an ideology for the benefit of foreigners.the Afghanis way of life has been ripped to shreds and from the time of the russian invasion to now,and the mineral riches and the gas and oil pipelines running through their country trump their interests at every turn.

  21. sona says:

    @may:
    thank you for that may
    in all the discussion in the comments above and the article itself, there is no appreciation of the peoples of afghanistan and what they want – they do not want to be a playground for pakistani military-isi colonial designs – why is there no condemnation of pakistani military-isi designs? or for that matter, why does the pakistani judiciary seem to abrogate executive powers at the dictats of the military to override the country’s parliamentary investigation?
    the way i see it, everybody in pakistan wants power and hang everything else, including what passes for a constitution, and that goes for its judiciary
    from an australian perspective, we have all been complicit in selling the peoples of afghanistan down the drain and now many commenters demand that the US exit the mess they created in inviting saudi money to foster desert bedouin wahabi idiocy and leave pakistan to destroy afghanistan – i expected better from this blog’s readership – i hope that pakistan destroys itself first
    imran khan is a ‘liberal’ by pakistani standards, but he will be used by the pakistani military-isi complex to get rid of zardari and ppp’s popularity but there is something else to remember about the ppp and zulfiqar ali bhutto, the founder of the ppp, his role in ignoring the 1971 elections in pakistan when he did not want pakistan, east and west as it was then, to be dominated in the national parliament by the east as the elections determined – he was no hero for democracy but someone who wanted power at all costs and zia ul haq knew that – so had him hanged
    nothing is really recoverable for pakistan since that – it should not have happened but it did and bhutto became a ‘democrat’ when he was anything but

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