Is Sharif Making a Play for Counterterrorism Funds US Cut from Afghanistan Budget?

Back in early November, the US carried out one of its most controversial drone strikes in Pakistan, killing TTP head Hakimullah Mehsud just hours before peace talks between the TTP and Pakistan were to begin. This move by the US seems to have pushed the TTP in a more radicalized direction, resulting in many new attacks. Pakistan’s government has responded to these attacks with counterattacks, effectively putting an end to prospects for restarting the talks.

Today, we see Sharif’s government vowing to take on another radical Sunni group, this time in Balochistan:

The government has finally decided to launch an operation against the feared Sunni terrorist outfit, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and other militant groups involved in fomenting unrest in Balochistan.

The decision was taken in a meeting attended by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, the Quetta corps commander, the Balochistan inspector general (IG) police and the Frontier Corps IG.

Dr Baloch was made in-charge of the operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

It is important to mention that the decision to launch an operation against terrorists was taken following an attack on Shias in Mastung that killed 29 pilgrims on Tuesday.

Significant government resources were brought in quickly after the attack on the bus:

The Government of Balochistan has suspended buses carrying pilgrims from travelling through the province to neighbouring Iran due to security concerns after a suicide attack killed 28 pilgrims in Mastung this week.

A 700 km highway connecting Quetta and Iran, home to many Shia pilgrimage sites, has seen dozens of suicide and roadside bomb attacks.

“We have temporarily suspended the movement of buses on the highway until the security situation improves,” a senior official of the Balochistan government told Reuters on Friday.

The provincial government then arranged C-130 flights to ferry 301 Shia pilgrims from Dalbandin town in Chagai district to Quetta International Airport for fear of more attacks on the pilgrims on Taftan-Quetta Highway. The pilgrims had entered Pakistan via Iran border in Taftan Town on Wednesday.

“The pilgrims were stopped in Taftan and barred from travelling by passenger buses. They were later shifted to Dalbandin under tight security,” another official said.

FC and Levies personnel escorted the pilgrims from Taftan to Dalbandin.

Although the C-130 flights were provided by the provincial government, the Frontier Corps is under the control of Pakistan’s army and so there appears to be national coordination in this response, as is also indicated by Nisar being mentioned in the Pakistan Today article quoted above (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, although not mentioned in the article, is in the accompanying photo).

Almost under the radar, we get word that talks begin in Washington, DC tomorrow on the “strategic” relationship between Pakistan and the US. It appears that counterterrorism is high on the list of topics under discussion:

National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz has arrived in Washington to lead Pakistan-U.S. Strategic Dialogue with Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, as the two countries look to finalize a blueprint aimed at bolstering future relationship. The top-level Pakistani delegation includes Minister for Defense, Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif and senior officials. The American interlocutors will include senior level representatives from the Department of Energy, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, USAID, US Trade Representative and from the Treasury. The officials will work to “put together a blueprint of where we can take this relationship over the course of the next six months to a year,” a State Department official said ahead of the revived ministerial dialogue that will focus on wide-ranging economic, energy and security areas.

Meanwhile, a report in the American media saw the dialogue as offering an opportunity for the United States and Pakistan to start a new chapter in their relationship, affected by years of Afghan war controversies.

The Voice of America noted that the war in Afghanistan strained the bilateral relationship. But now the U.S. is drawing down its troops from Afghanistan, and Secretary of State John Kerry says it’s time to resume a strategic dialogue. The broadcast service also quoted a statement of John Kerry in which he said the U.S. is committed to a long-term relationship with Pakistan.

Although the diplomatic sources for this article went to great lengths to claim that this move is unrelated to Afghanistan and the dwindling likelihood of Afghanistan signing the Bilateral Security Agreement that will keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year, recent developments seem to me to point to a direct connection. Note also that this article mentions Sharif’s trip to Washington in October, which happens to be just before the drone strike that started this whole sequence of events.

We see relations between the US and Karzai’s government now falling to the level of arguments over fabricated information appearing in Afghanistan’s investigation into civilian deaths in a US air strike at the same time that 40% of the Pentagon’s request for military and development funds in Afghanistan being cut with no howling whatsoever from the usual sources in the Pentagon or from Congressional war hawks.

With billions in US funds suddenly freed up, is Sharif making a play for that money to be shifted from Afghanistan to fund Pakistan’s new-found enthusiasm for attacking terrorists? If so, this would represent a complete about-face for Sharif after he was elected primarily on a platform of starting peace talks with the TTP. For me, the tell for whether this is indeed taking place will be if Lindsey Graham and/or Dana Rohrabacher suddenly start(s) saying nice things about Pakistan and their commitment to fighting terrorists after years of blaming Pakistan for sheltering and supporting them.

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.
10 replies
  1. der says:

    “Bring me the head of John the Baptist.” Our foreign aid directly tied to body counts, and names. But of course since that grand success called VietNam “we don’t do body counts” until we have to admit we still do because. Edward Snowden or some other leaky traitor stole the top secret paper and gave it to Glenn Greenwald. Of course the evildoers names are Viagra to Rogers and Dutch. Leaders, oorah!

  2. TarheelDem says:

    Afghanistan being totally landlocked, there is a matter of safe passage of troops and disposition of equipment and supplies during US withdrawal from Pakistan. Logistical security for the US leaving is critical to avoiding the sort of cut-and-run footage that occurred when the US left Vietnam.

    No doubt $40 billion of US aid is attractive and even if labeled as for counter-terrorism against US-labeled groups in Pakistan, US money can show up being used in other ways if history is a guide. I’m sure Sharif will find a good use for that money.

    Thanks for the excellent analysis, Jim.

  3. TarheelDem says:

    @Don Bacon: I misread something. I can’t reconstruct where I got that figure. Thanks for catching it. Nonetheless, $40 billion would be attractive don’t you think.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Why no peace in Pakistan? They had it before.

    The military commander who has killed 2400 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past five years was a teenage basketball enthusiast who had no criminal record before he got elected to high office and went on his killing spree, authorities said Sunday.

    “It was really hurtful, like, wow — someone that I know, someone that I’ve been in the presence of more than short amounts of time. I’ve seen this guy in action before, on the court, on the street. Never upset, never sad, just quiet, just chill,” Scott told The Associated Press.

    “I mean, what can you say?” he said. “You go to work and make a dollar and you got some idiot sending drone-fired rockets overseas and blowing people away, destabilizing a whole nation, making them hate us. What a creep.”

  5. Don Bacon says:

    I wonder if Kerry knows what he’s doing over there.
    (Just kidding.)
    One main objective is to keep Pakistan from getting Iran gas via the IP pipeline. Pakistan desperately needs the energy to power its feeble economy and has been making renewed noises about the IP pipeline which was “inaugurated” nearly a year ago but has gone nowhere. I betcha Kerry uses the “back to the stone age” warning again.
    So I think it goes beyond money, to survival. There are few countries the US can push around any more, and apparently Pakistan is one of them. Perhaps we should give the NSA an assist?

  6. joanneleon says:

    Is there a new US special forces + Pakistani forces arrangement in the offing? In exchange for electricity, which people in some areas of Pakistan want more than anything else, maybe they’ll allow some JSOC military bases. Maybe JSOC will train some Pakistani forces and work together with them, like they did in Afghanistan (and in various other countries around the world). I can’t see how the Pakistani people will go for this but for electricity and clean water, they can probably be convinced.

    Makes a lot of sense when you take that sudden budget cut into consideration, as Jim says. It will really piss off some of the Afghan elites in a major way. It might also make them lean on Karzai or make sure he has no power after the April elections, and ensure someone more cooperative is put into place.

    Or perhaps it has to do with pipelines, as Don mentions above. Some people, like Pepe Escobar, say all of this (big picture) is about the pipelines and ways of supplying Europe’s energy needs. Nobody in this country ever talks about that, publicly anyway. And securing transit routes for supplies to Afghanistan makes a lot of sense too, though if we’re really doing a zero solution and pulling everyone out, that shouldn’t matter as much. However, does anyone think that we’re completely out, even if we have no troops left in Afghanistan? What about all the mercenaries and other contractors? What about big, multi-year development projects that are still in the works? I still don’t understand why we stayed in Afghanistan all these years, what was in it for us, other than keeping some big war going to feed the war profiteers. Big projects in Pakistan could feed them too.

  7. joanneleon says:

    Ah (and my bad for forgetting CIA currently running the drones in Pakistan, tho JSOC is, I believe, running them in Afghanistan).

    MofA calls this NYT story a massive leak:

    The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region


    Already two years ago the Afghan foreign minister categorically rejected any further CIA drone activity beyond the end of 2014

    MofA notes that there are talks going on in Pakistan but doesn’t consider the fact that maybe new bases are being discussed to replace the ones in Afghanistan.

    I’m just wild-assed guessing. But I think it’s a logical conclusion that either

    1) this is a signal to Afghan govt that the US has alternatives and can spend their money elsewhere, to pressure Afghans to allow residual forces with immunity
    2) US is looking for a quick way to establish bases in Pakistan after complete withdrawal from Afghanistan (and would that mean abandoning contracts and US & allies’ companies working in Afghanistan who need security?)

  8. joanneleon says:

    Even though the zero option has few supporters in the administration, the idea has gained renewed credence with each day that Mr. Karzai delays signing the security accord and poses new demands to the United States. “Karzai has believed for some time that he has this leverage — that we need him and his bases more than he needs us,” said Daniel Markey, a former State Department official and the author of “No Exit From Pakistan,” published last year.

    Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Pakistan’s foreign and national security policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, here on Monday, and counterterrorism operations are to be a major subject of discussion, a senior State Department official said Sunday. Talking with Pakistan about its nuclear program is especially delicate.

    Electricity and water for drone bases in Pakistan is a very likely scenario.

    But it looks like they still think Karzai will back down but time is running out and they can’t establish bases overnight. The article says Kerry is talking counterterrorism with the Pakistanis but the article also puts a big focus on Pakistan’s nukes.

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