Can John Kerry do what Charlie Wilson couldn’t?
By Makhdoom Babar
US Secretary of State John Kerry has recently held a trilateral meeting at Brussels. The meeting was attended by Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff general Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Afghani President Hamid Karzai and USU Secretary of State John Kerry himself, despite other top officials from Pakistan, United States and Afghanistan.
The meeting, though, was aimed at finalizing the strategy for the pullout of US, NATO and ISAF troops from Afghanistan next year, yet, the personality of John Kerry, who has been very supportive and affirmative to Pakistan army’s contribution towards global war on terror, makes the event very critical from Pakistan’s perspective.
To understand as to why such meetings, with presence of someone like John Kerry are always of a special significance, one has to move down the memory lane to recollect certain facts from the history and that is what we are trying to do here.
What the hell are they doing? Sir, they are doing just what we trained them for. This was the immediate conversation between the CIA Chief and his first deputy at Langley based CIA headquarters when some high profile terrorists carried out a terror attack on US embassy in Tanzania in August 1998. Just after a year to this gory incident, these terrorists carried out another high profile terror attack on September 11 in different US cities, causing severe damages to both the life and the property.
This was the time when the US decided to go all out for a massive response and Washington waged a war what they termed as the global anti-terror war. When this anti-terror war was being orchestered, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the first door neighbor of Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Pakistan Army and above all Pakistan’s first defense line, the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) emerged as the major player to play the spearhead role in the combat.
Many rounds of telephonic talks between the US President George Bush and the then President and the military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf were held despite several meetings between Pakistani and US officials. These meetings and telephonic parleys ultimately resulted into Pakistan saying “OK we’re in” and then began the deadly safari of Pakistan Army, the ISI and the people of the compact, yet nuke armed Muslim State.
If one goes by the statistics and on-ground realities, the ISI, the Pakistan Army and the people of Pakistan are the worst effected parties of this global anti-terror combat and at the same time the ISI and the Pakistan’s military have made the maximum contributions in this hunt so far. The statistics indicate that neither the US army nor the CIA or FBI have shown the success rate that could be matched with the results of the operations of Pakistan’s ISI and the Pakistan army.
However, despite all these facts and figures, it appears that the US administration in general and the CIA in particular are not satisfied or rather happy with the performance of Pakistan and particularly the ISI and are somewhat reluctant to make generous funding and to provide the essentially required tools. The question is a big WHY?? Why the CIA that was having a wonderful professional relationship and partnership with Pakistan’s ISI is today looking to be sort of irritated with the same agency? Why the best friends of the yesteryears have suddenly become strangers like? Is there some misunderstanding between the two or is there something else. It appears that there has been something much more than just a misunderstanding. The diplomatic observers and intelligence analysts say that one of the reasons of this state of affairs on part of Langley is the suddenly increased and warmed relations between CIA and India’s top spy agency the R&AW (commonly known as RAW). These observers and analysts are of the view that after the 9/11, the priorities at Langley changed dramatically. The relations between the CIA and the intelligence agencies of the Muslim countries apparently became very active, yet there was a pinch of salt at the end of the Langley. According to them, in case of Pakistan, the CIA suddenly started to listen to the RAW more than Pakistan’s ISI, despite that fact that RAW remained a very close and strong associate of Russian KGB and still having very deep rooted relations with Russian and Eastern Europe’s intelligence services. Their observation is that since the CIA is having a rather limited set up in Afghanistan, it opted to rely on the information shared by RAW with regard to the activities of Taliban and ISI’s operations against them. According to some sources, CIA’s 78% information about Taliban activities and ISI actions against them is RAW blessed. Some observers even went on to claim that joint drugs trafficking operations in Afghanistan, a country that still produces heroin worth of 3 trillion US Dollars every year across the world, is another factor behind new status of CIA-RAW ties.
But if one needs to dig out the real problem that is today preventing Pakistan and its top spy agency in getting the ample assistance, support and confidence of Langley and Capitol Hill, one has to travel back to the early 80s when the former USSR invaded Afghanistan.
In December 1979, the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This Islamic State, at that time, was suffering a state of anarchy already. This invasion exposed the CIA’s biggest failure as the agency could not pre-empt the intensions of the Russians neither could it detect the movement of the Soviet troops to Afghanistan. However, the CIA chief tried to cover the failure of his agency and informed his government that his agency was in knowledge of the intensions of the Soviets and wanted them to land in the trouble by invading Afghanistan so that they could have the taste of Vietnam. It was because of the cover-up by the CIA chief that the Americans just kept watching the Russians bleeding in Afghanistan and that’s what the CIA’s basic goal at that time was.
On the other side, the Afghans were being butchered by the Russians, who, at that time, were enjoying the luxury of being the world’s 2nd biggest and powerful military. The Afghans were fighting the Russian tanks, landmines, toy bombs, Kalashnikovs, napalm bombs and above all the flying killer, the Helicopter gun ships, merely with decades old Enfield Rifles but still they were putting up a reasonable resistance , owing to their being native of the mountainous region and because they were religiously motivated too. At the same time, the neighboring State, where an Army General was ruling as result of a military takeover in 1977, had the fear that the Russian fire in Afghanistan was set to engulf Pakistan, sooner or later. General Zia-Ul-Haque, the then President and Army Chief of Pakistan, smelled the situation very well and after going through the reports, submitted by country’s top intelligence agency, the ISI, he devised a strategy the generate maximum resistance for the Soviets within Afghanistan, through the Afghan Mujahideen ( Holy Warriors), without getting directly engaged. However, this strategy needed a lot of tactical as well as financial support, meaning a lot of money and lot of arms while Pakistan was by no means, in a position to arrange any of these. Islamabad was looking forward to Washington but Washington was keeping mum. The American interest in helping the Afghan Mujahideen can gauged through one fact that the total budget, sanctioned by the US Congress’s sub-committee on defense for covert operations in Afghanistan was just $ 5million.
The situation continued to be the same for quite some time with Russian helicopter gun ships barbecuing Afghans and Afghans fighting back with simple old rifles while CIA just providing them with 12.7mm Dishukas. The Russians fighter jets would often violate Pakistan’s air space and were always made to get back to Afghan airspace by Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 combat aircrafts, sold to Pakistan by the Americans. However the F-16s never chased the Russian jets out of Pakistan airspace. It was because the Americans did not equip the F-16s with the look down/shoot down radars which was the basic requirement of this flying monster.
In the meantime, Pakistan government succeeded in winning the sympathies of a well connected American lady, a famous and fairly rich business women from Texas Mrs. Joanne Herring. General Zia motivated Mrs. Herring to convince the big wigs at Capitol Hill to provide ample aid to Afghan Mujahideen so that the Soviet monster could be defeated.
It was in April 1980; Joanne Herring managed to convince a strong member of the US congress, Congressman Charles Wilson, who was also an important member of the Congress Sub-Committee on defense, to visit Pakistan and meet Pakistani President General Zia.
Charles Wilson, elected by the support of Jew votes, was a bit reluctant in the beginning but he finally agreed to hold talks with Pakistani President. During his meeting with President Zia, Zia convinced him to visit camps of the afghan Refugees near Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He was also given a verbal briefing about the situation in Afghanistan by representatives of Army and Intelligence. Upon his return to the US, Congressman Charles Wilson was more than convinced that the Soviet monster was to be pushed out of Afghanistan for global security and the plans of Pakistan’s ISI were the best to achieve the goals. From there onwards, Charles Wilson started a new march to get a reasonable amount of money and weapons to materialize the operations, planned by Pakistan’s ISI to defeat the Russians and to save Afghanistan. Charles Wilson’s biggest dilemma in this direction was to gain the support of the Jews. At that time, it was next to impossible to convince the Jews to allow the pumping of money in support of a Muslim State. However, Charles Wilson, somehow, managed to convince Jerusalem to allow Washington to pump in money to “defeat the communists”, if not to support an Islamic State. Wilson was lucky as the Afghanistan’s invasion by Russians was not a religious issue while the 9/11 and al-Qaeda emerged as a real big religious issue. In the meantime, Charles Wilson and Mrs. Herring continued their efforts to convince the congressmen to develop a better liaison with Pakistan and to support Mujahideen, following ISI plans. The CIA was told by Wilson that it blew the call by missing the movement of Russians and that now they had to develop a perfect teamwork with Pakistan’s ISI and to help and assist this agency, at that time by a three star General, known in the community of clandestine service as Blue-eyed Jackal. Wilson finally took the Chairman of the Congress’s Sub-Committee on Defense, Congressman Doc Long to Pakistan and motivated and convinced him to go all out to materialize ISI’s plans to defeat the Soviets. Then the CIA and ISI established an amazing teamwork and ISI, without getting directly involved, helped and trained Mujahideen to effectively use the weapons, particularly the Stingers, given by the Americans and to usefully follow the operational plans designed to fight a guerilla war against the world 2ng strongest army. The defense and intelligence analysts are of the firm view that Pakistan’s ISI did an unbelievable job of defeating the world’s 2nd biggest army just by arming and training the motivated yet illiterate and untrained civilians of Afghanistan. With the efforts of Charles Wilson and with the emergence of the spectacular results of the ISI planned operations, the US Congress’s Defense Committee raised the budget, which in the beginning was merely $ 5 millions, to the tune of $1 billion.
The Russians were defeated. They left Afghanistan and so did the Americans the CIA did not look at the ISI’s plans for the post war Afghanistan and so did the White House and the Capitol Hill. All plans of ISI, the government of Pakistan and Charles Wilson, to re-engage the Mujahideen in some peaceful and healthy activities, to pour in money in Afghanistan for the development of Industrial and Education infrastructure and most importantly to create job opportunities for disengaging Mujahideen from their militant lifestyle in the post- war era fell to the deaf ears of CIA, the White House and the Capitol Hill and ultimate results came in shape of formation of Al-Qaeda and non stop terror incidents like that of 9/11.
By the time the 9/11 took place, it was already too late for CIA to cover up its mistakes and negligence in the post war era of Afghanistan and Langley, after blowing the call once again, straight away recommended the White House to go for military strikes instead of intelligence operations to eliminate the warriors, once trained and created by the CIA itself. The military action in Afghanistan did not bring the required results and in fact it added fuel to the fire. Once again all eyes, back in Washington were on Pakistan and its ISI and once again there was a military ruler.
Pakistan is, in one way or the other, lucky enough that whenever it has to face some major international challenge, it gets a military ruler already in the driving seat to deliver with highly effective combination of civil and military thoughts and support. In the 80s, there was General Zia, who came with a slogan of implementation of religious laws and social reforms, in 2000, there was General Musharraf who came with slogan of Enlightened Moderation and Economic Reforms. One can say that in a way, Musharraf came to repair the damage caused by the Washington and Langley’s policies in the post-war Afghanistan but he never knew that he will have to face the new challenges in the same direction.
The Islamic Republic was grabbed into the “global anti-terror war”, which ultimately became Pakistan‘s own anti-terror campaign and Pakistan, its Army and ISI, once again responded to the call straight away. Numerous ISI operations resulted into very successful military strikes by Pakistani troops against the militants and a huge number of al-Qaed operatives, including its top leaders were arrested and killed. But on the other hand, Washington and Langley both started behaving in a rather nasty manner. First they doubted on the sincerity of the Pakistan government and its troops in carrying out full thrust operations against the militants and then the CIA started leaking vital counter terror information to the selected media in the US. Washington, after agreeing to the provision of certain funds and equipments to Islamabad, suddenly started delaying tactics. The Pakistani Army the ISI and the government, all were waiting for the materialization of the US promises to move further in the anti-terror Safari but the Americans instead continue to ask Islamabad to “DO MORE” without fulfilling their promises and without honouring their commitments.
By the year 2004,the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf learned that the major hurdle in swift and adequate aid from Washington was because of the Jews, he came to know that without a positive support from the Jews, the White House would never be able to deliver the way it delivered in the 80s. However Musharraf was not as lucky as General Zia was and Musharraf, despite having a number of very close friends at Capitol Hill, including the then US President George W Bush, failed to find a Charles Wilson. After this, he decided to embark on this journey all by himself. He decided to enhance interaction with Jews and to convince them that Pakistan was not fighting the war for Islam but its combat was aimed at ensuring the global peace and security. He wanted to convince the Jews that their support to Pakistan’s anti-terror campaign would ensure the security and peace across the globe. As a first step, he went to address a function of American Jewish Congress in 2005 during his official visit to the United States. This was his first formal gesture in his plans to win the sympathies of Jews. However, this action of him resulted into a big controversy back home and the fanatic religious leaders got another weapon against him. Later due to domestic political turmoil, he couldn’t make any major move in this direction and finally quit the President’s office in 2008, fearing an impeachment.
The dilemma for Pakistan army and its ISI, at the moment is that when it responded to its government’s call to start operations against al-Qaed and Taliban it had the commitment and backing of its government, when its government called it, the government had the commitment and trust of the Americans. But none of these exist at the moment.
Interaction with different diplomats and intelligence officials indicate that there is a firm belief that Pakistan’s Army and Pakistan’s ISI are 100% committed to the cause of defeating the menace of terrorism and militancy but they need a full support from their government and comprehensive trust and professional support of the CIA and the Pentagon . These diplomats and security experts do believe that Pakistan army’s ISI is not only the first defense line of Pakistan but in fact, in the current scenario, it is actually the first defense line for the peace and security across the globe. “If the Buck from Washington, logistic support from Langley and brains at ISI could manage to easily defeat world’s 2dn strongest army through untrained and illiterate Afghani civilians then how come they can’t do it by strengthening a fully trained professional army i.e. the Pakistan army to overcome just a bunch of a few thousand armed militants? If the Blue-Eyed General Akhtar Abdul Rehaman could deliver it in 80s then General Zaheer-Ul-Islam, the current Chief of the ISI is equally able to do so, but you need to give them what the need for doing so. You have to act and behave like you did in 80s. You need to trust them. Because you have no other choice. Do you think the Indians or the Israelis can do it? No sir, you are mistaken, only the Pakistani troopers and Pakistani ISI is capable of doing so. The one who, given the required substance, can defeat the world’s 2nd biggest army through civilians, could very easily do it through a professional army. But you need to trust them and to give them what they need”, said Colonel Retired W .Austin, a seasoned analyst on defense and intelligence affairs, when contacted by The Daily Mail. According to George Steven, the former member of a Washington based think tank on Asia said” The ISI might be having certain reservations regarding the ongoing anti-terror war because the track record of our policy makers is not very impressive in this. Every one knows what they did after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. The political leaders in Pakistan have never been cautious about such matters but the military and intelligence leadership there always was. I don’t think that the White House or the CIA have come up with any post anti-terror war pan. I am sure Pakistan has not been given any solid guarantee that once the anti-terror war is over, Afghanistan would be having a smoothly functioning government or there would be no threat to Pakistan from this side of the border or there would be no infiltration of Indians from Afghanistan into Pakistan and most importantly a master plan for the rehabilitation and jobs for the disarmed militants. You cannot expect the military leadership or the security leadership of a country to ignore such vital issues. So in my opinion, it is not that we should have trust and belief in Pakistani Intelligence and military leadership, more important is that we should also give them some belief and trust. We don’t need to listen to anyone from here or there we must do what we believe is essential for global security. If we want Pakistan’s ISI to deliver effectively in its Safari of anti-terror, we must not push them into a roller coaster but should give them a cruising bus”. He also criticized the signing of the peace deal between the Pakistani government and the religious extremists in the country area where Army and ISI were carrying out many successful operations and had already lost the lives of many soldiers and intelligence operatives. He termed it as big set back to the anti-terror efforts of the troopers and intelligence officials.
This whole trip back to the history clearly indicates that if the US government is really sincere in bringing an effective end to the war on terror by pulling out of Afghanistan, it must not repeat what it did in 80s at the time of Russian pullout from Afghanistan. It is crystal clear the John Kerry needs to play the role of Charlie Wilson. Kerry needs to ensure what Charles Wilson very strongly recommended for a post-war Afghanistan in the 80s. The Situation is same again. The US is pulling out but it must pullout with a follow-up plan, similar to the one that Charles Wilson drafted but was never adopted and implemented by Washington. The Billion Dollar question is that can John Kerry Do what Charlie Wilson couldn’t? Can John Kerry assure Pakistan’s army leadership of a smooth follow-up plan after the US pullout from Pakistan?.