Monday, 16 May 2011

Pakistani intelligence, Osama Bin Laden and the Greek debt crisis

Questioning Pakistan's commitment to fighting Islamic extremism is as common as birds chirping in the early hours. Following Bin Laden's capture in the country's Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province, the soft chirping of birds increased to a squealing reminiscent more of Hitchcock's classic thriller, 'The Birds' than of international diplomacy.
Blaming Pakistan has become a knee jerk reaction for coping with an international failure in Afghanistan. The tactic works well with the American public, especially a few months prior to the formal drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan. 
Clearly, none of the high value fugitives on this list are living in a US metropolitan area: that would imply incompetence or collusion on the part of the US government (a support system of some sort).   
Spare a thought for Pakistan. The international presence in Afghanistan has only served to 'internationalize' the Afghan war into Pakistan. The country's sovereignty is routinely violated by US drone strikes – it is as if international borders or laws of war do not exist. Meanwhile, Pakistan's population shudders with insecurity each time a new 'success' in the war on terror is achieved.
The easiest target for Islamist revenge is none other than Pakistan.
Pakistanis die with reckless abandon at the hands of those with who the country's intelligence apparatus is supposedly in collusion. The only thanks Pakistan gets for any cooperation – however limited or critical – is public humiliation by international coalition 'partners.'
Surely, Pakistan bears some responsibility for its current mess. The state cannot protect its own officers and functionaries, what to say of the ordinary citizen. The nation has demonstrated an inability to control an unhealthy proliferation of weapons within its borders. The military establishment succumbed to US pressure and allows a large number of American security contractors to roam the country freely.
More to the point, economic development has been at a virtual standstill since Pakistan joined hands with the US in its war on terror. Terrorism thrives in a vicious cycle of cause and effect mired in joblessness and governmental inability to deliver basic services. Whether economic stagnation is cause and terrorism the effect, or vice versa is a moot point.  
Critics of Pakistan ask the obvious question: how could Bin Laden live in the midst of a Pakistani city? Surely, Pakistan's security services are either incompetent or in collusion with Bin Laden and Al-Qaeeda.
When airplanes were flying into New York's Twin Towers did anyone accuse the CIA of incompetence or collusion? Likewise, when the 'underwear bomber' unsuccessfully set off his device on a transatlantic flight, despite a warning to the CIA by the bomber's father, does one claim incompetence or collusion by the CIA?
In hindsight, it is easy to decipher clues and point fingers. However, bureaucracies are not known for their efficiencies. The Pakistani military is good at following orders but even it is still very much a plodding, albeit uniformed, bureaucracy.
I find it inconceivable that the Pakistani military could have kept support for Bin Laden secret for so many years. Once knowledge of Bin Laden's existence leaked, as it surely will in a bureaucracy, then it is a simple step for a junior captain or a senior colonel, to be tempted by the USD 50 million bounty on Bin Laden's head. Money talks and captains, colonels and even generals listen.
Either that or Pakistan's intelligence services are so incredibly capable that Bin Laden's location was kept secret from the prying eyes, cash and massive electronic intelligence resources of the US for approximately one decade. Yes, the Pakistani Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was able to fool the world's electronic and human intelligence presence in the region for almost ten years due to its proficiency.
Move over Mossad, the ISI now rules the world!
But Osama is dead now, fishmeal for marine life in the Arabian Sea. And Osama was captured in Pakistan. The civilized world can (and did) celebrate by partying in the streets like intoxicated college students during Spring Break. So, how long before unpopular Pakistan's pariah status is ratcheted up one notch?
Probably two years before the US dumps Pakistan as unceremoniously as after the first Afghan war in the 1990s. In the interim, relations will be rocky but not broken. Perhaps the final rupture will come with Pakistan shooting down some US drones to salvage some national pride. Symbolism is a powerful tool for diplomacy and domestic consumption. 
The US will not need the Karachi to Peshawar supply route in a few years. Without other important common interests, the Karachi – Peshawar logistics trail acts as the glue for the Pak-US relationship.
Pakistani policy makers and academics should start preparing for a unilateral, wilful default and restructuring of the country's international debt obligations. Proactive restructuring of Pakistan's onerous debt load might kick-start the economy. If Pakistan's creditors, including the US, are unhappy at Pakistan's new found independence then 'regime change' and military intervention under the guise of securing Pakistan's nuclear assets may be the only option available to the unhappy nations. However, a SEAL team or a few drones may not be sufficient to install a 'friendly' regime in Islamabad – an intervention along the scale of Iraq will likely be required.
Pakistan may be nuclear armed and inhabited by 160 million people, but Pakistan is not Greece. The EU and the IMF may consistently allow a few million Greeks to evade taxes and collect generous pensions through financial bailouts, but Pakistan will have to make its own way.
Pakistan's third encounter as an American client state is ending just as badly as its earlier two experiences. It's time for Pakistan to chart a more independent course or at least find a new map maker.

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