Saturday, September 13, 2008




"Even though the US does not rate highly Zardari's leadership qualities, it prefers him to Nawaz because of his willingness to maintain Musharraf's policy of co-operation with the US in its so-called war against terrorism in Afghanistan and his perceived amenability to pressure by the US because of its role in persuading Musharraf, when he was the President, to issue the NRO ( National Reconciliation Ordinance). The US is also hopeful that, unlike Nawaz, Zardari will avoid any humiliation of Musharraf and will let him continue to live in Pakistan without fearing any harassment by the Government. Well-informed PPP sources say that the entire scenario has been proceeding according to a tacit understanding reached with US officials during the visit of Yousef Raza Gilani, the Prime Minister, and Rehman Malik, his Advisor on Internal Security, to Washington DC, in the last week of July, 2008. According to these sources, this understanding provided for: launching of a special land-cum-air operation by the Pakistan military against Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in the Bajaur Agency, permission to be accorded by the Gilani Government for continuing unmanned Predator strikes by the US intelligence agencies on terrorist hide-outs in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and US pressure on Musharraf to resign thus paving the way for the election of Zardari. The object of the entire exercise was to keep Nawaz out of power, marginalise him and keep up the present level of US-Pakistan co-operation against terrorism."

Extract from my article of August 27,2008, titled "AFTER TRICKY MUSH, TRICKY ZARDARI" at

The same well-informed sources of the Pakistan People's Party cited in the above-mentioned article of August 27,2008, say that it is correct that Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari had been kept in the picture by officials of the Bush administration, including President George Bush himself, about the new rules of engagement approved by Bush in July before the visit of Gilani to Washington DC. Under these new rules of engagement, the US has been allowed to step up aerial attacks on suspected terrorist hide-outs in Pakistani territory by the Predator pilotless planes and undertake ground operations through special forces within a depth of not more than five kms if warranted by precise intelligence without informing the Pakistan Army beforehand. According to them, these rules of engagement also lay down that ground operations would be undertaken in such a manner as not to involve an accidental confrontation with the Pakistani security forces. As against three Predator strikes and no ground strike during the whole of last year when Pervez Musharraf was the President and the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), there have already been 12 Predator strikes and one ground strike since the Gilani Government came to office on March 18,2008.

2. These sources say that Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), was also briefed on these new rules of engagement during his meeting with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board a US aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea on August 27,2008. However, Kayani has strongly denied this. A press release of the Inter-Services Press Office issued on September 10,2008, quoted Kayani as saying as follows while commenting on media reports: "The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all costs and no external force will be allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan. There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border."

3. Referring to his meeting with senior officers of the US on board USS Abraham Lincoln, the aircraft-carrier, on Aug 27, he said they were informed about the complexity of the issue that required understanding in depth and more patience for evolving a comprehensive solution.He said it was stressed that in such like situations, military action alone would not solve the problem. Political reconciliatory effort was required to get along with the military prong to win the hearts and minds of the people. During the discussions with the US officers, the imperative of public support at large for the military operations also came under focus."Ultimately it is our national interest which would always guide our policy. The trust deficit and misunderstandings (between the US and Pakistan armies) can lead to more complications and increase difficulties for all. The constraints of operating in these areas must never be lost sight of. There are no quick fixes in this war. Falling for short-term gains while ignoring our long-term interest is not the right way forward.To succeed, the coalition would be required to display strategic patience and help the other side the way they want it; rather than adopting a unilateral approach which may be counter productive. It is the multi-pronged approach, fully supported by the people of Pakistan, which will help us defeat the threat of internal terrorism," Kayani said.

4.These sources point out that before her assassination, Benazir Bhutto herself had said in media interviews that if she became the Prime Minister she would allow the US forces to search for Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory if they had reliable intelligence and allow the interrogation of Dr.A.Q.Khan, the nuclear scientist, by an international team of investigators. She had also said that she would consider the arrest of Dawood Ibrahim, the Indian mafia leader, if he was found in Pakistan and hand him over to India. According to these sources. Zardari is merely following the policies as laid down by her. These sources say that both she and Zardari were concerned over the control established by Al Qaeda and the Taliban over the Pashtun tribal belt and wanted to fully co-operate with the US in neutralising them.

5. According to these sources, Zardari, Gilani and Kayani have been completely taken aback by the leakage of the information about the new rules of engagement to sections of the media by unidentified officials in Washington DC. They are reportedly indignant over this leakage, which, they fear, could worsen the situation in the tribal belt and result in a fresh upsurge of suicide terrorism directed against Pakistani security forces and leaders, including possibly Zardari himself. They say that this was a gentlemen's agreement reached in total secrecy and by leaking it out, the US has made it difficult for Pakistan to step up the co-operation with the US against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They are unable to understand the motives of the US officials who leaked out this information and whether this leakage had the authorisation of Bush and other senior leaders.

6. Kayani is stated to be indignant over the officially-leaked allegations in sections of the US media that he was aware of the plans of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for a car bomb explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7,2008. He reportedly feels that what he regards as such reckless media allegations in the US, inspired by unidentified officials, tend to damage his image in the eyes of his soldiers and this could be counter-productive.

7. Zardari and Gilani are in a dilemma due to the media leaks in the US and the strong reactions of Kayani and the Corps Commanders to it. While backing the strong line taken by Kayani without consulting the political leadership, Gilani has been urging that this matter should be left to be handled by the Pakistani Foreign Office through the US State Department and that everyone should refrain from comments or reactions, which might add to the already strong anti-US anger in the public. The "Dawn" of September 13,2008, has quoted Gilani as saying as follows during an Iftar (fast-breaking) party on September 12,2008: "Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ruled out retaliatory action against incursions by US-led coalition forces into Pakistan’s territory and said that the Government will instead use diplomatic channels to dissuade the United States and the United Kingdom from taking such actions.Replying to a question about a US missile attack in North Waziristan on Friday morning, the Prime Minister said: “We can take up the issue of these attacks at the diplomatic level but we cannot go to war.”He said: “Pakistan is capable of dealing effectively with terrorists and militants on its soil.” He reiterated that Pakistan was capable of taking action against terrorism inside the country in an affective way.Mr Gilani said Pakistan had cordial relations with all countries and it could convince them that the situation in its areas was its internal matter. “We will convince both the US and the UK to respect our sovereignty.”

8. In the meanwhile, to convince the US of its sincerity in fighting terrorism, the Gilani Government has withdrawn the suspension of its military operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban elements in the Bajaur Agency. The Frontier Corps (FC) and the Air Force have again started attacking the terrorist strongholds and claim to have already killed over 100 jihadis, many of them allegedly foreigners. (13-9-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )