In a satirical piece on Pakistan’s “New Media Dictionary,” Nadeem Paracha described “Conspiracy Theory” as “A theory that is not a theory at all but a hard fact on Pakistan’s TV channels,” where anything goes and where 90 percent of Pakistanis get their news.
For America’s television coloratura of right and left, the MO is to mold rather than inform. In Pakistan, they do more than mold; they fake it.
The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis believe Sept. 11, 2001, was the work of two co-conspirators — Mossad and the CIA. In World War II, Tokyo Rose was tame compared to some of the outpourings on Pakistan’s 50 TV channels. And “anyone disagreeing with the hard and loud factoids,” adds Paracha, “is a Mossad/CIA/RAW (Indian) … agent and a possible swine flu carrier who would be lined up against the walls of Delhi’s Red Fort and shot dead during Ghazwa-ul Hind in 2012” — the year of the forecast conquest of India by Muslims, which is also the year of a growing pile of apocalyptic warnings and anxieties about the end of the 5,125-year Mayan calendar. Armageddon is around the corner.
It is hardly surprising that Pakistan’s politics tend to dabble in the surreal.
A 2007 deal between former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf spawned the National Reconciliation Ordinance — with 8,041 political names guilty of corruption, financial bungling, misuse of authority and various and sundry criminal charges — that pardoned everybody. One provincial minister had 16 cases against him for murder and attempted murder.
The pardons were short-lived. The Supreme Court has now revoked the NRO, and 248 high-profile beneficiaries, now subject to prosecution, are no longer allowed to leave the country. The defense minister, about to board a flight to Beijing, was told to return to his office. Several Cabinet ministers canceled official trips abroad.
The Supreme Court also reopened a case filed against President Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland for money laundering, which the Swiss dismissed after he was elected president, releasing $60 million, now his money again. He also enjoys immunity as long as he is president. Zardari spent more than 11 years in prison on charges of corruption and murder, but no case against him was ever proved. Yet highly paid lawyers still couldn’t get him out of jail.
The NRO debacle explains why Pakistanis have little faith in their politicians and why the country has fallen under military rule four times in its 62-year history. Today the military calls the tune — especially against the Taliban. It also controls the country’s nuclear arsenal.
A cartoon in the International Herald Tribune shows a soldier crouching behind an armored vehicle labeled the Pakistani army. Standing atop a village wall, a black-bearded Taliban fighter is shouting through a megaphone, “Friend or foe today?” The question is pertinent because one branch of the Taliban is the enemy that occupied the Swat Valley and got to within 60 miles of Islamabad, the capital. And the other Taliban, fighting U.S., NATO and other allied forces in Afghanistan, is potentially friend again. But not before the United States and its allies tire of fighting the Afghan war.
The United States is pressuring Pakistan military commander Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to continue and extend the offensive against Taliban/Pakistan, based in South Waziristan, to Taliban/Afghanistan that use North Waziristan as their safe haven, both in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. As long as they can operate from these privileged sanctuaries, the Afghan war is unwinnable. Stepped-up U.S. drone attacks with unmanned Predators and Rapiers will not dislodge them, but they fuel still growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan. Visa extensions and new visas for U.S. diplomatic personnel are held up, a form of protest against “unrealistic” U.S. demands and the paucity of U.S. aid ($7.5 billion over the next five years). Polls show seven out of 10 Pakistanis are anti-American.
High-ranking U.S. officials take it in turn to visit Kayani to reassure him of U.S. support. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and CENTCOM commander Gen. David H. Petraeus are frequent visitors. Defense Secretary Bob Gates and national security adviser Jim Jones also came calling recently. Trouble is, Pakistan’s military leader cannot concede the ulterior strategic calculation: Pakistan was safer after aiding and abetting the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan in 1996.
Last summer the Taliban in Pakistan got to within 60 miles of Islamabad, which was clearly a signal for a major counterattack that drove them back to South Waziristan. There they were pummeled by three Pakistani divisions until heavy snowfalls stopped major operations pending the spring thaw. But suicide bombers continue widely scattered attacks in major cities.
The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, was originally created by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency to put an end to the civil war that had racked Afghanistan following the end of the Soviet occupation in 1989. And with covert Pakistani assistance, the Taliban took over in Kabul in 1996 until evicted by the U.S. invasion five years later. Since then, Pakistan’s ISI has never lost contact with Mullah Muhammad Omar, the elusive Taliban overlord, underground for the past nine years.
Pakistan’s leaders, both military and civilian, are convinced the United States will soon tire of blood and treasure expended in Afghanistan because, contrary to President Obama’s belief, that is not where al-Qaida is these days. It’s not safe for al-Qaida, therefore undesirable. Kayani and his generals want to make sure the post-NATO and then post-U.S. phase, as they see it, is not taken over by the pro-Indian Northern Alliance.
For Pakistani strategists, this could spell the end of Pakistan, caught in a gigantic pincer by India, still the only real enemy. Its 1971 conquest of East Pakistan, 1,000 miles east of West Pakistan, turned it into Bangladesh. In Pakistan’s strategic eyes, Afghanistan must have a friendly regime in charge, as the country to their west is their defense in depth against India.
Meanwhile, the United States is stuck attempting to prop up both Pakistan and Afghanistan, both governed by unpopular presidents of dubious probity.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times. This essay was syndicated by UPI as “Surreal Pakistan.”