Pakistan: the "high value target"

In March 2004, Colin Powell unveiled the plan to classify Pakistan as a "major non-Nato ally" and refrained from publicly criticising General Musharraf’s handling of the controversy over Abdul Qadeer Khan.

In a reciprocal move, Pakistan’s military dictator had to send tens of thousands of troops to occupy South Waziristan and claim the surrounding of a "high-value target" from Al-Qaeda. Many lives have been lost since then but the “high-value-target” still remains one of the post September 11, 2001 mysteries, many not knowing that Pakistan, itself a high value target has long surrendered and is under total control.

It is not that the General is in the habit of making claims that later on prove wrong. Undoubtedly, he declared the war in Afghanistan over; Osama and Mulla Omar dead; Daniel Pearl alive; 85 per cent Pakistanis his supporters, and the widely criticised referendum as "free, fair and transparent." However, he makes such statements on purpose.

This time the purpose for highlighting a "high value target" was to use Pakistani forces for a war on Pakistan -” for invasion, occupation, massacre, home demolitions and human right abuses like any occupied force. Occupation of South Waziristan followed almost like invading another nation.

Helicopter gunship have been used to spew fire from safe stand off heights from where, by implication, it is impossible to separate a terrorist from accompanying civilians. Heavy artillery -” an even more undiscriminating weapon -” is regularly employed. US U-2 spy planes, flying at 70,000 feet, unmanned Predator drones, equipped with Hellfire missiles, and unattended ground sensors (UGS) dropped from air at passes on the Hindu Kush are samples of the technological weight thrown against a people for the may be non-existent “high value targets.”

Well before General Musharraf’s declaration of a “high value target,” the US had forced Pakistan to take all the necessary steps for a successful operation. In an extraordinary development, the Pashtun Corps Commander in Peshawar, Lieutenant-General Ali Jan Orakzai, was retired prematurely. Major General Safdar Hussain, from Punjab, took his place and instantly dispatched troops to South Waziristan.

Orakzai has been in Washington’s bad books since 2003, when he openly condemned as “discriminatory” the behavior of US authorities towards Pakistanis. He made these stinging remarks at functions hosted by the Pakistani embassy in the US. Despite being an official guest, Orakzai was forced to go through a plethora of screenings and checks at the immigration counter on his arrival.

There were reports about the US authorities’ special request for splitting armed forces on ethnic basis. It was proposed that in the next phase of Pakistan’s war on Pakistan, all Pashtun officers should be separated from non-Pashtun officers. Pashtoon are considered sympathetic to the ethnic Pashtun in the areas chosen for occupation.

Several soldiers and a few officers of Pashtun origin have refused to participate in actions taken against the Pashtun tribes. As an example of who are actually chosen to serve in Wanna, a Major from Punjab, whose appeal for political asylum in Canada was rejected, went back and was instantly sent to Wanna. The decision on the case pertaining to his four-year absence and seeking asylum abroad is still pending.

Traditionally, a majority of Pakistan army belongs from Punjab, but at the top level the ratio of Punjabi and Pashtun officers was not reflecting much disparity. For the past two years, Pashtun officers have been greatly cut to size. In recent promotions, 18 brigadiers were elevated to the position of major-general, while only one Pashtun could earn the same title.

It will take some time before the facts resurface about some colonels, who have been arrested for refusing to fight against their own people in Waziristan. Who are these army officers, what is their background and what is their status right now, say in terms of trial, is a challenge for the journalists and human rights groups in Pakistan to dig out.

Just like all the failed reasons and logic for the so-called war on terrorism, justification for the Pakistan army to use force in the tribal areas purported to flush out “Islamist militants” does not make any sense at all.

Using the US war lords’ terminology makes it sound reasonable when Musharraf states he is “clearing Pakistani territory of foreign militants who are pursuing global Jihad.” What does not add, however, is the fact that the same people, if they are there, were fully trained and supported when their Jihad was against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Now the US supported “intellectuals” argue: “Even those Pakistanis, who until recently sympathized with the struggles of fellow Muslims under oppression, for example those of the Kashmiris, Palestinians and Chechens, are beginning to recognize that the methods of the Jihadis are a threat to global order.” Do we see any change in the methods from the times of Afghan Jihad? If not, why were they not a threat to global order then?

It is naïve to assume that Pakistanis have changed their mind because they “do not want their country to be subjected to an international military operation, like the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Such an argument fails to realise that there is no “global” operation in Iraq. As far Pakistan, it is already subjected to such an operation to the advantage of the US. Actually, it is Pakistan that is trapped as a “high value target.”

Consequently, the desired domestic instability is well before our eyes. Military, the only intact institution in Pakistan is on the way to disintegration. Its image has already been shattered beyond repair. The family members of Pakistani forces not only have difficulty reconciling to loss of lives resulting from battles with fellow Muslims, they are also doubtful of their family members’ status in the hereafter.

This is how the “extremists” are born -” this time out of the family members of the killed “soldiers of Islam” who were not meant to fight the much reverend Mujahideen, now labelled as “extremist brethren in faith.”

The institution of armed forces in Pakistan has already been constantly eroding due to the dubious political role it is playing for the United States. The transition from Jihad- fi-sabeelillah (Jihad in the cause of Allah) to Jihad in the cause of America has put the final nail in the coffin of army’s respect in civilian eyes. The Karachi attack on the Corps Commander’s car is a glaring sign.

The negative fallout of Pakistan’s military war on Pakistan would have been worth it if it had been part of a strategic decision to close the chapter of Pakistan’s raison d’être, change the motto of the armed forces and openly declare the country a secular state and its armed force a professional army. It is not that only this is impossible. What also is beyond the control of Washington and Islamabad is closing the chapter on Afghan Jihad and propping up of the Taliban with the faint hope of United States’ regaining a foothold in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, that is impossible as well because accepting mistakes does not seem to be happening in Washington at all.

History of the British chicanery and deceit is repeating itself in the tribal areas. The Shakai agreement, reached between the local and Pakistani officials on April 24, was not acceptable to Lt. Gen. David Barno, the top US commander in Afghanistan. His May 3 criticism and preparation of an airstrip in Paktika, a few miles from the Durand Line, capable of landing AC-130 gunships, sent Pakistani troops once more marching into Wanna. The break up of Shakai agreement triggered a fresh round of military offensive. One of the signatories of the accord, Commander Nek Mohammad has become a principal substitute for the “high-value-target,” killed most probably with a missile fired by the CIA predator drone.

The regime’s decision to fulfil the US designs in the doubtful “war on terrorism” with a tactic of going after “high-value-targets,” which might be dead long ago, undermines the respect of the people the armed forces must enjoy if they are to perform their role properly. Besides Pakistan’s integrity, it puts the General’s own life and that of hundreds of thousands of servicemen all over Pakistan in peril.

There is always going to be “high-value-targets” before every new operation in the “war on terror” and Claims that Zawahiri or Uzbek cleric Qari Tahir Yaldash have been trapped or killed would then be downplayed at the end of the bloody adventures.

The 70,000 Pakistani troops that have been scouring the tribal border areas in tandem with the US Task Force 121 and British SAS troops will never get the “high value targets” because they are either not there or getting them is not a priority at the moment when the focus in on melting down the “most high value target” -” Pakistan.

Resistance to the US occupation will be taken person by person and tribe by tribe. Like Lieutenant General Safdar Hussain, there would be other commanders, singling out other tribes like Yargul Khel and state: “I’m determined to punish this tribe and make them an example.” More and more innocents would be forced in thousands to leave their homes and orchards. It is just the beginning of the war.

The actual “high value target” -” Pakistan -” has already been captured. General Musharraf, however, ignores that he won’t be able to play around this game of deceiving both the East and the West for far too long. Even the power of America has failed to secure the submission of Iraqis. The Afghans brought the Soviet power to its knees.

The armed forces ruling and operating without the support of the people will always prove to be powerless in the long run, irrespective of their winning a few battles for the US and irrespective of the US strategic planners pride over capturing the "high value target."