Confusion and opaqueness - Cyril Almeida - Friday 15th April 2011

A HELPFUL rule when trying to decipher spy rows: everyone`s lying. Spy agencies generally, and the ISI and the CIA in particular, aren`t really in the business of telling their respective publics the truth. What they are particularly good at is using the media to try and gain leverage against one another.
Have a look at the narrative that`s developed around the Raymond Davis affair in the US. Davis was a contractor providing security to an intelligence team that was probing into the affairs of Lashkar-i-Taiba, the story goes. It looks and sounds great. Bad Laskhar vs heroic Americans trying to keep the world safe. All neatly wrapped in the American flag.
Gosh, is there a possibility the Americans may have been up to something else, something less unambiguously good and welcome? Y`know, like the other not-so-nice stuff that the CIA has been known to get involved in in the past?
Not a chance, at least if you believe the narrative in the American media. And no points for guessing where the theory of the wholesome CIA at work in dangerous Pakistan has come from.
Over here it`s been just as fanciful. The secretive Musharraf or a craven Zardari are responsible for letting Americans walk in through the front door and run around the country. Musharraf and Zardari also gave the Americans carte blanche to drone-strike Fata into a mangled mess.
Never mind that for the past three years we`ve had the same principals in charge of the army and the ISI. And never mind that they`ve given themselves generous extensions. It`s all Musharraf`s fault or Zardari`s cunning. But spy agencies lying is the least of our problems. The dissembling and manipulation is supposed to be in pursuit of some strategic goal.
The Americans ostensibly know what their goal is: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and affiliated militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That`s the goal laid down by the American president, agree or disagree with it and debate what it means all you want.
What is our goal? Nobody seems to know.
Sure, there are things the army and the US agree on. Both agree Al Qaeda is bad and it has to be squeezed out of this part of the world. Both agree that Afghanistan cannot fall apart again. But do we have a list of specific things we want? Are the Haqqanis an insurance policy or the actual policy?
Can we say on Afghanistan, right, America you need to do this, Iran you can have that, India you need to pull back to this line and China you will guarantee economic activity here? It`s not like the rest of the world will automatically listen to us, but is the negotiating position clear?
And perhaps of lesser relevance to the outside world but of fundamental importance to the people over here, is there any thought given to how the next phase in Afghanistan may link up with the internal security or economic situation over here in Pakistan? Look for answers to any of these questions in Pakistan and you`re likely to be met with an awkward silence.
Whether there are 300 American super spies in Pakistan or zero, whether Americans are trigger-happy when it comes to using drones in Fata or not, it makes little difference in the bigger picture as long as we are not sure how to fit the pieces together in the bigger picture or even what bigger picture we want in the first place.
Consider this. North Waziristan Agency bothers the army because in the Mirali sub-division abutting the settled districts a bunch of the Pakistan-centric militants have gathered. The adjacent Miramshah sub-division is less of a bother to the army because that`s the Haqqanis` stamping ground.
A partial push into NWA may be problematic because if the army were to try and clean up the areas that worry it, the operation may create momentum for the Americans to demand expanding the push into areas that bother the US.
So essentially the army`s calculation for not moving in NWA must come down to this: whatever the pain the Pakistan-centric militants can inflict on Pakistan is less than the potential benefits that the Haqqanis have to offer us in Afghanistan.But is it possible that the security establishment is downplaying the pain and overestimating the potential benefits? Speak to anyone who knows anything about militancy or Fata, and the answer is, yes, the security establishment is probably miscalculating.
At this point, with time running out, it`s less helpful to ask why. More relevant, how do you get the security establishment to acknowledge what everyone else is seeing? But the more relevant question doesn`t have a more reassuring answer.
Consider something else. With India, the public is constantly told: we don`t plan for intentions, we plan for capabilities. But with the US, the security establishment often talks about intentions. The Americans want to strip us of our nukes. There may be some designs to break up Pakistan, starting with Balochistan. The Americans intend to shut us out in Afghanistan.
At some point, it all becomes terribly Gollum-esque, the Ring extending the life of the hobbit but also enslaving him.
It`s probably too much to expect there is a uniform somewhere muttering to himself, “We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us.” But if life does imitate art, in the real world, our Gollums won`t go down alone. They will take us down with them.
The writer is a member of staff.

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