Truman’s worst fears - Taj M Khattak - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

As narrated by Stephen Kinzer, the phrase “America’s Gestapo” was first used by President Harry S Truman in a letter in which he expressed apprehensions about the CIA acquiring too much power if it were employed for subversion abroad.

Britain discovered Iranian oil at a time when it didn’t have a drop of its own, and Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, called it a prize beyond his country’s wildest imagination. Decades later, when Mohammad Mossadegh, the elected prime minister of Iran, sought to wrest control of what rightfully belonged to his own country, Britain – too weak after World War II to do that on its own – requested the US to help secure a regime change in Teheran. So President Eisenhower ordered the CIA in 1953 to stage a coup in Iran.

To the misfortune of a number of countries, America’s rogue Gestapos, and there are many, have become part of the world political scene since then. The CIA not only confirmed Truman’s worst fears, it has mutated into a lethal instrument of choice for the United States in the pursuance of its global policy.

During the ISI chief’s recent visit to the United States, Pakistan is reported to have made no specific demands for the withdrawal of CIA personnel in this country, or a halt to drone attacks in Pakistan, or even for their reduction. The Pakistani side discussed the increasing visibility of the disproportionate number of US intelligence, military and other personnel attached to the American embassy and consulates. There wasn’t much to discuss anyway once CIA chief Leon Panetta informed his guest that he had a duty to protect Americans in Afghanistan. For his words to take effect, he slammed in a second strike in South Waziristan before the general could shake off his jet lag.

The New York Times wrote that Pakistan-US relationship, already on thin ice since the Raymond Davis affair, was near collapse. The Wall Street Journal suggested that it might be time to send in a second ultimatum to Pakistan, like Collin Powel’s phone call to Musharraf after 9/11.

There have been some successes in joint intelligence operations resulting in the capture or killing of notorious terrorists. But the cooperation was threatened by too many CIA operators in Pakistan, many with vigilante tendencies.

There has been frequent Congressional criticism of Pakistan on the lack of progress in action against the “Quetta Shura,” the perceived nerve centre of Mullah Omar. But Americans have never fully acknowledged the deployment of nearly 147,000 Pakistani troops in the affected areas and the huge sacrifices rendered by Pakistan’s army, despite the high unpopularity of the conflict in which it is engaged. Nor has the US addressed the poor disbursement schedules of the Coalition Support Funds to Pakistan.

Gen Kayani does not carry the kind of baggage associated with Zardari, Gilani or Musharraf and can hold his own where Pakistan’s core interests matter, during helicopter rides and rounds of golf with senior Pentagon officials. Little surprise, then, that he has come under US media criticism for not measuring up to US expectations.

But his recent condemnation, the first of its kind, of the Datta Khel strike is seen more as an expression of his personal annoyance at the lack of intelligence sharing between the CIA and the ISI than indignation at the violation of the country’s territory. The ISPR’s condemnation of the Datta Khel attack came only after sharp public reaction over the military’s role in the release of Raymond Davis.

There is optimism in some quarters that the US-Pakistan differences over the use of the drones may eventually lead to an arrangement under which Islamabad will have a greater say in the missile strikes inside Pakistan’s borders. How this might happen is uncertain in the face of such serious misgivings as the ISI being happy to cooperate with the CIA when the targets are Pakistani Taliban, but not when the Afghan Taliban and the ISI’s strategic assets are in the crosshairs. Such issues can be resolved procedurally before they assume a political dimension.

Again, Pakistan has received little appreciation from the United States for the fact that it is hosting nearly three million Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan more than three decades ago. India had an exaggerated figure of one million refugees it hosted in 1971, and it boasts about it even today. Why does India need a string of consulates on the Pakistani-Afghan border when most countries would do with only one, if any at all? The answers will be clear if the blinkers come off in Washington.

The US is paranoid about tiny Cuba in its strategic backyard, although it is difficult to see exactly what threat Cuba poses to the United States after the Cold War. How, then, does the US expect Pakistan not to feel concerned about India, with the second-largest army in the world and with whom this country has normal diplomatic relations, even though most Pakistanis believe that India will destroy this country at the first available opportunity? The US has caused us incalculable harm by manipulating our politics to its own geo-strategic advantage; it now owes us a small favour by keeping away from our own threat assessments.

The CIA routinely spins out disinformation that its drones strike their targets with pinpoint accuracy, and that figures on civilian causality are purposely inflated for the benefit of Taliban propaganda. If it were not a serious matter, it would be funny to suggest that insofar as those drones are taking out leaders of the Pakistan Taliban, they are safeguarding Pakistan’s beleaguered democracy. In other words, is it US drones that are safeguarding Pakistan’s democracy?

The recent high-level talks in Kabul have raised some hopes. The Afghan “ownership” of the proposed peace and reconciliation process is a positive development and should be fully supported. Unfortunately, at this crucial juncture, a lack of resolve and poor governance is a problem much larger than the issue of drones and any size of CIA “footprint.”

As far as suggestion for a second ultimatum by Wall Street Journal, the newspaper would be doing no service to the US by suggesting such ideas. The Journal is displaying gross under-estimation of the prevailing indignation in Pakistan against the United States. Don’t even think about and “ultimatum,” please.

In stating that it is his duty to protect the American people for which the drones will continue to operate as a weapon of choice for open-ended revenge on people who had nothing with the tragedy of 9/11, the CIA director has made his position clear.

So we hope that Pakistan’s rulers will recognise their own foremost duty, that of protection of innocent Pakistanis. If not, our people will have to make it clear to America’s power-drunk and rogue Gestapos that whenever excesses have been committed, they have always come back to haunt the perpetuators, one way or the other.

The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email:

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