Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s current visit to Britain must be one of the most unfortunate ever by a head of state. He has rightly come under fire for lavish junketing while millions of his people are suffering from the worst floods for nearly a century.
In addition, Zardari’s meeting with Cameron behind closed doors this Friday is bedevilled by the Prime Minister’s remark that Pakistan should not be “allowed to look both ways” or be permitted to “promote the export of terror”. Cameron, who remains unrepentant, has himself been attacked by Tory grandee Lord Tebbit who has accused him of running “a sloppy, slap-happy government” a propos these remarks.
Just another spat between the old and new Tories? No, this runs far deeper. Cameron in fact provided a glimpse into the deadly embrace that is the reality of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States and Britain.
The heated exchanges between Cameron and Zardari come hot on the heels of the WikiLeaks Afghan War Diary affair. The 91,000 reports from US military units in the field, embassies, intelligence officers and informers have been denounced as fabrications by Hamid Gul, former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
An astonishing investigation by veteran reporter Christina Lamb in last weekend’s Sunday Times provides chapter and verse about the real nature of this sinister body. Lamb, who was twice expelled from Pakistan after pre-dawn raids on her, first in on her flat in Islamabad and later in Quetta, explains how and why Pakistan’s military intelligence has become the ultimate sorcerer’s apprentice and the ultimate nightmare for both the US and Britain.
As Lamb points out, the WikiLeaks documents show that “Pakistan has been accepting billions in US aid while ISI, its military intelligence service, had been arming and sheltering members of the Taliban. The man who headed ISI during the height of this activity was none other than Kayani.”
Kayani is none other than General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, who, Lamb says, is the “real power in the country”. She was present on Kayani’s C17 executive jet when he met with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, just as the WikiLeaks Afghan war diary affair broke.
Mullen used the opportunity to denounce WikiLeaks. He tweeted from the aircraft: “Appalled by classified docs leak to WikliLeaks and decision to post. It changes nothing on Afghanistan strategy or our relationship w/Pakistan.”
It was, Lamb writes, Mullen’s 19th visit to Pakistan since 2007. The complexity of US-Pakistan relations goes back to the 1980s when the CIA provided billions of dollars of aid to the Afghan resistance movement fighting the Soviet army of occupation. These funds were channeled through the ISI, often to the anger of the mujaheddin fighters, many of whom who paid the ultimate price for the double-dealing ISI.
But the ISI’s activities were not confined to Afghanistan. They also targeted politicians, especially secular ones like former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. An official UN investigation into the Bhutto’s December 2007 assassination accuses the ISI of having an agent in the operating room where doctors tried to revive her. There is a body of evidence suggesting that the agency was responsible for terror bombings in Kabul and the Mumbai massacre during 2008.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the flood-stricken areas of Pakistan are dismayed by the lack of concern and help from their government. Reporters on the ground say that while the state has failed to act, Islamist organisations of all kinds, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa which is thought to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for the 2008 assault on Mumbai, have stepped into the breach.
But while Washington’s support for Pakistan’s military - £11 billion since 2001 – continues to provide succour to the very forces that are killing US troops, the US and NATO cannot withdraw their support. They view the collapse of Pakistan as a worse option than an out-of-control Afghanistan. No wonder that Cameron and Zardari will be meeting behind closed doors!
A World to Win secretary