Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can Pakistan Shut Down the Show?

Breaking report from the NY Times that General Kayani, the chief of staff of Pakistan's army and perhaps the country's single most respected leader, may be facing a near-mutiny in the armed forces, brought about by US high-handedness.

A long statement after the regular monthly meeting of the 11 corps commanders last week illuminated the mounting hostility toward the United States, even as it remains the army’s biggest patron, supplying at least $2 billion a year in aid.

The statement, aimed at rebuilding support within the army and among the public, said that American training in Pakistan had only ever been minimal, and had now ended. “It needs to be clarified that the army had never accepted any training assistance from the United States except for training on the newly inducted weapons and some training assistance for the Frontier Corps only,” a reference to paramilitary troops in the northwest tribal areas, the statement said.

The statement said that the C.I.A.-run drone attacks against militants in the tribal areas “were not acceptable under any circumstances.”

Allowing the drones to continue to operate from Pakistan was “politically unsustainable,” said the well-informed Pakistani who met with General Kayani recently. As part of his survival mechanism, General Kayani could well order the Americans to stop the drone program completely, the Pakistani said.

The Pakistanis have already blocked the supply of food and water to the base used for the drones, a senior American official said, adding that they were gradually “strangling the alliance” by making things difficult for the Americans in Pakistan.

The turmoil within the Pakistani Army has engendered the lowest morale since it lost the war in 1971 against East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, army observers say. The anger and disillusionment stems from the fact that the Obama administration decided not to tell Pakistan in advance about the Bin Laden raid — and that Pakistan was then unable to detect or stop it.

That Bin Laden was living comfortably in Pakistan for years has evinced little outrage here among a population that has consistently told pollsters it is more sympathetic to Al Qaeda than to the United States.

Even a well-known pro-American commander, Lt. Gen. Tariq Khan, who spent more than a year at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had fallen in line with the new ultranationalist sentiment against the Americans, a former army officer said.

The anger at the Americans was now making it more difficult for General Kayani to motivate the army to fight against the Pakistani Taliban in what is increasingly seen as a fight on behalf of the United States, former Pakistani soldiers said.

“The feeling that they are fighting America’s war against their own people has a negative impact on the fighting efficiency,” said Javed Hussain, a former special forces officer in the Pakistani military.

This may have reached a point beyond Team Obama's ability to fix it.  The US has pushed the Pakistanis too hard, and in their own backyard.  If the Pakistani military decides to openly side with, and assist, the Taliban groups operating in Afghanistan, the US's NATO allies may deem it prudent to head for the exits - and the US may need to be right behind.

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