The Kurious Kase of Pervez Ashraf Kiyani


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Feb 16, 2009
WASHINGTON: When Washington's long-time Pakisani punter Pervez Musharraf was eased out by the Bush administration in November 2007 and replaced by a
little-known general who shared his first name, American spooks and spokesmen alike gushed about how the new-comer would be even more pro-US because of his hobbies (golf), habits (chain-smoker) and a military background that was partly minted in America.

They reeled off a resume that detailed repeated military education in the US He had received training in Fort Benning, Georgia, and graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He had attended a 13-week executive studies course at the Asia Pacific Center of Security Studies in Hawaii in the late 1990s. Heck, he was even the president of the Pakistan Golf Association, a post he retained for a second term last week.

"As he has risen through the military, General Kayani has impressed American military and intelligence officials as a professional, pro-Western moderate with few political ambitions," rhapsodized one report, with one small caveat. "But the elevation to army chief has been known to change Pakistani officers." Still, the fact that he spent Id al-Fitr with soldiers prompted American military officials to praise him as a "soldier's soldier," it said.

In recent weeks, US officials have been revisiting their notes and assumptions. Ahead of a week-long visit by Kayani to the US starting Monday, they are wondering if the Id attendance, combined with the freshly noticed fact of him being the first non-elite Pakistani military chief (his father was a mere naib havildar in the army) actually make him more hard-liner and ultra-nationalistic, rather than pro-American.

The suspicions have heightened over the 16 months since Kiyani (the alternative spelling used by some) took charge. Instead of being an ally, let alone a frontline ally, in the war on terror, Pakistan has come to be seen as a treacherous, two-faced country that has been milking US tax-payer dollars and American arms with false promises of fighting al-Qaida, while sharing the booty with its ally, the Taliban, and protecting it.

The Pakistani double-dealing has been detailed in several new books, none more graphically and extensively than in David Sanger's The Inheritance, which examines the world that confronts Barack Obama. In a particularly devastating expose, Sanger describes how the Bush administration, which held such high hopes on Kiyani, heard him in an intelligence intercept describing the Taliban warlord Jalalludin Haqqani, as Pakistan's "strategic asset." Sometime later, Haqqani's men, at the instance of ISI (which Kiyani headed before he became army chief), carried out the monstrous bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 60 people including an Indian diplomat and a defense attache.

If the account is true, that would make Kiyani a terrorist accomplice, of not a mastermind. Yes, the same Kiyani now visiting Washington DC as a US guest.

The Pakistani army's terrorist ties may have come as a surprise a few credulous American interlocutors, but old time US and Indian officials have a good recollection of the intelligence intercepts during the Kargil war that nailed Kiyani's mentor Pervez Musharraf as he discussed the use of terrorist mujaheddin with his deputy Mohammed Aziz.

In fact, in his book, Sanger suggests that the Bush administration was aware of Pakistan's terrorist connections, but preferred to wink at it or even humour the Pakistanis because no purpose would have been served in confronting them since they served the larger US purpose.

In fact, writes Sanger, one such charade took place during the most recent high-level Pakistani visit. Shortly before Pakistan's Prime Minister Iftikhar Gilani visited Washington last year, Islamabad organized a phony raid on a Haqqani compound to give the claim of being a “front-line ally” some credibility. Islamabad went to the extent of telling the Haqqani crowd to leave a few weapons around so that the raid seemed genuine and warned them would be lot of smoke bombs. Although Bush was alerted to this duplicity before he met Gilani, who came across as slightly dim to Washington's power elite, he did not directly call the bluff in order not to embarrass his guest, according to Sanger's account. Sanger did not respond to messages seeking elaboration.

The Obama administration may be less inclined to give Pakistan's military a free pass, now that it is putting 17,000 more troops in harm's way. In
fact, Kiyani, according to some sources, is virtually being summoned to US even as the White House is conducting a high-level review of its Af-Pak policy with the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose blustering protests about US predator attacks have been shut up by the expose that it was being conducted from Pakistan with Islamabad's complicity, arrived in Washington separately from Kiyani on Sunday. In fact, Kiyani's visit to the US is attracting more attention in the strategic community than President Zardari's visit to China.

It also turns out that the Bush administration did not reimburse Pakistan to the tune of $1.35billion for services rendered in the war on terror, preferring to leave the clearance to the Obama government after allegations of fraud in the billing by Islamabad. Part of Kiyani's agenda, while seeking a fresh arms package for the war on terror, will be to collect the dues.

But more important than these relatively minor items, is the strategic review that many experts suggest is aimed at correcting the Bush administration's indulgence towards Pakistan. In the eyes of the Obama foreign policy team, Pakistan – and not Iraq or North Korea or any other loose cannon – is the most dangerous country on earth, and needs to be contained. "Pakistan is the country about which I have nightmares," Brent Scowcroft, one of the administration's strategic gurus, said last week. “It has never been able to grapple successfully with democracy. It has a very weak government now. It's very fragile, with a lot of radicalism."

The unspoken element in the dangerous mix is Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Sanger's book details the Bush administration's edgy mission to get a fix on the Islamabad's strategic assets over the last several years since 9/11, an effort that he reports has met with little success. The Obama administration seems a little more focused on the task.

That ties in with the an unscheduled and unpublicized visit to Washington of another important visitor – Khalid Kidwai, head of Pakistan's Strategic Command and Control and custodian of its crown jewels — ahead of the Kiyani trip. While there was speculation that Kidwai had come to assure Washington about the relaxation of curbs on A Q Khan, there is growing clamour here for a greater oversight on the troubled nation's nuclear weapons given how fast it is spiraling out of control. Suddenly, Iraq is just a minor footnote in the Obama administration's foreign policy priorities.

Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN

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