How Pakistan's Triangular Tar Baby Lead to War Drums in South Asia

December 29, 2001

Comment: #436

Discussion Thread - Comment #s - 430, 377

See also: Gould on terrorism.  


[1] Syed Saleem Shahzad, "Taliban's trail leads to Pakistan," Asia Times, December 13, 2001

[2] Arnaud de Borchgrave, "Holes Found In Pakistan's 'Sealed' Border," Washington Times, December 18, 2001, Pg. 1.

[3] Mashal Lutfullah, "Al-Qa'ida Planning Next Phase: From a Pakistan safehouse, the Taliban's top intelligence chief claims bin Laden is alive and well," Christian Science Monitor, December 28, 2001.

Separate Attachment:

[4] Pashtunistan Map.jpg (66 KB)

On December 13, Syed Saleem Shazat reported in the Asia Times that Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (1987 to 1989), may have been behind moves to help fleeing Taliban troops establish a base in Pakistan's autonomous Pashtun tribal belt, which borders eastern Afghanistan. Shazat ended his report by noting that at least one of the exits from the Tora Bora cave complex led into Pakistan. He raised the possibility that the defending al-Qa'ida fighters (including possibly Osama bin Laden) would escape into Waziristan, the lawless Pashtun semi-autonomous tribal region in Pakistan, where they would find a friendly reception. This possibility, he opined, would give the US, with the approval and cooperation of Pakistani authorities, a pretext to launch operations into the tribal belt with the aim of nipping any re-emergence of the Taliban in the bud. [see Ref 1 below].

A possibility? If you believe that I have a Brooklyn Bridge to sell you.

Five days after Shazat's report, Arnaud de Borchgrave published a stunning report on the front page of the Washington Times [Ref 2] describing the friendly reception awaiting the Taliban in Pakistan, but he also opened the door to the ugly question of Pakistani cooperation. According to de Borchgrave, Pakistani officers and non-commissioned officers on the scene regarded Pakistan's moves to seal the border as cosmetic efforts designed to make "the Americans feel good." De Borchgrave went on to describe how leaky the border really was. On December 28, Mashal Lutfullah reinforced de Borchgrave's report with an equally stunning report in the Christian Science Monitor [Ref 3]. Lutfullah described his interview with Qari Ahmadullah, the Taliban's chief of intelligence. Amazingly, the interview took place in a safehouse inside Waziristan, only one mile from a security outpost manned by the Pakistani Army. Ahmadullah said he had been living there for two weeks. He acknowledged "It was really difficult to come into Pakistan [b]ut the cordial cooperation of our tribal Muslim brethren helped us come here. They even offered their own residential compounds to us to stay for a while, may Allah reward them in paradise!" He asserted that he had remained contact with Mullah Omar who is in hiding in Afghanistan while the Taliban regroups its forces.

Clearly Waziristan is a problem that needs to be addressed, if one truly wants to drain the terrorist swamp, but any pretext for a combined American-Pakistani effort to clean out the Taliban/al-Qa'ida holdouts had already vanished well before the ink even rested on Borchgrave's and Lutfullah's reports. In fact, it never existed.

Ironically, on the same day Shazat published his theory, five terrorists with links to Pakistan attacked the Indian Parliament, killing nine Indians, before the attackers themselves were killed. While most Americans viewed the December 13 terrorist attack on India's Parliament as an extremely unwelcome but independent event interfering with their war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, my friend Professor Harold Gould thinks otherwise.

In the following essay, published in The Hindu on December 26, Gould argues that the attack on the Indian Parliament was part of a seamless pattern of the triangular politics that has dominated Pakistan since at least the regime headed by the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Gould concludes with a call for a re-evaluation of U.S. policy towards Pakistan and South Asia before time runs out - an ominous allusion to the growing possibly of another war between India and Pakistan, but this time with the latent potential for escalation to an atomic exchange.

I urge you to read his analysis carefully and judge its merits for yourself.

After the War

By Harold A. Gould
The Hindu
December 26, 2001

THE AFTERMATH of the Afghan war threatens to transform what Pakistan once believed to be its principal strategic asset into a daunting political hot potato. It was a succession of Pakistani regimes, commencing with the country's third, and most notorious, military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, who created the Islamist infrastructure for, and eventually the reality of, the Taliban. From the Pashtun-dominated madrassas (religious schools) concentrated in the northern regions of Pakistan came the ``talibs'' (students). Massaged by Pakistan's military oligarchs, the Taliban was transformed into a religio-political movement that eventually produced Mullah Muhammad Omar and all he came to represent. After the failed Soviet invasion and ensuing civil war, the Taliban was able to offer the Afghan people a typical millenarian nostrum for their prolonged sufferings.

Pakistani politicians, and the Generals, subsidised this movement not because they were particularly concerned with the plight of the Afghans but because manipulating it neatly fitted into their own hegemonic vision for the region.

A Taliban regime was conceived as a means of providing Pakistan with ``strategic depth''. On the one hand, as a client state, Afghanistan would extend Pakistan's politico-economic influence deep into Central Asia at a time when the region's post-Soviet states (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc.) were being courted by outside powers (the U.S., Russia, Iran, Turkey, China) in a new Great Game driven by their thirst for access to the region's oil and gas resources and control of the pipelines that would be built to move black gold and blue propane to the market. On the other hand, its promotion of Islamist millenarianism in Afghanistan was conceived as a means of blunting Pashtun nationalism and irredentism stemming from a longstanding fear that politicised Pashtun ethnicity could endanger the cohesion of the Pakistani state.

[Spinney's note: Pashtun irredentism and the desire for a Greater Pashtunistan is an issue that has waxed and waned over the years, but it is never far from Pakistan's political consciousness. Atch 4 is a JPEG map depicting a maximalist portrayal of Greater Pashtunistan.]

Promoting Taliban ascendancy had another purpose as well, to the extent that it operationally interfaced with Osama bin Laden's terrorist enterprise. Pakistan, the Taliban and al-Qa'ida were made for each other. The Taliban needed money and legitimacy both of which Osama could supply through his Wahabist credentials, his personal resources and his extensive international networks. Osama needed a secure territorial base upon which to headquarter his terrorist machine. Pakistan needed political cover, training and staging facilities, and true-believing manpower to facilitate its campaign of ill-disguised cross-border political provocation and terrorism against India.

All sides profited handsomely until Osama's political megalomania drove him over the edge. Pakistan was able to have its cake and eat it in the domain of international politics, blandly staging insurgency in Kashmir through puppet terrorist cells linked to al-Qa'ida, the Taliban and the ISI while posing as a respectable, ``moderate'' Islamic state. The Taliban was able to depict itself as the stabilising force in a country that had been racked by Soviet colonialism and the fratricidal tribal wars that followed until the truth began coming out about its own genocidal proclivities towards women and the country's non-Pashtun ethnic minorities. Osama himself enjoyed the luxury of having at his disposal an entire nation, which he had successfully hijacked with his money and his Islamist jingoism.

September 11 changed all this. At the time, the destruction of the Twin Towers appeared to the unholy triumvirate as a triumphal victory over the Great Satan and was so celebrated. The miscalculation was that it awoke a sleeping giant and the consequences of this are there for the world to behold. If, as they say, 9/11 changed everything for America, it can be said that it changed everything for Osama and al-Qa'ida as well.

It also changed everything for Pakistan. Faced with the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush's injunction that ``those who are not for us are against us, and will be treated accordingly'', Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in the name of self-preservation, sold his Islamist clients down the river, curtailed Pakistan's hegemonist dreams, and grudgingly joined the anti-terrorist crusade. The only asset the General was able to salvage from his disastrous diplomacy was a tacit American acquiescence to Pakistan's proxy war against India, which has just culminated in a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi. Acquiescence in this case means permitting Gen. Musharraf to claim that what is going on in Kashmir is an indigenous liberation movement and thus outside the purview of the American injunction against terrorism.

This fateful compromise which the U.S. has so far implicitly made with the Pakistan regime makes attaining peace and stability in South Asia in the post-Taliban era problematic. Given the fact that Pakistan's allegiance to the War on Terrorism was at best perfunctory and at worst cynical, allowing its leaders to retain an option to continue pursuing backhanded terrorism against India under the guise of Islamic brotherhood, in reality means allowing Pakistan to maintain the infrastructure of madrassas, terrorist organisations and logistical resources which have long been in place. These will henceforth offer alternative employment to the hordes of defeated terrorists now flooding Pakistan. The present troop deployment along the Afghan frontier allegedly to block Taliban fighters from entering Pakistan is a charade designed to placate the U.S. [Spinney's Note: A December 27 report in Agence France-Presse, for example, alleged at least 2000 al-Qa'ida fighters had successfully fled into Pakistan; see also Ref 2 & 3 below]

Pakistan's dilemma is the ultimate by-product of the political machinations in which its leaders, both civilian and military, engaged over the past several decades. The terrorist infrastructure is a tar baby of its own creation capable of bringing down anything resembling a moderate Government if the reinforced terrorist cells fully turn their wrath upon that Government. Given the frailty of the country's economy and civil institutions, there is only one available alternative. Their Islamist energies and military muscle must be diverted towards Kashmir and metropolitan India. Doing so, however, makes war with India inevitable since the domestic pressures in India to do something about cross-border terrorism, especially after the assault on Parliament, are already mounting and will indeed become irresistible if the Generals in control of Pakistan decide that saving themselves requires the diversion of jihad towards India. Put simply, India's patience is running out.

What can the U.S. do in the face of this peril? First and foremost, it has to abandon the permissiveness towards Gen. Musharraf's double standard on terrorism. What the U.S. has done in the name of realpolitik must be undone in the name of trying to avert war, indeed possibly nuclear war, in South Asia. If, as Bush administration spokesmen have been saying, the U.S. has achieved a higher measure of influence over the Pakistan Government than it has enjoyed in many years, it is time to demonstrate that capability by compelling the Musharraf junta to decisively dissolve the terrorist infrastructure it sponsors and move toward serious, non-violent negotiations with India over Kashmir and other outstanding grievances. The Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, has shown himself more than willing to pursue rapprochement, going the extra mile on at least three occasions: at Lahore, at Agra and, yes, even in the restraint shown at Kargil.

To accomplish anything, the U.S. does not need to assemble a ``conflict-resolution team'' to go to South Asia and show the two parties the error of their ways, as some members of the Beltway think tank community claim. They need to make the Pakistani leadership understand that terrorism as an instrument of political blackmail is no longer acceptable, that military dictatorship is an inappropriate institutional mechanism for conflict resolution and consensus-building, and that the lure of American military and diplomatic favour can no longer exist as an excuse for Pakistan refusing to engage in a sincere bilateral dialogue with its neighbour, India. Time is running out.

(The writer is Visiting Professor of South Asian Studies in the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia.)

End Gould Essay

Gould's vision of Pakistan's triangulation theory is entirely consistent with the reports of de Borchgrave and Lutfullah, and while it is a different than the more well-known triangulation theory of Dick Morris and Bill Clinton, it is equally cynical theory of politics that is far more deadly.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

Taliban's trail leads to Pakistan

By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Asia Times
December 13, 2001



It is believed that the Taliban will split into a number of wings in order to establish political clout in the tribal area. One group, comprising diplomats and some lower-ranked ministers in the previous Afghanistan government, has already announced in a press conference as having split from the Taliban, but it refused to condemn either Taliban leader Mullah Omar or Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida network.


Sources say that United States authorities have already asked Pakistani intelligence agencies to keep an eye on Gul's activities, and have requested that he be jointly interrogated by ISI and US intelligence agencies. However, because of his high profile and the ripples it would cause in the Pakistan army, this is unlikely to happen, even though the government of President General Pervez Musharraf has pledged its full support to the US in its war on terror.

Gul headed the ISI from 1987 to 1989.


Gul is widely on record as saying that bin Laden is innocent of the September attacks on New York and Washington, which he says were an Israeli-engineered attempt at a coup against the government of the US.

Reference #2

Washington Times
December 18, 2001
Pg. 1

Holes Found In Pakistan's 'Sealed' Border

By Arnaud de Borchgrave, The Washington Times



Border tribal-zone populations have long been pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qa'ida. Countless painted slogans and posters of Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qa'ida terrorist network, are visible in towns and villages throughout the three key tribal "agencies": Kurram, Orazkai and Kohat.

Tribal elders said that although the army had established interlocking fields of fire at four key mountain passes, it could not check dozens of other routes invisible from the air.


Over a three-mile strip of foothills on the Pakistan side of the Spin Ghar range, one crest over from the Tora Bora mountains, two helicopters flew overhead at about 3,000 feet in poor visibility and could not have seen anyone on the ground. During a two-hour walk, several dozen tribesmen were seen coming from the direction of Afghanistan.


Scores of pickup trucks loaded with civilians similarly drove through the checkpoints unchallenged. Rubber-wheeled donkey carts with three or four passengers also were part of the traffic pattern.


The madrassa, or religious schools, network, local interlocutors said, easily could hide bin Laden and his top lieutenants indefinitely or until they could organize his clandestine passage by truck to Karachi, 1,000 miles south, where he could set sail for another part of the world.

This religious network works closely with the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, an organization long known for its pro-Taliban culture.

Reference #3

Christian Science Monitor
December 28, 2001

Al-Qa'ida Planning Next Phase

From a Pakistan safehouse, the Taliban's top intelligence chief claims bin Laden is alive and well.

By Mashal Lutfullah, Special to The Christian Science Monitor



When I ask him how he was able to enter Pakistan while the Pakistani Army had strictly sealed the border, he points his right hand to the owner of the house who is sitting near me and says: "We still have a lot of loyal friends and well-wishers. They help us with whatever they can."


Ahmadullah says he's been in contact with Mullah Omar. "Amirul Momineen [Omar] is living in a safe and hidden area somewhere in the northeast of Kandahar," Ahmadullah says.

"He called me twice to come to Kandahar. But I cannot go there easily, because a lot of people know me, and I am frightened they will capture me somewhere on the road. So I sent my assistant Mullah Abdul Haq Wasiq to Kandahar. Unfortunately he was captured by American agents in Ghazni."


 He is asked about various statements circulating, that bin Laden is dead.

"That is baseless, absolutely baseless," Ahmadullah says. "Osama is alive, healthy, and safe. Last night our friends in Urozgan informed me by phone that he had met Osama somewhere near the border, and he said Osama was safe. He is always in close contact with Mullah Omar.

"I am personally requested by Mullah Omar and Sheikh Osama to go to Urozgan and take the command of new guerrilla war preparations, which will start as soon as possible, and you will hear the news in papers and on BBC," he adds. "We withdrew from major cities and provinces because the ruthless bombing of Americans had killed a lot of civilians as well as our holy warriors. We took that tactical step for our safety, and we will start our guerrilla campaign against our enemies as soon as we regroup."

Iraq & Middle East or Fourth Generation Warfare