September 22nd, 2010 10:45 EST
Blackwater from A to Xe: Xe is Now in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD - The United States is trying to persuade Islamabad to allow Pakistan to be used as a staging ground for a long-term US military presence in the region.
According to diplomatic sources, the Pentagon is aggressively pushing this proposal, despite strong apprehensions, reservations and initial refusal by the Pakistani military establishment, which is willing to cooperate in all practical terms without doling out a permanent military base.
The sources claim that the United States has offered to sell Islamabad military hardware, provide security assistance and facilitate an economic support package if it agrees to such a strategic concession.
The top US commander for the Afghan war, Tommy R Franks, officially stated last week that the United States would not move its forces away from Pakistan. Many described his statement as being in the context of Afghan war. However, sources maintain that it suggested the type of security arrangement that the US is looking for in the region.
The US is believed to be eyeing the development of a military base in the vicinity of Dalbandin and Pasni, Balochistan, 180 miles west of the southern port city of Karachi, which is close to Gwadar Port, which Pakistan is developing with Chinese cooperation.
From the military point of view, the area is extremely important, not just from the Afghan or Central Asian perspective, but also due to the strategic depth it offers with regard to the Gulf region. A strong base here could easily provide support to the US naval fleet in the Arabian Sea. In the event that the US moves - or is forced to move - its troops from Saudi Arabia, which appears in the offing, Balochistan is an ideal option.
Pakistan had already provided Jacobabad, Pasni and Dalbandin air bases to US marines for forward operational purposes. A large number of US B-52s, C-130s and helicopters are stationed at these bases. In addition, the US has installed an extended electronic and radar system covering most of the regional airspace at Dalbandin. The Dalbandin airport was constructed in the 1980s with the financial assistance of Saudi Arabia, as many royal family members visit this desert town for bird hunting.
Recently, the government also allowed the use of Karachi International Airport for the arrival of military personnel, logistics and for other operations. The American Federal Bureau of Information has installed monitoring centers at major airports to check passengers. Even Muslims leaving for pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia are being scrutinized on suspicion of being fleeing Al-Qaeda men.
If Pakistan bows to US pressure, it would be the second time since 1963, when Field Marshal Ayub Khan, then military ruler, allowed the US Central Intelligence Agency to establish a base at Badaber, near Peshawar, in the North West Frontier Province, for an electronic intelligence-gathering facility. The facility was mainly used for spying against the Soviet Union and China until 1968.
During the same period, the US army helped train the Special Services Group (SSG) of Pakistan, and several joint operational exercises were also conducted in the rugged terrain of Frontier and Balochistan provinces.
The sources say that the most extensive discussions were held on the subject during the visit of Franks with Pakistani military leaders. In addition, several high level congressmen, Pentagon and CIA teams are said to have discussed options with their Pakistani counterparts in the past weeks.
Christopher Shays (Republican, Connecticut), the chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on National Security and International Relations and Veterans Affairs, in his speech before the House of Representatives, talked about such long term objectives that the US should pursue in its anti-terror operations.
He said that the long-term strategy should be developed "with a high-level statement of national objectives", and that statement "should be coupled logically to a statement of the means that will be used to achieve those objectives". Only then, he said, can the US hope "to resist the drift of the events thrust upon us by others and be prepared to confront terrorism in our time and on our terms".
Top US officials had assured Islamabad that there was a lot to gain in return, both in terms of defense and the economy. One assurance, they say, would be in the shape of a deterrent against any possible Indian incursion on Pakistani soil. Since the US army would be stationed, under a broad-based security arrangement, in Pakistan, it would be hard for India to engage in hot pursuit operations.
Secondly, Islamabad would be able to qualify for foreign arms sales, which so far remain elusive despite the removal of sanctions and unstinting Pakistani support for the Afghan war. In this regard, sources suggested the possible lure of F-16s, state-of-the-art radar and surveillance equipment, an anti-missile system and other military hardware.
The United States has officially indicated to Islamabad that it will also offer support under the Defense Emergency Response Fund for logistical and military support, and Islamabad would also be eligible for excess parts and equipment from the US army, as well as some central Asian republics, Egypt and Jordan.
The US would also work for a comprehensive security arrangement in south Asia to ensure security of nuclear and missile assets of both India and Pakistan, and would seek agreements on a continued moratorium on underground tests, and non-deployment, to avert further escalation of military tensions.
Above all, badly needed financial, investment and trade facilitation for Pakistan would help the country take care of its economic worries. Recently, Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz and John B Taylor, US Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs, and Alan P Larson, Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, held discussions on this aspect of the deal.
Larson officially recognized that stabilizing Pakistan and restoring hope for economic development was critical. In his deliberations to the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, he said, "Pakistan has a capable new economic team, but they face the formidable task of completely turning around a dysfunctional economy and building a new development strategy sustained by trade and investment. They need our help," he strongly suggested.
"There is a renewed common spirit, and moral authority, among those who believe in democracy and human dignity," he said. "But we can maintain that spirit, and our leadership, only if we can articulate a common vision for the future. It will quickly dissipate if we focus only on our own interests."
Clearly, he said, the immediate focus of the US was on South Asia. "Having defeated the Taliban we need to create conditions that will prevent their return, or the rise of other antidemocratic movements," he said. He maintained that the US needs to get India to see that healthy regional and global trade and investment best serve its interests.
President General Pervez Musharraf is due to visit Washington on February 12, along with his key cabinet ministers, to discuss future relations. Political observers believe that the prospects of defense cooperation and US economic support will be the two focal points of his visit.
Though it is hard to assume that Pakistan would agree to a permanent US military base, which would annoy its all-weather friend China and neighboring Iran, it is expected that Musharraf would like to have extended defense cooperation between the two countries on some mutually acceptable terms.
The United States is also expected to push for a permanent base in Termez in Uzbekistan to extend its strategic outreach to the whole of the Central Asia, and counterbalance Russian and Chinese influence in the region.
Source: Nadeem Malik