Thursday, November 1

Has Pakistan given up its membership in the Axis of Evil? Can a tiger change its stripes?

I received this yesterday from the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland:
A poll finds that just 44 percent of urban Pakistanis favor sending the Pakistani army to the Northwestern tribal areas to “pursue and capture al Qaeda fighters.” Only 48 percent would allow the Pakistan army to act against “Taliban insurgents who have crossed over from Afghanistan.” In both cases, about a third oppose such military action and a fifth decline to answer.

Pakistanis reject overwhelmingly the idea of permitting foreign troops to attack al Qaeda on Pakistani territory. Four out of five (80%) say their government should not allow American or other foreign troops to enter Pakistan to pursue and capture al Qaeda fighters.” Three out of four (77%) oppose allowing foreign troops to attack Taliban insurgents based in Pakistan.

These are some of the results of a poll of 907 Pakistanis conducted in urban areas Sept. 12-28, 2007. The findings also reveal that a majority of urban Pakistanis believe their government’s decision to attack militants holding the Red Mosque in Islamabad was a mistake. [...]

These attitudes may also reflect Pakistani sympathy for at least some Islamist goals. A substantial 60 percent majority believes that “Shari’a should play a larger role in Pakistan law” than it does now. Only 26 percent say it should play the same role (15%) or a smaller role (11%) and 15 percent do not answer.

Opposition to attacks on militants may also be influenced by the continuing conflict and rising death toll. Tribesmen and militants launched numerous attacks on government positions, including a Sept. 13 suicide attack on an army mess hall that killed at least 15 soldiers.
The polling data (see the link above for a PDF link to the polling questionnaire and methodology) also turns up that Pakistanis show little confidence in their most famous leaders:
Less than a third express support for either current president Pervez Musharraf or former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Steven Kull, director of, comments, “The Pakistani people are not enthusiastic about Musharraf, do not support his recent crackdown on fundamentalists, and are lukewarm at best about going after al Qaeda or the Taliban in western Pakistan. It appears that a US strategy that rests on Musharraf being a frontline in the war on terrorism has poor prospects.”
Such observations always bring forth shopworn speculations that revolve around the question: Does it really matter what a majority of Pakistanis want, as long as Musharraf enjoys support from the most powerful faction in Pakistan's military?

I think a more fundamental line of inquiry is to ask whether Islamabad's geostrategic policy, which included membership in the progenitor of President Bush's Axis of Evil, the Trans-Asian Axis, has changed to any marked degree.

I know it was touching to hear Benazir Bhutto decry terrorism after the attack against her, but that ex-prime minister is soaked in the blood of innocent Indians. I know that she announced before returning to Pakistan that she would allow the US to bomb terrorist sites inside Pakistan. But US defense analysts and congressionals who were born yesterday would do well to learn something of Pakistan's aims in the 1990s, then frame questions based on history rather than hope.

The best crash course is found in four papers written by Yossef Bodansky, whose intelligence gathering and analysis of terrorism in Central Asia and the Middle East were largely discounted in US government circles-- until it was too late to avoid the mess we're slogging through today. However, we might avoid even more mess by doing some time travel. Here are links to the papers.

Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus: The New Axis Pact (co-authored by Vaughn S. Forrest), 1992.

The Rise of the Trans-Asian Axis: Is It Basis of New Confrontation? Likely written between 1994 and 1995; internet publication 1997.

Pakistan's Kashmir Strategy; Islamabad's Road Warriors, 1995

I advise you take in every sentence in every paper but to jump-start the time machine, here are excerpts from two of the papers. From Pakistan's Kashmir Strategy:
[...] by the fall of 1994 the ISI [Pakistan's military intelligence agency] was already successful in consolidating control over the Islamist armed struggle in Kashmir. The ISI can now ensure that key operations and major escalation in Kashmir will serve the strategic and political priorities and interests of Islamabad.

This marked escalation in the ISI's support for the Islamist insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir is a direct by-product of Pakistan's national security policy and grand strategy. Ms. [Benazir] Bhutto has repeatedly emphasized the centrality of the annexation of the entire Kashmir for the long-term development of Pakistan.

The new rail-line that will connect Karachi and Central Asia must pass through Indian-held Kashmir to be engineeringly and economically effective. Ms. Bhutto's Islamabad considers the opening of the road to Central Asia by using Pakistan as the region's gateway to the Indian Ocean as the key to the growth of Pakistan's commercial activities. Kashmir is also Pakistan's true gateway to the PRC and into Central Asia -- the path of the new Silk Road. And there lies the future and strategic salvation of Pakistan.

Indeed, Islamabad expresses its support for "the liberation of Kashmir" in more than words. ISI support for Islamist terrorism and subversion in Kashmir continues to grow. In recent months, there has been a noticeable improvement in the professional skills of Islamist terrorists operating in Kashmir -- the result of the more thorough training received in ISI-run camps in Pakistan.

There is also an increase in the deployment of high quality Afghans, Pakistani Kashmiris, and Arab 'Afghans' [fighters] into Indian Kashmir in order to bolster the local terrorist organizations. Increasingly using sophisticated and heavy weapons recently supplied by the ISI in Pakistan, these expert terrorists carry out quality operations. The quality of the weapon systems available to the Kashmiri insurgents crossing over from Pakistan also continue to improve. Islamabad is fully aware of the extent of its active support for subversive operations inside India, and considers it a tenet of its regional security policy [...]
From The Rise of The Trans-Asian Axis...
A new cohesive strategic global bloc is emerging amidst the fractured structure of the post-Cold War world. This bloc emerges from the consolidation of an essentially anti-US/anti-West alliance led and guided by the People's Republic of China (PRC) and stretching from North Africa to North East Asia.

The Iran-led Islamic bloc is a major component of the Axis and is the main vehicle for the further spread of the alliance's influence into Africa. This new Trans-Asian Axis derives its might from the rapid collapse and ensuing radicalisation of much of the Third World. It is significant that the Axis has a growing dependence in international terrorism and subversion as instruments of statecraft.

The Trans-Asian Axis stretches from North Korea (DPRK) and the PRC in the east and north-east, down into South-East Asia, including Myanmar and-potentially-the oil rich Spratly Islands. Its main westward arm -- the Islamic bloc along the Silk Road-aims at integrating the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union, and then continues into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria (including Syrian occupied Lebanon).

There is a growing Islamist influence in Turkey which could come under the Axis sway in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the Islamic bloc which Iran intends to onsolidate under its influence expands westwards into Africa: from the post-civil war Yemen, to Sudan (already a major hub of militant Islamism) and Somalia, as well as toward the Atlantic Ocean across North Africa.

This has been demonstrated in the rapidly escalating Islamist subversion of Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, all of which face severe destabilisation from the covert violence being conducted against them. This geostrategic surge is the outcome of several years of careful studies and deliberations in Beijing, Tehran, and, to some extent, Islamabad.[...]

It was in the context of this world view, that Tehran and its allies moved to significantly intensify their cooperation with the PRC. The Chinese strategic cooperation with both Iran and Pakistan intensified in the wake of the visit by PRC President Yang Shangkun in the Fall of 1991. In this visit, Beijing introduced this new grand strategy to its most important allies and won its commitment to close cooperation.

In Islamabad, Yang discussed the expansion of defence cooperation with both Pakistan and Iran. Yang finalised the details of an "essential agreement on the signing of a joint pact" with both Pakistan and Iran aimed at countering the nuclear threats from the US and India.

Pakistani and Iranian officials stressed at the time that the tripartite agreement would remain clandestine: "These three nations will not sign a treaty officially, but in the event of foreign aggression against the one of these nations, the other two will treat the aggression as aggression against itself and will rise to its defence."

In Tehran, Yang dwelled on the expansion of Sino-Iranian relations in the context of the new strategic realities. Tehran explained that the legacy of the Gulf War "would certainly take the two countries' relations to a new height". A key to the new strategy is an alliance between the PRC, Pakistan and Iran:

"The expansion of the three countries' cooperation and relations, while enabling those countries to reduce impressively the existing political and economic obstacles on the way of their political, economic, progress, would undoubtedly also establish a new system for the maintenance of regional security without the presence of the world powers, particularly the United States, in the form of defence and military cooperation between Iran, Pakistan, and China."

Soon afterwards, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Command (IRGC:Pasdaran) Maj.-Gen. Mohsin Reza'i elaborated on the "strategic relationship" and objectives of the PRC-led alliance as a core for a wider Islamic bloc. He explained that "if there is unity among Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, this will strengthen Muslim solidarity and enable the peoples of Soviet Central Asia and Kashmir to join in.


Meanwhile, Islamabad has become a critical linchpin of the Axis: the physical link between the PRC and Iran. Pakistan's role has become more active since the return to power of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Prime Minister Bhutto's Islamabad considers the opening of the road to Central Asia by using Pakistan as the region's gateway to the Indian Ocean to be the key to the growth of Pakistan's commercial activities.

Pakistani officials stressed in the late December 1993 that "the role of China in the construction of the Silk Route has made the bilateral relations as strong as the Karakoram Highway".

By early 1994, Pakistan had in part already assumed a discreetly anti-US position. Islamabad's decision to intensify its involvement in the expansion and strengthening of both the Iran-led Islamic bloc and the wider Trans-Asian Axis alliance with the PRC and the DPRK took place immediately after Prime Minister Bhutto took office. It was during Prime Minister Bhutto's visits to Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang in late 1993, that the emerging strategic posture of Pakistan was formulated.

Starting in early January 1994, Islamabad intensified its participation in the joint anti-US radical front, both as an active member of the Iran-led Islamic bloc, and as a leading member of the PRC-led wider Trans-Asian Axis. This surge of activism was the consequence of a major study of US policy conducted by the ISI -- Inter-Services Intelligence, the principal Pakistani intelligence organisation -- and Pakistan's leading think tanks. Completed in late December 1993, the ISI's assessment, reportedly, was that a confrontation with Washington was inevitable. [...]

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