Whose side are you on? A question for Pakistan

America has presented hard evidence that the upper echelons of Pakistan’s military is leaking top secret intelligence to al-Qaeda.

It has been an almost open secret for years that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, and the military have been infiltrated despite strenuous denials from Pakistan. The evidence, carried in person by CIA boss Leon Panetta to Pakistan for a show-down meeting this weekend is damning. The CIA passed surveillance images showing the location of two terrorist bomb making factories to their opposite numbers in Pakistan. The Americans continued to monitor the factories and observed them being evacuated shortly before they were raided by the Pakistani army. Telegraph article: Pakistan accused of tipping off al Qaeda.

Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, right, and Pakistan's intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha met with Mr Panetta on Friday (Photo: AP)

Less than two weeks ago, a Pakistani journalist was tortured and murdered for writing about an al-Qaeda link with Pakistan’s navy. Telegraph article: Journalist murdered. One particular story he wrote about is the alleged involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence agency in the Mumbai massacre. According to his information, the original idea had been put to the ISI by Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior commander in al-Qaeda as a way of provoking war with India, but ISI eventually shelved it. The plan was then taken over by Haroon Ashik, a former commander of Lashkar e Taiba, who spiced it up and put it into operation, murdering 166 people in a three day killing spree. It’s not so much a case of the ISI being innocent of involvement in the actual atrocity, if that’s the case, but that they are part of the terrorist network passing the plan amongst themselves. Telegraph article: Mumbai attack.

Do we know whose side Pakistan’s military is on?

We are still seeing the fall-out of trust between America and Pakistan now that we know bin Laden was living under Pakistan’s nose close to their top military academy in Abbottabad. Pakistan has nuclear weapons under the control of the military who are refusing American requests for access. Are we safe? Does ISI cooperation with al Qaeda and Lashkar e Taiba extend to nuclear weapons?

Update 16th June 2011

A really good article in today’s New York Times gives us the answer:  Pakistan’s military are against us.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has led the army since 2007, faces such intense discontent over what is seen as his cozy relationship with the United States that a colonels’ coup, while unlikely, was not out of the question.”

…demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans, even edging toward a break.”

His goal was to rally support among his rank-and-file troops, who are almost uniformly anti-American.”

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.”

…they were gradually “strangling the alliance” by making things difficult for the Americans in Pakistan.”

Seems pretty clear. Now, what about those nuclear weapons?

How goes the war on terror? A round up of recent news

I’ve been astonished by a string of news stories in recent days that seem to suggest we haven’t a clue how to deal with terrorism. Click on each item to read the full report.

The Joseph Rowntree Trust and The Roddick Foundation have over recent years given £170,000 and £25,000 respectively to a protest group set up to lobby for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. The group praises the radical Yemen-based cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, describing him as an “inspiration”.

The “inspirational” Anwar al-Awlaki, see above, has released a new online video in which he calls for Americans to be killed, saying they are from the “party of devils” and so don’t require any special religious permission to kill.

46 convicted terrorists have been or are are to be released from prison despite security concerns and evidence that many are simply disappearing once freed.

Osama bin Laden is reported to be living comfortably in North Waziristan, protected by local militias and elements of Pakistan’s security services.

Meanwhile, China is to build another nuclear power station for Pakistan, adding to the one completed and the other four already planned or under construction. Agencies warn that Pakistan has accelerated the pace of its nuclear weapons programme and a row of new cooling towers at the first plant suggest production of plutonium could soon begin.

Losing two wars at once

There are two wars going on in Afghanistan at present, not one as is generally perceived. The first is a war of choice against the Taliban in which we seek to build a stable, peaceful democratic Afghan state. The second is a war of necessity against al Qaeda who we seek to eliminate as a terrorist threat.

Neither war is going well. There is no conceivable hope that we can eliminate the rampant corruption at every level of the Afghan government, and therefore no hope that we can bring peace and stability to that country. But we continue to prop up Hamid Karzai while we try to win hearts and minds amongst the populace. To that end we go out to remote villages, find the village elders and sit down and talk with them. We offer education for their children, medical aid for their community, trading opportunities and financial support, and even weapons so they can defend themselves from the Taliban. The Taliban have a much simpler approach. They go to the remote villages, find the village elders and kill them. Their approach is going to trump ours every time because we can’t occupy and defend every village in Afghanistan and the Taliban know that what the Americans were fond of saying in Vietnam is true, “if you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

So why don’t we cut our losses and just pull out? The problem we have is with the second war, against al Qaeda. We were on the verge of completely defeating them back in 2003 when we shifted our attention away and invaded Iraq instead. The war in Afghanistan suddenly became the forgotten war, starved of resources, devoid of leadership, and out of the public eye. Al Qaeda used that respite well. They have regrouped and organised a network of training camps not just in northern Pakistan, but in other regional hot spots around the world. Afghanistan is important to us because it is the only land base close to their heartlands from which we can operate. If, or when, we lose Afghanistan as a base, operations against al Qaeda can only be conducted by air across what will then be a very hostile Taliban controlled Afghanistan, or an already hostile Iran, or an increasingly hostile Pakistan. If we lose Afghanistan, we may lose any hope of defeating al Qaeda in Pakistan.

The consequences will be severe indeed. We will leave al Qaeda free to operate against us from a secure base, immune from attack by us. They will continue to destabilise Pakistan and will in a few short years take possession of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. We should then reflect on the lie of WMD’s that took us into war with Iraq and which gave al Qaeda this unprecedented opportunity.

A lesson in accountability from America

What a contrast we see in the way the military is run in this country compared with the USA. Here, General Dannatt is being praised for his bravery in first speaking out about the abysmal housing our servicemen are expected to live in, and now for the near-poverty levels of pay for those in the lower ranks. He is holding his political masters to account. Over in America, however, the hobnailed boot is on the other foot. Secretary of Defense, Robert M Gates, has just sacked the four-star Air Force Chief of Staff and the civilian Air Force Secretary for “a pattern of poor performance” over control of nuclear weapons and parts. Last year he sacked a two-star general and the civilian Army Secretary over the shocking standards of accommodation at a top US military hospital.

Here’s what the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee had to say: “Secretary Gates’ focus on accountability is essential and has been absent from the office of the secretary of defense for too long.” Contrast that with our own part-time Secretary of State for Defence who is also the Minister of State for Scotland. Accountability is not a word he is familiar with. He has presided over a regime where increased demands on the armed forces have not been matched with increases in resources. The thin desert-pink line has been stretched to breaking point and it is no surprise that under the circumstances more and more servicemen are abandoning the armed forces.

Gates has made it clear that the American air force had suffered for years from a loss of expertise in handling nuclear materials. Is that what is in store for us? Are we going to have our own “nuclear incidents” caused by lack of experience or lack of resources? Two incidents hit the headlines in America. One happened last year when a B-52 flew across America with six armed nuclear cruise missiles, which was completely against regulations, but what’s more, the crew didn’t even know they had them on board. The more recent incident, which resulted in the sackings, was when four nose-cone fuses for Minuteman nuclear warheads were sent to Taiwan, instead of some helicopter batteries that should have been sent.

The problems in America are certainly not due to resources, they are more symptomatic of complacency. Over here we have a dedicated, motivated, and professional armed services, but which is underpaid, poorly resourced and seriously overstretched. As a consequence ours are also haemorrhaging skilled men and women. Never mind the injustices that are being done to those who serve, and let’s not even get started on how shamefully the wounded are treated, where is the political will to see defence as nothing more than a part-time job? When will we get a secretary of state for defence who will focus on his job? When will we get some accountability?