The United States and Pakistan – beyond the verbal division

The United States and Pakistan engage in a war of words. Iraq to strengthen air sovereignty with the acquisition of 18 F-16 jets. Protests continue in Andhra Pradesh as demands increase for Telangana state. Unguarded weapons depots in Libya cause concerns. Anwar al-Awlaki is killed, but his legacy remains. All this in today’s briefing…

The United States and Pakistan – beyond the verbal dimension

Over the last two months the relationship between the United States and its nuclear armed South Asian partner, Pakistan, have supposedly deteriorated against the background of Pakistan’s alleged support of the Haqqani network, which was held responsible for a series of attacks on the American embassy in Kabul, a CIA compound, and more recently the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul. These incidents led to a verbal war of words between top US officials such as the retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen and Pakistan’s military and political leadership. Admiral Mullen has publically called the Haqqani network a ‘veritable arm’ of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Pakistan’s highest-ranking man in uniform, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has rejected the claims made by Mullen suggesting that they are ‘unfortunate’ and ‘not based on facts’.

The verbal assault by American officials has since been toned down. At the end of last week, Pentagon officials suggested to the Washington Post that the language used by Admiral Mullen and his attitude towards the ISI had been ‘overstated’. The anonymous Pentagon official also underlined that intelligence showed little link between ISI and the Haqqani’s. But this is not to say that the ISI has never supported the Haqqani network, or that there is no contact between the two. The ISI, along with the CIA probably do maintain contact with the Haqqani network for strategic reasons. In fact, the founder of the network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, a successful guerilla commander, has in the past been commended by the Americans for services to the CIA-backed mujahedeen campaigns against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Today, the same group of men are fighting the US and as far as their followers are concerned, they are stopping America from occupying Afghanistan.

openSecurity verdict: Following the high tension verbal discourse, the US has sent its special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, to a tour of numerous Gulf and Asian countries. The series of visits is officially designated to brief political leaders of the respective countries ahead of major conferences on Afghanistan and its future. But it seems that part of Grossman’s job will be to clarify Admiral Mullen’s remarks about Pakistan’s links to the Haqqanis and engage in damage control, given that the official White House line on this issue differs rather profoundly from Mullen’s remarks.

Whilst the US may be growing increasingly frustrated over continued attacks in Kabul, the rumors of a great rift between the two allies are overstated. What is behind the aggressive rhetoric is a carefully planned and multi-faceted relationship between the US and Pakistan. Even if the ISI has some form of contact with the Haqqani network, they are also the very agency that made it possible to facilitate a secret meeting between the Americans and a Haqqani elder. The US wants Pakistan to be part of the process which sees the likes of the Taliban and Haqqanis being isolated so that they will come to the negotiating table to find a political settlement, which President Obama has highlighted as one of his key aims. The diplomatic spat over the last few weeks does not affect the overall relations between Pakistan and the US. If anything, it shows a growing US frustration over failures on part of the Pakistani authorities to act on available intelligence information and prevent potential terrorist attacks. For now it seems the US will continue to push Pakistan towards bringing rogue groups to the table. This is the only way the US will be able to actually pull troops out of the region as planned.

Iraq to strengthen its Air Force with 18 F-16s

Iraq has begun to modernize its air force by making an initial payment to Lockheed Martin for the acquisition of 18 F-16C fighter jets. The sale is valued at around $3 billion total. This is welcome news for the country’s air force which seeks to rebuild its capability and allow the country to safeguard its air space. The sale comprises the first batch of fighter jets for Iraq, as it plans to purchase a total of 36 aircraft pending US approval. Against the background of US plans to withdraw the rest of its 45,000 troops from Iraq by December, this sale comes at a time when the US requires Iraq to handle its own security, especially given the growing domestic opposition against the US engagement in Iraq. The sale is also likely to act as a counter to Iranian power in the region, with Iraq acting as a long term partner for the (currently unlikely) scenario of a US conflict with Iran.

Protestors demonstrating for a new state in the Telangana region cause disruptions

In Andhra Pradesh, southern India, nearly 800,000 individuals ranging from government employees to students are protesting for a separate Telangana state comprising the 10 districts of Andhra Pradesh, including the state capital, Hyderabad. The violent civil unrest has resulted in severe disruptions of traffic, and even the closure of offices, schools and education institutions. On Sunday, an 18 year old student burned herself to death for the cause, and on the same day a public transport employee hung himself. The crisis in Telangana not only presents a serious security concern, but also a challenge to the Congress led government. Andhra Pradesh is currently controlled by the Congress party, and regional politicians affiliated with the party have made it clear that if voters’ demands are not met, they will have to resign. This has led to extensive consultations with senior party officials over the issue, including Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee.

Unguarded arms depot in Libya increases concerns about the proliferation of weapons

Near the Sirte-Waddan road an unguarded weapons depot has been discovered. The depot contains guided missiles, rockets, artillery shells and small arms. While the depot is currently being used by opposition forces and contractors, basically anyone who can transport them away has access to the arms. The real worry here is likely to be about weapons being smuggled into conflict ridden zones, or falling into the hands of terrorists. The US has started to work in close cooperation with Libya’s National Transitional Council and plans to spend nearly $10 million to aid the interim leadership in destroying shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, which in particular pose a significant threat to civil aviation. However, protecting weapons supplies is likely to be a difficult job given that no force exists in official capacity to do this. One key area of contention is the argument over rumours that a mustard gas storage site, named the Bunker, had been compromised.

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan killed in a US drone strike in Yemen

On Friday morning, Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was killed in a joint CIA/Military air and drone strike (Operation Troy), along with some of his key confidants. Awlaki was travelling in a convoy in the Yemeni province of Jawf when this incident occurred. The Yemeni based American national has allegedly been involved in a number of attacks, including the Twin Tower bombings, the shootings in Fort Hood in 2009 and in helping to recruit Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who attempted to blow up an airliner en route to Detroit in late 2009. The modus operandi by which the CIA caught up with Awlaki was similar to that of Osama bin Laden. After weeks of surveillance, the CIA was able to apprehend a junior courier in Awlaki’s trusted circle. The courier provided key details of Awlaki’s movements and whereabouts, which helped the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command track him down. It is also important to note that prior to the strike, the US has been building its capability in the region by installing Predator drones at bases in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Djibouti.

Whilst the strike on al-Qaeda’s charismatic and technologically savvy leader was a success for the American political and military leadership, several questions have been raised by the likes of Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman and the ACLU regarding the legality of the killing under international law and the US constitution. While this may be of lesser concern to the White House and the Department of Defense, the chances of revenge attacks over Awlaki’s killing have increased. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security released a warning bulletin for American nationals travelling abroad, and against attacks by homegrown terrorists, the key recruitment constituency of Anwar al-Awlaki. Locally, unrest against the American armed forces is likely to be a concern, especially given the anti-American sentiment that may grow out of Awlaki’s killing. This problem is exacerbated by the growing deterioration of the security situation in Yemen. Within the current political vacuum, al-Qaeda has been able to seize territory inside the country in a bid to carve a path towards building an Islamic caliphate.

Nevertheless, Awlaki has been considered more of a spiritual leader than an operational commander of AQAP. His influence, even after his death, remains strong through ‘Awlakism’, a personality cult he used to guide followers in the western world. Awlaki was a master of using Islamic sources and transforming them into ‘gripping and emotional’ stories to display heroic values. Thus, while Awlaki is gone, his legacy remains.

About the author

Humayun Saleem graduated with an MSc in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. His work focuses on South Asia, East Asia and South East Asia.