Thursday, May 20, 2010

US Media Leaks Diplomacy to Coerce Pakistan

There have recently been a slew of statements attributed to unnamed American officials reported in the American national media threatening Pakistan with "severe consequences". All of these reports are designed to build pressure on Pakistan Army to comply with the US demands to immediately begin offensive military operations in North Waziristan in the wake of failed bombing attempt at Times Square in New York.

Here are some examples of pressure on Pakistan from New York Times and Washington Post:

"The Obama administration has delivered new and stiff warnings to Pakistan after the failed Times Square car bombing that it must urgently move against the nexus of Islamic militancy in the country’s lawless tribal regions, American and Pakistani officials said."

"General Kayani, with whom General McChrystal has forged a positive relationship, was essentially told, “ ‘You can’t pretend any longer that this is not going on,’ ” another American official said. “ ‘We are saying you have got to go into North Waziristan.’ ”

"The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of continuing diplomatic efforts here."

New York Times May 8, 2010

"There's going to be enough here to trigger a policy debate," predicted one senior official with access to U.S. intelligence on Pakistan and involvement in White House discussions about the bombing attempt. "This is going to really create a new focus on Pakistan, militants in the tribal areas and their recruitment of and connections" to terror operatives recruited in the West, the official said. Like others who agreed to discuss sensitive U.S.-Pakistan relations and the ongoing bomb investigation, this official would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

Impatient with the intricacies of Pakistani politics, its anti-American sensitivities and its fixation on India as its greatest strategic threat, these officials see the Times Square incident as weighing in favor of a far more muscular and unilateral U.S. policy. It would include a geographically expanded use of drone missile attacks in Pakistan and pressure for a stronger U.S. military presence there.

Washington Post May 9, 2010

It is normal Washington practice to use well-timed media leaks in Washington Post, New York Times, CBS and other media, including blogs, twitter and new social media, to effect changes in policies and behaviors within and outside the United States. Such leaks are almost always attributed to unnamed officials, and intended to put pressure to act in ways preferred by the leakers.

In its recent issue, the Newsweek describes how President Obama himself became the target of such pressure tactics during his Afghan policy review last year. Here is how Jonathan Alter explains it in Newsweek:

"In fact, the military, practiced in the ways of Washington, now ran PR circles around the neophytes in the Obama White House, leaking something to the Pentagon reporters nearly every day. The motive for all the leaks seemed clear to the White House: to box the president into the policy that McChrystal had recommended, at least another 80,000 troops and an open-ended commitment lasting 10 years or more.

Admiral Mullen, the son of a Hollywood publicist whose clients included Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart, looked unassuming but knew how to handle himself in the press. Gen. David Petraeus, the CentCom commander, of course was a pro at cultivating reporters. Even before the leaking of the report, McChrystal, working with Mullen's approval, made himself shockingly accessible to the press. He sat for a long, colorful interview with 60 Minutes,appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, and dismissed the Biden plan (few troops, targeting Al Qaeda with drones) to NEWSWEEK.

Mullen dug himself in especially deep at his reconfirmation hearings for chairman of the Joint Chiefs when he made an aggressive case for a long-term commitment in Afghanistan. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was enraged at Mullen's public testimony and let the Pentagon know it. When Petraeus gave an interview to Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson on Sept.4 calling for a "fully resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign," the chief of staff was even angrier. Mullen and Petraeus thought the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. They said that once they heard the policy was under review, they stopped talking. "Hey, Denis, don't worry," Petraeus told NSC chief of staff Denis McDonough, "I get it."

Will the increased pressure work to achieve US objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan? It is hard to tell, particularly because of Pakistani military's stretched resources and its sensitivity against yielding to US pressure. Similar tactics by Washington against Afghan President reportedly failed badly when Mr. Hamid Karzai threatened to "join the Taliban" rather than yield to American pressure. In the end, Obama ended up making amends for the failed tactics by showing extraordinary hospitality to Mr. Karazi during his recent trip to Washington.

If the US pressure does succeed in pushing the Pakistani military to comply and take on multiple groups the US labels as "terrorists" in various parts of Pakistan, it may end up precipitating a long and bloody civil war in that country. The last thing the world needs is further destabilization of nuclear armed Pakistan. A long and bloody civil war in Pakistan will be far more dangerous for the US, South Asia-West Asia region and the World. A much more deliberate and thoughtful strategy is required to rid Pakistan and the World of the scourge of domestic and intentional terrorism.

Related Links:

Hunger Kills Far More People Than Terror

Cyber Wars in India, Pakistan and China

The War of the Leaks

Is America Losing the Afghan War?

India's Hostility Toward Pakistan

US Afghan Exit: Trigger for India to Talk to Pakistan?

Facts and Myths about Afghanistan and Pakistan

Obama's New Regional Strategy

Webchat On Obama's New Regional Strategy

Stephen Cohen on India-Pakistan Relations

Obama's Afghan Exit Strategy

Obama's New Regional Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

US Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?

Can India "Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?

20th Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union

US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan?

FATA Faceoff Fears

FATA Raid Charades


Anonymous said...


It is the choice of the pakistan army whether to listen or not to listen. However these events are something which somebody needs to ponder about. If this is a setup then the concerns people could fight for their rights in usa and it is easily available in usa to fight back the system, if not in country like pakistan.

Irrespective of the ny event, pakistan army is always at the disposal of usa, they did in swat as per usa instruction and they will do it where ever it is told as they depend upon on usa for their continuity even after out of job like musharaf.

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anoop said...

Pakistan could have earned a lot positive points by taking care of the Taliban menace in North Waziristan before the world sat on its head. As Pakistan is Pakistan, it has to be forced to do the right thing.

Good that it is being forced into attacking North Waziristan. But, I still doubt if it will succumb to that pressure. It'll hold out for few more months before attacking North Waziristan. But, I think the operation will take place well before the pull out date of NATO forces from Afghanistan.

Pakistan being heavily dependent on aid helps the situation for NATO. It can use it as both the stick and the carrot.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from an Op Ed by Huma Yousuf today in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper:

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has announced that his country is not ‘pushing’ Pakistan to make this move, while Nato has declared that the timing and strategy of the operation are to be fully of the Pakistan Army’s choosing.

This magnanimity does not signal a shift in policy, nor does it indicate that the US has truly come to trust Pakistan as an equal partner in its prolonged war against terror. No, western security forces are backing off from plans to launch the offensive because it’s going to be messy, very messy.

North Waziristan has long been home to Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s militant group, which has struck two peace accords with the Pakistan government (in 2006 and 2008) and therefore refrains from launching attacks against government and army personnel and property in Fata or elsewhere. Previously, Bahadur has prevented other militants, including Baitullah Mehsud, from launching attacks against Pakistan from his territory, and is responsible for expelling many Arab and Central Asian militants from the agencies.

In return for this cooperation, the Bahadur group has been allowed to flourish and is now well-entrenched in North Waziristan: it runs a parallel administration boasting recruiting offices for militants, training camps, madressahs, separate courts and jails and its own taxation policy. If an offensive in the tribal agency disrupts the Bahadur group, the army will face a well-armed and well-organised force that will no longer have any reason to keep foreign fighters at bay.

North Waziristan also serves as a base for the Jalaluddin Haqqani network, which primarily targets coalition forces in Afghanistan. The Haqqanis are old friends of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, and continue to be cultivated as contacts that could prove useful as political allies in a post-US Afghanistan. This network, too, has not attacked the Pakistani state, but may change its modus operandi if a military operation were to be directed against its fighters.

As practically the only one of Fata’s seven agencies that has not been the site of a military operation, North Waziristan has recently seen an influx of TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) militants fleeing army action elsewhere. Indeed, a list of all the groups whose activities have been traced to the tribal agency reads like a who’s who of regional militancy. The agency is also believed to be the hiding place of Al Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri.


A limited operation will also rule out the need to bring more troops into the vicinity (there are currently about 140,000 troops in the agency, mostly stationed in Miramshah). This is important because military action in Fata since 2005 has earned the ire of non-combatant agency residents who complain they have lost more lives and property because of army action rather than the militant presence.

This perception has fuelled the rate of militant recruitment in the area, and the last thing the North Waziristan operation should do is win more youngsters over to the militant cause. To this end, the army should work with the civilian government to raise enough funds beforehand to accommodate the IDPs who will escape the operation, and to compensate civilians for property damage.

More importantly, the army should also limit US involvement in the form of sustained drone attacks in any operation. This must be Pakistan’s fight, fought on Pakistan’s terms, with Pakistan’s best interests in mind.

Riaz Haq said...

From Ayesha Siddiqa's description of the GeoTV anchor Hamid Mir's leaked conversation with an alleged TTP operative, it appears that Pakistani military. media and politicians are well versed in the art of the leaks to push their respective agendas.

Here are some excerpts from Siddiqa's recent post:

"The conversation should not surprise people as Hamid Mir has old links with the Islamiscts and the intelligence agencies. In the world of the armed forces information is difficult to access. Relatively better access to information comes at a price which Hamid Mir and many other journalists in the world, particularly Pakistan pay happily. There is not a single journalist, especially on the electronic media who comments on national security and is not fed by the military. I remember one very popular journalist who even writes for foreign press. He is considered an authority on military affairs. The poor chap cannot tell the front of a submarine from its back. Planting people in the media and intelligentsia is an old trick. The only matter of concern really is that how and why is the audio recording made available on the net? The real story is the disclosure rather than the conversation."


"There is something that doesn't make sense in the story. Whats more important to remember are that the jihadis (aka Pakistani Taliban) are well-entrenched in Pakistan's intelligence system and even its establishment. No wonder, Pakistan's courts have been acquitting jihadis like Lashkare Jhangavi's Malik Ishaq. Recently, the courts acquitted those accused of involvement in the Marriott bombing case and the suicide attack against Lt. general Mushtaq Baig. These decisions could have been changed if the agencies were willing to sort out the jihadis. The segment within the agencies which supports jihad and jihadis has now strengthened. The army and its intelligence agencies now have a dependence on these jihadis. The questions which many ask is that why get their men killed. This is nothing new. There was similar friction in the case of the Algerian military and the Islamiscts. The reason that this particular battle in Pakistan is contained to a few people is because of the influence of the Islamiscts on the army."

Haseeb said...

Riaz, A very good catch but would US war machine care about bloody civil war in Pakistan, I think not. Sad but true!

Riaz Haq said...


It's a game two can play. Karzai has understood it and forced Washington to tone down the rhetoric against him.

With the proliferation of mass media in Pakistan in recent years, Pakistani political and military leaders seem to have become quite media savvy.

I think the Pakistani military now understands the art of leaks probably just as well as Washington, as seen in Hamid Mir leaks recently.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a USA Today report about US looking for Wikileaks founder for leaking secret videos about alleged misconduct by US personnel resulting in civilian deaths in Afghanistan (and probably Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere):

More intrigue involving the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks and "secret" documents and combat video allegedly passed by Army Spc. Bradley Manning, who was arrested at his base in Iraq three weeks ago. (On Deadline flagged this story earlier in the week.)

The Daily Beast reports that Pentagon investigators are trying to track down Julian Assange, the elusive Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks, who they believe is preparing to publish several years of State Department cables allegedly passed by the 22- year-old Manning, now being detained in Kuwait. The cables contain "information related to American diplomatic and intelligence efforts in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq," and they could do "serious damage to national security" if made public, government officials told the Beast.

But even if they find him, it's not clear what they could do to stop publication.

Daniel Ellsberg says Assange "is in danger." And he should know: Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the government's secret plans for the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration called him "the most dangerous man in America." (Ellsberg was hunted, arrested, tried and convicted, but the Supreme Court overturned the verdict in a landmark ruling against government secrecy.)

Meanwhile, Wired's Threat Level blog, which broke the Manning story, is reporting that Assange, who has no permanent home, is arranging Manning's legal defense and says Manning is no spy.

Assange, who first gained notoriety as a computer hacker, canceled an appearance today at an International Reporters and Editors conference in Las Vegas.

Keep an eye on this fascinating story.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a new poll published by on the unpopularity of US drone attacks in FATA:

LThe CIA can kill militants all day long. If the drone war in Pakistan drives the local people into al Qaeda’s arms, it’ll be failure. A new poll of the Pakistani tribal areas, released this morning, suggests that could easily wind up happening. Chalk one up for drone skeptics like counterinsurgent emeritus David Kilcullen and ex-CIA Director Michael Hayden.

Only 16 percent of respondents to a new poll sponsored by the drone-watchers at the New America Foundation say that the drone strikes “accurately target militants.” Three times that number say they “largely kill civilians.”

CIA director Leon Panetta, by contrast, has staunchly defended the drone program as meticulously targeting terrorists. In a war that depends heavily on perceptions, it’s a big discrepancy.

There’s more bad news for Panetta and his boss in the White House. A plurality of respondents in the tribal areas say that the U.S. is primarily responsible for violence in the region. Nearly 90 percent want the U.S. to stop pursuing militants in their backyard and nearly 60 percent are fine with suicide bombings directed at the Americans. That comes as NATO accelerates incursions into Pakistan. Just this morning, it announced that a pursuit of insurgents in Afghanistan’s Paktiya Province led to a U.S. helicopter shooting at the militants from Pakistani airspace. Enraged Pakistani officials responded by shutting down a critical NATO supply line into Afghanistan.

Whatever NATO says, very few in the tribal regions are inclined to believe the U.S. is in Afghanistan and occasionally in Pakistan to fight terrorism. They think the U.S. is waging “larger war on Islam or… an effort to secure oil and minerals in the region.”

On the brighter side, wide majorities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas disapprove of al Qaeda (over three-quarters), the Pakistani Taliban (over two-thirds) and the Afghan Taliban (60 percent). There’s also strong support for the Pakistani army: almost 70 percent want the army to directly confront al Qaeda and the Taliban in the region; 79 percent say they wouldn’t mind if the tribal area were run by the army.

Now for the qualifiers. Polling in the conflict-heavy tribal areas is a dicey proposition. A survey last year of the tribal areas published in the Daily Times found that almost two-thirds of respondents wanted the U.S. drone campaign to continue. So either support for the drones has bottomed out or there’s significant methodological discrepancies. The Pakistani firm that actually conducted the new poll of 1000 respondents across 120 FATA villages, the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme, has polled the area for years.

Read More

Riaz Haq said...

“Media Subdues The Public. It’s So In India, Certainly”, says Noam Chomsky, Prof Emeritus of Linguistics and Media a MIT.

Here are a few quotes from an Outlook India interview with Noam Chomsky:

"I spent three weeks in India and a week in Pakistan. A friend of mine here, Iqbal Ahmed, told me that I would be surprised to find that the media in Pakistan is more open, free and vibrant than that in India.

In Pakistan, I read the English language media which go to a tiny part of the population. Apparently, the government, no matter how repressive it is, is willing to say to them that you have your fun, we are not going to bother you. So they don’t interfere with it.

The media in India is free, the government doesn’t have the power to control it. But what I saw was that it was pretty restricted, very narrow and provincial and not very informative, leaving out lots of things. What I saw was a small sample. There are very good things in the Indian media, specially the Hindu and a couple of others. But this picture (in India) doesn’t surprise me. In fact, the media situation is not very different in many other countries. The Mexican situation is unusual. La Jornada is the only independent newspaper in the whole hemisphere."

"As soon as the plan to invade Iraq was announced, the media began serving as a propaganda agency for the government. The same was true for Vietnam, for state violence generally. The media is called liberal because it is liberal in the sense that Obama is. For example, he’s considered as the principled critic of the Iraq war. Why? Because, right at the beginning, he said it was a strategic blunder. That’s the extent of his liberalism. You could read such comments in Pravda in 1985. The people said that the invasion of Afghanistan was a strategic blunder. Even the German general staff said that Stalingrad was a strategic blunder. But we don’t call that principled criticism."

"Perhaps the period of greatest real press freedom was in the more free societies of Britain and the US in the late 19th century. There was a great variety of newspapers, most often run by the factory workers, ethnic communities and others. There was a lot of popular involvement. These papers reflected a wide variety of opinions, were widely read too. It was the period of greatest vibrancy in the US. There were efforts, especially in England, to control and censor it. These didn’t work. But two things pretty much eliminated them. One, it was possible for the corporate sector to simply put so much capital into their own newspapers that others couldn’t compete. The other factor was advertising; advertiser-reliance. Advertisers are businesses. When newspapers become dependent on advertisers for their income, they are naturally going to bend to the interest of advertisers.

If you look at the New York Times, maybe the world’s greatest newspaper, they have the concept of news hole. What that means is that in the afternoon when they plan for the following day’s newspaper, the first thing they do is to layout where the advertising is going to be, because that’s an important part of a newspaper. You then put the news in the gaps between advertisements. In television there is a concept called content and fill. The content is the advertising, the fill is car chase, the sexy or whatever you put in to try to keep the viewer watching in between the ads. That’s a natural outcome when you have advertiser-reliance."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Hindustan Times report on India's special intelligence unit for covert ops in Pakistan:

The military intelligence unit set up by former army chief General VK Singh was involved in sensitive covert operations in Pakistan and was even on the trail of 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, officials associated with it have told HT.

“Our main task was to combat the rising trend of state-sponsored terrorism by the ISI and we had developed contacts across the Line of Control in a bid to infiltrate Hafiz Saeed’s inner circle,” an official who served with the controversial Technical Services Division (TSD) said.

Asked for an official response, an army spokesperson said, “The unit has been disbanded. Details of the unit, which was the subject matter of an inquiry, are only known to the Chief and a few senior officers. It is for the defence ministry now to initiate any further inquiries.”

related story

Govt vetting report on ex-Gen VK Singh's snoop unit
CBI probe likely into functioning of secret unit set up by VK Singh
The spook unit was set up after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks on a defence ministry directive asking for the creation of covert capability.

Army documents, perused by HT, reveal the senior-most officers signed off on the formation of this unit. File No A/106/TSD and 71018/ MI give details of approvals by the Director General Military Intelligence, vice-chief and chief of army staff.

The TSD — disbanded after allegations that it spied on defence ministry officials through off-the-air interceptors — was raised as a strategic force multiplier for preparing, planning and executing special operations “inside depth areas of countries of interest and countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”.

But it then got caught in an internecine battle between army chiefs. The TSD – which reported directly to Gen VK Singh — used secret service funds to initiate a PIL against current chief General Bikram Singh. As reported by HT in October 2012, secret funds were paid to an NGO to file the PIL, in a bid to stall Bikram Singh’s appointment as chief.

However, covert ops were the unit’s essential mandate and deniability was built into it and it reads, “The proposed organization (TSD) will enable the military intelligence directorate to provide a quick response to any act of state-sponsored terrorism with a high degree of deniability.”

Its task was to carry out special missions and “cover any tracks leading to the organisation”.

Though covert operations were formally shut down by IK Gujral when he was PM in 1997, sources reveal the TSD carried out several such operations within and outside the country — such as Op Rehbar 1, 2 and 3 (in Kashmir), Op Seven Sisters (Northeast) and Op Deep Strike (Pakistan).

Controversy is dogging the unit once again after disclosures in The Indian Express that secret service funds were also used to destabilize the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP has raised questions over the timing of the disclosures. While the defence ministry has had the inquiry report since March, the revelations have come soon after Singh shared the stage with the saffron party’s PM candidate Narendra Modi last Sunday.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who represents 150 victims of American drones and was twice denied entry to the U.S. to speak about them, told my Intercept colleague Ryan Devereaux how two of his child clients would likely react to Obama’s “apology” yesterday:

“Today, if Nabila or Zubair or many of the civilian victims, if they are watching on TV the president being so remorseful over the killing of a Westerner, what message is that taking?” The answer, he argued, is “that you do not matter, you are children of a lesser God, and I’m only going to mourn if a Westerner is killed.”

The British-Yemeni journalist Abubakr Al-Shamahi put it succinctly: “It makes me angry that non-Western civilian victims of drone strikes are not given the same recognition by the US administration.” The independent journalist Naheed Mustafa said she was “hugely irritated by the ‘drone strikes have killed good Westerners so now we know there are issues with drones’ stories.” The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson this morning observed: “It is all too easy to ignore … the dubious morality of the whole enterprise — until the unfortunate victims happen to be Westerners. Only then does ‘collateral damage’ become big news and an occasion for public sorrow.”

This highlights the ugliest propaganda tactic on which the War on Terror centrally depends, one in which the U.S. media is fully complicit: American and Western victims of violence by Muslims are endlessly mourned, while Muslim victims of American and Western violence are completely disappeared.

When there is an attack by a Muslim on Westerners in Paris, Sydney, Ottawa, Fort Hood or Boston, we are deluged with grief-inducing accounts of the victims. We learn their names and their extinguished life aspirations, see their pictures, hear from their grieving relatives, watch ceremonies honoring their lives and mourning their deaths, launch campaigns to memorialize them. Our side’s victims aren’t just humanized by our media, but are publicly grieved as martyrs.

I happened to be in Canada the week of the shooting at the Parliament in Ottawa, as well as a random attack on two Canadian soldiers days earlier in a parking lot in Southern Quebec, and there was non-stop media coverage of the victims, their families, their lives: