Pakistan: With Friends Like These…

Seymour Hersh’s LRB scoop on the execution of Osama bin Laden – too hot, apparently, for the New Yorker to handle – is a persuasive and unnerving re-write of the Obama White House account. It was Pakistani spooks, not our CIA, who ran Osama to ground – more than five years before American intelligence learned he was under a comfortable sort of house arrest in Abbottabad. The Navy Seals who carried out the raid that killed Osama in 2011 probably didn’t know that Pakistan’s top brass and spymasters were helping in the shadows, to the extent of dropping their usual air alert against swooping US helicopters.

The sharpest point of the Hersh account comes in the demonstration of Pakistan’s “double game”– which must always be “plausibly deniable”– with its US patron. Pakistan’s army intelligence was in effect holding Osama bin Laden for trade with the Americans when the price was right and the politics was urgent. But what a strange stink comes off this misalliance – this miserable marriage – between the US and Pakistan.

1203342641_8919“This is an absurd relationship on both sides,” says our in-studio authority, Adil Najam, trained in Lahore, now dean of Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Affairs. “The Sy Hersh story is the perfect metaphor for the US-Pakistan relationship and the absurdity of it. Why? Because nothing that can be said or heard about it can or should be believed… It’s not about the details. What he’s really pointing out in stark ways…is: This is not a friendship. It is not an alliance…”

I would question whether any of [the US’s anti-terror partnerships] are alliances. The real imperialist powers – the British! – never called India their ally… They were much more honest about it. They said, “you’re a dominion.” And in some ways, I think maybe we need a little more honesty in this….

carlottaCarlotta Gall, the long-time New York Times correspondent between Kabul and Islamabad, is telling us that much of Hersh’s alternative history checks outs. Osama bin Laden regarded Pakistan as friendly territory and, in Abbottabad, a safe haven. He had to beware of official betrayal sooner or later, but admonished his followers not to attack “the mother ship.” Pakistan’s military returned the courtesy, Ms. Gall observed on our air:

One intelligence officer, years ago, told me [bin Laden] was a protege of Pakistan….I think the Pakistanis perhaps didn’t mind that he was always aiming his attacks to America. They saw him as something useful for their own reasons. And that’s what’s astonishing, that they could be an ally — a major non-NATO ally after all — winning billions of dollars over this last decade from America and yet they could be hiding the top target of the American war.

…America knew Pakistan was playing a double game… And at what cost? Thousands of Western soldiers died, over 2,000 American soldiers died there, and, by my count, tens of thousands of Afghans have died since 2001. The length and the horror of this war in Afghanistan was not necessary, and I think a lot of that happened on America’s watch when they knowingly were not confronting Pakistan about its involvement and stopping it and, meanwhile, were funding billions to the Pakistani military. And that very strange double-handed policy is very weird and to be condemned.

Fawaz Gerges, our biographer of terrorism, says that drawing American military forces into the back of beyond was the core of Al Qaeda’s strategy and its incredible success:

When the history of the global wars on terror is written…the question is not going to be why the United States invaded Iraq, why the United States invaded Afghanistan. The question that will basically fascinate historians is why the American system of checks and balances failed after 9/11? Why? Because the American perspective was blinded by dust, by pain, by fear, by pride, and by revenge. And you have a small group of ideologues…hijack American foreign policy that basically brought us to today.

There’s more here from our friend Muhammad Idrees Ahmad on the pain for Pakistan, which has taken more casualties from the war for Afghanistan than any other nation. Also, from Ayesha Jalal of Tufts University, the master historian of the India-Pakistan partition. She joins us from her hometown Lahore to speak of an almost empty “operational relationship” between the US and Pakistan. The better future for Pakistan, she suggests, will be with investment-ready China.

Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Guest List
Carlotta Gall
New York Times North Africa correspondent, former Afghanistan bureau chief, author of The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad & Ayesha Jalal
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a Pakistani scholar now based in Scotland, commentator at Pulse, author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War. Ayesha Jalal is professor of history at Tufts University. Her new book on Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955), arguably the all-time star of Pakistani letters, is called The Pity of Partition.
Fawaz Gerges
Professor of Middle East Politics & International Relations, author of The Rise and Fall of Al Qaeda
Adil Najam
Dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, formerly vice-chancellor at Pakistan's premier research university, the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Reading List
The Killing of Osama bin Laden
Seymour Hersh, The London Review of Books
Hersh pulls on the bin Laden thread and finds that most everything that seemed off about the 2011 raid – How could he be hiding right under our ally's nose? — had to do with a secret Pakistani tip and a hastily-revised cover story. Many correspondents chased those leads over the last four years, but Hersh ventures to spin another tale about the highest levels of American power, believe it or not:
[Obama's] principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.  
What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden
Carlotta Gall, The New York Times Magazine
Carlotta Gall, the Times's Pakistan correspondent for 12 years, was one of those reporters working to reconcile the bin Laden killing with what she knew of Pakistan's double dealing and village-to-village gossip about the Al Qaeda chief. Gall's account of the bin Laden intrigue last spring included most of the reports Hersh showcases, but she sees the episode as part of a bigger story of America mismanaging its alliances and its war:
[Pakistan's strategy is] to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It’s through that agency that Pakistan’s true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned — a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation.
The Pakistan Connection
Owen Bennett-Jones, BBC World Service
This intense radio examination of the US-Pakistan connection ran while the smoke was still clearing over Abbottabad. Presenter Owen Bennett-Jones (long the BBC's man in Islamabad, and a recent novelist of Pakistan) introduces the geopolitics and the elite players, then lingers with the civilians caught in the cross-fire.
As Obama visits India, Pakistan looks to Russia for military, economic assistance
Tim Craig, The Washington Post
The US-Pakistan relationship peaked twice: during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the opening years of George W. Bush's global war on terror. In each case, Pakistani leaders reaped American gifts and dragged along a skeptical civilian population. Now, after 14 years of war and US ambivalence, both the elites and the street are fed up and weighing other options:
For much of its history, Pakistan has been an ally of the United States, while Russia had stronger ties to India, even backing it during that country’s 1971 war with Pakistan. But now that most NATO troops have left next-door Afghanistan — and the Pakistani army is straining to overcome Islamist militants on its western border — officials here fear that the United States’ regional interest is tilting toward India, Pakistan’s eastern neighbor and archrival.

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  • Idrees Ahmad

    Just a clarification: in the interview I said that Pakistan has lost over 10,000 security personnel. That’s actually the number of casualties. The fatalities currently stand at over 6,000:

    The military itself admits only half that number, but it excludes members of the police and para-military organisations. But it gives a higher number of civilians deaths (over 40,000):

  • Cambridge Forecast


    The ROS discussion on fixing Pakistan offers an overarching clue in the biographical comment on the panelist Idrees Ahmad and the subtitle of his book, “The Road to Iraq” ie ”the Making of a Neoconservative War”:

    “Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a Pakistani scholar now based in Scotland,
    commentator at Pulse, author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War.”

    The purpose of the neocons has been to “mayhemize” the world, derail globalization (which would make Arabs and Muslims a global and significant player) and force Russia to disgorge the
    Russian Jews who would be settled on Palestinian land thus killing the idea of
    Palestine by creeping annexation and the American-taxpayer funded “Iron dome.”

    By promoting global clash of civilization, this would lead to a disintegration of the world and the removlal permanently of Pakistan’snuclear weapons. Mentally unstable Congressmen like Charlie Wilson of Texas were useful pawns in this strategy: (you may have seen the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War”).

    “Charlie” Wilson (June 1,1933 – February 10, 2010) was a United States naval officer and former
    12-term Democratic United States Representative from Texas’s 2nd congressional district.

    Wilson is best known for leading Congress into supporting Operation Cyclone, the largest-ever Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) covert operation which, under the Carter and Reagan administration, supplied military equipment including anti-aircraft weapons such as Stinger
    antiaircraft missiles and paramilitary officers from their Special Activities Division to the Afghan
    Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. His behind-the-scenes
    campaign was the subject of the non-fiction book Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History by George Crile III and the subsequent film Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks as Wilson.”

    “Despite not having many, if any, Jewish constituents, Wilson developed a strong relationship with Israel during his entire congressional career. This bond began during Wilson’s
    first year in Washington when the Yom Kippur War occurred. From a young age,
    Wilson had always supported the”underdog,” and Wilson quickly went to
    Israel’s defense as a self-proclaimed “Israeli commando.” While on theAppropriations committee, Wilson increased U.S. aid to Israel to $3 billion annually and
    in return got continuous campaign contributions from Jews throughout the
    country. Later, Wilson’s close ties with Israel enabled him to collaborate with Israeli
    defense engineers to create and transport man-portable anti-aircraft guns into Pakistan to be
    used in the Soviet-Afghan War.”

    For his efforts, Wilson was presented with the Honored Colleague Award by the CIA. He became the first civilian to receive the award.
    However, Wilson’s role remains controversial because most of the aid was supplied to Islamist
    hardliner Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now a senior Taliban leader and a supporter of al-Qaeda.”

    An analysis of Pakistan in these neocon decades is impossible without the inclusion as a driving
    co-factor, neocon machinations and “chaos promotion” on a global scale.


    Richard Melson

  • JeffEwener

    Excellent show! I was especially interested to hear Carlotta Gall’s mordant remark about Pakistan’s fighting on both sides of the War on Terror at the same time.

    This is of course exactly what the US is doing in the War on ISIS — fighting them in Iraq, while supplying them in Syria, via the cut-out of the “moderate Syrian opposition” which most knowledgeable (non-American) observers on the ground claim simply doesn’t exist.

    Imagine if the US had fought Germany on the Western Front, but supported them on the Eastern Front — the outcome of the war would have been very different, and likely a lot longer in coming.

  • I heard about double crossing – war on terror is a triple crossing or many more. Between Pakistan and USA, it was always a marriage of inconvenience with proportionate vested interests, greed for power and resources, in the name of Islamic ideology, nationalism, patriotism. It served the persons for whom it was designed. I wonder who is going to take the responsibility of humans died and community ruined in the last 15 years for the miss guided wrongly intention mission — some one should have the heart to feel the pain of the innocent, ignorant and silent effected people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

  • Cambridge Forecast

    When we think of Pakistan, images and tidbits well
    up in us such as:

    1. assassination of Benazeer Bhutto in 2007.

    2. General Musharaff’s boasts about how many jets and dollars he extracted from the US.

    3. Pakistan Taliban claiming territorial swathes of Pakistan.

    4. “hall of mirrors” labyrinth in dealings with ISI and secuirty forces. (Osama Bibn Laden case, say)

    5. intractable Kashmir tensions with India.

    6. terrorist attack on Mumbai by radical Islamists.

    7. Pakistan nuclear weapons.

    Imagine that you proposed to“fix our Pakistan problem” beginning with a better understanding of Pakistan’s “slot” in the world as a system.

    To begin to achieve a grip on the Pakistan situation, take, as an exercise, the following financial imbroglio from 1949:

    “During the sterling crisis of August-September 1949, the American Treasury itself, anxious to see more realistic parities, took matters in hand. The IMF would only approve retrospectively what its members, under American pressure, decided.

    The nub of the operation was the revaluation of sterling on 18 September 1949 by approximately thirty percent in relation to the dollar.

    The new rate was 1 pound sterling=$2.80.

    The entire sterling area, except for Pakistan, followed the British example.”

    This comes from the standard orthodoxfrom the economic and financial history, “Prosperity and Upheaval The World Economy
    1945-1980” The Pelican History of World Economy in the Twentieth Century,
    Herman Van der Wee, page 441 Penguin Books paperback, 1987.

    The subsequent pages in this
    book show you the great intricacy of all these adjustments since they involve
    national governments, currencies, parities, currency blocs, and IMF/US Treasury
    hegemonial pressures.

    In other words, fixing our Pakistan
    problem (a la ROS discussion), involves not only seething internal cleavages
    and fissures, regional and religious,

    but also an endlessly tricky
    financial architecture with a very “ad hoc”
    almost capricious tone.

    China’s recent pledges of 43
    billion dollars to Pakistan signal to Pakistan that it might find a “new deal”
    with China and this further muddies the
    waters in 2015 and the Pakistan problem, and its proposed fixing, must now be
    analyzed as a piece of a larger relationship, ie the
    Pakistan/China/IMF-Treasury complex, co-evolving.

    Richard Melson

  • Potter

    I don’t know what or who to believe. But I do think that the people, not only the American people, but all the people in these dysfunctional countries, including the US of A, have been betrayed. I follow Fawaz Gerges as though he’s a rock star because of his firm core and solid analysis (so it seems to me). I don’t know whether to swallow Seymour Hersh’s though he seems so certain and even convincing. Even if he is only stirring the pot it’s good. But regarding Mr. Gerges at the end of this podcast ( with, again, all good guests) I do look to why our own much self-praised system does not work. And I differ with Mr. Gerges about the intentions of our leaders. I don’t think they were thinking of anything other than their own selfish power politics. Our system, which was well intentioned at it’s inception, does not work for us any longer. My instinct is always to look home first for answers.

  • XoxOOxoX

    I find it very strange when These Pakistani Guest start comparing the Strength of relationship with any country by the Amount of Money they have given them. Who is More Important? , China or US, and the Paki would say, U see, US has given us this amount of Money and U see, china is giving us this amount of money. Aah Its so screwed up. Why do they think relationship with countries are dependent on money, Why are they begging all the time.?
    Another thing is, US and Pak Created “Taliban” and with that Started the Era of Islamic Terrorism so that Communist could not take over Afghanistan, and Now they are all willingly handing over Afghanistan to another expansionist communist regime i.e CHINA, because they are paying top dollar to Pakistan and That to After US already put trillion of dollars in Afghanistan, The Russian were stupid, they could have won Afghanistan only by paying the Pakistanis but US paid first, and hence Afghanistan has been treated by Pakistan as a country which could be sold to other countries . Afghanistan cannot prosper and become peaceful unless Pakistan backs out of Afghanistan

  • Miso Honey

    I really enjoyed listening to this program on Pakistan, and what kind of ally the U.S.A. and Pakistan really are to each other. As it so happened, I watched PBS’ Frontline episode “Obama at War” within a few days and I’m still thinking about the parallels and interplays between the themes in this Radio Open Source episode and that Frontline.

    Personally, I think this ROS program affirmed what what I already thought of the kind of ally the U.S.A. often is.

    (1) often the alliance it offers is a military alliance and military forces or military supplies because the use of military force is what the Presidencies and/or Congresses are most familiar with as a foreign policy tool. Need to break that habit. It’s not necessarily malicious, they just don’t know any better.

    (2) ground military support by the U.S.A. involves armed troops walking into YOUR country with the message: I’m an American, I’m here to help you, Now do as I say.

    (3) when the military support is no longer in the U.S.A.’s interest and it’s taking to long to “fix”, they’ll abandon you to fend for yourself: Pakistan and Afghanistan after the USSR pulled out, Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban government, repeated Vietnamese leaders and finally all of Vietnam after the Tet Offensive and loss of domestic support, to Suharto, to Buhto, to , innumerable dictatorial regimes in South and Central American countries…that’s just off the top of my head

    (4) The vast majority of Presidents and foreign policy advisors and members of the Congress have never had regular living and working lives in other countries. Most (?) have passports, and many have traveled beyond Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, but few have been outside these areas other than as tourists or as dignitaries.

    (5) Looking forward, allies of the U.S.A. need to reflect on history and ask themselves: what kind of ally will the U.S.A. be over the next 20 years: to Ukraine, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Bosnia, to Poland, to El Salvador, etc.