US Mission Pakistan: When is a good time for a post drawdown? Strategerically-speaking, like never….

The things going on in Pakistan are causing my nerves to go into hyper apprehensive disorder.  In January, a sitting governor was murdered by his own guard, and was showered with rose petals on his way to jail. This week, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian politician and Pakistan’s minister for minorities was shot dead in broad daylight. Bhatti’s police guard was reportedly due to meet him at his office. The Guardian describes Mr. Bhatti as “an unassuming man with a gentle manner, was not the most powerful of Pakistan’s politicians, nor the most prominent. But he was unquestionably among the bravest.” His assasins fired about 25 bullets, at least 8 hit the minister. This report notes that “two hours after his death was confirmed, it was back to business for the country’s boisterous TV channels, which focused instead on the cricket World Cup, political intrigue in the Punjab, and the fate of incarcerated CIA contractor Raymond Davis.”

We love you not, we love you not, we love you not, and the CIA plot

The Guardian also reported that on TV Zaid Hamid, a rightwing commentator, said Bhatti’s killing was part of a CIA plot to divert attention from the Davis affair.  And the chance that a good number in the local population would actually believe that the Bhatti killing is a CIA plot or that the CIA actually has some pull on the weather is not terribly nutty if you already believe that Pakistan has been sleeping with the enemy called the United States of America. Local reports say that religious parties have now condemned the murder of of Mr. Batti, and have already termed it a conspiracy “to divert the public opinion from the Raymond Davis issue and increase pressure on Islamabad for the release of the US spy.”

It seems to me that the only things that have not yet been blamed on CIA plots are monsoon rains and earthquakes. But it’s only a matter of time.

In last week’s piece in WaPo, Karin Brulliard quotes Aslam Hayat, 54, a construction worker who spoke after prayers at a mosque in Rawalpindi saying, “The Americans want to destroy Pakistan.” […] “That’s why people like Davis are roaming all around the country, assigned with different tasks against our country.”

WaPo also writes that “as outrage over the Davis shooting mounts, suggestions that all U.S. personnel are spies are feeding popular suspicion about the battery of American programs here and renewing reservations about the U.S. presence in general.”

During Senator Kerry’s visit to Lahore, the Express Tribune reported that a man introducing himself as a representative of the US Consulate called Waseem Shamshad, brother of Fahim Shamshad (one of the victims), on his mobile phone and asked if the family could meet with the senator.

“I told him that we do not want to meet with any US official because we consider them our enemies,” he said. “I want them to see that we will not accept a settlement.”

And he’s not alone.

A Pew Research Survey indicates that only 17% of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the United States. Roughly six-in-ten (59%) Pakistanis also describe the U.S. as an enemy, while just 11% say it is a partner.

US public perception of Pakistan is equally low according to a Gallup poll on February 11.  Some 18 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Pakistan and 76 percent viewed it unfavorably. Only two other countries have lesser favorability ratings: Iran and North Korea.

One grand gamble and international obligations

Raza Rumi writing recently in Raymond Davis case: Bitter truths says that “this is now a battle between Pakistan’s elected and unelected institutions. Facts have been lost in the rhetoric and fiction prevails, regurgitating the narratives that we have weaved about ourselves and the rest of the world. Hate the US and blame it for all our weaknesses, even if it entails violating our international obligations.”

Pakistan’s weak elected institutions, and its international obligations.

Pakistan’s weak institutions are dragging its feet on a dangerous gamble that time heals all wounds.  That may be a long wait and sometimes time may just make old wounds fester. Meanwhile, a Pakistani writer, Sabir Shah, in writing about US diplomats killed abroad since 1780 reminds us of American diplomats who perished in Pakistan:

Of these 111 US Foreign Service officials, who have were killed during their foreign postings, at least eight have met their deaths in an unnatural way in Pakistan.

These eight American Foreign Service personnel, who died unnaturally in Pakistan, are Sergeant Steven Crowley, US Army Warrant Officer Bryan Ellis, Arnold Raphel (US Ambassador to Pakistan), Brigadier General Herbert Wassom (Chief of the US military group in Pakistan), Gary Durell (a CIA communications technician), Jackie Van Landingham (a consulate secretary), Barbara Green (US Embassy Islamabad) and David Foy (a Facilities Maintenance Officer at the US Consulate Karachi).

While Sergeant Steven Crowley, a 20-year old Marine Security Guard was hit by a lethal bullet during the siege of the US Embassy in Islamabad on November 21, 1979, the burned corpse of a 30-year old US Army Warrant Officer, Bryan Ellis, was also recovered from his apartment on the same day.

Crowley and Ellis were killed a day after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini had claimed that Americans were behind the November 20 takeover of the Grand Al-Haram Mosque at Makkah.

As soon as Khomeini’s claim was repeated in media on November 21, 1979 a group of enraged Pakistani students had stormed the 32-acre US Embassy at Islamabad. The rioters were also infuriated by incorrect radio reports that Washington had bombed the Grand Mosque at Makkah.

After bringing the embassy gate down, the mob fired gunshots and pelted stones at the building’s windows. As Ambassador Arthur Hummel Jr., was out of the building for lunch, Marine Steven Crowley was posted on the Embassy roof to assess the demonstration.

A corporal assigned to the Marine Security Guard Battalion Detachment in Islamabad, Crowley was shot by a sniper just above his left ear while he was doing his job.

Although the US Embassy staffers had organized themselves into groups by blood type similar to Crowley’s, in case a transfusion was needed, their injured colleague never actually regained consciousness.

At sunset, as the rioters had begun to disperse, Sergeant Lloyd Miller climbed the roof and brought down the body of Crowley over his shoulder. Within just two days, some 400 shocked US diplomats had flown out of Pakistan.

The Pakistani government had reportedly paid US $121 million to the US, as a cost to rebuild the Embassy compound, after having failed to prevent the incident.

Read this piece in full here.

Rumi’s piece above is a cautionary tale on how an infuriated mob can turn into dangerous rampage based on rumors and incorrect information.  The mob attack happened in 1979 but it also highlights the limits of security even with a Marine detachment. Makes you appreciate more the finer points of the fortress embassies that we have now. But that’s only 30% of the US diplomatic facilities worldwide.

Pakistan is responsible for the security outside US mission properties in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. Just as the USG is responsible for the foreign diplomatic facilities in the United States, including every chancery, consulate, or other office notified to the US government as diplomatic or consular premises in accordance with the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.

I’m not a lawyer, but here’s what’s confusing — if Pakistan cannot resolve the immunity issue under the same convention, how can one trust that it can and will abide by its security obligations under the same international agreement? And even if it wishes to, it appears not to have any control over its provincial bodies. What if one of its provincial governments simply decide that it does not have an obligation to provide perimeter security over USG or other foreign diplomatic facilities?  What happens then?

Christopher Hitchens in Slate notes rather grimly:

Not to mince words, then, Davis is a hostage. In addition to the usual sense of the word, he is a hostage to the Pakistani authorities who dare not—even if they wish—make an enemy either of the Islamist mobs or the uniformed para-state run by the intelligence services. He is also a hostage to the inability or unwillingness of the U.S. government to call things by their right names. […] [T]hey all talk as if Pakistan were a country of law, and they all talk as if Pakistan were not a client state. Its client status, indeed, is what leads so many Pakistanis to detest America, without whose largesse and indulgence it would long ago have faced collapse. Thus to the final irony: We are denied leverage by the fact of the very influence for which we are hated.

So, a post drawdown in the stars?

In 2010, when the Office of the Inspector General reviewed the US Mission in Pakistan, it says that “Security for U.S. Government personnel is among the highest mission priorities. Especially in Peshawar, but also in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore, official American and LE staff lives are put at risk every day. Mission leadership and Washington policymakers recognize and accept this risk in order to pursue vital national strategic and security priorities. The security situation also limits the mission’s efforts to monitor assistance and development projects; oversee contracts and grants; conduct broad public diplomacy outreach; and further the person-to-person exchanges across social, economic, and political lines that are the foundations of diplomacy.” (italics added)

The same review reports that US Mission Pakistan had 640 U.S. direct-hire staff, 1,503 LE staff and a nonmilitary assistance in FY 2009 that totaled approximately $1.25 billion. The USAID office in Peshawar also managed and monitored $750 million FATA Development Program and is responsible for planning and managing more than $1 billion of new assistance for the NWFP. Peshawar’s consular district will receive a major portion of the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund ($400 million) and the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund ($700 million) before the end of FY 2011. Note that in October 2009, President Obama signed the five-year, $7.5 billion Kerry Lugar Berman bill which tripled non-military aid to Pakistan.

But the writer below could not wrap his head around so many US diplomats operating inside Pakistan:

“China is investing $20 billion in the next five years in Pakistan. China has thousands of its nationals working in Pakistan involved in billions of Dollars of infrastructure projects.  It has only 87 diplomats. Somethings is wrong with this pictures. Why does the US have so many diplomats. Either they are very inefficinet and cnnot run the embassies, or most of the people are not really diplomats.”

So to recap quickly —

  • Restricted ability to work and operate in a country where Americans are largely viewed as enemies …

  • Suggestions floated around that all U.S. personnel in the country are spies

  • Unnamed sources assumes that many Americans are “US Special Forces – including members of the covert Delta Force of the United States Army – and therefore are considered armed and dangerous.”

  • Then there’s the alleged connection between GPS chip recovered from Raymond Davis and  drone attacks in North Waziristan….

  • Jeff Stein writes about a “Ray Davis rescue” which was apparently called a ‘mission impossible,’ by a CIA veteran.  Nonetheless, speculating rescue scenarios will certainly bring the paranoia level in Pakistan to the crazy bad level.

  • Allegations elsewhere on a CIA plot (there it is again) to poison Raymond Davis to shut him up. The dogs apparently are tasting his food.

The kiss of death and the long way forward

Bruce Riedel, a former long-time CIA officer recently writes in the Daily Beast about what undeniably is the worst job in the world — Marc Grossman’s job.  In it he writes that “The United States is so unpopular in Pakistan today that its endorsement of a politician is the kiss of death.”  Then there is this: 

[A jihadist, nuclear-armed Pakistan is a scenario that must be avoided at all costs. That means working with the Pakistan of today to try to improve its very spotty record on terrorism and proliferation. While many (on both sides of the U.S.-Pakistan dialogue) are pessimistic that cooperation/engagement between America and Pakistan will succeed, there is every reason to try, given the alternatives.
Pakistan is a complex and combustible society undergoing a severe crisis, which America helped create over the years. If it does not come to Pakistan’s aid now, it may have to deal with an extremist Pakistan sooner rather than later, or witness a repeat of 9/11, this time originating from Pakistan. Even worse, a crisis in the subcontinent could lead to a nuclear war in South Asia. These all-too-possible nightmare scenarios should impel the United States to focus on the current state of Pakistan. It needs to do better in Pakistan. For Obama, 2011 may be the year of Pakistan.

Enough to scare your pants off?  I should note that Mr. Riedel also chaired President Obama’s strategic review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009.

Strategerically-speaking, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any drawdown anytime soon. The Obama administration accepted the risks in 2009 with a civilian and an aid surge to Pakistan, it cannot just do a turnaround now.  Unless… well, that’s the part that is worrisome. 

I noticed by the way, that all posts in Pakistan, except Peshawar are now running contests in their Facebook pages (with videocams, ipods and cricket set as prizes). And watch out U.S. Embassy Colombo FB and American Center New Delhi FBConGen Lahore and ConGen Karachi are both gunning actively running for the top spot in State’s FB presence in South Central Asia.         

On a related note — President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan has an op-ed in the March 6 issue of the Washington Post, available online here in which he writes in part:

Our nation is pressed by overlapping threats. We have lost more soldiers in the war against terrorism than all of NATO combined. We have lost 10 times the number of civilians who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Two thousand police officers have been killed. Our economic growth was stifled by the priorities of past dictatorial regimes that unfortunately were supported by the West.
Our desire to confront and deal with the menace in a manner that is effective in our context should not become the basis for questioning our commitment or ignoring our sacrifices.
We are committed to peaceful adjudication of the Davis case in accordance with the law. But it is in no one’s interest to allow this matter to be manipulated and exploited to weaken the government of Pakistan and damage further the U.S. image in our country.

Similarly counterproductive are threats to apply sanctions to Pakistan over the Davis affair by cutting off Kerry-Lugar development funds that were designed to build infrastructure, strengthen education and create jobs. It is a threat, written out of the playbook of America’s enemies, whose only result will be to undermine U.S. strategic interests in South and Central Asia. In an incendiary environment, hot rhetoric and dysfunctional warnings can start fires that will be difficult to extinguish.

Hitting all the keywords.  Obviously written for a special kind of audience inside the beltway.

I don’t know about you but even after reading Mr. Zardari, my nerves remain in
hyper apprehensive disorder about this whole mess.

If I go over to Twitter for some charliesheen pills would that make me feel better?

Previous op-eds by
Mr. Zardari below: