Wednesday, January 19, 2005

THE LEADER ARTICLE: Asian Drama: After Iraq, US Targets Iran with Pak Support - The Times of India

THE LEADER ARTICLE: Asian Drama: After Iraq, US Targets Iran with Pak Support - The Times of India: "THE LEADER ARTICLE: Asian Drama: After Iraq, US Targets Iran with Pak Support

Coinciding with the inauguration of George W Bush's second term, the New Yorker magazine carries an article called The Coming Wars by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Hersh won the Pulitzer prize for exposing the massacre at Mylai during the Vietnam war. The New Yorker article alleges that president Bush has already authorised the penetration of Iran by US special forces directly functioning under the Pentagon and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Their mission is to penetrate and locate Iranian underground nuclear installations. Once they are located accurately, they could be destroyed by air and missile attacks and deep penetration commando raids. According to Hersh's account, Washington has agreed to wink at Pakistani nuclear transgressions and not demand the handing over of A Q Khan, in return for Islamabad's cooperation in neutralising Iran's nuclear programme.

A US commando force in South Asia is now working closely with a group of Pakistani scientists and technicians who had previously helped Iran's nuclear quest. They are planting remote detection devices known as 'sniffers' in Iran to detect radioactive emissions and other evidence of nuclear enrichment programmes. Although both Pakistan and US have denied any such understanding, the Faustian bargain seems quite plausible. It is hard to fathom why the US has let off Pakistan which has proliferated to four nations, while being so harsh on Iran and North Korea. Pakistan has been unable to locate bin Laden and his colleagues in its territory over four years; yet, it is still rewarded with major non-NATO ally status (MNNA) and a likely F-16 aircraft deal. Pakistan is not likely to get all these rewards, in spite of its inadequate cooperation in tracking bin Laden, for nothing. General Musharraf would be expected to render other services.

If the Hersh story is true, it will seriously impact the West Asian region and India as well. His disclosure of the US plan to penetrate Iran brings to mind a similar action by the US in the months before Iraqi operation, described in Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack.

It is now widely accepted in Pakistan that General Zia ul-Haq's plane was exploded by a group of Shia air force officers who were infuriated at the massive crackdown on the Shia popular uprising in early 1988 by then Brigadier Musharraf. Shia-majority Iran is in a position to take pre-emptive steps against the US and its ally Pakistan, and raise the cost of their operations. Pakistan's Shia population is in excess of 20%, which is likely to resent Musharraf stabbing Iran in the back. Iran is in a position to create difficulties for the Pakistani leadership in Baluchistan and in the northern Shia dominated areas of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. There have been recent reports of unrest in that area and curfew in Shia town of Gilgit.

Iran would like to see a Shia-majority government in Iraq after the proposed elections. But how it will use its influence in Iraq and other Shia-majority areas of the Persian Gulf — including Shia-majority, oil-rich areas of Saudi Arabia — after the election remains to be seen. A general Shia alienation, both north and south of the Gulf, may render the stay of US forces difficult and costly.

Musharraf is unlikely to take major risks without attempting to exact an appropriate price from the US. Though Bush denied Musharraf F-16 aircraft during the Camp David summit, the US subsequently rewarded Pakistan with MNNA status
and arms supplies. That appears to be a down-payment for a future unpublicised service, such as cooperation in the action against Iran. The promised arms or further expectations by General Musharraf may have an impact on Pakistan's attitude in its dialogue with India. There are signs of a hardening of position on certain aspects of the composite dialogue.

This is the kind of issue the National Security Council is expected to tackle. The situation on the ground has to be carefully assessed by collecting intelligence as well as diplomatic views from Washington, Teheran, Moscow, Islamabad and elsewhere. Then the assessment has to be carefully debated among the members of the National Security Council. Such deliberation will be of immense help to the minister of external affairs in his negotiations with Pakistan and dealings with US and Iran.

According to Hersh, the agreement comes at a time when Musharraf, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat, has authorised the expansion of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. "Pakistan needs parts and supplies and needs to buy them in the clandestine market", and the US has done nothing to stop it, Hersh observes. The West European firms dealing with Pakistan and A Q Khan are very limited in number.

They have been carrying on their black market transactions, with their governments looking the other way. Keeping such transactions under surveillance should not be beyond the capacity of other countries concerned with Pakistani proliferation — Israel, for instance. The US will soon have a new secretary of state and national security advisor. It might be desirable for our foreign minister and NSA to meet their counterparts and discuss the post-election situation in Iraq and West Asia."


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