November 30, 2011

TSG Atmospheric: Chinese Chess, Pakistan, and Pipelines




The volatile relationship between Pakistan, the U.S. and NATO took another serious blow this weekend when a NATO air strike hit a Pakistani army checkpoint, killing at least 24 Pakistani military personnel including at least one officer.  Unsurprisingly, there is considerable anger in Pakistan at this attack.  Anti-U.S. feeling among the general public in Pakistan is normally high, and such incidents serve only to increase that feeling.

Pakistan has also indicated that it likely will carry out a broader review of its relationship with NATO and the U.S. which will cover intelligence sharing and diplomatic ties  - we view this with concern as Pakistan has been the source of much intelligence that has helped keep the U.S. and her allies safe in recent years.

A committee headed by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani also decided to cut supply lines to Nato in Afghanistan.  The committee also said the U.S. would be ordered to vacate, within 15 days, the Shamsi air base, one of the locations from which the U.S. launches its much feared Predator drones.  However, we note that Pakistan has made similar demands before and Shamsi may already have been vacated and the drones relocated to airstrips inside Afghanistan at Jalalabad and Kandahar.

Pakistan's government also summoned the U.S. ambassador to account for the actions against the checkpoint, and finally, on 29 November officials said that in protest at the air strike Pakistan would boycott talks on Afghanistan's future.  The Bonn meeting aims to bring together Western and regional leaders to develop a strategy for Afghanistan after the withdrawal of international  forces in 2014.  The rationale of the conference has now been fatally undermined.

Prime Minister Gilani called the attack a "grave infringement of Pakistan's sovereignty" which is the exact form of words used by the Pakistanis following the May 2, 2011 killing of Usama bin Laden (UBL) by Seal Team 6.  Twenty days after that operation, and  in what at the time appeared to be a deliberate snub to the U.S., Pakistan apparently asked China to build a military naval base at its southwestern port of Gwadar in Baluchistan.

At the time we were surprised, as historically China has avoided acts of deliberate alienation  - and this move would have certainly alienated India, and caused strategic alarm in Washington with  the arrival of another naval power in a region that is already full of naval powers. A Pentagon official was quoted by the Financial Times as saying: "We have questions and concerns about this development and [China's] intentions. But that is why we believe it is important to have a healthy, stable and continuous military-to-military relationship."

There remains considerable governmental suspicion in Pakistan about U.S. intentions and objectives - and the extremely powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is foremost amongst those agencies harboring those suspicions - and this colors international, inter-agency cooperation.   Islamabad believes the U.S. favors India over Pakistan -- most notably, by approving civil-nuclear cooperation with India.

Pakistan's military hierarchy is deeply worried that the U.S. aims to dismantle Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.  Given Pakistan's military disadvantage in terms of conventional weapons and size of their armed forces in comparison to its traditional enemy - India - its nuclear arsenal  is considered mission critical to guarantee their national security.  By way of background - in July 2010 a Pew poll of Pakistani attitudes showed that India was regarded as the "greatest threat to Pakistan" by 53% of respondents, as opposed to 23% who named the Taliban.

The military and ISI believe that Washington is working with Pakistan's civilian government to limit the Pakistani military's prerogative in determining Pakistan's national security policies.  This suspicion is also emerging in Cairo, where the Egyptian military are also critically examining Washington's recent comments over transferring power to a civilian administration.

The complexities of operating in this region have over the centuries bedeviled Russia, the British Empire, the U.S., NATO - but its importance in strategic geo-political, security and economic terms means that the worlds' powers have no choice but to try - but U.S. patience may be about to wear thin.  This Soufan Group analysis is set against that context.


This is an excerpt from the full report released to clients.


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