Reports of drone deal with US to go against Musharraf in polls4 min read . Updated: 08 Apr 2013, 11:33 PM IST
The report gives details of the deal that allowed US drones to hunt down a Pakistani national for helping Taliban
New Delhi: Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s chances of winning supporters ahead of the 11 May national polls have suffered a blow, analysts say, with a news report claiming that the government under the former army chief struck a secret deal with the US to allow unmanned aircraft to operate in Pakistan and kill a citizen helping the Taliban.
The report published Monday gives details of the deal that allowed US Predator drones to hunt down the Pakistani national who began by hosting foreign fighters fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of the US and its allies launching a war on terrorism in 2001 but later took to launching attacks on Pakistani military interests besides US bases in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani man killed by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was identified as Nek Muhammed. Under the US-Pakistan deal, clinched in the middle of the last decade, the CIA agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace so that it could use drones to hunt enemies.
The terms of the bargain included Pakistani intelligence officials approving the drone strike, the report said. They also insisted that the drones stick to strict flight paths—narrow parts of the tribal areas— ensuring that they would not cross into territory housing Pakistan’s nuclear facilities and the mountain camps where militants were trained for attacks in India.
The two sides also agreed that the US would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or maintain silence, the report said. Musharraf, who was president from 1999 to 2008, was quoted as telling a CIA officer that “in Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time".
In New Delhi, foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai said India “would need to see whether this report is authentic". Foreign minister Salman Khurshid said, “I wouldn’t want to comment on it (the report) in a premature manner because it may be completely unfounded."
India has counter-terrorism cooperation—intelligence sharing and dialogue—with the US. The government has been asking the US to pressure on Pakistan to shut training camps for militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that target Indian interests and security forces in Kashmir and other parts of the country.
Analyst C. U. Bhaskar, with the South Asia Monitor think-tank, noted that the US “is pursuing its own interests" and there was “a glass ceiling" for the degree to which there could be cooperation on terrorism. “There is no such thing as intelligence sharing when it comes to terrorism," he said. “I think it’s better described as intelligence trading."
In Pakistan, analysts said the report would not do anything to shore up support for Musharraf, who returned to Pakistan on 24 March to contest the 11 May polls.
“He (Musharraf) had no election prospects before. But now (after the New York Times report) it looks worse for him," said political and military analyst Ayesha Siddiqa by phone from Islamabad.
According to Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, “The drone attacks could not have taken place without the Pakistan government’s approval. It’s an insult to intelligence to argue that there was no such deal."
Rais added that there was never much support for Musharraf in Pakistan with many sections in Pakistan suspecting that he was in some way involved with the US. “He had no credibility before but after this (the report) there is less still," he said.
The report published in the New York Times just adds to Musharraf’s problems which include charges of treason for imposing emergency rule and arresting judges during protests in 2007 that ultimately led to his downfall. An AFP report from Islamabad said Pakistan’s top court summoned Musharraf to appear before it on Tuesday and barred him from leaving the country. On Friday, Musharraf’s nomination papers for contesting from Pakistan’s Punjab town of Kasur were rejected. On Sunday, he managed to get approval for contesting from far northern town of Chitral, close to the Afghan border though his papers filed to contest seats in Islamabad and Karachi were rejected due to the number of court cases against him.
Meanwhile, another report on the investigative newswebsite ProPublica highlighted some of the challenges for Pakistan, including the radicalization and militancy, with its report on the LeT which said the group recruited its cadres from the same pool of young men as the Pakistani military. The recruits were well-educated—belying the reasoning that poverty and ignorance were the main causes for extremism, the ProPublica report said. Some of the LeT militants counted among their relatives Pakistani politicians, army officers and officials of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission, it said.
“These are familiar linkages and only highlight the problem of the radicalization of the Pakistani state and the military," Bhaskar said, pointing to the 2011 assassination of Pakistan’s Punjab province governor Salman Taseer by his own security guard for the former’s alleged rejection of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
The ProPublica report is based on 917 biographies of Lashkar militants killed in combat, compiled by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York. It said that the LeT’s huge training apparatus produces militants at an “alarming rate". The average age of a recruit joining training was 17 and in most cases, he was dead by about 21, generally in India or Afghanistan.
The motivation for joining the LeT included the quest for a more meaningful life, admiration for its anti-corruption image and fan obligation to help fellow Muslims, the news report said.