Is there a Pakistan-Saudi nuclear alliance against Iran? – by Bruce Riedel

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Pakistan army chief General Kayani with Saudi army chief General Saleh Al-Muhaya, (9-11-2008) – Photo ISPR

Enduring Allies: Pakistan’s Partnership with Saudi Arabia Runs Deeper
Bruce Riedel
9 December 2011

When Crown Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia died this fall, the first foreign head of state to announce he would attend the funeral was President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan. Accompanying him was the chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the real power in the country.

It was no surprise that Zardari and Kayani would rush to pay their respects to the House of Saud. Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have a longstanding and an intimate relationship. It is one of the most enduring alliances of modern times. They have had a deep strategic military relationship for decades and today, they may have an unacknowledged nuclear partnership to provide the Kingdom with a nuclear deterrent on short notice, if ever needed. Understanding the Saudi-Pakistani relationship is important to understand the future of both the countries, the nuclear balance in both the Near East and South Asia, and the crisis in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia today.

Pakistan has received more aid from Saudi Arabia than any country outside the Arab world since the Sixties. For example, in May 1998 when Pakistan was deciding whether to respond to India’s test of five nuclear weapons, the Saudis promised 50,000 barrels of free oil per day to help it cope with the economic sanctions that might be triggered by the Pakistani counter test. The Saudi oil commitment was a key to then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ’s decision to proceed with testing. It considerably cushioned the subsequent US and EU sanctions on Pakistan. Official aid is matched by large investments from Saudi princes and from religious institutions. Much of the Pakistani madrassa educational system is Saudi-funded by private donors connected to the Kingdom’s powerful Wahhabi clerical establishment. The new Crown Prince, minister of interior, Prince Nayif, is closely tied to these Wahhabi networks.

In turn Pakistan has provided military aid and expertise to the Kingdom for decades. It began with help to the Royal
Saudi Air Force to maintain and pilot its first jet fighters in the Sixties. Paki- stani air Force pilots flew rSaF Light- nings that repulsed a communist South Yemeni incursion into the Kingdom’s southern border in 1969. In the Seven- ties and eighties, up to 15,000 Pakistani troops were stationed in the Kingdom, some in a brigade-sized combat force called the Khaled bin Walid brigade sta- tioned near the Israeli-Jordanian-Saudi border. during the first Gulf war in 1991, a Pakistani brigade guarded the King- dom’s southern flank against Yemen while most of the american, Saudi and other forces faced Iraq in the north. The close ties continue between the militar- ies today. This fall, Saudi and Pakistani troops held joint training manoeuvres in Pakistan.

Economic and military ties are matched by close intelligence and security relations. during the eighties, the Saudis financed more than half of the jihad to support the afghan insurgency against the Soviet 40th army in afghani- stan and worked more closely than any- one else with the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, to support the war effort. Those ties continued in the nineties when the Saudis and Pakistanis assist- ed the Taliban for some time. Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faysal has said, “It’s probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries.”

When former chairman of the joint chiefs admiral Mike Mullen said Pakistan uses the af- ghan Taliban as a ‘strategic tool’ to fight NATO in afghanistan, Kayani immedi- ately dispatched the head of the ISI to Riyadh to confer with the Saudis.

The two Sunni states also share a con- cern about Shia Iran. Both seek to keep ties with Teheran as normal as possible but both have a deep fear that Iran might encourage unrest in their Shia minorities. Both have had serious frictions with Iran in the past and work to- gether to minimise Iranian influence in the region. a nuclear Iran worries both its neighbours to the south and to the east. The Wikileaks have dramatically shown how worried King Abdallah bin abdul aziz is about the Iranian bomb and his requests that america strike the head of the Persian snake sooner rather than later.

Enter the Bomb
Shortly after Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons in 1998, Prince Sultan (who was minister of defence and aviation from 1962 until his death) visited Paki- stan and toured its nuclear and missile facilities outside Islamabad. Pakistan’s famous a.q. Khan provided some of the colour commentary for these unprec- edented tours. at that time, uS officials expressed concern that the Pakistanis might be providing a nuclear weapon to the Saudis. In its 10 July 1999 edition, new York Times carried an article by Jane Perlez titled, ‘Saudis Visit to arms Site in Pakistan Worries uS’. Saudi connections with Pakistan’s nuclear pro- gramme go back further. Prime Minis- ter Zulfikar ali Bhutto sought financial help for the programme from Saudi arabia in the early Seventies, according to some accounts. Then King Faysal of Saudi Arabia provided some money in return for a promise that Pakistan’s nu- clear programme would provide a security umbrella for the Kingdom. Bhutto repaid the favour by renaming a city in the King’s honour, Faisalabad.

After Sharif ’s ouster in a coup by Pervez Musharraf in 1999, he went into exile to Saudi Arabia, an agreement negotiated by myself for the Clinton administration to forestall Nawaz’s execution. The deal was arranged with the influence of Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar, Sultan’s son. Saudi Arabia provided sanctuary in exile to Sharif until he went home in 2007 and heavily funds his political party today. The nuclear relationship continued and matured under Musharraf. In October 2003, then Crown Prince Abdallah visited Pakistan for a state visit. Several experts reported after the trip that a secret agreement was concluded that would ensure Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with nuclear technology and a bomb if Saudi Arabia felt threatened by a third party nuclear programme in the future. Both countries, of course, denied the stories.

Assuming an agreement exists, it is likely the two have practiced the deployment of Pakistani warheads to Saudi Arabia for use with Saudi delivery systems. It would also make sense for RSAF and Pakistani pilots to jointly train for their use. More frequent exercises would help assure Riyadh that it can count on Islamabad in a crisis and that any deal is for real. Saudi Arabia’s Chinese-made intermediate range missiles, now increasingly obsolete, are also widely assumed to be a possible delivery system for Pakistani warheads in a crisis.

It was, of course, former Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bi Sultan, who arranged their purchase. Pakistan produces its own IRBM, the Ghauri named after a famous Muslim warrior in the subcontinent, and the Saudis may have access to these as well.

Some reports allege the RSAF keeps a couple of aircraft permanently deployed in Pakistan to be able to deliver the bomb to Riyadh on short notice if the King asks for them. It is impossible to know if these reports have any veracity
but the idea makes sense.

Despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to build ties with the Saudis (his first visit to an Arab capital as President was to Riyadh), the royal family has soured on the President. They believe he has promised but not delivered on the Israeli-Palestinian process and done too little to counter Iran, especially in Bahrain.

They were shocked that Obama did not stand by Mubarak to the bitter end. While the Saudis know they cannot ignore Washington, they are looking for alternatives to the east.

Abdallah has turned back to Islamabad for contingency support. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, now national security advisor, travelled to Islamabad in late March to raise the prospect of a return engagement for the Pakistani Army.
Islamabad was quick to say yes. Long before the Bandar trip, a Pakistani battalion was already in Bahrain to back up
the Khalifas if needed. Other Pakistani advisors or retired officers man much of the armed forces of the UAE , Qatar and Oman. All are recruiting heavily in Pakistan today to build up anti-riot forces.

Does Saudi Arabia have a secret commitment from Pakistan for nuclear weapons if the Kingdom feels threatened by Iran? The answer is we don’t know but there is considerable evidence to suggest Riyadh and Islamabad have at least discussed such an understanding.

If they have, then the Pakistan-Saudi nuclear alliance adds new perspective on their bilateral relationship, their
individual nuclear programmes and the regional implications of Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Both states are confronting enormous and unprecedented challenges. The Saudis are living in an Arab world which is in turmoil. Old allies are gone. Civil war threats in Yemen and Shia unrest in Bahrain has forced Saudi military intervention for the first time in a Gulf Cooperation Council state. And ties with the US are strained. Pakistan faces the worst internal violence in its history as jihadist groups wage war against the State even as the army provides sanctuary and support to other jihadists. The Zardari government is intimidated by the army and the ISI. And Pakistani-American relations are in free fall with no bottom in sight yet. In this environment Riyadh and Rawalpindi look to old friends more than ever.

(The writer is a senior fellow in the Saban Centre at the Brookings Institution. He is a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, advisor to four American Presidents in the White House and the author of Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad)


12 Comments to “Is there a Pakistan-Saudi nuclear alliance against Iran? – by Bruce Riedel”

  1. Press Release
    No PR10/2008-ISPR Dated: November 9, 2008
    Rawalpindi – November 9, 2008:
    The Chief of Army staff , General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who is on an official visit to Saudi Arabia today visited Ministry of Defence and called on General Saleh Bin Ali Bin Muhammad Al-Muhaya, Chief of General Staff Royal Saudi Land Forces. Matters of professional interest and cooperation were discussed during the meeting.

    Earlier, on arrival at the Ministry of Defence he was presented guard of honour. Later, COAS called on His highness Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, Minister of Interior. Saudi Minister extended a warm welcome to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. During a detailed meeting both sides reaffirmed to further enhance unique and special relationship between both the brotherly countries. Prince Muhammad Bin Naif reiterated the resolve of Saudi government and its people to stand by Pakistan and its people during all times.

    COAS also visited Armed Forces Staff College where he was given detailed briefing. He appreciated the standard of training and education being imparted.

  2. The latest U.S. intelligence shows that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is closer to 200 weapons than the 60 commonly accepted.
    There is also deepening concern about the direction Saudi Arabia is taking as it is increasingly skeptical of U.S. power and the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
    Prince Turki Al Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and a former ambassador to the United States, says Saudi Arabia cannot stand still if Iran develops a nuclear capability.
    On Tuesday, Turki signaled a new Saudi nuclear option: “If our efforts, and the efforts of the world community, fail to convince Israel to shed its weapons of mass destruction and to prevent Iran from obtaining similar weapons, we must as a duty to our country and people, look into all options we are given, including obtaining these weapons ourselves.”
    It isn’t inconceivable that Pakistan would sell one or several nuclear warheads to Saudi Arabia. This was first discussed in 2006 when Saudi King Abdallah and an entourage of some 200 in two Boeing 747s flew into Islamabad for 24 hours.

  3. Saudi Arabia urges US attack on Iran to stop nuclear programme
    • Embassy cables show Arab allies want strike against Tehran
    • Israel prepared to attack alone to avoid its own 9/11
    • Iranian bomb risks ‘Middle East proliferation, war or both’

    reddit this
    Ian Black and Simon Tisdall, Sunday 28 November 2010

    King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.

    The revelations, in secret memos from US embassies across the Middle East, expose behind-the-scenes pressures in the scramble to contain the Islamic Republic, which the US, Arab states and Israel suspect is close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities has hitherto been viewed as a desperate last resort that could ignite a far wider war.

    The Saudi king was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”, one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.

    The cables also highlight Israel’s anxiety to preserve its regional nuclear monopoly, its readiness to go it alone against Iran – and its unstinting attempts to influence American policy. The defence minister, Ehud Barak, estimated in June 2009 that there was a window of “between six and 18 months from now in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable”. After that, Barak said, “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”

    The leaked US cables also reveal that:

    • Officials in Jordan and Bahrain have openly called for Iran’s nuclear programme to be stopped by any means, including military.

    • Leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as “evil”, an “existential threat” and a power that “is going to take us to war”.

    • Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, warned in February that if diplomatic efforts failed, “we risk nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, war prompted by an Israeli strike, or both”.

    • Major General Amos Yadlin, Israeli’s military intelligence chief, warned last year: “Israel is not in a position to underestimate Iran and be surprised like the US was on 11 September 2001.”

    Asked for a response to the statements, state department spokesman PJ Crowley said today it was US policy not to comment on materials, including classified documents, which may have been leaked.

    Iran maintains that its atomic programme is designed to supply power stations, not nuclear warheads. After more than a year of deadlock and stalling, a fresh round of talks with the five permanent members of the UN security council plus Germany is due to begin on 5 December.

    But in a meeting with Italy’s foreign minister earlier this year, Gates said time was running out. If Iran were allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, the US and its allies would face a different world in four to five years, with a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. King Abdullah had warned the Americans that if Iran developed nuclear weapons “everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia”.

    America is not short of allies in its quest to thwart Iran, though some are clearly more enthusiastic than the Obama administration for a definitive solution to Iran’s nuclear designs. In one cable, a US diplomat noted how Saudi foreign affairs bureaucrats were moderate in their views on Iran, “but diverge significantly from the more bellicose advice we have gotten from senior Saudi royals”.

    In a conversation with a US diplomat, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain “argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their [Iran’s] nuclear programme, by whatever means necessary. That programme must be stopped. The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” Zeid Rifai, then president of the Jordanian senate, told a senior US official: “Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.”

    In talks with US officials, Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed favoured action against Iran, sooner rather than later. “I believe this guy is going to take us to war … It’s a matter of time. Personally, I cannot risk it with a guy like [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. He is young and aggressive.”

    In another exchange , a senior Saudi official warned that Gulf states may develop nuclear weapons of their own, or permit them to be based in their countries to deter the perceived Iranian threat.

    No US ally is keener on military action than Israel, and officials there have repeatedly warned that time is running out. “If the Iranians continue to protect and harden their nuclear sites, it will be more difficult to target and damage them,” the US embassy reported Israeli defence officials as saying in November 2009.

    There are differing views within Israel. But the US embassy reported: “The IDF [Israeli Defence Force], however, strikes us as more inclined than ever to look toward a military strike, whether launched by Israel or by us, as the only way to destroy or even delay Iran’s plans.” Preparations for a strike would likely go undetected by Israel’s allies or its enemies.

    The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told US officials in May last yearthat he and the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, agreed that a nuclear Iran would lead others in the region to develop nuclear weapons, resulting in “the biggest threat to non-proliferation efforts since the Cuban missile crisis”.

    The cables also expose frank, even rude, remarks about Iranian leaders, their trustworthiness and tactics at international meetings. Abdullah told another US diplomat: “The bottom line is that they cannot be trusted.” Mubarak told a US congressman: “Iran is always stirring trouble.” Others are learning from what they describe as Iranian deception. “They lie to us, and we lie to them,” said Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim Jaber al-Thani.

  4. King Abdullah, the great-grandson of Abu Jahl – by Omar Khattab

    Wikileaks have made it clear what the world already knew: That King Abdullah, the notorious womanizer-cum-custodian of the Ka’aba carries on the work of King Fahad the boozer who, in turn, continued the task which was initiated by the ancestor of the House of Saud. This unenviable task is to create mischief in the world. The Prophet Muhammad repeatedly cursed his arch enemy Abu Jahl. Abu Jahl means the Father of Ignorance.

    While the scions of the House of Saud continue to patronize brothels and casinos all over the world, King Abdullah, notorious for marrying young women until he took over as King, has been trying to bring immense destruction to the world. The House of Saud has been corrupting the world through building Wahabi centers (called mosques) in the Western world and madrassas in Muslim countries. Some of Wahabism’s proudest products are the Taliban and the al-Qaeda.

    Since he took over after the death of his insane brother King Fahad, King Abdullah has pumped in billions in spreading Wahabism which is an ideology of bloodlust. Not content with the mad desire to conquer the world, he wants to destroy what he cannot conquer. He wants Iran destroyed and its people killed by the millions.

    Everyone knows what will happen if the United States or Israel destroys Iran’s nuclear facilities: millions of Iranians will die as a result, and the long-term effects of such an attack will be disastrous too because the destroyed uranium will destroy Iran’s environment and that of the whole region.

    Being the Abu Jahl of modern times, King Abdullah doe not realize that if he succeeds in having Iran destroyed, his own country will not be spared. But he does not care. He and the debauch sons of the House of Saud have stashed billions of dollars in American banks, the money they have stolen from the people of the country they have been ruling like hungry hyenas amongst gazelles. They will run away to the States with the money not realizing, the House of Saud being the House of Ignorance, that peaceful coexistence is more lasting than insanity of warfare.


    Who is Supporting Jundullah’s Terror Campaign and Why?

    Balaji Chandramohan

    November 6, 2009
    On October 18, 2009, a suicide attack killed 42 people in the province, including members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and injured another 150. Jundallah – the rebel Sunni organization, claimed responsibility for the attack which was confirmed by the Iranian intelligence agency. The group is fighting for the rights of Iran’s roughly 4 million Balochs, who, it claims, have been suppressed by the Shi’ite regime in Tehran.

    The October 18 attack was the second largest attack carried by Jundallah this year. Earlier, on May 28, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the Ameer al-Momenin mosque in Zahedan, capital of Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, killing 25 people. This attack was to protest against a regime-imposed festival to mark the martyrdom of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima – an ancient dispute between the Shias and Sunnis. The Zahedan attack itself followed months of other subversive activities by Jundullah inside Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan, including the kidnap of 21 Iranian truck drivers in August 2007 into Pakistan, the kidnap of Iranian border troops 16 of whom were executed on camera in December 2008, and the first suicide bombing in Iran’s history in December 2008. Jundullah’s hand was also suspected in the November 2008 kidnap of an Iranian diplomat in Peshawar.

    Iran has accused Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States of engaging in covert funding of the Jundallah. Iranian Interior Minister Heydar Moslehi has said that Iran has given credible proof of the ISI’s involvement in the attack carried on October 18. Evidently, Pakistan would benefit from fuelling Sunni sectarian violence in Sistan-Baluchistan for three reasons. One, though Iran and Pakistan have maintained friendly official ties, Pakistan’s Sunni Taliban extremists have long resented the Shia regime. The Shi’ite-Sunni sectarian divide between Pakistan and Iran, which was obvious during the Afghan civil war in which both sides supported their respective proxies (the Taliban by Pakistan and the Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks by Iran), persists to date and Pakistan’s support for Jundullah is seen by Iran as an extension of this game. In fact, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks in the United States, Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, is a Baluch from Pakistan who is alleged to have had ties to radical Sunni Baluch groups some of which have assimilated into the Jundullah. Pakistan’s track record of supporting jihadist forces in its quest for regional influence indicates that it is unlikely to shy away from supporting the Jundullah against Iran.

    Secondly, sectarian violence could be a means to weaken Iran’s position in negotiations on the nuclear issue, with Pakistan doing the American bidding and earning brownie points with the United States in the process. Third, Pakistan as a Sunni majority nation would be interested in containing the rise of the Shias headed by Iran. This also ties in well with the interests of Arab countries and Saudi Arabia in particular which fears the rise of Iran as an alternative power in the region. Evidently, Sunni Arab states are worried about Iran’s rising influence in regional affairs as evident from Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine. And they decry Iran’s growing influence in “Arab affairs”. Recently, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states accused Iran of meddling in Yemen where the Shia population has been protesting against the Sunni regime. Saudi Arabia has been actively pushing back against Iran, for example by funding the March 14 coalition against the Iran-backed Hezbollah coalition in Lebanon’s recent parliamentary elections. In this context, support by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni nations for Sunni extremism aimed at Iran makes sense.

    Jundallah is based in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and is active in the Baluchi areas of Iran and Pakistan as well as in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan. From its base in Pakistan’s Baluchistan, Jundallah has had opportunities to forge cooperative ties not only with the ISI but also with the Taliban as well as with the intelligence services of other countries interested in stoking anti-Iranian activism. Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service in particular has had long-standing collaboration with the ISI as well as a track record of dealing with Sunni Islamist groups operating out of Pakistan. Moreover, it appears that the Obama administration may have inherited the Bush administration sponsored Central Intelligence Agency role in supporting Iran’s Baluchi, Kurdish and Arab minorities to undermine the Iranian Republic. Though Washington was quick to condemn the October 18 attack as an “act of terrorism,” it is not clear whether the Obama administration has scrapped the George W. Bush policy especially considering that supporting the Jundullah provides it with a rare leverage in dealing with Iran.

  6. Pakistan army actively assisted the Saudi-UAE armies and the CIA in using Shamsi air base to spy on Iran. Some of the spy drones against Iran were flying from Pakistan’s Shamsi base. Shamsi base is one hundred miles east of the Iranian border, and is ideally located for spying onIran. It enabled the United States to conduct spying and covert intelligence missions into and around Iran.Washington and Saudi Arabia considerTehran as its foremost foe, and used Shamsi base to gather vital intelligence information about Iran.

  7. This explains why Hamid Mir and other patent propagandists of ISI are these days giving pro-Iran statements. A cover up for the secret Saudi-Pakistan nuclear alliance against Iran.

  8. ‘Pasha sought Arab approval to oust Zardari’

    In a claim that is all but guaranteed to send further shock waves ripping through Pakistan’s corridors of power, British newspaper The Independent said in an article published on Wednesday that the ‘evidence’ offered by Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, a central figure in the memogate controversy, in support of his allegations also revealed a second clandestine, rival plot to remove President Asif Ali Zardari from office.
    The article quotes a section of the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) conversation where Ijaz informs the recipient on the other end – he claims that it was Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani – that “senior Arab leaders” had given the green light for Zardari to be evicted from the Presidency, merely hours after the memo highlighting the president’s own plight with the
    Pakistani military was delivered to Admiral Mike Mullen, seeking help from the US to rein in an army furious at the May 2 US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. “I was just informed by senior US intel that GD-SII Mr P asked for, and received permission, from senior Arab leaders a few days ago to sack Z. For what its worth,” Ijaz writes in a message on May 10 according to The Independent. “In his hasty typing, where he manages to turn ‘DG-ISI’ into an anagram, Ijaz was saying that top American spooks have told him that Lieut. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha secured a green light from Gulf potentates to overthrow the government,” says the article.
    Ijaz told the newspaper in a phone interview from London a few days ago that when the memo was being written, he wanted to independently verify whether the Zardari government was really in trouble.
    “One of the things I had done,” he explained, “was to make sure that a senior person that I know in US intelligence would have had the opportunity to review what was about to sent over.” This, he said, was why Leon Panetta came to know of the memo, hinting at a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) link.


    Pakistan’s “Memogate”: Was there ever going to be a coup?
    By Omar Waraich
    The Foreign Desk – International dispatches from Independent correspondents –
    Tuesday, 13 December 2011 at 7:35 pm

    For all the fevered discussion about Memogate, one of the most arresting claims to emerge seems to have evaded even the faintest scrutiny. In the very evidence Mansoor Ijaz marshaled before the Pakistani public, he says there was a second, rival plot, set in train during the very same days in early May. It, too, involves a senior Pakistani official reaching out to foreign allies in a similarly abortive bid to take on a powerful institution back home.

    About a quarter of the way down the purported BBM exchange between Ijaz and Husain Haqqani, the American businessman proffers an eyebrow-elevating tip. Some hours after the memo was delivered, Ijaz tells his alleged co-conspirator that he has learned of a clandestine effort to evict Asif Ali Zardari from Islamabad’s presidential palace.

    “I was just informed by senior US intel,” Ijaz writes in a message on May 10, “that GD-SII Mr P asked for, and received permission, from senior Arab leaders a few days ago to sack Z. For what its worth.” It’s worth a great deal, if only because it carries the same weight as what else appears in the apparently incriminating exchange. In his hasty typing, where he manages to turn “DG-ISI” into an anagram, Ijaz was saying that top American spooks have told him that Lieut. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha secured a green light from Gulf potentates to overthrow the government.

    Intrigued, I asked Ijaz to furnish some context. When the memo was being crafted, he told me in a telephone interview some days ago, he wanted to independently verify whether the Zardari government was truly imperiled. “One of the things I had done,” he explained over his London cell phone, “was to make sure that a senior person that I know in US intelligence would have had the opportunity to review what was about to sent over.” This, he added, was why Leon Panetta came to know of the memo, hinting at a CIA link.

    Ijaz said he felt the measure was necessary “to make sure that there was nothing we were doing that was against US interests.” The well-placed source got back to him about a day later. “And the person told me,” Ijaz said, “that their information was that Pasha had traveled to a few of the Arab countries to talk about what would be necessary to do in the event they had to remove Zardari from power and so forth.”

    Did he find the information credible? “Of course I thought it was credible,” Ijaz replied, slightly exasperated by the question. “I wouldn’t have repeated it if I didn’t. When I say, ‘a senior intel source,’ I mean senior,” he said, laying stress on the last word. Based on what his source told him, Ijaz said he had “confirmation that there was a real threat there at some point.”

    The question of whether the shadow of a coup ever fell on the early days of May lies at the very root of Memogate and remains unresolved. Ijaz has claimed that coup jitters spurred Haqqani into action. Indeed, all claims in this regard emanate from Ijaz. They appeared in his column on the pink pages of the FT and in the memo that he dispatched. Haqqani, by contrast, denies there was ever talk of a fourth phase of Pakistani military rule. The army and the ISI, at least on this occasion, won’t disagree with the former ambassador.

    And judging by the government’s reaction at the time, the need never arose. Before the memo even reached Admiral Mullen’s inbox, Yousaf Raza Gilani had already bellowed his support of Pakistan’s military-led spies. “Indeed, the ISI is a national asset and has the full support of the government,” the prime minister told parliament on May 10. “We are proud of its considerable achievements…” Gilani also failed to call for the “independent inquiry” floated in the memo, handing the responsibility instead to the army’s adjutant general. And a day later, the prime minister told me that the government, the army and the ISI were “all on the same page.”

    So, the only one claiming that Gen Pasha was busily touring Arab capitals enlisting support for a coup is his London host. Like other allegations made in the Memogate affair, it rests on Ijaz’s credibility. If he is telling the truth, and his entire account is to be accepted, then both Haqqani and Gen Pasha were involved in shadowy schemes that merit further inquiry. And in each case, questions will inevitably arise about how much their respective bosses knew.

    We already know that Ijaz has at least been right about Haqqani’s travel itinerary. The former envoy concedes that he was in London on the dates his accuser mentions. Gen Pasha’s movements are more opaque. According to news reports of May 7 – two days before Ijaz alleges Haqqani contacted him – the spy chief slipped out of Pakistan that day for “a sudden foreign visit”. The Nation newspaper, among others, reported that its sources said the “ISI chief’s visit could be to China, Saudi Arabia and UAE where he is expected to meet senior defence and military officials of these countries to brief Pakistan’s stance.”

    Even if Gen Pasha did travel to these countries, two of which clearly qualify as homes to “Arab rulers,” perhaps nothing unseemly took place. Perhaps all that was discussed, quite appropriately, was Pakistan’s reaction to the bin Laden raid. But if Ijaz is wrong about the nature of Gen Pasha’s trip, then his other claims begin to crumble. It becomes very difficult to sustain the argument that he was telling the truth about Haqqani but lying about Gen Pasha.

  9. Amir Mir writes: While the authenticity of Mansoor Ijaz’s old but regurgitated allegation against the ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, that he had sought a green signal from an Arab country to sack President Asif Zardari, seems doubtful, the fact remains that the ruler of an Arab country had once described President Asif Zardari as “the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress”.

    The ruler was quoted as saying in a November 29, 2010 report in New York Times [while talking about President Zardari]: “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.”

    In the cables released by Wikileaks, the whistle-blower, disclosed that speaking to another Iraqi official about Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, the Arab ruler said: “You and Iraq are in my heart, but that man is not.” The Arab ruler then called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress.

    On the other hand, however, the fact remains that for long, the said Arab country has been one of the two foreign hands (the other being the United States) rocking the cradle of the Pakistani politics, brokering truce among warring political leaders, providing asylum to those exiled by military establishments and lavishing funds on a state strapped for cash.

  10. Iran demands Afghanistan block US from using its bases for drone flights over Iran
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    By Associated Press, Published: December 15

    TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s foreign minister demanded Thursday that Afghanistan stop allowing the U.S. to use bases in the country to launch drone flights over Iran, the official IRNA news agency reported.

    Iran has displayed a pilotless American aircraft it says was forced to land two weeks ago during a mission over Iran. The U.S. says it went down because of a malfunction.

    “We have demanded the government of Afghanistan study the case seriously and not allow such an incident to happen anymore, otherwise it will be seen as an unfriendly act,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said, according to the report.

    He also urged all of Iran’s neighbors not to allow the United States to “misuse” their lands and airspace.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday that the U.S. will continue the operations.

    Speaking at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Panetta said the operations were part of U.S. efforts to defend both Afghanistan and the U.S. homeland and involve “important intelligence operations which we will continue to pursue.”

    Karzai, meanwhile, said Afghanistan doesn’t want to be involved in any “adversarial relations” between the U.S. and Iran.

    Earlier this week, Iran summoned an Afghan envoy to protest the violation of its airspace by the U.S. surveillance drone.

    Iran has said the unmanned aircraft was detected over the eastern town of Kashmar, some 140 miles (225 kilometers) from the border with Afghanistan.

    The RQ-170 Sentinel drone was lost over Iran two weeks ago. Iranian state television broadcast video of Iranians inspecting the aircraft, which was largely intact.

    Iran has called the operation an “invasion and hostile act” and rejected a U.S. demand for returning the drone.

    Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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