Pakistan’s “jihadi” media daily and weekly publications that advocate holy war against the U.S., India, and Israel now outnumber the combined circulation of the entire English-language press.
Most of them are distributed free outside mosques after Friday prayers. The largest among them is Dharb-e-Momin (The Blow of the Believer).
Pakistan’s Urdu-language media is publishing anti-U.S. stories that are suppressed, or self-censored, in the English newspapers. Security services have spies in newsrooms who tell their bosses what is being planned, and a phone call to the editor follows with suggestions they drop certain stories. They know the foreign communities usually rely solely on Pakistan’s English publications.
Recent examples of double-truck front-page headlines that ran from three to six columns in Jang (Battle), which has a larger circulation than all the English papers combined, and Khabrain (News):
Adm. Shahid Karimullah, the Navy Chief of Staff, says Pakistan got nothing out of its alliance with the U.S. except for beautiful letters expressing admiration [for our cooperation]; U.S. military sanctions against us are yet to be lifted.
U.S. officers raid madrassas [religious schools] in middle of night; Khaista Gul picked up and dumped in forest; no Pakistanis present.
Musharraf says “U.S. threats against Iraq put U.S. Muslims in peril; we’re trying to ensure we’re not next after Iraq. Americans capable of anything.”
FBI continues raids in madrassas and religious institutions.
Action against Pakistanis gathers momentum in U.S.
Entry into Canada becomes more difficult for Pakistanis.
Pakistani journalists ask [Colin] Powell is this what we deserve in return for cooperation? Powell replies, “we’ve done enough for Pakistan.”
Unmentioned is the fact that FBI agents and U.S. military officers do not operate independently in Pakistan. In big-city raids and in mountain operations that straddle the ill-defined Pakistani-Afghan border, U.S. personnel are always accompanied by Pakistani security men.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri spent six days in Washington this week and lodged strong complaints in his meetings with his senior American interlocutors about the arbitrary arrest of Pakistanis visiting their relatives in America. Pakistani Americans are also complaining about Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) harassment.
Pakistanis are fearful of the repercussions that will follow a U.S. invasion of Iraq. “If it’s a short war and a rapid victory, we will have demonstrations that can easily be contained,” said one veteran Pakistani commentator, not for attribution. “But if drags on into a siege of Baghdad with many civilian casualties, all bets are off. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Mohamed Aziz Khan, a well-known Islamist, may even challenge President Musharraf about his alliance with the U.S.”
The nightmare scenario that is unspoken, at least in Pakistan, is of an Islamist general, with the assistance of some of the corps commanders, unseating Pervez Musharraf. Anti-U.S. fundamentalist forces would then inherit Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
This worst-case scenario is what motivated both India and Iran to sign a strategic agreement a week before Iranian President Mohammed Khatami flew to New Delhi for India’s national day. The Indian naval chief and the Iranian defense minister signed the new pact in Tehran. This was a 180-degree turn by Iran, which has been a close ally of Pakistan in recent years. India also has special relationships with Israel and Russia.
The India-Iran strategic partnership will allow India to use Iranian military bases in the event of any outbreak of hostilities with Pakistan. India has also undertaken to sell Iran a range of armaments.
Islamabad was stunned as President Musharraf had raised the possibility of a similar arrangement with Iran’s President Khatami when he visited the Pakistani capital over Christmas.
Both the Bush administration and Mr. Musharraf are left wondering what to do next on the chessboard of the game of nations. The U.S. is anxious to maintain its strategic alliance with Pakistan in the war on terror. But it also wants to remain close to India and its strategic partners. Pakistan will probably opt to deepen its longtime ally China. It may also leverage the new strategic equation to obtain more military hardware from the U.S.
Pakistan sees itself increasingly isolated and surrounded by hostile forces. It already had to man two fronts a 1,800-mile hostile border with nuclear India and a porous 1,520-mile tribal frontier with Afghanistan that is still used by Taliban and al Qaeda guerrillas to harass U.S. forces.
While the U.S. remains obsessed with Iraq, stuff happens.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.