Tahir Sarwar Mir’s rebuttal to Shaheen Sehbai’s column

Tahir Sarwar Mir’s rebuttal to an op-ed by the veteran CIA agent Shaheen Sehbai (The News):

Shaheen Sehbai’s article is here:
Zardari on his own after US pulls support

Monday, December 14, 2009

By Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON: The State Department, specifically Hillary Clinton, has almost categorically declared that they are no longer interested in saving President Asif Ali Zardari if he falls in his current battle for survival, waging in the superior courts of Pakistan. But the message Pakistanis have been sent is to get over with the in-house turmoil and transition as quickly as possible to stabilise the democratic system and focus on the war on terror.

When Ms Clinton claims that she has “no preferences” in Pakistan, it is a clear signal that Zardari is no longer the choice and Washington would shed no tears if he was to be consumed by the current judicial and accountability process. Clinton and all other spokesmen, however, stress repeatedly that they want the system to continue and make its own corrections.

This message from Washington is also accompanied by a quiet but significant reshuffle within the Obama administration, especially dealing the AfPak policy. Richard Holbrooke, who was the point man and spearhead, is no longer in that driving seat and others are calling the shots.

There is a strong feeling that many assessments and evaluations of Holbrooke about Pakistan, Zardari, the Chief Justice and Mian Nawaz Sharif turned out to be wrong and Washington had to face the embarrassment finding itself on the wrong side of the fence and the popular tide.

The Holbrooke camp in the State Department, insiders revealed, was banking too much on the assessments and claims of some Pakistani diplomats and pro-Zardari analysts in the US think tanks. The views of these people were given too much weight while other voices which differed were stifled. Thus a policy emerged, which was based on biased opinions and wishful thinking of some excited diplomats who saw Pakistani politics from their own prism while sitting away from the country and refusing to even visit the actual ground to know the new realities emerging there.

There was a big section of policymakers at Foggy Bottom, the nick name for the State Department, who were worried about the independent analysis and comments in the Pakistani media, which differed widely with the assessments of Pakistanis living in Washington. These media analysts were trashed and rubbished before the US officials but when things started to happen as predicted by these media pundits, officials were taken by surprise.

The unexpected release of the lists of the corrupt with an officially certified stamp shocked many. Despite political pressures on bureaucrats, especially in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and FIA, the lists were not trimmed or tailored and even details of dirty money were given to the superior courts, which left an impression in Washington that the grip of the Zardari group had weakened and some other power centres were playing a balancing and much-needed stabilising role from behind the scene.

According to an informed insider, the National Security team of President Obama was often found wondering what was going on as President Zardari was showing a bewildering lack of interest in running the country when major military operations were launched against the terrorists in Swat, Malakand and Waziristan.

“At times, they were so baffled they would ask us where our president was as his foreign tours were never ending and even the itinerary was not officially announced. So when one leg of the tour would end, officials would be wondering where the president might pop up now. In one visit while he was leaving the US, he did not return to Islamabad for 16 days and was flying off to unannounced destinations, mostly for business deals,” a source, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

All this lack of focus and attention, coupled with the growing political and media clamour to chop some heads for massive corruption, which had re-emerged as issue number one after the Zardari regime failed to handle the NRO in parliament and the courts kept insisting that they would not allow this bad law to survive, the Washington minds started changing fast, sources say.

The main issue worrying the US policymakers has been how quick and smooth the transition would be, if Zardari was knocked out of the system by the courts or his powers were substantially cut, how much stress and strain the democratic set-up would be subjected to and whether it would survive the shocks. More importantly, who would be the major players to step up and take charge to keep the system going while dealing with the aftershocks of a Zardari knockout.

Insiders say for a while the US leadership was looking at Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as a stabilising factor because he had maintained his liaison with the opposition leader Mian Nawaz Sharif while keeping himself away, tactfully, from the damage the scrapping of the NRO would cause within the top PPP leadership.

But with the Zardari camp getting prematurely restless, or pre-emptively striking first, and launching the Sindh Card under the garb of a Topi campaign, US thinkers and evaluators are worried that the transition would not be non-violent. They think Gilani would not be allowed to take charge unless he continued to play second fiddle to Zardari but that would not change the equation.

The Sindh Card is not considered as a major threat in Washington because whatever rumpus has been generated by loyal friends and cronies of the president has been limited only to these few individuals and none of the mainstream PPP leaders have joined the Topi-Ajrak campaign. Gathering a few hundred or a few thousand people on the roads is not considered to be a major sign of success, given the support and backing of the administrative machinery. It is also viewed as a sign of weakness that people like Zulfikar Mirza, one of the top three accomplices of Zardari, has been shouting threats and warnings at the media and other individuals, without apparently any serious provocation. “The sense of insecurity appears to be much greater than it actually may be,” was one comment.

In this scenario, the sudden U-turn by President Zardari to turn to Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, a hitherto shunned and discarded leader of the PPP, has also caught the attention of US decision makers. The top think tanks in Washington have kept a close eye on the career of Chaudhry Aitzaz for a long time and at every time of leadership crisis in the PPP, he has been weighed and assessed as an alternative. So again, he has come on the radar at this time as he is seen as a uniter and not a divider like Zardari.

An important member of the think tank community revealed an interesting episode with Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan in mid 2006 when he was visiting Washington and suddenly there was an interest in the decision makers to meet and assess him as a potential leader for Pakistan. At that time, General Musharraf was strong and looking for options to strike a deal with PPP minus Benazir. The meeting was arranged by some friends of Ahsan at a Virginia home and some 10-12 top think tank guys and some 2-3 mysterious but serious looking fellows with some funny visiting cards also turned up to talk to this barrister from Pakistan. An eyewitness said it was like a 90-minute job interview for Pakistan’s top slot and Chaudhry Aitzaz impressed everyone.

But there was a problem in that session, the eyewitness recalled. “A former PPP senator who drove Mr Ahsan to the interview site was also present and the US guys had not anticipated his presence. So the talk was mostly general and Chaudhry Aitzaz was very guarded. As expected, the news quickly traveled to Benazir Bhutto who was reportedly very angry with Aitzaz Ahsan. More such sessions were also planned by the US side but whether they materialised later is not known.

Given such US interest in Aitzaz, it may not be beyond the capacity of Zardari’s handlers in Washington or this side of the Atlantic that they may have pushed him to patch up with Aitzaz Ahsan as a consensus candidate to keep the democratic system going while he himself may be forced to take a back seat if the excited courts and judges knock him out of the real power game. Their real interest is that a stable, credible and effectively political and democratic government runs Pakistan and helps them fight the AfPak war. Mr Zardari, it appears, has been written off, as he cannot deliver this US target.

A comment by Jazoo:

What a shame article by Sehbai probably on CIA payroll.

Washington think this and that about this and that Pakistani.

This journalist and many like him have decided we are a helpless nation our top decision making would be done by Washington and he is excited so is nota and probably I am also excited that Washington at last thinking our way because our so called national existence depends on Washington mood.

We are a slave nation and we are proud to be one.

No other country EXCEPT Pakistan is as submissive as we are shamelessly willing to be led by Masa.

We are left with no pride…we always ask USA to fix the problem of Kashmir like a primary school students asking his teacher for a pee….though India and USA both laugh at us.

Lebanon probably half the size of Karachi without a well established Army is hard to be dictated by USA on their internal affairs is more free and more respected than Nuclear Pakistan with 5th largest and well disciplined Army.

When Sehbai talk like this he does not even feel theres something terribly wrong in his submissive and slavish approach….This we call a nation without conscience and self integrity.

I have not read every article from Irfan Siddiqui and Haroon Rasheed but I am confident it will be hard to find our national dependency on Washington mood in their writings.

I must clarify why I think Sehbai is on CIA payroll.
When Zardari was in jail Sehbai was one of few who frequently visit Zardari in jail.

Sehbai knew then and now that Zardari was more corrupt than he was accused of.

Then probably CIA was planning to make him a leader to replace Benazir…..Now CIA planning to replace him as used tissue and Sehbai exactly doing what he is expected to do.



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