Adnkronos International (AKI), the Italian news agency, reports that the U.S., in the person of Hillary Clinton, pressured Hamid Karzai rival Abdullah Abdullah to drop out of the presidential race. The way AKI describes it, this was the biggest foreign policy coup of the Obama administration to date.
It was a four-or-more-way swindle in which the U.S. swung its full support behind Karzai, the Pakistani military agreed to make peace with the Taliban, and the Indians withdrew their troops from the Kashmir region. The $1.5 billion annual aid package we’re giving Pakistan was mentioned in the story, and probably had something to do with the transaction, if the story is true.
The Asia Times online ran a similar story, which says, "In exchange for the pullout of the non-Pashtun Abdullah, Pakistan’s military has agreed to actively mediate between Washington and the Taliban over a reconciliation plan that will allow the U.S. to exit from Afghanistan, as it is doing in Iraq, with a semblance of success."
Don’t get the impression that the Asia Times story corroborates the AKI story. Both stories were written by Syed Saleem Shahzad, who is the Pakistan bureau chief for the Asia Times and the South Asia correspondent for AKI.
Nobody else in the media appears to be following this narrative line. That doesn’t mean Shahzad isn’t telling the truth. But it’s a far different story from the one we’re hearing from other sources.
Jacob Heilbrunn of The National Interest says Hillary is a nebbish, but that she managed to make it loud and clear that the U.S. is exasperated with Pakistan when she took her trip to the country and had her little argument with the professional women there.
The most maddening aspect of our age is that with more information available than ever before, it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on.
If Shahzad is right, or even in the ballpark, the Obama administration is pulling some serious wheels-within-wheels political maneuvering that pulls the rug out from under the Pentagon’s media campaign to escalate the Afghanistan conflict into a 50-year Long War.
Is the Obama administration really that clever? I doubt it. But we’ll see.
If Shahzad’s story is true, then Hillary pulled some moves both smooth and fast. For starters, she cut through the red tape and dealt with the real power in the Pakistan, Pakistan’s military. That’s remarkable, if America’s chief diplomat essentially recognized a shadow government. But hey, whatever works.
Shahzad says that Hillary met with chief of army staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, and the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha. (This is according to a "senior Pakistani diplomat.") This meeting brought about the decision to kick Abdullah to the curb and give Karzai Washington’s full backing for another five-year term.
Also acknowledged in the meeting, as Shahzad tells it, is that "Washington’s political leadership, like the Pentagon, now accepts that the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan is best tackled with contact between the Pakistan armed forces and the Taliban, and not by the political governments of the region."
That statement is a tad funky. It implies that Hillary was acting in concert with the Pentagon, and that the Pentagon has thrown Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s proposal to stage a full bull counterinsurgency operation on behalf of the Karzai regime under the Hummer.
In his Asia Times piece, Shahzad says that the Pakistani military decided "that Clinton’s visit was a good opportunity for it to impress on her the importance of the men in uniform, and that without the support of the army, any political administration is a lame duck."
"Once Clinton sat down with the military bosses, it was made clear she was talking to the real players; she ended up speaking for hours with Kiani, and the meeting endorsed the role of the Pakistan army from Islamabad to Kabul in the coming months," Shahzad writes.
Washington is ready, says Shahzad, to see Pakistan’s President Zardari "sidelined." That would be a radical departure from the AfPak strategy the White House outlined in March, a major stated objective of which was "assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan."
Then again, it sounds like that strategy has been thrown under the Hummer, too.
The fascinating aspect of Shahzad’s narrative is that it sounds crazy as a coot and yet makes perfect sense. The course McChrystal proposes pursuing in AfPak is perfectly stupid. We’re poised to send tens of thousands more young military persons there to protect Afghans from people they’re related to in order to make the related people go away though they have nowhere else to go. We’re going to do that for the sake of disrupting a terror network that no longer exists in Afghanistan, and we’re willing to invest many years and many young American lives and much American treasure toward this goal.
Shahzad would have us believe that our secretary of state, who is mostly known for being strident and abrasive, has, over a three-day period, managed to avert the demise of our republic by cutting the biggest dope deal ever with some of the biggest sleazebags ever.
It’s an incredible story, and one I find hard to believe. But I hope it’s true.