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July Surprise

July 8th, 2004

New reports are suggesting that Bush administration officials are pressuring Pakistan to make significant al Qaeda captures or killings before the election this year, and to announce these “high value target” deliveries on the first three days of the Democratic convention at the end of July. According to The New Republic:

This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban’s Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. A succession of high-level American officials–from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca to State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black to a top CIA South Asia official–have visited Pakistan in recent months to urge General Pervez Musharraf’s government to do more in the war on terrorism. In April, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, publicly chided the Pakistanis for providing a “sanctuary” for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces crossing the Afghan border. “The problem has not been solved and needs to be solved, the sooner the better,” he said.

This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November. The Bush administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar. “Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn’t change because of an election,” says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election. According to one source in Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections.” Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations–according to a recently departed intelligence official, “no timetable[s]” were discussed in 2002 or 2003–but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt. Another official, this one from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security, explains, “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.” (These sources insisted on remaining anonymous. Under Pakistan’s Official Secrets Act, an official leaking information to the press can be imprisoned for up to ten years.)

A third source, an official who works under ISI’s director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis “have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must.” What’s more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: “The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” Says McCormack: “I’m aware of no such comment.” But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July”–the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

This is rather scandalous, even though completely expected. There was a great deal of suspicion and some circumstantial evidence that in 1980, Reagan’s people visited Iran made deals that the hostages would not be released until Reagan took office, and lo, the hostages were released practically the very moment Reagan took the oath; a release before the election might have won the election for Carter, and a release before Reagan took office would have robbed him of a glowing start to his tenure. That Reagan was found to have been involved over many years in shady dealings with Iran was also supportive of this idea.

And now we see Bush doing something very similar: making deals with shady governments in the region to sway the election at home. While Bush says that he is promoting democracy in the region, it cannot be ignored that his biggest new ally, Pakistan, is a military dictatorship that gained power in a coup d’état over a democratically elected government, was developing weapons of mass destruction, and had practically invented the Taliban. That they agreed to help us in Afghanistan is less a measure of their friendship to us and more a sign that they saw an unstoppable military force coming their way and wisely decided not to get in its way; their alliance with us is questionable in light of massive internal support for al Qaeda and their reluctance to truly go after him, and Bush’s weakness in dealing with them is apparent in how his administration did nothing whatsoever when they found Pakistan was giving nuclear secrets to other countries in the region–they allowed Pakistan to blame the whole operation on one man, who was then pardoned. (“It’s a quid pro quo: we’re going to get our troops inside Pakistan in return for not forcing Musharraf to deal with Khan.”)

Let us not forget that Reagan oversaw Saddam’s rise and gave him massive support as a perceived necessity in dealing with Iran. Bush has not learned the lesson of history, and now cuddles up with Musharraf, letting him spread nuclear technology (while claiming to invade Iraq because it had nukes, when it did not) and give safe harbor to al Qaeda (while claiming to be going after that organization full boar).

But now Bush, after years of letting Pakistan host the al Qaeda “high-value targets,” is getting “tough” with Pakistan: fork over some al Qaeda VIPs as sacrificial lambs during the Democratic convention, or the election might be lost–and then Kerry might not let you sell nukes to Iran and others, and might actually demand you fight al Qaeda for real.

Who’d like to place a bet that in 10-15 years Pakistan won’t be the new Iraq, and that a Republican president won’t be trying to scare us over the madman of Karachi?

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  1. Unbelievable
    July 30th, 2004 at 23:35 | #1

    It’s a true last night it actually happened and the July surprise was announced just hours before Kerry’s acceptance speach. There is no low the Bush administration will stoop to

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