WASHINGTON: The United States has a secret “retribution” plan to bomb more than 150 terror camps in Pakistan in the event of another major terrorist attack originating from that country.
This startling disclosure about Washington’s “all bets off” policy towards an ostensibly dubious ally in the war on terror is contained in Bob Woodward’s opus ” Obama’s War,” which details an evolving US approach in the region.
The plan pre-dates the Obama presidency, going back to the Bush White House, but elements of policy, aimed at wiping out terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, is evident in the current administration’s ruthless bombing by unmanned drones of terrorist targets inside Pakistan, which far surpasses the Bush approach in terms of frequency and intensity.
The US threat also places in context secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s dire warning to Islamabad earlier this year that there would be severe consequences for Pakistan if another 9/11-type attack were traced back to that country.
According to Woodward, then President Bush did not see much difference between 9/11 and 26/11; a foundation of his presidency was zero tolerance for terrorists and their enablers and he was extremely proud of the hard-line doctrine.
Although plans for punitive strikes against Pakistan was initially linked to another 9/11 type attack on US, it evidently evolved after the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, when Bush asked his aides for contingency plans for dealing with Pakistan.
He called his national security team into the Oval Office and told his advisers, “You guys get planning and do what you have to do to prevent a war between Pakistan and India.” The order suggests that the US would undertake the bombing to prevent India from retaliating against Pakistan leading possibly to an all-out war.
“This is like 9/11, he (Bush) said,” Woodward writes. “The United States military did not have “war” plans for an invasion of Pakistan. Instead, it had and continues to have one of the most sensitive and secret of all military contingencies, what military officials call a “retribution” plan in the event of another 9/11-like attack.”
In fact, such is the anger within the US administration about Pakistan’s double-faced approach that the plan calls for a no-holds-barred approach. “Some locations might be outdated, but there would be no concern, under the plan, for who might be living there now. The retribution plan called for a brutal punishing attack on at least 150 or more associated camps,” Woodward writes.
So how did Pakistan escape the wrath of US’ “zero tolerance” policy? According to Woodward, CIA intelligence with 48 hours of the attack showed no direct ISI link. Bush himself called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to tell him that the new Pakistani government was not involved in the attack.
But the CIA later received reliable intelligence that the ISI was directly involved in the training for Mumbai, Woodward writes in a footnote. ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha flew to Washington later to admit that at least two retired Pakistani army officers who planned the Mumbai attack had ISI links “but this had not been an authorized ISI operation. It was rogue.”
“There may have been people associated with my organization who were associated with this,” Pasha argued. “That’s different from authority, direction and control.” This argument, long attributed to Islamabad’s practice of “plausible deniability” which practicing a policy of state terrorism, saved Pakistan’s bacon.
Woodward’s 417-page book provides a fly-on-the-wall view of the Obama Presidency’s evolving AfPak policy that is more Pak than Af. In an ABC interview, Woodward described how Obama was told of deep problems in the US relationship with Pakistan at his very first intelligence briefing, likening it to a “cold shower” for the President coming just two days after his 2008 presidential victory.
“Imagine the high of being elected on that Tuesday and they come in two days later and say, by the way, here are the secrets, and one of the secrets is Pakistan,” Woodward writes. “We’re attacking with a top-secret, covert operation, the safe havens in Pakistan, but Pakistan is living a lie. And this is a theme throughout the whole Obama presidency: ‘How do you get control of Pakistan?’ ”
Soon after, in an Oval Office meeting with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, Obama bluntly tells him his country has to get over its obsession with India. “We do not begrudge you being concerned about India,” Obama tells Zardari, but “we do not want to be part of arming you (Pakistan) against India, so let me be very clear about that.”
Zardari’s response: “We are trying to change our world view but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
From all accounts, Zardari’s attempt to change Pakistan’s chronic pathology towards India has been thwarted by the country’s military, described as a rapacious, over-fed force which fattens itself on an anti-India posture at the expense of the people who pay for it. From exchanges detailed in Woodward’s book, Washington is all too aware of it, but has failed to effect a change in Pakistan’s behaviour despite billions of dollars in aid and a vague threat of retribution.