Wahhabi lobby in U.S. fixed Imran’s meeting with Trump (Sunday Guardian)
By M D Nalapat
Key policymakers say that a small cabal of pro-Pakistan elements still exists within the US Government. This includes US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. They have been suggesting to the White House that ‘the key to Pakistan’s sincere cooperation with the US in Afghanistan is through India being made to make concessions on Kashmir’.
WASHINGTON: Despite advice to the contrary from a few realists within agencies such as the National Security Council (NSC) and the State Department, and analysts in the US Government (USG) who lost their earlier affinity for the Pakistan military as a consequence of the manner in which GHQ Rawalpindi has “repeatedly played the US for a sucker in Afghanistan”, President Donald J. Trump consented to a formal meeting at the White House with Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan on 23 July. The meeting took place as a consequence of an intense lobbying effort by the well-funded Wahhabi network in Washington, which roped in a close friend of President Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to lead their successful drive at persuading the President to agree to such a meeting despite the absence of any substantive assistance by Pakistan in reining in the Taliban. Instead, the extremist militia, which once sheltered Osama bin Laden and presently hosts several fighters of ISIS and Al Qaeda, has steadily picked up strength and territory since the Trump administration began to cosy up to GHQ Rawalpindi in mid-2018 in yet another effort at getting assistance from the Pakistan army for ensuring a safe withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. After nearly two decades of promises by successive US Presidents about their “assisting moderates to prevail over extremists” in Afghanistan, the Trump White House now seems prepared to follow the example of President Bill Clinton, who facilitated the growth of the Taliban and its takeover of much of Afghanistan during his 1993-2001 tenure, thereby creating the conditions which resulted in the 9/11 attack in New York and Washington by Al Qaeda during the initial months of the George W. Bush presidency. Given that the Pakistan army has become a proxy of the People’s Liberation Army of China, expecting Prime Minister Imran Khan to assist rather than (as has routinely taken place since 2001) sabotage US efforts at securing Afghanistan from Taliban extremism demonstrates the extent to which policymakers within the Washington Beltway continue to live in a world of Alternate Reality. Additionally, especially since 2007, large clusters of the overwhelmingly Pashtun Taliban have turned against the Punjabi-controlled Pakistan army as a consequence of the effort by the latter to control and dominate the former. Such elements would anyway not heed any commands made by GHQ Rawalpindi, even assuming that these orders were such as would support rather than retard US objectives in Afghanistan.
CASH KEY TO LOBBY INFLUENCE
The Wahhabi lobby in Washington, which remains among the most influential in the city, is funded by those still adhering to this three centuries old ideology in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. Senator Graham has been close to the Wahhabi lobby in Washington for decades, joining hands with it most recently to condemn Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who is the first Al Saud to seek to roll back rather than encourage Wahhabism. Because of its money power, this lobby is also on cordial terms with many others close to President Trump, and who are engaged in business, such as Thomas J. Barack, who has several contacts in the Middle East. For months, President Trump had declined to meet Imran Khan. It was only through the Wahhabi network in Washington that GHQ Rawalpindi was able to bypass normal bureaucratic channels and ensure a meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Khan that has had the effect of angering two US allies, Afghanistan and India. The expectation of the generals is that the suave khaki-chosen Prime Minister of Pakistan will be able to establish a close personal relationship with Trump that could then be leveraged to get financial and other advantages for the Pakistan military
And so, after more than two years of President Trump pointing to the sorry record of the Pakistan army in honouring its commitments, the Wahhabi lobby finally broke through into the White House to try and get Trump’s endorsement for the shopworn formula of making India give concessions to Pakistan in exchange for Pakistan making concessions to the US. Although senior policymakers in the State Department and the National Security Council such as Lisa Curtis and Alice Wells are aware of the risks of the US once again placing its hopes on Pakistan (as was last done by President George W. Bush after 9/11), the reluctance of many domain specialists in the US to work in the Trump administration has resulted in several key slots being filled by relatively junior individuals unfamiliar with the ground realities within the regions they are expected to make policy on. The – it needs to be said, unwise – lack of willingness of many experts to work in the Trump White House and administration can be traced to the incessant negative publicity about the US President in much of the US media, which has led to many within the country ignoring the many achievements of the Trump dispensation, although of course there have been some policy errors as well. In several key agencies, the perceived future toxicity of associating with the Trump administration has resulted in a shortage of suitable first grade individuals to fill critical posts, thereby having them filled with second and third grade talent with minimal experience in the regions that they are assigned to analyse and to visit. Many such picks have been recommended by Senators and other Republican grandees who have the ear of those close to the 45th President of the US, especially his family members, who are active in the inner workings of the administration to a degree not seen since the Kennedy period. The Wahhabi lobby in Washington keeps a comprehensive database of all Trump appointees, and makes sure that those in relevant fields “accidentally” and “purely by coincidence” run into academics, businesspersons and others (who are often under deep cover that showcase a moderate persona that is shed as soon as a safe zone such as one’s house is reached) who are agents of influence of the Wahhabi lobby. These fellow travellers of the Wahhabi International build up relationships with the mostly youthful and unwary agency staffers who are newly recruited. They thereafter ensure that such staffers are made familiar with (and hopefully appreciative of) the thinking of the Wahhabi lobby. Over the past nine months, because President Trump has revealed several times his impatience to “get out of Afghanistan”, such staffers have been turning to the four-decade long GHQ strategy of trying to make the US put pressure on India to make concessions to Pakistan on Kashmir. Officials say that such Wahhabi-influenced advice may have been behind President Trump’s sudden show of eagerness to get involved personally in the Kashmir issue, a move that is diplomatic quicksand in the context of the US desire for a close security and defence partnership with India. As regards Afghanistan, assisting the Taliban to take power the way President Clinton did in the 1990s would destroy what little chances there are for a stable Afghanistan to emerge from the wreckage caused by the actions of Pakistan and the flawed US responses to them.
EFFORT TO LINK KASHMIR WITH AFGHANISTAN
It is obvious even to those whose powers of comprehension are less than good that China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela and a few other states have formed a close network of countries that oppose US objectives globally. Under President Xi Jinping, China in particular has been building up both its offensive as well as defensive capabilities, often in combination with the Russian Federation. Both Vladimir Putin as well as Xi Jinping consider each to be the other’s closest friend and ally in geo-strategic terms, and their joint effort first at primacy and subsequently dominance is designed to cover not just the Eurasian landmass but Africa and South America as well. Both are also collaborating in gaining primacy over the US in space as well as cyberspace, not to mention the oceans, including undersea. President Xi has focused on technologies of the future such as Artificial Intelligence, aware that the country that leads in such fields will be numero uno globally. Interestingly, Xi Jinping plans to make India his first overseas port of call after the 70th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October. Since the 2018 Wuhan summit, both Xi and Narendra Modi have worked hard to re-calibrate the Sino-Indian relationship away from the tensions of the past. The second “personal diplomacy summit” of two individuals who jointly lead a total of 2.6 billion people is expected to take place on 12 October at Varanasi. In contrast, 2019 is unlikely to see a visit to India by President Donald J. Trump of the US. This may be fortunate, for months will need to go by before the sour taste of his recent gaffe on Kashmir gets forgotten by the Indian public. Senior officials in Washington are privately unhappy that President Trump, acting on the prodding of the Wahhabi lobby and its backers such as Senator Graham, offered himself publicly as a mediator between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, thereby following in the path of individuals such as Harold Wilson, who was politely asked to mind his own business by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The UK Prime Minister had modestly volunteered to take over the role that Jawaharlal Nehru and the rest of the Union Cabinet had handed over to Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1947, that of being the effective overlord of Indian policy on Kashmir. While refusing to go on record, and speaking only on “deep background”, key policymakers warn that a small cabal still exists of pro-Pakistan elements within the US Government (USG). This includes US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and this group has been suggesting to the White House that “the key to Pakistan’s sincere cooperation with the US in Afghanistan is through India being made to make concessions on Kashmir”.
A pro-GHQ Rawalpindi cabal has been active within the Washington Beltway since the 1970s in promoting the interests of the Pakistan military. When Barack Obama took over as the 44th President of the US in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted her hand-picked envoy to South Asia, Richard Holbrooke, to repeat his success in curtailing elements of the Indian nuclear program during his discussions in previous years with successive administrations in Delhi, this time over Kashmir. Ambassador Holbrooke was known for his extensive relationships with the Pakistan military, and for holding the view that “the Kashmir issue had to be solved”, of course on the lines favoured by GHQ. Swift blowback from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ensured that the plan was stillborn. India, especially Kashmir, was removed from the formal writ of Holbrooke, although he continued to meddle in matters relating to the state through his many high-level contacts in the Lutyens Zone. The effort to link Kashmir with the situation in Afghanistan has continued to the present, especially within the National Security Council and the State Department, both of which still contain voices echoing the GHQ argument in favour of a robust US role in ensuring that India make concessions on Kashmir that would put at risk our country’s interests and security. Although in the past, the Pentagon was the most aggressive proponent of a pro-GHQ line, since the experience of the aftermath of 9/11, that ardour has cooled substantially. In the Kashmir-related remarks that he made during his meeting with Imran Khan, Donald Trump fell into the trap laid for him by the Wahhabi lobby. However, senior officials say that the US President has “a very shrewd mind”, and hence that he “rapidly reversed course once it was made clear that the Wahhabi lobby was promoting policies that would damage the long-term US interest in a close and collaborative relationship with India”. It may be remembered that the Wahhabi lobby had in the past motivated Senator Lindsey Graham to seek to get US sanctions instituted against Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the bête-noire of the Wahhabi International, who has had remarkable success in his efforts at ensuring the creation of a modern, moderate Saudi Arabia by 2030. In the recent past, pro-GHQ elements within the Trump administration have been lobbying officials in Delhi to bring the All Parties Hurriyat Conference back into the core of Indian policymaking in Kashmir, despite the (Clinton-created) APHC being apparently directed in its responses by GHQ Rawalpindi. Officials say that it is the pro-Pakistan cabal within USG that had been lobbying President Trump to insert himself in the Kashmir maelstrom on the side of Pakistan, “so that the Pakistan army will begin assisting and stop sabotaging US efforts at dis-engaging from Afghanistan”, a formula tried several times in the past by previous US Presidents without any success in stopping the sabotage of US objectives and boosting of terrorism by the Pakistan military.
‘TRUMP IS QUICK TO LEARN’
It was a surprise to those who have grown to respect Donald Trump to watch as he temporarily joined the likes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in wanting to force India to make concessions in Kashmir to Pakistan in exchange for the unrealistic hope of GHQ ever making genuine concessions to the US side against the very terror networks it protects. The good news for India is that senior officials claim that Trump has now “fully understood” the game played on him by the pro-GHQ cabal in USG, and has therefore kept silent even via tweets on the Kashmir issue ever since the meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan. Just as the S-400 induction by India would be a deal-breaker in the ongoing efforts at crafting an India-US security alliance, resumption of Clinton-era White House pressure on India to make concessions to GHQ on Kashmir would kill the prospect of any such security alliance, something that the pro-GHQ cabal in USG well understands and seeks. The Wahhabi lobby is aware that such a torpedoing of the proposed India-US partnership in matters of defence and security would be warmly welcomed not just in Rawalpindi but in Beijing and Moscow as well. Those eager for such an outcome are disappointed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not fall into the trap laid for him by Opposition politicians in Parliament. They demanded that Modi condemn Trump’s remarks directly, something that would have damaged the existing warm relationship between President Trump and PM Modi to the detriment of US and Indian interests. As a consequence of the statesmanlike forbearance of Prime Minister Modi, President Trump reciprocated by quietly dropping any talk of mediation between India and Pakistan, to relief from the more experienced and first-class minds dealing with South Asia in agencies such as the State Department, the White House and the NSC. However, the cash-rich Wahhabi lobby in Washington will continue in its mission of promoting the aims of the Pakistan military, the only armed forces in the world that has “jihad” as its official motto, to the detriment of moderate and democratic forces in countries aligned to the US by a common tradition of freedom and democracy.