February 14, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 665

A Looming Superpower Clash Triggered by Pakistan

February 14, 2011 | By Yigal Carmon and Tufail Ahmad*
Pakistan, , Afghanistan, China | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 665


The U.S.-led war against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan has deteriorated into a growing open conflict with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and threatens to rapidly fall into a full-blown war with Pakistan. Signs of such an upcoming clash between Pakistan and the U.S. can already be seen.

In anticipation of such a full-scale clash with America, Pakistan is seeking an enhanced role for China on its side, thereby triggering a possible superpower clash, involving the U.S., China, Russia, NATO powers, and other regional players.[1]

Historical Background

This will not be the first time that this region will be the battleground of military rivalry and clash between superpowers; it also happened in the 19thand 20th centuries.

The first superpower clash for strategic ascendancy in Central Asia, known as the "Great Game," was witnessed between the British Empire and Czarist Russia in the 19th century. However, it fizzled out by the early 20th century, ultimately ending during World War II, with the two rivals collaborating against the Axis powers.

World War II led to the emergence of the Cold War and a military standoff between the United States and the USSR. This standoff deteriorated into an armed conflict involving proxies in Afghanistan. This superpower clash ended in a military defeat for the Communists in 1989, with the Soviet troops forced to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Pakistan, U.S. Heading Towards a Showdown

The ongoing deterioration between the U.S. on the one hand and the ISI-led Pakistani government on the other is on the verge of falling into an open clash.

Indeed a clash has begun, both on the battlefields and in the intelligence arena, as witnessed by the following:

The Military Level: Pakistan is Directly Involved in Afghanistan

i) Pakistani Planes Carry Out Bombing Raids in Afghanistan

In early February, Pakistani planes bombarded Afghan border police posts and civilian homes in the Gushta district of Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province and in Khost province, according to a report on the Pashtu-language website[2] According to the same report, the attacks were timed to convey a warning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai against his visit to India in first week of February.

ii) Taliban Eliminating Local Afghan Officials

The Taliban have begun targeting district governors in Afghanistan. A number of suicide bombings have also taken place in the heart of Kabul.[3]

iii) ISI is Creating Militant Sanctuaries in the Pakistani Tribal Region

The Pakistani Army began creating another militant sanctuary for the Haqqani Network in Kurram Agency, one of the Pakistani tribal districts.[4]

iv) Pakistan Assisting Taliban Shura

The Pakistani military's ISI is hosting and advising the Taliban Shura.[5]

The Intelligence Level: ISI is Sabotaging American Intelligence Efforts

In response to a case filed in a New York court by the relatives of U.S. citizens who were killed in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the ISI has launched a series of counter-attacks against U.S. officials in Pakistan, as follows:[6]

i) ISI Forces Departure of CIA Station Chief from Pakistan

Jonathan Banks, the CIA's station chief in Pakistan, was forced to leave the country as a result of his identity being revealed by an ISI leak.[7]

ii) ISI Forces the U.S. to Recall Diplomat Elizabeth Rudd from Peshawar

Another U.S. diplomat, Elizabeth Rudd, who was working in the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, was forced to leave Pakistan allegedly over threats from the Taliban last November. It is believed that the ISI revealed her identity, creating a security situation surrounding her.[8]

iii) Pakistan Arrests U.S. Official Raymond Davis Over Killing of Pakistani Spies

Raymond Davis, an official of the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, was arrested for killing two Pakistani nationals. The Pakistani leaders have said that the two Pakistani nationals were innocent citizens.

However, a report in a Pakistani daily has revealed that the two were members of Pakistani intelligence.[9]

The Looming Superpower Clash

Anticipating a looming superpower clash, Pakistan is bolstering its military cooperation with China, as shown by the following:

i) Pakistan is Inviting Chinese Military to be Stationed in Its Territory

Pakistan invited nearly 11,000 Chinese troops to be stationed in Gilgit-Baltistan, an ethnically different region that has traditionally been considered as part of Jammu & Kashmir.

Pakistan first denied media reports about the stationing of Chinese troops in Gilgit-Baltistan, but later admitted their presence, saying that they are there to help Pakistanis affected by floods.[10]

ii) Pakistan Invites High-Level Chinese Military Delegation to Visit Pakistan-Afghan Border

Pakistani tribal areas, the sanctuaries of the Taliban and other militants along the Afghan border, have not been of any strategic interest to the Chinese Army over the years. However, a delegation of the Chinese Army visited the Landikotal Army Garrison in Khyber Agency last October. The Chinese team, received by Colonel Asad Qureshi, comprised five high-ranking officials led by Director General of People's Liberation Army Major General Yan Hu.[11]

iii) Pakistan Urges Chinese Involvement in Afghanistan

In April 2010, during a meeting with Chinese Executive Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for a Chinese role in Afghanistan.[12]

iv) Pakistan Contracts China to Build Warships for Pakistani Navy

Pakistan has signed a contract with China to build Pakistani warships that will carry missiles and heavy weapons.[13]

v) Pakistan's Air Force is Buying Avionics from China

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has inked an agreement with China to buy avionics and missiles to quip its 250 JF-17 Thunder jet fighters. Pakistan sees itself as aligned against the West in a superpower clash.

The PAF head, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, stated: ''The PAF has no plans to install Western devices and weapons on the aircraft for the time being.''[14]

vi) Pakistan Builds Naval Ties with China

China has also developed military interests in the Chinese-built Pakistani port at Gwadar, on the southwestern seacoast of Pakistan. The Chinese-built Gwadar port seeks to undercut India's naval dominance in the Indian Ocean.

vii) Pakistan is Buying Nuclear Reactors from China

Rejecting American and Indian concerns over Pakistan's record in international proliferation of nuclear weapons technology, Pakistan has signed agreement with China to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan.[15]

On February 10, a media report noted that Pakistan is also building a fourth nuclear facility at Khushab in Punjab province to produce plutonium.[16] On the same day, Pakistan test-fired Hatf-VII, a cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.[17]

Last December, a meeting of the National Command Authority, held under the chairmanship of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, asserted Pakistan's rights ''as a nuclear weapon state.''[18]

Russia – An Ally for the U.S. in a Superpower Clash

On February 5, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told an international security conference in Munich that Russia does not want the international troops to leave Afghanistan.[19]

In a war between Pakistan/China on the one hand and the West on the other, Russia will be on the side of the West.[20] In fact, with ''U.S. blessings,'' Russia is already helping the international troops in Afghanistan, as witnessed by the following:[21]

i) Russia Supports the Afghan Police

Russia has begun strengthening the Afghan police forces by supplying weapons and ammunitions.[22]

ii) Russia is Helping NATO in Afghanistan

Last year, a Russian military team of counter-narcotics officers began helping NATO troops in carrying out joint counter-narcotics operations in eastern Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border.[23]

Pakistan Views Russia as an Additional Enemy in Afghanistan

Last year, Pakistan rejected, for the second time in five years, a Russian request to interview Akhlaq Ahmed Akhlas, a Russian Al-Qaeda terrorist jailed in Pakistan.[24] In November, Russia cancelled a scheduled visit of a Russian delegation to Islamabad.[25]

The Urdu-language Pakistani daily Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt warned in a report that ''another enemy of Pakistan'' – i.e. Russia – has been added to the list of the countries influencing Afghanistan and the presence of Russian troops in Afghan will reinforce anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan.[26]

Relations between the U.S. and China are fragile over the ''Star Wars arms race'' launched by the Chinese military in 2007.[27] Pakistan is introducing into these fragile U.S.-China relations a military component, triggering a superpower clash.

* Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project (; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.


[1] According to a report in the Lahore-based Daily Times of January 13, 2011, during a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned U.S. Vice President Joe Biden against a "new great game" in the region.

[2] (Afghanistan), February 4, 2011.

[3] According to a report in The Express Tribune newspaper of February 8, 2011, an unidentified Pakistani "security official" – probably an ISI man – warned that a new generation of Taliban suicide bombers is ready to fight against the U.S. and NATO troops.

[4] For an analysis of the Pakistani Army"s role in creating a militant sanctuary in Kurram Agency, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 641, "Pakistani Army Allows Taliban to Move to New Sanctuary in Kurram Agency While Finally Agreeing To Carry Out Operation Against Militant Commanders in North Waziristan," October 25, 2010, Pakistani Army Allows Taliban to Move to New Sanctuary in Kurram Agency While Finally Agreeing To Carry Out Operation Against Militant Commanders in North Waziristan.

[5] According to a January 23, 2011, report in the Indian magazine The Week, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Islamabad, noted that the Quetta Shura (the Taliban"s executive council based in the Pakistani city of Quetta) "is giving instructions and advice" to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Emir of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

[6] This is because the New York court has issued summons to ISI chief Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha, and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Nadeem Taj, Azam Cheema, Sajid Majid, Major Iqbal, Major Samir Ali – many of them military officers and militants. The legal implications of the case in the New York court are serious. The Pakistan Army fears that it could lead to a legal declaration of the ISI as a terrorist organization. According to a report in the Daily Times of January 13, 2011, Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed too is worried and has urged the Lahore High Court to order the Pakistani government to defend him in the New York court. A December 30, 2010, report on the website of the Dawn newspaper reported that the Pakistani government has decided to "strongly contest the suit filed against the ISI, its present and past directors general."

[7] According to a report in the Urdu-language daily Roznama Jang of December 2, 2010, Karim Khan, a resident of North Waziristan, registered a police case against Jonathan Banks, demanding $500 million for killings of innocent persons in U.S. drone attacks. The case was filed not in North Waziristan, but in Islamabad with legal implications for Jonathan Banks who was based in the U.S. Embassy there. Barrister Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer for Karim, also warned that Jonathan Banks could be included in the Exit Control List, which bars individuals from leaving Pakistan and many such cases could be filed against CIA officials and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

[8] A report in the Urdu-language daily Roznama Ummat of December 20, 2010, noted that she did not leave due to the Taliban threats but for the fact that "the Pakistani [intelligence] institutions had mounted pressure and the U.S. government was forced to recall her."

[9] A report in The Express Tribune daily of February 7, 2011, quoted an unidentified Pakistani security official as saying that the Pakistani government's "reluctance" to free Raymond Davis, who is reported to have diplomatic immunity, is because the victims were Pakistani "intelligence operatives." The Pakistani official said that the government's "tough stance on the controversy was also its reaction to the attempts by certain elements in Washington to implicate the country's top spy agency, the ISI, in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks." According to the report, the official added that the ISI "is very angry with the decision of an American court to summon top ISI officials in connections with the Mumbai attacks."

[10] According to a report on the website of the Dawn newspaper on August 31, 2010, Abdul Basit, the spokesman of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, criticized journalist Selig S. Harrison who reported the presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan, saying: "Harrison has an anti-Pakistan mindset and has tried to deform the facts." A few days later, the Pakistani Foreign Office "changed" its stance, stating: "Pakistan has not handed over the control of Gilgit-Baltistan area to the Chinese Army. The Chinese Army is working in flood-hit areas" – as reported by the Urdu-language daily Roznama Express of September 2, 2010.

[11] The News (Pakistan), October 29, 2010. The October 29, 2010 report in The News daily reflected on the importance of the Chinese military delegation's visit: "The delegation stayed in Landikotal for several hours amid tight security. All the link roads and Torkham Gate were blocked to the public. NATO supply remained suspended during the delegation's visit to [nearby] Michini Checkpost."

[12] The News (Pakistan), April 29, 2010.

[13] The News (Pakistan), July 16, 2010.

[14] (Pakistan), November 18, 2010.

[15] The Post (Pakistan), June 24, 2010.

[16] (Pakistan), February 10, 2011.

[17] (Pakistan), February 10, 2011.

[18] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), December 15, 2010.

[19] (Russia), February 5, 2011.

[20] According to a report in the Afghan daily Roznama Husht-e-Subh of November 14, 2010, Andrey Avetsiyan, the Russian ambassador in Kabul, expressed concern in November 2010 over the Taliban's expansion to northern Afghanistan and the deteriorating security situation in the region.

[21] According to a May 22, 2010 report in the London daily Al-Hayat, the White House invited Russia to play its role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

[22] According to a November 12, 2010, report on the Russian website, Russia delivered a total of 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and over 2.5 million rounds of ammunition for these rifles.

[23] (Afghanistan), October 31, 2010.

[24] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), November 29, 2010. Akhlaq Ahmed Akhlas is an Al-Qaeda terrorist who has been jailed in Pakistan over his role in the December 2003 assassination attempt on Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

[25] On November 29, 2010, a report in The Express Tribune daily noted: "Russia has sent out a clear but deliberately muted diplomatic signal that it is rankled by Pakistan"s refusal to provide consular access to [Akhlaq Ahmed Akhlas]."

[26] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), November 9, 2010.

[27] A February 2, 2011 report on the website of The Daily Telegraph of London, citing WikiLeaks documents, noted that the U.S. "threatened to take military action against China" over a secret "star wars" arms race that began with China demonstrating its military capability to shoot down satellites in space.

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