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Pakistan's chameleon

Next to Afghanistan, a major crisis is brewing that is probably not too high on President Obama’s list of international security priorities. But it should be. Because Pakistan is a nuclear power, now governed by a wealthy politician who loathes America.

By Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI Editor at Large
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Pakistan's chameleon
Pakistani Rangers stand alert at the entrance way of district courts buildings after suicide bombers attacked a court complex killing at least 11 people, including a judge, in Islamabad on March 3, 2014. The Pakistani Taliban called for a month-long ceasefire over the weekend to revive peace talks, and immediately denied involvement in the terrorist attack. UPI/Sajjad Ali Qureshi | License Photo

WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) -- Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is the human equivalent of a lizard that can change the color of its skin to look like the colors that are around it.

In his last trip to Washington, Nawaz, as everyone calls him, gave his American interlocutors no reason to doubt his democratic credentials. Back in Islamabad, or in his native Punjab province, Nawaz, whose family is immensely wealthy, is virulently anti-U.S.

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Nawaz also believes TTP (Taliban terrorists) that killed 33,000 civilians in the past couple of years, should be eased into power, or at least be given a big slice of it.

The Pakistani army, exasperated by Nawaz’s prestigidator’s sleight of hand, finally decided to ignore him. In close liaison with U.S., it readied a major offensive against Taliban in mountainous North Waziristan.

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It was in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, that Nawaz had agreed to send his ranking team to negotiate a cease-fire with TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan). Reluctantly, he agreed the army should have its own representative at any negotiations with the “enemy.”

TTP chieftain Mullah Fazlullah’s representatives had three conditions for agreeing to a permanent cease-fire:

· Pakistani army to cease operations in N. Waziristan.

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· U.S. drone attacks to end immediately.

· About 30 Taliban prisoners to be released by the Army.

The army made clear to Nawaz all three conditions were unacceptable and that nothing now stood in the way of a major army offensive in the tribal areas on the Afghan border.

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A solemn meeting of the three service chiefs, chaired by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Rashid Mehmood,, and another of the ten corps commanders under Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif, agreed not to take part in any further negotiations with TTP. This time, some said privately, there would be no half measures. The next operation would be “full scale maximum effort.”

One of them said “TTP will not be given an inch to breathe. Major surgery is now urgently required and has been agreed to remove the cancer of terrorism.”

Nawaz wants TTP to play a decisive role in the name of Jihad or Holy War. “His decision to involve the army in negotiations with Pakistan’s Taliban,” reported regional expert Ammar Turabi, “was a ploy to undermine the army and to gain more time as he had done before. But this time the upper echelons of the army are convinced that the evil nexus should be completely destroyed.”

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“The corps commanders were unequivocal and agreed this had been the very last time they would lend their prestige and authority to Nawaz’s dilatory tactics,” added Turabi.

Taliban guerrillas ignored a month-long ceasefire and launched a wave of attacks while talks were underway. Fazlullah has always opposed any kind of a cease-fire and told his allies that their only purpose should be to disrupt the army’s offensive plans.

The army’s top commanders have now agreed that full scale war against TTP is the only option.

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TTP, in its propaganda, says Pakistan is a “slave of America” that has become “an American colony.” And Fazlullah is convinced he has the secret backing of Nawaz Sharif, whose anti-U.S. credentials are beyond dispute.

Adding to a confusing mix of groups and splinter factions is Ahrar-ul-Hind that specializes in suicide attacks against government installations.

The Pakistani army has taken over from the police and arrested local Taliban leaders from Karachi to Peshawar.

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The only bright spot in Pakistan is a renewed friendship and close working military relationship with the U.S. Much of the heavy equipment shipped out of Afghanistan for the U.S. via Pakistan is being turned over to the Pakistani army as military assistance.

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About $7 billion worth of U.S. equipment will be moving through Pakistan in coming months on its way back to the U.S. Some of it will stay in Pakistan as U.S. military assistance. The determination of Pakistan’s military leaders to wipe out TTP has led to a reassessment in Washington about the need to close ranks with Pakistan’s military.

The U.S. is also moving heavy equipment from Afghanistan via Russia, traffic that was not interrupted by the crisis over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

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As U.S. influence declines, Moscow is scoring points in Afghanistan where the Soviet Union was defeated in 1989.

The supreme geopolitical irony would be yet another reversal of superpower roles in Afghanistan. The U.S. would lose Afghanistan and regain Pakistan. Some would argue that’s not much of a bargain.

In the global scheme of things -- e.g., Syria’s civil war with its toll of 140,000 dead, or Crimea and Ukraine -- none of this would matter much. But Pakistan is a nuclear power.

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