Af-Pak war: The scapegoat hits back

“We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan,” US President Barack Obama declared at an Oval Office meeting in November last year. This presidential remark was mentioned in award-winning journalist Bob Woodward’s latest book ‘Obama’s Wars’.
The remark comes as no surprise. After all, Obama during his campaign for the White House had said that if Pakistan did not act against the terrorists, the US forces under his command would.
Well, the two key allies in the war on terrorism – the United States and Pakistan – are at loggerheads or so it seems. The government in Islamabad had no choice but to give the impression to the public that it was also angry about the recent high-handed actions of the United States and NATO forces. The incidents include the killing of three Pakistani soldiers in a NATO helicopter attack on a border check post and incursions by NATO troops into Pakistan’s territory in addition to an unusually high number of drone attacks.
If the Pakistani government had stomached the US and NATO violations of its territory any longer, it would have made the Army angry and the people revolt. It also would have made more Pakistanis sympathise with the Taliban.
The government had to hit back. It closed the vital supply road to Afghanistan – a road on which US and the NATO forces depend for their food, oil and military hardware.
But it was not enough to soothe the public anger in Pakistan where anti-US sentiments have reached fever pitch in recent weeks. They are angry over the sentencing of a Pakistani woman scientist, Afia Siddiqui, to 86 years by a US court. The Pakistanis say she was convicted on trumped-up terror charges. Another reason for their anger was the increased drone attacks.
Operated from an air base located in Pakistan, the US drones go for their targets with the Americans claiming that the attacks were based on intelligence. But often, innocent civilians, including children and women, are killed.
The survivors bury the victims immediately in accordance with Muslim rites. There are no inquiries and no calls for compensation. Libya was forced to pay billions of dollars to the next of kin of the people who died in the Lockerbie plane crash caused by a bomb allegedly planted by Libyan agents. But not a single cent is paid to Pakistani civilians killed in US and NATO attacks. Their deaths are simply labelled as collateral damage. In Afghanistan, a meagre compensation is paid when civilians are killed. The compensation is not out of Western compassion. It is part of a military strategy to keep the civilians tamed.
But this is not so in Pakistan. If they are lucky, Pakistani survivors will get an apology from their government — not from the United States.
In the aftermath of a US drone attack last month in Pakistan’s Waziristan area, a civilian identified as Haider told the media his brother-in-law and 30 other village elders were killed when they were at evening prayers.
“People who had witnessed the attack said the attack was so severe that they could not even distinguish the bodies from one another — even the bones of the people were completely blown apart. The dead were completely unrecognisable. My brother in law’s coffin was tightly sealed and we were not allowed to open it to view anything. We had the coffin with us for 30 minutes before it was taken away for burial…,” Haider said.
One wonders whether any other country’s government could be more tolerant than the Pakistani government when its citizens are massacred by foreign forces.
Pakistan’s entry into America’s war on terror – a euphemism for its imperial war – was not voluntary. Pakistan initially refused to be dragged into this war but reluctantly agreed after Washington threatened the then military ruler Pervez Musharraf that his country would be bombed back to the Stone Age if it did not join the war.
Since then, the United States and Pakistan have been maintaining an uneasy partnership. The past nine years of US-Pakistan partnership have seen Washington accusing Pakistan of not doing enough in the war on terror. Some US generals and officials even alleged that a section of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence, maintained close relationship with the Taliban and gave them advance warning of US moves.
Pakistan would respond by pointing out that thousands of Pakistani soldiers have laid down their life in the war on terror – more than any other country in the US-led alliance. It would eat the humble pie because it knows antagonising the United States would mean strengthening of US ties with India.
Of course, Pakistan benefited by joining the war. The US has been pumping in billions of dollars to keep Pakistan’s economy afloat. But the damage far outweighs the benefits. Pakistan is more unstable today than it had been before the US war on terror. Its defences on its eastern and southern borders with India have been weakened because of the deployment of troops on the Western border to fight the Taliban. Prior to the war, only a handful of Pakistanis could be labelled as extremists, but today the extremists’ ranks swell by the day. Before the war, Afghanistan had a pro-Pakistan government. But today, it has a pro-Indian government.
Given the servile behaviour of the Pakistani government in the past, its decision to close down the supply road may have taken the US by surprise. Probably the government took the decision on the advice of the army, a powerful institution in Pakistan’s politics.
Apparently shaken by the dramatic developments in Pakistan, the US tried to link the increased attacks on Taliban targets in Pakistan to an alleged plot by terrorists to attack Europe. The drone attacks also came in response to Pakistan’s refusal to launch a full-scale assault on Taliban militia in flood-ravaged Northern Waziristan.
But the violation of Pakistan’s territorial integrity by US and NATO forces has made Pakistanis ask whether their government has sold the country’s sovereignty wholesale to the Americans. They also fear that such incursions could be a precursor to a major invasion of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear weapons. Under pressure, the weak and unpopular Pakistani government was forced to act tough. It made use of its ultimate trump card – closing its main supply routes to Afghanistan.
The usually tight security along the road was mysteriously slackened, inviting attacks on tankers and trucks that were stranded after the roads were closed.
Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said the border crossing would be reopened only after “public anger eases”. The US which initially insisted that the attack on the check post was an act of self defence, apologized on Wednesday, saying American pilots mistook the Pakistani soldiers for insurgents they were pursuing.
If the supply routes remain closed for months, the US will have no choice but to end its military operations in Afghanistan. The alternative route is via Uzbekistan. But a resolution of the Shanghai Corporation Organisation prevents Uzbekistan from hosting US facilities on its soil.
With the US getting bogged down in the Afghan quagmire, the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban will apparently not go according to the US plan. President Obama has set 2011 as the year of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Does this mean, the US will leave Afghanistan with the job unfinished? Or will the US send its troops to neighbouring Pakistan in the coming months?

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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