In January 2004, the Chicago Tribune cited military sources in Washington planning a “spring offensive” on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan “that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network” That offensive has clearly begun with recent troop deployments in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, also known as the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). But the troops are not just American, they are mostly Pakistani. In fact, Pakistan seems to be the US’s new best friend, having recently been declared a “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) which would enable it to benefit from defense cooperation and loan guarantees to pay for arms deals. Secretary of State, Colin Powell has already announced new loan guarantees awarded to Pakistan and arms sales can proceed within weeks. But arms sales are a violation of the 1985 “Pressler amendment” to the US Foreign Aid Act which asserts that “no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Pakistan” unless Pakistan is certified to be free of nuclear weapons technology.
Major news media are referring to the current operation in the NWFP as “Pakistan’s Campaign Against Al Qaeda” (New York Times), “Pakistan’s Al Qaeda Offensive” (Al Jazeera), the “Pakistani Offensive” (LA Times), “Pakistan’s Al Qaeda Hunt” (BBC), etc. While Musharraf has expressly denied there any US troops on Pakistani soil, “senior American military officials said that small numbers of [US] commandos . have conducted cross-border operations”. This is not a Pakistani operation – it is Made in the USA. Washington planned the offensive this January, has arranged weapons sales, and is using Pakistani troops as “proxy forces in that area”.
The US eagerness to work with Pakistan and even clear arms sales in violation of its own laws seems surprising — it comes on the heels of a revelation that the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had been selling nuclear secrets to countries like Libya, Iran and North Korea. Additionally, only three years ago Pakistan was one of three countries that recognized the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, and is widely known as having actually nurtured and sponsored the Taliban.
In fact, US-Pakistan “cooperation” should come as no surprise. The US already pays almost $100 million a month to Pakistan for providing logistical support in the war against terrorism. While transitions to democracy are lofty US goals for Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan is an exception: Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan, is Washington’s close ally and dutifully choreographed an about-turn after September 11th 2001 on his sponsorship of the Taliban. Most recently Secretary of State Colin Powell seemed content with the conditional amnesty that Musharraf granted the nuclear proliferator, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Today Musharraf is doing his part by cooperating with Washington’s current offensive in the NWFP. But the cooperation comes at a hefty price: last December Musharraf was the target of a failed assassination attempt by an alleged Al Qaeda suspect.
The U.S. has convinced Musharraf to contradict himself on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. According to Musharraf in early 2002, bin Laden was dead or possibly “alive in Afghanistan”. By July 2002 Musharraf went further in asserting: “I doubt he is alive, and if he is alive he cannot be in Pakistan” But today, “facing intense pressure from Washington” Musharraf was convinced that “bin Laden and his followers likely were hiding in the mountains along the Afghan border”.
Recent excitement in the U.S. over bin Laden’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri has also revealed contradictions in Pakistan. While U.S. and Pakistani troops combed the mountainous South Waziristan district for al-Zawahiri, Pakistani officials now admit they were simply guessing his presence: Mehmood Shah, the head of security in the NWFP admitted “We have no indication [of al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts]. Our guess was based on the amount of resistance we faced and the number of foreign fighters. Later on, many people started guessing names, and that’s how his name came up”. Now underground tunnels in the NWFP reveal escape routes which were probably utilized in response to the US’s announced offensive.
President Bush says, “the best way to defend America . . . is to stay on the offensive and find these killers, one by one.” Bush fails to state clearly who “these killers” are. Are they Al Qaeda or the Taliban? What about the primary inhabitants of the NWFP — Pashtun tribals and Mujahadeen warriors? What about their family members, wives and children? According to US military sources, the “spring offensive” is “designed to go after the Taliban and everybody connected with it”. This is a very broad definition which likely includes ordinary Afghan and Pakistani civilians.
With Pakistan visibly taking the heat for the offensive, US troops are poised in Afghanistan with “what the military calls “blocking positions” at strategic junctions along the frontier”. These are designed to “trap and kill militants fleeing the Pakistani attacks”. So far 25 civilians have been killed with half of them women and children. The head of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno praised Pakistan’s terrorist tactics: “I’ve seen some very positive developments from Pakistan, and I’m going to continue to encourage them to do more in those areas.” For example the “destruction of homes and things of that nature…we’re watching that with great interest.” Taken together these facts reveal a picture of a US offensive via Pakistani proxies targeting anyone and everyone in the area, and trapping those that try to flee into Afghanistan.
The locals are not happy. In response to the civilian casualties, tribesman Mukhtar Wazir said “Musharraf is evil, Bush is Satan”. Hundreds of people responded to the civilian casualties with a demonstration in Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, chanting “Get out FBI” and “Stop the War in Tribal Areas in the Name of Al Qaeda”. Maulan Khalil-ur-Rehman, a tribal leader and a member of parliament, claimed that “The ‘foreign fighters’ living in Wana were heroes of Islam when they were fighting the Soviets, but now we are told by Musharraf and America they are terrorists”.
The late Pakistani scholar Eqbal Ahmed went further in clarifying the connection between the US and the mujahadeen or “foreign fighters” of Pakistan and Afghanistan in a 1993 interview with David Barsamian:
All of them are former allies of the United States. All of them have been armed by the United States. All of them were described as “mujahid,” holy warriors, by the United States. The same media which are now calling them fundamentalists called them freedom fighters only four years ago. Those same freedom fighters are now “fundamentalists.”.
In addition to Osama bin Laden and his allies it seems clear that the US’s targets include all its old fundamentalist friends and their families. Residents of the NWFP have dismissed the Pakistani actions “as a stunt aimed at “appeasing America””. This puts the Pakistani prime minister between a rock and a hard place: Musharraf is being forced to aim an army nurtured on “jehadi” rhetoric against the “jehadis” themselves. Jihad has come full circle with the U.S. and Pakistan (acting on U.S. orders) terrorizing the very people they nurtured, and these very people turning their terrorist tactics back on their benefactors and their allies. Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid describes his country’s situation best: “Either way, whether Bin Laden is captured or not, there will be serious consequences for Pakistan’s domestic peace and stability”.
Sonali Kolhatkar ([email protected]) is the host and co-producer of Uprising, a daily morning public affairs program with KPFK, Pacifica, Los Angeles. She is also the Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based non-profit that works in solidarity with Afghan women on humanitarian and political work.
 Spolar, Christine, “U.S. plans Al Qaeda offensive”, Chicago Tribune, 01/28/04.
 “US to Reward Pakistan With New Arms Status”, Los Angeles Times, 03/19/04.
 The Pressler Amendment and Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program, US Senate Hearing, 07/31/92.
 Schmitt, Eric, “U.S. Quietly Aiding Pakistan Campaign Against Al Qaeda”, New York Times, 03/23/04
 Spolar, Ibid.
 “Pakistan gets $100M per month from U.S., United Press International, 03/22/04
 “Pakistan’s Musharraf: Bin Laden Probably Dead”, CNN, 01/18/02.
 “Musharraf: Bin Laden not in Pakistan”, BBC News, 08/01/02.
 Rashid, Ibid.
 Spolar, Ibid.
 Lynch, David, “Pakistan: Zawahiri hunt just a ‘guess’”, USA Today, 03/21/04.
 Wazir, Ahsanullah, “Did Pakistan tunnel help terrorists to flee?”, Associated Press, 03/23/04.
 Spolar, Ibid.
 Spolar, Ibid.
 Schmitt, Ibid.
 Ali, Zulfiqar, “At Least 25 Civilians Die in Pakistani Offensive”, Los Angeles Times, 03/21/04.
 Defense Department, “Special Department Of Defense Briefing on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan,” 02/17/04.
 “Pakistan to try new tack in al-Qaida hunt”, Associated Press, 03/21/04
 Ali, Ibid.
 Foster, Ibid.
 Barsamian, David, “India, Pakistan, Bosnia, etc.”, an interview with Eqbal Ahmed, Z net, 08/04/93.
 Foster, Peter, “Pakistan’s border campaign ‘a stunt’”, The Age, Australia, 03/23/04.
 Hoodbhoy, Pervez, Interview with Sonali Kolhatkar, KPFK, Pacifica Radio, 03/23/04.
 Rashid, Ahmed, “Musharraf’s Bin Laden headache”, BBC News, 03/17/04.