Filling the sky with assassins

"The United States is now seriously considering destabilizing Pakistan…" cried an outraged Tariq Ali, historian, revolutionary activist, novelist and Pakistani expatriate, in a Democracy Now interview that aired on March 19, 2009.  "…Pakistan, a nation of 175 million, struggles for its very survival," writes Pervez Hoodbhoy (Frontline, March 27, 2009), Islamabad-based physicist and political activist.    An anguished Pervez Hoodbhoy has written in the same article of being among the small number of Pakistanis who have been for 20 years or more desperately sending out SOS messages warning of terrible times to come. As the War on Terror, freshly baptized under the name of Overseas Contingency Operations, works itself into frenzy in the Pakistan-Afghanistan theatre, as the inexorable Predator drone attacks by the US military in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) continue to claim civilian casualties, as further drone attacks are promised despite objections from Pakistan’s Government, as never-ending waves of fiyadeen bombings strike Pakistan’s cities, and as the Pakistani Taliban prevail over the military, expand the territory under their control and  threaten Islamabad itself, the horrified world finds itself bearing witness to the intensifying breakdown of the Pakistani state from internal and externally generated stresses and contradictions.  Of the external sources of instability none has been more destructive than the so-called US-led War on Terror which upon shifting its focal point to the Afpak region seems to have addressed itself to wiping out any remaining cohesion that the beleaguered Pakistani state, putative US partner and most valued non-NATO partner, can be said to retain.  

The pitiless drone attacks with their reckless and unconscionable contempt for Pakistan‘s sovereignty are taking place under the stewardship of Barack Obama, the so-called good and law-abiding President as opposed to the unlamented, lying, warmongering, torture espousing George W. Bush. Pakistan‘s descent into the abyss is at least in part the result of deliberately executed US policy that places elite conceptions of US security and national interests ahead of the interests of its ally.  Comments that were made by Senator John Kerry on an Islamabad visit (4/13/2009) are symptomatic of the Obama Administration’s vision of appropriate roles for Indian and Pakistan governments.  The Senator remarked that both India and Pakistan expend too much energy and resources on the bilateral front.  The worthy Senator might have gone so far as to be honest and informed the leaders of both countries that the Obama Administration expected them to place US interests ahead of national and regional interests.  It is axiomatic that nations inevitably pursue their self-interest and obviously the US cannot be expected to form an exception to this rule.  Still the cynicism with which US political and military elites go about laying down the law to sovereign countries is truly frightening.  Kerry evaded questions about the drone attacks saying he would convey Pakistan‘s concerns to Washington.  Kerry’s side-stepping comes as no surprise.  The rulers of the world in Washington couldn’t care less about whether non-militants in FATA lived or died.  As reported by the British newspaper "The Times", (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6036512.ece) the drone attacks have been the cause of internal displacement on a massive scale.  Up to one million Pakistanis have been made homeless in their own land due to the robotic attacks and the razing of entire villages by the Pakistani military acting under American pressure to take action against Al-Qaeda militants.

In the US the mainstream media have covered the drone attacks within Pakistan with customary unconcern thereby creating the impression that these strikes are effective in eliminating Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.  The public is also led to think that civilian casualties are negligible.  The facts on the ground however tell a different and except to a callous conscience a shocking story.  A report carried by the Pakistani daily "The News" (April 10, 2009) has provided the figures compiled by Pakistani authorities for casualties from the drone attacks.  These figures show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders and 687 civilians were killed between January 2006 and April 8, 2009 in 60 American Predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan.  In other words the success percentage of the US Predator strikes came to not more than six per cent.  Among the most lethal of these strikes were two carried out in 2006.  The attacks killed 98 innocent bystanders and left the militant targets completely unscathed.  The unconscionable collateral damage inflicted by the drone warfare is only one part of the story.  The other part has to do with the moral and legal aspects of what Tom Engelhardt (http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/21139) defines as a new chapter in the history of assassination, one in which assassination has ceased to be a shameful, furtive pursuit and has taken to the skies as an every day, all-year-round activity. 

Washington experts and the US media now speak openly of Pakistan‘s impending unraveling.  Testifying before a Senate panel, General David Petraeus, chief of US Central Command warned that Pakistan could fall as a state (New York Times, April 2 2009).  Another statement to this effect came from David Kilcullen, an influential counterinsurgency expert who has said that within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state (Washington Post, March 22, 2009).  This horrific prospect is one that Washington experts apparently contemplate with the utmost equanimity.  Concomitantly with talk of the disintegration of Pakistan US writers and analysts are displaying a tendency to speak of the Pakistan conundrum or enigma.  For example, in an article in the New York Times Magazine (April 5, 2009), the writer says that Pakistan has made itself the supreme conundrum of American foreign policy.  The definition of Pakistan as a conundrum is in fact both convenient and self-serving.  There is no underlying mystery in the Pakistani dilemma, past and present.  The bewilderment expressed by the American mainstream at the inexplicable twists of Pakistan‘s politics is symptomatic of an unwillingness to acknowledge the hand of successive US administrations in bringing Pakistan to its present impasse.  This sordid history, tragic in its implications for the ordinary people of Pakistan, is one that has been abundantly narrated and documented by Tariq Ali, John K. Cooley and others.  The recruitment of the Pakistani state as a US ally by the Carter Administration for the purpose of funneling arms to the Mujahedin and fighting a proxy war against the Soviet Union, the lending of US support for the military dictator Zia al-Haq (1977-1988) who implemented a toxic program for the Islamization of Pakistani life and culture and the training and funding by the CIA of Pakistan’s intelligence services (ISI) all belong with the key episodes in this history.  Today of course the CIA and the US military are engaged in stepping up drone attacks in FATA in the name of targeting Taliban militants.  This animus toward Pakistan‘s tribal provinces is the complete reversal of American policy of the 80’s when the US was aiming to emerge as the victor in the Cold War.  "For the administrations of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and for General Zia al-Haq, Pakistan’s military dictator and their partner in the jihad in Afghanistan, the gun-making, gun-running and gun-toting country of Pakistan’s tribal northwest was the indispensable base to raise, train and launch an Islamic guerrilla army against the Soviet invaders," writes John K. Cooley.  Once unleashed, the Islamist genie cannot be easily reined in—as ordinary Pakistanis, especially women, victims of the consequences of US patronage of Pakistan’s military, intelligence services and political elites have found out to their cost.  India too has suffered from her proximity to a state in which an all powerful military dictated policies even during intervals of civilian rule and a sinister and bloated intelligence service engendered a jehadi progeny for the express purpose of carrying on a proxy war with the Indian state and subjecting the more powerful neighbor to an unremitting bleeding.  The Mumbai attacks of November 26 are the most recent consequence of the hostility of sections, especially the Islamist component, of the Pakistani elite to Indian interests.

India which is still licking its wounds from the Mumbai attacks of 11/26 cannot afford to play a passive, acquiescent role as the US goes about stirring up mayhem in the neighborhood in the name of prosecuting the war on terror.  Eventually of course the US will declare victory and move on to yet another theater of operations leaving behind military garrisons and a devastated country.  This is set to happen in the case of Iraq.  But as pointed out by MJ Akbar (Times of India, April 12, 2009) in relation to the South Asian region, the latest focal point of US energies, the people and countries have to live with the consequences of superpower intervention.  The dark history of US foreign policy and its baneful impact on target countries and regions of the world is known to responsible commentators and analysts from India-Pakistan and the South Asian diaspora.  The contours of this history must not be allowed to remain buried in academic journals, books that remain unread, radio and television channels that are rarely accessed and web sites that are seldom visited.  Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its errors and disastrous outcomes.  A massive campaign must be launched in the print and electronic media of India and Pakistan for the purpose of bringing about an un-forgetting of relevant chapters in the history of American Imperialism.  This knowledge must be integrated into the mainstream national and regional political discourse.  Arguably Pakistan‘s military and ISI elites would have never grown to be powers unto themselves without the patronage they received from the United States in the last decade of the Cold War and subsequent to the launching of the so-called War on Terror.  And—taking this train of thought to its logical conclusion–the jehadi outfits (Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and their ilk) would never have been nursed into being by state entities opposed to India and the tragic loss of life in Mumbai 11/26 would never have taken place.  For recognition of the inimical role that the US has played in the subcontinent in the past as well as the present a grasp of history is needed.  India‘s political class must re-view the South Asian predicament with a vision informed by a sense of history and call on the US to vacate its bases in the region.  Efforts must be made to seek a regional solution by reaching out to responsible elements of Pakistan‘s political classes and civil society.  In this regard Pervez Hoodbhoy’s warning is relevant:  "I am convinced that India‘s prosperity – and perhaps its physical survival – demands that Pakistan stays together."  This is not a question of being soft on terrorism or aiming to be a magnanimous neighbor.  Self-interest if nothing else dictates that the Pakistani scientist’s caution should be taken with the utmost seriousness.


Leave a comment