Increasing US belligerence raises fears of a major military escalation in Pakistan

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Waseem Shehzad

Rajab 29, 1429 2008-08-01


by Waseem Shehzad (World, Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 6, Rajab, 1429)

Suspicions that Pakistan is being set up for a major US military operation, probably in the tribal areas in the north-west of the country, have intensified in recent weeks, given added credibility by the endorsement of two retired Pakistani generals known for their keen observation of events in the region. In separate interviews, Mirza Aslam Baig, a former Pakistani army chief, and Hamid Gul, a former director of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have blamed the US’s increasing belligerence and the possibility of such a scenario on the weakness of Pakistan’s rulers.

In an interview with a private Pakistani television channel, General Gul revealed that US forces had already launched 46 strikes inside Pakistani territory, and warned that the attack that he expects could come very soon and be on a far larger scale of viciousness. He fears that the Americans might even attempt to take control of some parts of the tribal areas. The present uncertain situation is the result of the US occupation of Afghanistan and its interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs, which has now escalated alarmingly. He said this situation urgently demands a new debate and consensus among Pakistan’s political parties as to whether they should maintain their support for the foreign forces of aggression, or opt instead to support those forces fighting to protect Pakistan’s people and independence. He warned that American intelligence gathering and other preparations for an attack were advanced, with spy planes operating regularly. “If the political leadership fails to check the expected aggression and does not protest against it, Pakistan will fall prey to civil anarchy and the political parties too will not be able to survive,” he warned.

General (retired) Aslam Baig gave a much broader view of Western conspiracies against Pakistan and Iran, which he said were also aimed at China and Russia. “There are set-ups [bases] of the United States in Jiwani and Kot Kalmat, in Balochistan province from where they carry out different operations in the area,” he said. He accused the US of training members of Jundallah in Balochistan so that they could create unrest in the area and affect Iran-Pakistan relations. He called for a vigorous policy to frustrate such conspiracies. Jundullah is a Balochi terrorist outfit comprising drug smugglers that is backed and financed by the US to undermine the Islamic Republic of Iran, although this is in total violation of US undertakings given toIran following the Algiers Accords of January 1981, when the US pledged not to indulge in any activities that would threaten Iran in any way. General Baig emphasized that Iran andPakistan should work closely to frustrate US-Western designs because these are also aimed at breaking up Pakistan.

These dire warnings must be viewed against the backdrop of recent developments in and around Pakistan. Certain parts of the Frontier province, especially from Hangu to Parachinar in theKurram Valley and the surrounding towns of Doaba, Naryab, Zargari and Kahi, as well as adjoining tribal areas, are in complete turmoil. Gruesome acts of murder and kidnap are occurring virtually daily. On July 9 the town of Doaba, some 20 miles west of Hangu, was taken over by the Taliban. The group kidnapped scores of police constables. When Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel were rushed to the area, they were ambushed outside Kahi village; 17 of them were killed, and their bodies could not be retrieved for two days because of the tense stand-off. Mediation by a jirga from Hangu finally facilitated the removal of the bodies for burial.

The shoot-out near Kahi village occurred because the Taliban were demanding the release of Mullah Rafiuddin, who heads their madrassa and is a close associate of Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan. Rafiuddin remains under custody as the tense stand-off continues. To deal with it the army was rushed to the area and a brigade commander took charge of operations, with the army firing artillery shells into mountain villages. On July 16, it was reported that the army operation had cleared Naryab dam of Taliban militants. There were fears that they might destroy the dam, causing widespread havoc to villages below.

A week earlier, a convoy of paramilitary personnel carrying food to Parachinar was ambushed near Sadda. It was reported that some 60 FC personnel were brutally killed. The assailants separated the Shi‘a Turis from the Sunni Mangals; then the Shi‘as’ arms and legs were chopped off while they were still alive, before their throats were slit. Gruesome pictures of the victims have been circulating on the internet, raising Shi‘a-Sunni tensions. The manner in which the FC personnel were murdered has raised questions about the identity of the perpetrators. It is widely believed that these atrocities were carried out by Afghan or Indian agents to create turmoil in Pakistan and to stoke sectarian tensions. There appears to be some validity to this claim. On July 7 a suicide bomber blew the front gate of the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing 58 people. The dead included brigadier R D Mehta, the Indian military attache, political counsellor Venateswara Rao, a cover for an intelligence operative, and two Indian guards. The Afghan government immediately blamed Pakistan’s ISI and vowed to exact revenge, as didIndia.

The Indian embassy blast occurred after American bombings that killed more than 60 Afghan civilians in two separate incidents. On July 4, the Americans killed 15 civilians in Nuristan; two days later, US aircraft bombed a wedding party in Deh Bala village, Nangarhar province, killing 47 civilians, including the bride and several other women, as well as children. As usual in such cases, the US military first denied that any civilians had been killed, insisting that the dead were all “militants”, and then changed their story to promises to investigate the incidents as evidence mounted.

The murderous American operations so enraged the Afghans that even President Hamid Karzai was forced to say his “patience was running out” with the Americans. These were brave words, but everyone in Afghanistan knows that he is an American puppet and cannot do anything to protect the people he claims to represent. He flew to Deh Bala village on July 19 to express condolences to the families, but could offer no assurances that the Americans would not carry out more such attacks. In recent months, the American attitude has become even more brazen. Using drones to drop bombs killing civilians has become routine.

Many observers believe that the blast at the Indian embassy on July 7, and the attack on an American military post at Wanat village in Kunar province on July 13, in which nine American soldiers were killed and 15 others injured, were carried out to avenge the deliberate killing of civilians by the Americans.

Nor is such American arrogance restricted to Afghanistan. This was explicitly confirmed by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a press conference following his visit to Afghanistan early last month. He said he had all the authority to act in ways he deemed appropriate in Pakistan’s tribal areas. While Pakistani officials indulge in loud rhetoric about not allowing any country to violate Pakistan’s “sovereignty”, the fact is that Pakistani rulers have no self-respect or honour left. Talking about sovereignty is meaningless in such an situation.

This was also confirmed during the meeting between Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his US counterpart, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, in Washington on July 11. Diplomats present at the meeting called it “frank”– a euphemism for Rice giving Qureshi a dressing down. The following day, Mullen arrived unannounced in Islamabad to meet General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Army. He reportedly gave Kiyani what was described as a stark warning that Pakistan had to deal with the situation in the tribal areas, otherwise the Americans would themselves do it. A similar message was delivered when Pakistani prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani met US president George Bush at the White House on July 28. The reality is that they have already been operating in the tribal areas for some time; what appears to be new is that they now want to escalate their operations by sending in their Special Forces on the ground, possibly even to take control of a part of it, as warned by General Hamid Gul.

The increasing pressure on Pakistan to “do more” reflects the pressure that the US is under in neighbouring Afghanistan, which the US constantly blames on Pakistan’s failure to prevent support reaching the Afghan mujahideen from Pakistan. What precisely the US expects from Pakistan is never spelled out, but the bottom line is clear: Pakistan must fight America’s war inAfghanistan and, if it will not or cannot, the Americans will spread the war into Pakistan itself. That is what now appears to be happening. The turmoil in the tribal area is the direct result of Pakistani subservience to the US and the latter’s brutal policies towards civilians in Pakistan.

While the Americans concentrate on their geopolitical interests in the north of the country, the people of Pakistan are already reeling from shortages of essential commodities and skyrocketing prices. The poor have been hit so hard that according to newspaper reports, there were 200 cases of suicide in June alone, the vast majority involving women and children. Hardly a day passes without newspapers reporting a mother jumping in front of a train clutching her babies because of their despair at the hunger and poverty that Pakistan’s ordinary people face. The actual numbers of such deaths may be much higher, as only the most dramatic cases make it into the media.

In the last few years, Pakistan’s economy has been underpinned by American largesse paid to General Pervez Musharraf and the army to do the US’s dirty work. Given the established mindset of Pakistan’s political elites, this is unlikely to change, despite the erection of a civilian political facade after the general elections on February 18. Subservience to the US is a permanent feature of life, which is why American officials can walk into any government office in the country, demand to see any official, high or low, and insist that certain policies be pursued, even if they are detrimental to Pakistan’s interests.

The Americans appear determined to create so much chaos in Pakistan that it will lead to its disintegration. The ruling elites, whether civilian or military, are willing accomplices in this criminal enterprise. All they are interested in is lining up their own pockets. The country and its people can go to the dogs.

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