by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 15, Rajab, 1422)
The indecent haste with which the rulers of Pakistan have surrendered to US demands in the new crusade against Islam reflects the deep divide between the rulers and the Pakistani masses. Public protests in various parts of the country, with four deaths by police firing on September 21 alone, is merely the tip of the iceberg. It is now quite possible that civil war will break out, perhaps resulting in Pakistan’s disintegration. At the very least, this crisis exacerbates divisions in an already fractured society.
The US campaign against Islam is viewed with great alarm by most of the Ummah. Pakistan finds itself in a difficult predicament, yet its volte face over Afghanistan shows how quickly Pakistani rulers — military and civilian alike — buckle under external pressure, without regard for the country’s real interests. Surrendering to American demands (agreeing to allow its soil as well as air space to be used for attacks against Afghanistan) exposes Pakistan to great danger. True, the US warned of dire consequences if Pakistan did not comply — US president George W. Bush stated bluntly, “you are either with us or with the terrorists” — so it is not difficult to imagine what that would have meant for Pakistan: further economic hardships and the threat of attack on its nuclear installations. Islamabad may have averted these dangers only temporarily and perhaps only partially by submitting to the US’s demands.
Uncle Sam is notoriously unreliable as a “friend”; in US-Pakistani relations, friendship means little: it is a one-way street in which Washington dictates policy and Islamabad simply complies. With American troops now stationed in Pakistan, the country is effectively under US military occupation. In that sense Pakistan today is no better than Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Bahrain.
For the military rulers this may be all right, but for the ordinary Muslims in Pakistan (and Muslims elsewhere), these are troubling developments. What has transpired must be viewed in the context of the US’s global aims. This ‘war against terrorism’ is no less than a declaration of war on Islam, claims by Bush that he is not against Islam notwithstanding. Similarly, American threats against those who do not comply with its demands are precisely what constitute terrorism. So American terrorism is all right, but opposition to it is not; nor may one oppose zionist terrorism in Palestine, because Israel is Uncle Sam’s baby.
The allegations made by the US against Osama bin Ladin and Afghanistan have unravelled quickly. Several people accused by the US of carrying out the attacks have been found to be alive. Even Robert Mueller, the FBI director, was forced to admit on September 22 that some of the names may not be accurate. Further, the sophistication of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon is such that they would not have been possible without co-operation from within the airline system and without the support of at least one intelligence agency, such as Mossad, the Israeli secret service. How could Muslims have got access to the airports from which the flights took off, and perhaps their computer systems?
There is much circumstantial evidence pointing to Israeli involvement in the attacks but, in the hysteria being whipped up against Islam and Muslims, such details are being overlooked, probably deliberately. For instance one of the suspects, the Egyptian-born Mohamed Atta, is believed to have defected to Israel several years ago. One Israeli Hebrew paper, Yediot Aharanot, has reported that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, due to fly to the US on September 11, was advised by Shin Bet not to do so because of the threat of a “possible attack”. How did Shin Bet know? Why did the Israelis not notify the US, their closest ally and sponsor?
Apart from the details of the attacks, it is the larger US policy that is of concern. The manner in which Washington is pursuing its policy suggests a more aggressive form of imperialism. The US is no longer content to allow its proxies to do its bidding; it is expanding its occupation of Muslim lands. The US already occupies and controls the western shores of the Persian Gulf; the eastern shores have been off-limits since the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979). These new developments give the US an opportunity to fulfil this dream as well. The ostensible reason is the “threat” posed by Osama bin Laden, but Condoleesa Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, made it clear on September 23 that US policy is aimed at overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and replacing it with a US-friendly one.
It is not even Afghanistan that is the real target of American policy. Under the cover of Osama and the Taliban, the US intends to neuter the nuclear Pakistan and surround China, an emerging new economic and military power in the world. It is interesting to note that after September 11, China closed the Karakoram Highway that links it with Pakistan, through which a considerable amount of trade was conducted between the two countries. Pakistan’s nuclear capability is viewed with alarm in both Washington and Israel. Indeed, while the US essentially ignored India’s nuclear explosions in May 1998, Pakistan was threatened with dire consequences if it went ahead with its own. American and Israeli hatred of Islam is intense. Both view it as a potential danger to their hegemonic policies. Although Pakistan is not an Islamic State, its nuclear potential is still feared because an Islamic Revolution may be brought about there by Pakistan’s Muslims.
Pakistan’s military government has argued that it had little choice in the matter (there may be some truth in this assertion); it is the readiness with which it has so quickly surrendered that is worrying. After all, what it has got in return is derisory compared with what it has conceded. The US has withdrawn its objection to Pakistan’s getting the last tranche of IMF ‘aid’: some US$600 million, which will see it through immediate difficulties but that is all. America has also lifted the sanctions against both Pakistan and India that were instigated after the nuclear tests. Yet Pakistan continues to suffer from other sanctions that have been in place since 1990. But if Islamabad hoped to get some help from the US in resolving the Kashmir dispute, US secretary of state Colin Powell was dismissive, saying that what is happening in Kashmir is “terrorism”; so much for American friendship.
So by aligning itself so closely with America’s policies, Pakistan’s government has incurred the enmity of Afghanistan, aroused the anger of a very large segment of its own population, and obtained little in exchange. Instead it has exposed itself to the perils of civil war. Pakistan’s misfortune is that its people have no Islamic leadership that can guide them and show them how to bend this perilous situation to the service of the ends and aims of Islam.