by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 11, Muharram, 1431)
An army of American officials — civilian and military — have been marching in and out of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, is if it were some kind of a popular picnic spot. Islamabad is anything but a holiday resort: it has become an armed camp bristling with checkpoints manned by menacing looking security personnel, road blocks and other obstacles that disrupt the daily lives of millions of people. It is all done in the name of America’s so-called war on terror that is viewed by the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis and indeed other people around the world as a war of terror.
Pakistan was never a violent place. People went about their daily business without fearing for their lives. The only problem they faced was from the poorly paid policeman who would demand bribes in order to make ends meet. But the policeman acted with care; he knew whom not to bother. Getting on the wrong side of the elite was a deadly sin that the policeman learnt not to commit. His victims were always the poor rickshaw or truck driver. Now the game has changed. It is not merely the policeman that demands to know who is doing what; in Islamabad as well as other cities, people have to negotiate their way through a maze of obstacles. They must submit their vehicles for endless inspections. People are not even sure whether they will make it back home alive. Such is the fear, borne of real-life experience that it has become a common feature of life in Pakistan.
All this is the gift of American friendship and the war on terror into which Pakistan has been sucked through US bullying. Since the Pakistani military dictator General Pervez Musharraf surrendered to the US following a single phone call on September 12, 2001 from General Colin Powell, then serving as USPresident George Bush’s Secretary of State, Pakistan has rapidly gone downhill. Lawlessness has increased, violent attacks, suicide bombs and kidnappings, unknown in Pakistan before 9/11, have escalated, thanks to US policies.
American officials march into Pakistan on short notice and demand to see whatever official they deem fit. The spineless Pakistani rulers cannot say no. When Pakistani officials visit the US, they are subjected to humiliating searches at airports: they must take off their shoes, remove their jacket and belt and are subjected to endless loops of metal wands passed over their bodies. At times they are also subjected to physical pat downs. They put up with such humiliation because slaves cannot refuse the demands of their master.
The latest US official to descend on Islamabad was US Defence Secretary Robert Gates following his three-day visit to Delhi (January 19–21). More than 125 Pentagon officials, including several of his deputies and other security officials, accompanied Gates when he landed in Islamabad on January 21. One observer wondered, aloud, whether anyone, apart from janitors, was left at the Pentagon. During his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on January 20, Gates assured him that the US would not leave Afghanistan precipitously and that it was in the region for the long-term. So much for US President Barack Obama’s rhetoric that the US had no intention of occupying other people’s lands. This was reinforced by Gates’ declaration that the US wanted to increase the strength of its military personnel at theUS embassy in Islamabad from the present 45 to 280. Pakistani officials do not have the courage to ask why or say no.
Even before his arrival in Islam-abad, it was made clear in Washington as to what Gates would demand of Pakistan. Under the rubric of discussing Washington’s new Afghan strategy, the Americans want the Pakistani military to attack North Waziristan as well, all as part of the larger US strategy of fighting so-called terrorism. Showing utter contempt for Pakistan’s sovereignty, the Americans have continued drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal region, especially South Waziristan killing more than 800 civilians. More than a dozen drone attacks have been launched since seven CIA agents were killed in a suicide bombing in Khost on December 30. While Pakistani rulers are complicit in US drone attacks on their own people, they periodically utter mild criticism to assuage public anger. Now Gates wants them to shut up because this increases anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
The US commits war crimes against civilians but Pakistani rulers are not permitted to complain even verbally.
Not surprisingly, on January 19, hundreds of students in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province, held a rally condemning US state terrorism and called on the Pakistani rulers to demand an immediate end to drone attacks and the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghan-istan. The students also pointed out that the presence of US and foreign forces in Afghanistan was the direct cause of all the mayhem and terrorism in Pakistan.
Students can see this simple truth that has escaped Pakis-tani rulers for dec-ades. Even if they do, they do not have the courage to stand up to big bully America. Since the US pays for such crimes and the money goes into the pockets of corrupt Pakistani officials, attacks against civilians will continue.
In addition to the demand to increase the number of US military personnel at the US embassy from 45 to 280, there are hundreds of American soldiers already prowling most major cities of Pakistan. They are operating in such places as Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore, etc. Then there are the Black-water/Xe Services mercenaries totalling some 3,000 that have virtually taken over Pakistan.
These lawless hoodlums are responsible for most terrorist acts in Pakistan including bombings in crowded areas as well as attacks on Pakistani military personnel and installations. Such attacks are blamed on the Taliban but the reality, well-known to most Pakistanis yet stubbornly denied by Pakistani officials in order not to upset the US, is that Blackwater mercenaries are involved in such hideous crimes. Numerous Pakistani commentators on television and in the print media have provided incontrovertible proof of Blackwater crimes in connivance with US diplomatic staff in Pakistan.
Gates’ visit is intended to exert more pressure on Pakistan to largely assume all the US responsibility of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lawlessness, acts of terrorism and bureaucratic crimes, already high in Pakistan, will increase further. Islamabad is already more dangerous than Baghdad. The Iraqi capital’s “Green zone” has being transplanted to Islamabad. There are more terrorist acts in Pakistan today than there are in Iraq.
Welcome to the new war zone in America’s never-ending war. This one is fought on Pakistan’s soil and paid for in Pakistani life and blood. According to the most conservative estimates, the US war has cost Pakistan more than $40 billion so far while the US has paid Pakistan a total of $10 billion. Yet the Americans never tire of reminding the Pakistanis that America is giving them aid. This is poison money that has distorted life in Pakistan at the political, social and economic levels. Pakistanis would only get peace when the Americans are driven out not only from Pakistan but also from Afghanistan and the larger region. As the students in Peshawar accurately surmised, Pakistan’s problems are linked directly to the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Enough of America’s war on terror; it is a war of terror. Let us call a spade a spade.