US behaviour provoking angry demonstrations in Pakistan

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zia Sarhadi

Dhu al-Qa'dah 13, 1423 2003-01-16


by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 22, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1423)

Given president George Bush’s limited grasp of international affairs, it would be unrealistic to expect him to understand why America is hated so much worldwide, but his advisors should be better equipped to deal with the reality of global politics. Soon after the American bombing of a madrassah (religious school) in North Waziristan on December 29, ostensibly targeting Pakistani border-guards, a senior US military official caused outrage on January 3 when he claimed that American forces had the “right” at any time to cross into Pakistan on “counter-terrorism operations.”

This brazenness and the intended US attack on Iraq provoked noisy demonstrations the same day, attended by tens of thousands of people in Karachi. That the demonstrations were held in Pakistan’s largest cosmopolitan centre indicates the Pakistanis’ anger. Even western diplomats agree that “anti-Americanism is the issue that unites almost all shades of political opinion in Pakistan.” Such unity would have been dismissed as impossible barely six months ago.

That America is an unreliable friend is well known to the people of Pakistan; only Pakistan’s rulers still delude themselves that Washington will not betray Pakistan again. Such innocence would be touching, were it not for its deadly consequences. The US has in fact betrayed its true intentions even sooner than its critics had predicted. It was barely a year ago—in October 2001—that US secretary of state Colin Powell gave assurances that Washington would not abandon Pakistan again, and admitted past mistakes in dealing with Pakistan. General Pervez Musharraf, in justifying his sudden volte face over Pakistan’s three-decades-old policy on Afghanistan, claimed that he had secured Pakistan’s “national interests.” He identified these as the country’s nuclear assets and the 50-year-old Kashmir ‘dispute’, which would now be resolved by Washington forcing India to the negotiating-table, because of Islamabad’s support for America’s war on the Taliban and for the “war on terrorism.” To support these American objectives, Musharraf provided military bases and intelligence information to the US military; the US war on the Taliban could not have succeeded without Pakistan’s help. Additionally, FBI agents were given a free hand to hunt alleged al-Qa’ida members and supporters in Pakistan.

Quoting defence officials in Islamabad, the Karachi daily Dawn reported on January 6 that so far “443 Al-Qaeda operatives” have been handed over to the US. The paper also reported that “more than 500 Al-Qaeda members” have been arrested since the start of the US-led campaign in Afghanistan in October 2001. There have been a number of bizarre incidents involving FBI agents arresting Pakistani citizens, including doctors, on suspicion that they were involved with the Taliban or al-Qa’ida. The best-known case is that of Dr Aamir Aziz, a surgeon in Lahore, who was interrogated by FBI and CIA agents for a month before being released on November 19. His “crime” was that he had treated Usama bin Ladin and some Taliban officials in Afghanistan before September 11,2001. Apparently, in the US-crafted world order, a doctor must now violate his oath by not treating anyone except those approved by America! Equally bizarre is the case of Dr Ahmed Javed Khwaja and Naveed Khwaja and three members of their family. Their home, in Manawan village near Lahore, was raided in the middle of the night of December 19. They were arrested and accused of being supporters of al-Qa’ida. A gun was also recovered from the house, but it turned out to be licensed: there was nothing illegal about it.

While this drama was being played out in Lahore, FBI agents contacted people with the last name Khwaja even in Toronto, demanding to know what their links with the arrested persons in Pakistan were. These startled Canadian citizens were not even aware that people with the same last name had been arrested in Pakistan. So now FBI agents can even interrogate Canadian citizens without any regard for Canadian legal requirements.

In Pakistan, the two senior Khwajas, in handcuffs and their faces masked, were produced in court on December 21, but the government failed to produce their children on the date ñ December 31 ñ specified by the court; this was a clear case of contempt of court. Their lawyer accused the government of making frivolous charges to cover up its illegal act. Pakistan’s new interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, a renegade from the People’s Party, came up with even more bizarre allegations. He said that the government had “proof” that the Khwajas were involved with al-Qa’ida because they were sheltering two Arab women in their house. Like most Pakistanis, the Khwajas are kind and generous people; sheltering those in need is a time-honoured tradition among Muslims. The humiliation to which the elderly Khwajas have been subjected is a disgrace, merely to please Uncle Sam and to satiate his lust for vengeance. At the time of writing (January 8), the Khwajas remain in detention, although an anti-terrorism court in Lahore granted them bail on January 1. The interior ministry said that it is holding them for three months under a special detention order.

Pakistan’s surreal politics could do with a closer look. Until his appointment as interior minister under a horse-trading deal, Faisal Saleh Hayat’s name was on the government’s “exit control list.” This list was compiled by the military government in order to prevent politicians from escaping the country before cases of corruption against them had been dealt with. According to some sources, Faisal Saleh Hayat’s name is still on the list because of charges pending against him, especially relating to corruption. This fugitive from justice is not only guilty of contempt of court but, according to newspaper reports, he is now targeting those who were involved in investigating the charges against him.

Musharraf’s surrender to US demands, however, has failed to bring the hoped-for political dividends. He may have got a new lease of political life ñ the Americans no longer refer to him as a “military dictator” ñ but the country fares no better. Neither on the question of Kashmir nor on the nuclear issue has Pakistan found any relief. The US and its allies routinely describe Pakistan-trained “freedom-fighters” in Kashmir as “terrorists”. As if it has finally dawned on him, Musharraf admitted at the end of December: “Nobody will come to our assistance [against India over the question of Kashmir]. We have to fight alone ourselves.” Regarding Pakistan’s nuclear capability, dark hints are being dropped in Washington, not too subtly, that Islamabad may have helped North Korea with its nuclear programme.

Far from appreciating Pakistan’s help, Uncle Sam is busy tightening the screws on Islamabad. US troops even fire on and humiliate Pakistani forces at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; on January 5, for instance, American commandos forcibly opened the gate at the Ghakhi Pass border-checkpoint in Bajaur tribal agency, and let hundreds of Afghans stream into Pakistan. Pakistani border-guards, who had orders to keep the gate closed to prevent the Afghans from crossing over, just watched because their superiors had told them not to resist the Americans. Such humiliations are now becoming routine. As the Pakistanis fail to stand up for their rights, so the Americans become bolder.

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