by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 3, Jumada' al-Ula', 1432)
Since he entered the White House in January 2009, Barack Obama has made war on Pakistan the most important policy of his presidency even while he has maintained a broad grin on his face. the presidential campaign: speak softly but carry a big stick.
Since he entered the White House in January 2009, Barack Obama has made war on Pakistan the most important policy of his presidency even while he has maintained a broad grin on his face. This is what Obama said during the presidential campaign: speak softly but carry a big stick. He has not only carried a big stick but has used it far more frequently than his discredited rightwing predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama has chosen Pakistan for special treatment launching the highest number of drone attacks — nearly 200 so far — on its people without regard to civilian casualties that now number almost 2,000. Clearly, Pakistani lives have no value as far as Obama and the Americans are concerned.
Now Obama has signalled escalation of the war on Pakistan by appointing General David Petraeus as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). To understand the significance of this appointment both for domestic US politics as well as Pakistan, we need to understand what it means. Domestically, Obama may have made a deft move to remove one potential presidential challenger from his way as he launches his bid for the 2012 race. But internationally, Petraeus’s appointment to the CIA top post is deeply troubling, not least for Pakistan.
It essentially militarizes the CIA that in recent years has evolved more into a killing machine than an intelligence-gathering outfit. Drone attacks on Pakistan are directed and launched by the CIA, not the US military. Drones have also been used in attacks on Yemen and now in Libya. Even the UN has questioned the legality of drone attacks on Pakistan. This is based on the law of armed conflict where combatants must be clearly identifiable and recognizable. How can one recognize faceless bureaucrats sitting at some control panel in the US pressing buttons to launch Hellfire missiles thousands of miles away? These CIA operatives could be open to charges of war crimes. The US has designated hundreds of people as “enemy non-combatants” and consigned them to Guantanamo because they were not wearing clearly identifiable military uniforms when fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan. Why can’t the same rule cannot apply to CIA killers pushing buttons on some control panel?
Petraeus has been intimately involved in two US wars: Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also directed operations in Yemen. He was the architect of what is referred to as the “troop surge” in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, he took credit for containing the insurgency and facilitating relocation of US troops from urban centres to reduce American casualties. In Afghanistan, his performance has been less stellar but Petraeus and Obama are not constrained by the Afghan debacle. Their real target is Pakistan where hundreds of CIA operatives have launched a murderous campaign planting bombs and killing innocent people. The Raymond Davis affair lifted the veil from this sordid affair despite American officials claiming he had “diplomatic” immunity. Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight on a busy street in Lahore on January 27. The police recovered all kinds of surveillance equipment and cameras from his vehicle. He still got away free without a trial. This scandalous affair has further spiked people’s resentment against the US.
Then there are the Special Forces Operations that Petraeus has launched in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. These are essentially extra-judicial executions in contravention of the laws of armed conflict and international law. CIA teams have operated alongside US special operations forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These will now intensify in Pakistan. That is not all; the CIA has built a formidable paramilitary capability of its own clearly signalling its discontent with the work of Special Forces.
The CIA is not only being militarized, Petraeus has an in-your-face attitude. Even habitually craven Pakistani officials have been rankled by his demands. This is evident in the new strains between the CIA and Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Pakistanis have asked the CIA to provide a complete list of its operatives in Pakistan. This is not likely to be heeded but the ISI has realized the Americans are actively involved in destabilizing Pakistan. That this will translate into formulating a coherent policy, which will end America’s illegal operations in Pakistan, is yet to be seen.
What is certain is that with Petraeus at the helm of the CIA, the war on Pakistan will intensify. Is the Pakistani military and its ISI up to the task? More importantly, are they prepared to take on the challenge? The coming weeks and months will tell.