The unfolding crisis in Pakistan

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THE UNFOLDING CRISIS IN PAKISTAN – I

`The greatest threat lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan’

rahnuma ahmed

We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.

– Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, Woodrow Wilson Centre, July 15, 2008

Swat, renowned for its natural beauty, its thick forests, lush valleys and sweeping mountains is now a scene of death and destruction, and of unfolding horror as the Pakistan military, armed with gunship helicopters, mortar and jets intensifies its operation to “eliminate” Taliban fighters. Military operations are being conducted in three neighbouring districts of the North West Frontier Province — Swat, Dir and Buner — an area stretching to 400 square miles. According to the UN, 200,000 people have already left their homes, with another 300,000 leaving, or about to leave. But the total number of displaced people, due to the fighting in recent months, is estimated to be a million (The Telegraph/UK, May 8, 2009). According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, fleeing civilians, caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the army, do not even have time to bury their dead.

American plans to intensify the conflict in a region that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan,  according to the BBC, could only serve to `deepen the crisis.’ According to its Islamabad correspondent, the security forces are poised for a `showdown.’ The present operation is regarded as `pivotal’ in the struggle against the Taliban. If it fails, Swat could turn into `an even bigger safe haven for militants and al-Qaeda than the tribal areas.’ According to Pakistan’s prime minister, this war is not a `normal war’ (but after all, what is a normal war?). It is a `war for the survival of the country’

When I first saw the recent video footage of the public flogging of a 17 year old girl by the Taliban in Swat, I remembered earlier video footages that had widely-circulated on the internet, of women being publicly humiliated and beaten by the Taliban in Afghanistan. I also remembered Laura Bush’s solo radio address to the nation (the first to be delivered entirely by a first lady, October 2001). It was after the US invasion. The women of Afghanistan, we were told, were `rejoicing.’ They no longer had to `face beatings,’ they could wear `nail polish’ without being afraid of finger nails being pulled out. Seven and a half years later, there seems little reason to think that women still rejoice (if they ever did). According to news reports, women are disproportionately affected due to death and injuries caused by US and NATO troops, i.e., their `liberators.’ I do not know whether something more lies behind the surfacing of these video footages `attesting’ to the inhumanity suffered by Muslim women, whether they are actually signifiers of impending western imperial aggression.

Chand Bibi’s screams, as J Sri Raman reminds us, were preceded by the sound of drones — remotely operated US gunships — for many months. Neither side, however, seemed to care about the “death and suffering” caused by their actions.

Tensions grew between the two governments over the ceasefire or peace deal in which the Zardari government agreed to the Taliban’s enforcement of their interpretation of the sharia in Swat. The US secretary of state termed it an `abdication’ to the Taliban. The situation in Pakistan posed “a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.” The Taliban, said Ms Clinton, were seeking to overthrow the state of Pakistan, one that is “a nuclear armed state.” The Obama administrations’s hysterical views on the government’s ability to contain the Taliban were chorused by members of the mainstream media and academics. On a Democracy Now! news video I watched David Sanger of New York Times express doubts about whether Zardari’s confidence in the army to safeguard the nuclear bomb was justified. I watched Rolp Mowatt-Larssen of the Kennedy School of Government express fears that `instability might lead to a security breakdown where they might lose either material or parts of a [nuclear] weapon.’ But Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, speaking on the Jon Stewart show, was in a class by himself. He shrilled excitedly as he said, “(but) the problem in Pakistan is, we don’t have anybody there, we don’t have any US troops there.”

Historian Manan Ahmed, University of Chicago, was asked by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman about the recent events, and how they get talked about in the US. There is a lot of hyper-ventilation, says Manan. It is very hard to project a future in which Pakistan fails. There are mega-cities, Karachi has a population of 18 million, Islamabad possibly 12-13 million. The Pakistan army is 500,000 to 700,000 strong, the Taliban fighters are estimated to be 14,000 to 18,000. It is very hard to see how they are simply going to walk into Islamabad and take over the nuclear bombs and the nuclear facilties. When asked by Amy, what should be the US administration’s approach to the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Manan replied, firstly, these two countries should not be linked together. The current administration’s Af-Pak strategy (or, Af-Pak `theatre’) is misplaced, to start with. The fact of the matter is, Afghanistan has a population of 35 million or so, it is ravaged by 30 plus years of war, it has hardly any infrastructure to speak of, and very little urban presence. Whereas, in Pakistan, there are 175 million people, at least, some tradition of governance, and also, a fiercely critical media. Afghanistan and Pakistan are not countries whose fates can be lumped in one basket. The first thing to do, says Manan, is to recognise Pakistan’s own realities. 

Secondly, he went on, the civilian government of Zardari has to be lent support. It is suffering from a legitimacy crisis on the domestic front because of the Long March. The drone attacks have contributed to the crisis, even though, according to Pentagon and other related outlets, their success rate is abysmally low, only 2% of al-Qaeda, Taliban and targetted people have actually been killed, the remaining 98% killed are civilians. In November last year, Gilani had promised to the nation on television that the new administration would stop the drone attacks. However, these attacks have not only continued but increased in frequency. I myself, said Manan, am not a fan of Zardari, but since this is the government that was elected by the people — and that too, after a 12 year gap in elections — one has to extend to them the political will to act in Swat, Waziristan, Balochistan. One has to give them the political standing that will enable them to go to the people and say, this is a hard war, we need to support the refugees and we need to fight these `foreign elements’ militarily.

Pepe Escobar, a Brazilian journalist, thinks the proposition that a rag-tag band with less than 10,000 fighters, no air force, no Predator drones, no tanks, no heavily weaponised vehicles, concentrated and localised in particular areas (of NWFP and Punjab), could rout the well-equipped, very professional 550,000-strong Pakistani army, the sixth largest military in the world, which has already met the Indian colossus in battle, is downright “ludicrous” (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KE01Df01.html )Why the hysteria then? He thinks a democratic government, a truly civilian government in Islamabad, is “more than a threat to US interests.” The Talibanisation of Pakistan is a myth, it is a diversion, “a cog in the slow-moving regional big wheel — which in itself is part of the new great game in Eurasia.” A new narrative is emerging, writes Escobar, one needed to legitimise Obama’s Af-Pak surge. The new uber-bogeyman is Baitullah Masood, with a US $5 million price on his head. Predator drones hit his family home in South Waziristan twice but not where he was actually located. Even though the ISI had forwarded the information to the CIA. Not only once, but twice.

The greatest threat, it seems to me, lies not in the tribal regions of Pakistan as president Obama proclaims, but in the military-industrial complex that goes by the name of the United States, and in its heartless centres, Washington and Pentagon.

Published in New Age, 11 May 2009

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THE UNFOLDING CRISIS IN PAKISTAN – II

 Shared `future’ (and past) of Pakistan and America’s rulers

rahnuma ahmed

 The United States has a stake in the future of these two countries [Pakistan, Afghanistan]. We have learned, time and again, that our security is shared. 

– President Barack Obama at a news conference in Washington,

flanked by Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai, May 6, 2009

“Future,” shared. Okay, maybe. But what about the past?

To be fair to president Obama, he did mention the `past’. Not at this news conference, but earlier, on 27 March. In a speech broadcast live from the White House, he had said, “To avoid the mistakes of the past” we must work with the people of Pakistan, not just the government.

What exactly did he (or his speechwriter) mean when he referred to “mistakes” committed by the US and Pakistan governments? I presume he is speaking of previous US administrations since his is only four months old. What sort of work was it? What was it aimed at? Whose interests did they serve, the peoples’, or that of the rulers? If it was not that of the former but the latter — as many commentators and analysts now argue — what does it tell us about the nature of American politics? About the processes through which citizens of western democracies are led to believe that their elected leaders do not deviate from oaths taken, of protectingtheir own citizens? That their intelligence agencies, who work under the direction of these leaders, would not covertly work with the intelligence agency of a US ally, to murder its own citizens? (Well, maybe citizens of third world nations not intelligent enough to vote the right leadership into power, but surely not American ones?). When Obama says, the two nations must work with the US, to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan” so that they can no longer “plot” against, or “threaten” the American people, a lesson “learned most painfully on 9/11″ — which history do these words, repeated ad nauseum by both Democrats and Republicans and the parrot media, hide?

Currently, debates are raging over these political issues, inspired largely by the painstaking and meticulous research conducted over the last couple of years by a whole range of people, including professionals, grass-roots workers and family members of victims killed on 9/11, who form the 9/11 Truth movement. Needless to say, the scientific findings and analyses of its members is largely marginalised by the American corporate media. After all, as the Nuremberg trials had demonstrated `propaganda’ was deemed by both prosecuters and judges to be a crime against humanityJulius Streicher, founder and publisher of Der Sturmer  was accused, indicted and executed in 1946 for inciting the murder and extermination of Jews. By Nuremberg standards, top-ranking members of the US media too, are culpable to charges of criminal complicity in mass murder.

The myth that the origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to the Soviet occupation (1979-1989) of Afghanistan was dispelled by Zbignew Brzezinski, president Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In an interview, Brzezinski said, the reality, which was “secretly guarded”, was “completely otherwise” (Le Nouvel Observateur, 1998). President Carter had authorised secret aid to the opponents of Kabul’s pro-Soviet regime a good six months earlier, to “induce a Soviet military intervention,” to make them “bleed for as much and as long as is possible.” The contra force was known as the Afghan mujahedin. Codenamed Operation Cyclone, the CIA’s mujahedin program was one of the longest and most expensive CIA covert operations ever. Resistance groups received funding from Britain’s MI6, SAS, Saudi Arabia, and China. Between 1981 to 1993, the US government poured at least US $6 billion dollars; according to some estimates, figures were as high as $20 billion dollars. A briefing paper for Pakistani parliamentarians states, the ISI and CIA worked together in passing “weapons, military training and financial support to Afghan resistance groups” (Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: An Overview 1947-2004. PILDAT, 2004). According to other reports, supporting guerilla forces had two distinct advantages: while running an occupation was proving to be cripplingly expensive for the Soviet Union, the cost of supporting anti-Soviet guerilla forces was relatively low. Further, since American troops were not directly involved, no body bags being flown home meant a low level of general public awareness, and hardly any disapproval.

According to the 2004 briefing paper, during this period, the ISI and the CIA encouraged volunteers from the Arab states to join the mujahedin groups. And that they did. At least a hundred thousand Islamic militants, says Ahmed Rashid of Far Eastern Economic Review; flocked to Pakistan between 1982 to 1992; among them, about 60,000 instead of taking part in the fighting, enrolled in madrasas. Muslims who were recruited in the US were sent to the CIA’s spy training camp in Virginia. According to John Cooley, the author of Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, young Afghans, and Arabs from Egypt and Jordan, and even some African-American “black” Muslims were given training in “sabotage skills.” The Americans, said Tom Carew, a former British SAS soldier who had secretly fought for the mujahedin, were keen to teach the Afghans the techniques of urban terrorism, such as car bombing, “so that they could strike at the Russians in major towns” (British Observer, 13 August 2000). In 1986, Osama bin Laden, a civil engineer by training, brought heavy construction equipment to Afghanistan from Saudi Arabia to build “training camps” (later dubbed “terrorist universities” by Washington) deep into the sides of mountains, and connecting roads, in collaboration with the ISI and the CIA. 

New covert assistance under the Reagan doctrine saw a dramatic rise in arms supplies. As it rose to an annual high of 65,000 tons by 1987, a “ceaseless stream” of CIA and Pentagon specialists journeyed to Rawalpindi. At the ISI headquarters there, ISI intelligence officers and CIA specialists, to borrow president Obama’s phrase, `worked together’ in planning operations to assist the Afghan mujahedin. CIA’s support for the jihadis, as Michel Chossudovsky, Professor of Economics, University of Ottawa points out, was channeled through the ISI. For the operation to be successful it was necessary that Washington’s ultimate objective of the jihad — destroying the Soviet Union — remain a secret. And thus, Muslim militants, motivated as they were by nationalism and religious beliefs, were unaware that they were doing Uncle Sam’s dirty job. “While there were contacts at the upper levels of the intelligence hierarchy, Islamic rebel leaders in theatre had no contacts with Washington or the CIA”. With a staff estimated at 150,000, composed of military and intelligence officers, bureaucrats, undercover agents and informers, the ISI soon developed a “parallel structure” which wielded “enormous power over all aspects of government.”

Closely linked to the CIA’s covert operation was the Central Asian drug trade. Previously, opium production was limited and catered to small regional markets. Two years after the CIA began its operation, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world’s top heroin producer; in Pakistan, heroin addiction rose from near-zero in 1979 to 1.2 million in 1985.

CIA’s support for the Islamic jihad was later relocated to Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans, where new undercover initiatives were set in motion. According to Chossudovsky, the role of Pakistan’s military and intelligence network in the events leading to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of six new Muslim republics in Central Asia, proved to be that of a “catalyst”

But surely, the close CIA-ISI `working relationship’ ended after the Cold War? Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst employed by the Rand corporation who blew the whistle and revealed a top secret study of US government decisions about the Vietnam war in 1971 (Pentagon Papers), does not seem to think so. “To say Pakistan is, to me, to say CIA because … it’s hard to say that the ISI knew something that the CIA had no knowledge of”. Nine-eleven, according to the Truth-ers, was neither a surprise attack on the US government, nor was it an event opportunistically used by the Bush administration to extend the American empire. Nor was it a case of the Bush administration knowing about it but allowing it to happen. On the contrary, they think — and present a most convincing case — that 9/11 was not only orchestrated by the Bush administration, but that the ISI was a `working’ partner in the crime. I list only a few of the connecting-the-dots pointers that they raise:

1. Evidence exists of multiple wire transfers in excess of $100,000 to alleged “lead hijacker” Mohammed Atta prior to 9/11, and that these wire transfers are linked to the then ISI’s head Lieutenant General Mahmoud Ahmad, the alleged “money man” behind 9-11 (ABC News, Time Magazine, Times of India).

Even though questions were raised in the media about foreign intelligence backing for the 9/11 hijackers, the 9/11 Commission Report stated that the government has been unable “to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.” And, that it is of “little practical significance”!

2. General Mahmoud Ahmad was in the U.S. when the attacks occurred. The Bush Administration not only provided red carpet treatment to the alleged “money man” behind the 9-11 attacks, it also sought his ‘cooperation’ in the “war on terrorism”. The precise terms of this ‘cooperation’ were agreed upon between General Mahmoud Ahmad, representing the Pakistani government and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in meetings at the State Department on September 12 and 13. In other words, the Administration decided in the immediate wake of 9-11, to seek the ‘cooperation’ of Pakistan’s ISI in “going after Osama”, despite the fact (documented by the FBI) that the ISI was financing and abetting the 9-11 terrorists.

3. A few hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the Bush administration concluded without supporting evidence, that “Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation were prime suspects”. President Bush confirmed in an evening televised address to the Nation that he would “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them”.

4. The Bush administration had planned to attack Afghanistan months before September 11. The White House, CIA and Pentagon put into action the already-existing plan which was probably why it was able to respond so quickly. The objective, according to a Pakistani diplomat to whom senior American officials had confided, was to topple the Taliban regime and install a transitional government of moderate Afghans, possibly under the leadership of the former Afghan king Zahir Shah.

On the 9th of September while General Ahmad was in the US, the leader of the Northern Alliance Commander Ahmad Shah Masood — the most important leader in the anti-Taliban alliance in Afghanistan — was assassinated. The Northern Alliance had informed the Bush Administration that the ISI was allegedly implicated in the assassination.

If this be the history of the `working relationship’, of government to government contacts between the US and Pakistan, what does the future hold? Brzezinski had said something most telling. The Americans and the Pakistanis had collaborated very closely. They acted with remarkable courage. We supported them, they had our backing, but they were the ones endangered, not we.

Pakistan’s endangered days do not seem to be over. The worst seems to lie ahead. In `Obama’s new wars’ Rev. Richard Skaff writes, if the Obama administration has its way, Pakistan must be dismantled alongwith its ruling elite, the ISI and its military generals. Because it is they who are “the main accomplice and the last witness who would indict the cabal of criminals who committed the atrocity of 911.”

Published in New Age, 17 May 2009 

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THE UNFOLDING CRISIS IN PAKISTAN – III

New Imperial Cartographies. Destroying and Re-creating National Boundaries

 rahnuma ahmed

[t]he new face of globalization embodied in Mr. Obama who has began his new war in Pakistan in collaboration with the Indian government, in order to dismantle that country and balkanize it like the rest of the world. Certainly, the region will witness more contrived attacks that will escalate the conflict on the borders of India and Pakistan, which will eventually change the map of the region. 

– Rev. Richard Skaff, `Obama’s new wars,’ Global Research, May 2, 2009

Empire, as an idea, is constructed through cartographic, or map-making, discourses. And thus, it is not surprising, in the context of imperial histories of the West, and its imperial present, that a map termed `The New Middle East’ — stretching from Turkey in the west to Pakistan in the east — should surface in the early years of this century. A century that America’s rulers wish to re-craft as `the American century.’

As the world’s oil reserves increasingly got depleted — global oil production is reported to have peaked in 2004-5 — fierce competition began for control over the remaining oil reserves  (the `great energy war’). Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president, summed it up best when he reminded his audience at the London Institute of Petroleum in 1999, “The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.” He should know, he was then the CEO of the oil giant Halliburton. Of course, after becoming the vice-president, he no longer spoke about the Middle-East as the “prize,” but as “the place [where] terrorism must be confronted” ( ) Cheney was also one of the signatories to PNAC, the Project for a New American Century, a shop that is said to have closed down. So, do we still need to worry about America’s grand imperial designs, about overt and covert warfare? According to a Washington Post report (2006), an unidentified PNAC source had said, they had winded up but not from any sense of failure. On the contrary. Their goals, they felt, had been “accomplished”. The escalation in war (albeit with a change in terminology, recently pre-packaged as `overseas contingency operation’) under the Obama administration, proves that.

Did America covet its neighbour’s oil any less in the last century? No. The Eisenhower Doctrine, 1956-1958, was adopted to ensure US access to oil and gas. William Blum in the Rogue State writes, “In keeping with that policy, the United States twice attempted to overthrow the Syrian government, staged several shows-of-force in the Mediterranean to intimidate movements opposed to US-supported governments in Jordan and Lebanon, landed 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and conspired to overthrow or assassinateNasser of Egypt and his troublesome Middle-East nationalism”

Ralph Peters:` Ethnic cleansing works’

The new imperial cartographer is Lt Col Ralph Peters of the US National War Academy, who was posted to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence within the US Defence Department before his retirement, and is considered to be one of the Pentagon’s leading authors. Two maps of the Middle East, one Before, and the other After, were published with his article, `Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look,’ in the Armed Forces Journal (June 2006).

A more peaceful Middle East, writes Peters, requires major boundary revisions. Colonisers of earlier eras (Peters calls them “self-interested Europeans”) had drawn the “most arbitrary and distorted borders” in Africa and the Middle East. A fairer, even though not perfect, arrangement can be made if “national boundaries between the Bosporus and the Indus” are amended. By conforming to the Middle East’s “organic frontiers,” it would correct the “wrongs suffered by the most significant “cheated” population groups, such as the Kurds, Baluch and Arab Shia”. Until these “colossal, man-made deformities” are corrected, hatred and violence will continue. Between all this proselytising, Peters slips in a sentence — “Oh, and one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: Ethnic cleansing works” — which does not conceal the murderous intent behind the new cartography.

Some countries would gain, others would lose, a small number would remain unchanged. The most glaring injustice, according to Peters, is the absence of an independent Kurdish state. A `Free Kurdistan,’ made up of Iraq, Turkey and Syria, would reverse the human rights sin of omission — the failure to champion Kurdish independence. Better still, it would deliver “the most pro-Western state” between Bulgaria and Japan. The rest of Iraq would be divided into a “Sunni Iraq” and an “Arab Shia State.” Jordan would gain with “southward expansion at Saudi expense.” Mecca and Medina together would form a `Sacred Islamic State,’ “a sort of Muslim super-Vatican.” Iran would lose a great deal of territory to `Unified Azerbaijan’, `Free Kurdistan,’ the `Arab Shia State,’ and `Free Baluchistan,’ but it would gain provinces around Herat from Afghanistan. Although losing to Persia in the west, Afghanistan would gain from Pakistan in the east. The latter, another “unnatural state”, like Saudi Arabia, would suffer similar dismantling. It would lose its Baluch territory to `Free Baluchistan.’ Bloodshed, writes Peters is inevitable, but gradually new and natural (organic) borders will emerge. And of course, until they do, “our men and women in uniform will continue to fight for security from terrorism, for the prospect of democracy and for access to oil supplies.”

The map does not officially reflect Pentagon doctrine but it has been used in a training program at NATO’s defense college for senior military officers, reportedly, at the National War Academy, and also in military planning circles since mid-2006. Its display in NATO’s military college in Rome, Italy sparked angry reactions among officers in Turkey, outraged to see a “portioned and segmented” Turkey. The Turkish Chief of Staff protested to the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this led to an American apology. I wonder, has similar outrage at the map been officially expressed by the military leadership and officers in Pakistan?

Peters’ article is available at the AFJ website, minus its maps. However, they are to be found at wikipedia and other websites. Its casual surfacing and circulation has led Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya to speculate whether it is an “attempt to build consensus.” Maybe, to gradually prepare the general public for “possible, maybe even cataclysmic, changes in the Middle East”?

Vultures gathering for the feast?

Rajinder Puri, in a piece titled “If Pakistan Breaks…” (Outlook India, 15 April 2009) cites the instance of China which, to safeguard its “strategic interests,” has recently signed an agreement with the NWFP provincial government, thereby “bypassing the central government of Pakistan to forge direct ties with its potential breakaway province.” The agreement was signed on April 7 by the Pakistan Ambassador and the Governor of Xingjian province. Puri adds, “Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the territory it occupies in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir are necessary for Beijing to maintain its access to Gwadar port in Baluchistan and to Iran with which it has finalized mega contracts for supply of energy. It also seeks to maintain easy access from its Xingjian province to troubled Tibet.” Puri advises his own government to “start formulating its future policies” based on the “assumption” that Pakistan may not “survive as a nation state.”

Pakistan, he writes, is an “artificially created” state (reminiscent of Peters argument for “organic states”). It is, he contends, “under serious assault because of its internal contradictions.” Of course, I have no reason to support Pakistan’s past military juntas, or its present pliant political leadership, and least of all, the octopus-like military-intelligence network, corrupt and power-hungry to the core. But Puri’s obliviousness to the Anglo-American military roadmap, to the evolving US foreign policy agenda of balkanisation (currently taking place in Iraq), or to map-making that advocates ethnic cleansing, contributes to the regional imperial reasoning.

As death approaches, vultures gather for the feast — so the saying goes.

Published in New Age, 18 May 2009

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THE UNFOLDING CRISIS IN PAKISTAN – IV 

Securing or Destabilising Pakistan?

rahnuma ahmed

I believed it [the war in Iraq] was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks… Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven.

Barack Obama, `My Plan for Iraq,’ Op-Ed, The New York Times, July 14, 2008

So, president Obama believes that the war in Iraq was `a grave mistake.’ And what will the next US president say? That Obama’s escalation of the war in the `Af-Pak theatre’ was `an even more grave mistake’?

Baghdad was reported to be slipping into a civil war in 2006. In recent weeks, sectarian violence has exploded as the predominantly Shia Iraqi government forces and the US-created al-Sahwa (Sons of Iraq), a Sunni militia, openly fight each other. Sectarianism was unknown in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, writes Dahr Jamail. Manufactured and fomented by the occupying forces, it is aimed at dividing Iraq along purportedly `natural’ ethnic-religious lines — Kurds, Shias and Sunnis. Proposed by Senator Joseph Biden (now the vice-president) in 2006, the US corporate media has since gone into gear, spinning tales of how Iraq’s borders were `artificially-constructed.’ And how, in the interests of stopping further bloodshed, Iraq needs to be carved-up.

A grave mistake it definitely was, but is the Obama administration doing anything to undo it? To make reparations? Like say,rescinding the SOFA and the SFA agreements, said to have been approved by Iraq ‘s “sovereign” parliament? Repealing the “hydrocarbon law”? Dismantling its 14 `enduring bases’ that resemble self-contained cities as much as military outposts? Closing down Fortress America, the recently-opened $700 million embassy in Iraq, the largest on the planet, ten times that of US embassy’s elsewhere, with space for 1,000 employees?

And what about the 1,331,578 Iraqi deaths? No doubt an unbearably heavy burden for a nation that had “nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.” Lost lives cannot be brought back, but at the very least, international war crimes trials can proceed against Bush and co. “Forgiving and forgetting” maybe easy for Obama, but not so for the Iraqis.

As Obama’s war shifts to Afghanistan and Pakistan (now that Iraq has been turned into, in Jamail’s words, a “permanent colony”, it seems, from what Obama says, US’ “strategic goals” can be broadened. And, what could they be? Are they aimed at making Pakistan more secure as a nation state, or at destabilising her?

 Contrary to what US policy-makers and opinion-makers would want us to believe, de-stabilising Pakistan — causing disruption and disarray in the Pakistani state — is part of “an evolving US foreign policy agenda”. Michel Chossudovsky, professor of economics, university of Ottawa, thinks that regime change is no longer the main thrust of US foreign policy. That the policy is to actively promote Pakistan’s political fragmentation and balkanisation, as a nation.

 A new strategy has been set in motion to replace the older one of indirectly ruling Pakistan through its military and intelligence apparatus, one that was crafted and put into effect over decades by Washington. `Regime change’ aimed at ensuring continuity under military rule has been discarded. The new strategy is to institute a compliant political leadership, one that has no commitment to the national interest, that will simultaneously serve US imperial interests, while working towards the weakening of the central government, and fracturing Pakistan’s federal structure, already “fragile.” Direct forms of American interference — and this includes an enlarged US military presence within the nation’s territory — will soon follow.

Other reports indicate that Washington has been heavily pressurising the Pakistani government since January to forget its long-standing enmity with India over disputed Kashmir. To fight `its’ war instead, against the Taliban and `al-Qaeda‘. Military aid passed by the present US Congress is tied, to ensure that Pakistan’s military establishment no longer deviates as it had earlier, when it secretly went ahead and made its own nuclear bomb (1998). It is generally believed that President Reagan had pretended not to know, had kept it secret from Congress so that military aid to Pakistan could pour unabated, and Pakistan (and the ISI) could continue brokering the Washington-sponsored mujahedeen resistance in Afghanistan. To defeat the Soviet Union, the `evil empire.’

US military training to be given now will focus exclusively on fighting “counter-insurgency” forces. In the name of providing military training to Pakistan’s security forces, analysts think that the US military presence will gradually be increased to numbers not previously known in Pakistan. Re-deploying the Pakistan army to fight the Obama administration’s war in neighbouring Afghanistan, and in its own country, is strategic to Washington’s global domination project: it will `free’ India from worrying either about its illegal occupation of Kashmir, or the threat of ISI-sponsored militant infiltration and attacks, planned across the border. A free Delhi will be able to work more closely with Washington, to be a counter-force to the inexorable rise of China. And, as Pepe Escobar points out, Washington’s dream of balkanising Pakistan would dismantle the “Terrorist Central”, capable of contaminating other parts of the Muslim world, from Indian Kashmir to the Central Asian “stans” — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. A Terrorist Central that was birthed and nurtured by the US, as revealed by Benazir Bhutto’s warning to President George Bush senior in the late 1980′s, “You are creating a Frankenstein”.

Baluchistan, long neglected by the Pakistani government, is in Escobar’s words, “the ultimate prize”. Comprising half of Pakistan’s land area, its deserts are immensely rich in uranium and copper; potentially very rich in oil, it produces more than one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas. Less than 4% of her population live there; Baluchis are the majority, seconded by Pashtuns. Strategically, the US covets Baluchistan for several reasons: it lies east of Iran, south of Afghanistan, and has three Arabian sea ports, including Gwadar, practically at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. Built by China, Gwadar, is the crux to what Escobar calls “thePipelineistan war,” between the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (IPI) and the US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI). IPI is planned to cross from Iranian to Pakistani Baluchistan — a nightmare for Washington. Whereas, TAPI, perennially-troubled, is planned to cross western Afghanistan via Herat and branch out to Kandahar and Gwadar.

Gwadar’s strategic value for China stems from its closeness to the Strait of Hormuz, since . nearly 60% of China’s energy supplies come from the Middle East. While China is anxious that the US, with its very high military presence in the region could choke off these supplies, US military circles whip up paranoia about China’s scheme of building a naval base in Gwadar. In Washington’s dream of empire-building, Gwadar is to be the new Dubai. What stokes the fire is Pakistan’s status, a key pivot to both NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which Pakistan is an observer. Whoever “wins” Balochistan, says Escobar, incorporates Pakistan as a key transit corridor to either Iranian gas from the monster South Pars field, or to a great deal of the Caspian wealth of “gas republic” Turkmenistan.

From Washington’s imperial perspective, Baluchistan has to be thrown into chaos. Nothing short of that will stop the construction of the IPI gas pipeline. Once Pakistan is balkanised, the US could take control of Baluchistan’s rich natural resources, and promote Gwadar for the benefit of TAPI, not IPI. That would fulfill the imperial dream — Caspian gas would flow under American and not Russian or Iranian control.

To create chaos in Baluchistan, Britain and the US are reportedly working at both ends: American F-16 jets provided to the Pakistani military are being used to bomb Baluchi villages, while British intelligence, according to the Pakistani Senate Committee, is providing covert support to the Baluchi separatist movement, to further weaken Pakistan’s federal structure. Meanwhile, across the border, in Iran, the US government is reported to have significantly expanded its covert operations from late 2006, it is aimed at “destabiliz[ing]” Iran’s Shiite leadership. The covert operation programme includes the CIA, and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), “the most elite commando units”Conducted from southern Iraq and western Afghanistan, covert operations include: working with opposition groups — the minority Ahwazi Arab, Baluchi groups (particularly in southern Iran and in eastern areas, where Baluchi political opposition is strong), and other dissident organisations; making contacts for JSOC operatives so that they can “direct personnel, matériel, and money” to these groups; and seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation. To further its aims, Pentagon is reported to be providing covert support to Jundullah, one of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran, and the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), which has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for over a decade. Interestingly, the Obama administration’s 2010 budget for Pentagon’s secret operations, known as the “black” budgest has soared to over US $50 billion; equal in its enormity to the entire defense budgets of the UK, France or Japan, and 10 per cent of the total.

The impending Talibanisation of Pakistan is accompanied by shrill cries of `nukes in the hands of kooks,’ i.e., derogatory reference to Islamic militants who, it is assumed, will lay their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear bomb any minute, and that of course, will signal the end of the world. In the last week of April, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was asked whether aid to Pakistan would be linked to getting information from A Q Khan, head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, who later confessed to having been involved in a clandestine international network of selling nuclear know-how. Naming A Q Khan “probably the world’s greatest proliferator,” the US secretary of state said, we made it very clear that the network had been dismantled, and it was.

But has the US network been dismantled? Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator turned whistleblower has tried for five years to launch a congressional investigation of corruption at Washington’s highest levels — sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage — but has not succeeded. Not only has Congress refused to act, but the Justice Department, on a request from the State department and Pentagon, has shrouded her case under the state-secrets privilege, “a rarely used measure so sweeping that it precludes even a closed hearing attended only by officials with top-secret security clearances” (Philip Giraldi, 2008 ). Edmonds offered to tell her story to US media outlets. No response. What is now known is from her interview in the UK’s Sunday Times, and through a website linked through her. Through these, Edmonds speaks of “a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani, and Turkish sources [that] was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defense Departments.” Her allegations are against Richard Perle, then chief of the Pentagon’s prestigious Defense Policy Board, and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy.  Senators Grassley and Leahy, a Republican and a Democrat, who interviewed her at length in 2002, attested to her “believability.”

Nuclear secrets are definitely in rogue hands.

And, where, in this unfolding story of great power games and imperial designs, wars over energy, covert operations and military-intelligence networks, corrupt and pliant political leadership serving Western imperial interests, balkanisation and cartography, sales of nuclear secrets, are the people and what they want.

Iraqis want to stay united and to fight the occupation, writes Dahr Jamail. Pakistanis in general, according to The Times (5 May 2009), are reported to “mistrust the west” more than they fear the Taliban. And while Baluchis definitely want more autonomy, they are adamant about remaining within a Pakistani confederation. Escobar writes, people in FATA, or Swat, or anywhere else dread the Taliban-style rule. But they dread even more “being split into four countries and [going] under Indian suzerainty.” And, in Washington’s eyes, as Escobar points out, any form of resistance to foreign interference or Predator hell from above bombing is inevitably branded “Taliban.” Terrorist incidents in Iran, reports Hersh, “rather than weakening Iran’s religious government” are more likely to rally support for it. Since Iran is, just “like France and Germany” an old country, and its citizens are just as “nationalistic.”

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Washington, the Pentagon and its European allies, may truly have made a mistake.

Published in New Age 19 May 2009, an extra para that had been set aside due to word limits has been included (beginning with the words, `To create chaos in Baluchistan…’), alongwith the two sentences on terrorist incidents in Iran, in the 2nd last paragraph. 

 

 

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