"Friendly" US escalates attacks on Pakistan

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Pakistan’s relations with the US have never been easy but recent developments have brought them to such a point that even the polite and usually soft-spoken Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was forced to concede: “we do not trust the Americans.” Gilani was speaking to the BBC Urdu Service on December 10 and said that new ground rules were being worked out to recalibrate relations on the basis of “mutual respect.” One hopes Gilani has lots of patience because the Americans do not know the meaning of respect or dealing with people in a fair manner.

Two events in particular have raised Pakistani ire: the Memogate Affair and the US attack on two Pakistani border posts in Mohmand Agency on November 26 that killed 24 soldiers, including two officers, and injured 28 others. The attack lasted two hours clearly indicating it was not a mistake. Angered by the attack, the Pakistani military announced it was closing supply routes for US military convoys through Pakistan. It also demanded that Americans vacate the Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan that was used for drone operations. In his BBC interview, Gilani said the supply routes would remain closed until new rules of engagement were agreed. Pakistani officials confirmed that the base was vacated by the December 11 deadline. Some commentators have asked, why were the Americans not told to also vacate the Jacobabad airbase in Sind?

The twin episodes may have proved the final straws in a strained relationship that was never easy to begin with. The Pakistani masses have never trusted Americans seeing them as bullies and murderers. But the masses, while expressing their frustration, do not make policy. That is the job of the “enlightened” elites whose foreign bank accounts determine the country’s policy. The elites’ children study in American and European universities and their wives and daughters deliver babies in western hospitals. A visa to America is their lifelong dream even if they are regularly humiliated at US airports.

However, we need to discuss the Memogate Affair and its fallout upon domestic Pakistani policy. This refers to a memo that Mansoor Ijaz, a shady Pakistani-American businessman, said he delivered to Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was sent at the behest of Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, who was forced to resign after Ijaz exposed the memo in an op-ed piece in the London daily, the Financial Times on October 10. The memo was sent in the wake of the US attack on the compound in Abbotabad last May in which Osama bin Laden was killed. According to Ijaz, Haqqani asked him to request Mullen to come down hard on the Pakistani military to prevent it from staging a coup against President Asif Ali Zardari over the Osama episode. In return, Zardari promised to give the US unlimited access to operate in Pakistan against suspected al-Qaeda operatives as well as the Taliban. He also pledged to remove anti-US generals and appoint others that would do America’s bidding. Pakistan’s nuclear program would also be put under US control.

When the story first broke out, Haqqani denied any knowledge but Ijaz stuck to his version. Within days of these explosive revelations, Pakistani military officials were in touch with Ijaz asking if he would be willing to meet General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Ijaz agreed and the meeting took place at London’s Intercontinental Hotel where Pasha was provided records of SMS messages from Haqqani as well as cell phone details that confirmed Ijaz was not making it up. The story made headlines in Pakistani newspapers and was featured on television talk shows for several days. Under pressure, Haqqani was forced to resign and return to Pakistan where the Supreme Court ordered him not to leave the country until the matter was fully reviewed by the court. A number of petitions were lodged in the Supreme Court including one by opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The petitions also demanded full explanation from Zardari who suddenly left for Dubai on December 6, ostensibly for treatment of a heart condition. This was a new development on his previous “mental illness”, duly certified by two psychiatrists, an American and a Briton, that his mental condition prevented him from appearing in a London court in 2006 to answer charges of corruption. It appears Zardari regained his sanity after his wife Benazir Bhutto was killed (some say he too was involved in the murder conspiracy) on December 27, 2007, after which he became the president. The presidency can do wonders for one’s mental health in Pakistan! Whether his heart condition is of the same order as his mental state, we are not likely to know. Things are never what they appear to be in Pakistan but what we do know is that the military top brass is furious and wants some straight answers from the Zardari-Haqqani duo.

As the Memogate Affair works its way out in Pakistan, the more serious issue of Pakistani relations with the US is having a much greater impact on policy. Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has issued orders to frontline troops that if attacked, they should retaliate without waiting for orders from the top. Air defences have also been moved to the eastern front. This will definitely increase the likelihood of a direct clash with the Americans. Are the Americans looking for such a confrontation and/or escalation? Their behaviour since the so-called war on terror was launched in October 2001 would indicate that they are itching for a fight with Pakistan, more so now because they cannot hide their frustration at being defeated by the rag tag bands of Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has arrived at this critical juncture because of the ill-conceived policies and one-man decision-making style of the former military dictator General Pervez Mu-sharraf. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Musharraf surrendered to each and every demand made by then US Secretary of State Colin Powell in a telephone call on September 12, 2001. Musharraf reversed a 30-year-old policy and hitched Pakistan to the US war on Afghanistan.

This was bound to have serious repercussions for Pakistan as the last decade has so brutally shown. Under American pressure, Pakistani troops were deployed in the tribal areas in 2003 to fight tribesmen that had historically served as defenders of Pakistan’s borders. This has been an unmitigated disaster. Pakistani cities have become war zones where suicide and car bombings are now the norm. No place in Pakistan is safe with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Pro-vince that borders Afghanistan particularly hard hit. This is where the US has concentrated its drone attacks and where American mercenaries have operated freely.

The US launched its first drone attack in Pakistan June 30, 2004. These have escalated alarmingly under Barack Obama’s presidency. Presumably this is what he meant when he said he would “speak softly but carry a big stick”. In Pakistan’s case, Obama is definitely wielding a very big stick. Drone attacks have so far killed some 3,000 people. In one particularly gruesome episode on October 23, 2006, US drones fired missiles at a school in Damadola (northwestern Pakistan) killing 80 children and wounding hundreds of others. The Americans alleged they suspected it was an assembly of “militants”! Presumably that justified the attack. North Waziristan also has been a favourite target of drone strikes where children are afraid to go to school fearing they might be killed in such attacks. Many have lost limbs or been blinded in US drone missile strikes.

In the US’s so-called war on terror, Pakistan has paid a very high price. In a September 2011 paper titled, “War Related Death and Injury in Pakistan: 2004–”2011”, Neta C. Crawford of Boston University has documented that more than 35,600 deaths occurred between January 2002 and August 2011. Crawford also quotes figures from the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), an American advocacy group, that confirm these findings. The number of Pakistani civilians killed is 10 times the total number of US and NATO casualties in Afghanistan and 12 times the number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks. Considering that no Pakistani was involved in 9/11, and that the US claims to be an ally of Pakistan, this is a fine way to express friendship.

America officials and members of congress never tire of proclaiming from every soapbox the “huge sums” given to Pakistan as if this were bakhsheesh. On December 14, the US Congress withheld $700 million in payment to Pakistan because the latter has closed the supply route. US “aid” figures vary from $12 billion to $20 billion. Even if one were to accept the higher figure, this is not charity. Most payments are for services rendered: use of military bases, supply of fuel and other material as well as the cost of deploying 120,000 Pakistani troops in the border region with Afghanistan. Figures compiled by Pakistan’s finance ministry show that during the same period, the country has suffered losses totalling $70 billion. Thus, Pakistan has suffered a net loss of $50 billion in 10 years to assist America’s so-called war on terror. It is more like America’s war on the Pakistani economy.

America has indulged in other nasty activities. On January 27, 2011, Raymond Davis, a CIA operative, shot and killed two Pakistanis in cold blood on a busy Lahore street. He then casually walked over and photographed them. Davis was apprehended by the people and handed over to the police. The US Consulate in Lahore attempted to rescue him by sending a vehicle with diplomatic number plates. It ran over a pedestrian killing him instantly but was unsuccessful in the “rescue” effort. The Consulate then claimed Davis was a “diplomat”. Only a few days earlier, the US Embassy in Islamabad had delivered a list of US diplomats to the Pakistan Foreign Office as part of diplomatic protocol. Davis’ name was not on the list. When these “diplomatic” attempts failed, the American murderer was whisked away from prison through a deal struck by the Saudi and Pakistani governments in which monetary compensation was paid to the families of the victims. The then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was so upset with this scandalous deal that he resigned in protest.

Davis was working for Blackwater that has since christened itself Xe Services. These bands of murderous thugs, hired by the CIA, roam freely in Pakistan killing people and if apprehended by the police, manage to get away because the US embassy is able to exert pressure on the Pakistani government. There are reports that some 3,000 such mercenaries were operating in Pakistan. How did they enter the country? Through the courtesy of Husain Haqqani, of course, whose official title was Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington but he actually acted as America’s envoy to Islamabad. Working with his boss Zardari, Haqqani had managed to bypass ISI oversight of US agents –” spies, Blackwater mercenaries and others –” applying for visas to Pakistan. At one stage Haqqani issued 3,000 visas to the Americans in one week! They all claimed to be “businessmen”. Pakistan must suddenly have become a very lucrative market for US investment.

Davis had served in the US Consulate in Peshawar from 2007 to 2009. During this period Peshawar experienced a large number of terrorist attacks. When Davis moved to Lahore, this historic city became the new terrorist haven. Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out who was behind these criminal acts? When he was apprehended in Lahore last January, Davis’ cell phones yielded a treasure trove of information. It had the names and cell numbers of 66 known terrorists in Pakistan that Davis was in regular contact with. All these individuals were also on the US terrorist list yet one of its agents was working closely with them; so much for the US war on terror.

The real question is: will Pakistan be able to wean itself away from dependence on the US? More crucially, have Pakistani decision-makers taken account of the fact that the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential US think-tank, released a report (December 9) listing Pakistan among the three most serious threats facing the US in 2012? The other two are the euro crisis and political instability in Saudi Arabia.

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