US intensifies its control over Pakistan’s new civilian government

Getting on the wrong side of the US involves great risks, but being its friend is no less dangerous. No country proves this better than Pakistan. Since its creation, successive Pakistani regimes have attempted to cultivate close links with Washington. The result has been an unmitigated disaster: today Pakistan is on the verge of disintegration, thanks to the stifling embrace of the US, especially since 9/11, and to Washington’s deliberate attempts to undermine the country. Pakistani rulers, especially retired General Pervez Musharraf, the current president, claim that they have a close alliance with the US and its so-called war on terror. That most Pakistanis view it as a war of terror is a separate issue, but the fact is that there is mounting evidence that the US has been trying to destabilize Pakistan even while claiming to be its friend.

Even apart from the unequal relationship–Pakistan is a third world country, while the US claims to be the world’s “sole superpower”–there is something peculiar about the manner in which Washington demonstrates its “friendship” toward Pakistan. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents prowl Pakistani cities and towns freely. Many are Pakistanis recruited by both US intelligence agencies; their activities have resulted in the arrest and abduction of scores of Pakistanis and others to such destinations as Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase and other places where torture is rampant. Musharraf himself admits in his book, In the Line of Fire (pub. 2006), that he and several of his top officials have collected millions in bounties from the US for apprehending al-Qa’ida “members” and “sympathizers”.

It is, however, at a more fundamental level that US policy toward Pakistan is fraught with peril. On April 14, US president George Bush said in a TV interview that a future “9/11 kind of attack” would most probably emanate from Pakistan, not Afghanistan. He specifically alluded to Pakistan’s tribal region, where US forces are already operating without publicly admitting it. Musharraf is too cowardly to admit that he has been bullied into accepting humiliating conditions by the US, his so-called personal friendship with Bush notwithstanding.

Bush’s threatening remarks followed articles in Pakistani newspapers Jang and News International in March, reporting that the US had put forward a long list of demands that were so demeaning that even the Pakistani foreign and defence ministries found them unacceptable. Exposing its true intent since the so-called war on terror was launched, Washington has demanded direct access to Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority (NCA), the body that controls the country’s nuclear weapons. To show that it will not take “no” for an answer, Washington has posted an officer at its embassy in Islamabad to liaise with the NCA. Other demands include allowing US personnel to enter Pakistan on the basis of national identity (such as a driver’s licence), foregoing visas and passports; accepting US licences, including arms licences, in Pakistan; US personnel being allowed to bear arms and wear their uniform in Pakistan; and exemption of American personnel from Pakistani law if they commit a crime. There are close parallels between these demands and those that were imposed on Iran during the Shah’s rule, which led ultimately to the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1978-79).

On April 8, Musharraf claimed that if he were removed as president, the US would attack Pakistan and take control of its nuclear assets. He insisted he was the only one preventing a US attack; so much for the friendship that Musharraf has boasted of throughout his eight years in power. When he surrendered to the US on the basis of a single phone call on September 12, 2001, he had claimed that by doing so, he had “saved” Pakistan’s nuclear assets as well as strengthened the cause of the Kashmiris’ demand for self-determination. He further stated that he had to sacrifice the Taliban in order to safeguard Pakistan’s “national interests”. Now he insists that he must stay as president otherwise the US will attack Pakistan.

But US forces already regularly target civilians inside Pakistan. Hundreds have been killed in air strikes. Washington has also forced Pakistan to deploy its own troops–100,000 of them–in the border region to fight against their people. The Pakistan army has been even more ruthless than the Americans, killing thousands of villagers. This has created immense resentment among the tribesmen, who are forced to fight back. The net result is that people in Pakistan’s tribal region are now in open revolt against the Pakistan army and government. They consider the Pakistan army (not without some justification) as a mercenary force serving the US and waging a war on its behalf.

Creating mistrust between Pakistani tribesmen and the central government in Islamabad is part of the US’s policy. Despite its public pronouncements to the contrary, the US harbours deep animosity toward Pakistan; indeed, toward its very existence. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are the primary reason for this policy in Washington and for its zionist allies, both at home and in Tel Aviv. Westerners resent any Muslim country possessing the wherewithal to master nuclear technology. The US’s targeting of Iran is part of the same policy.

Some American political and military analysts reveal their true intentions toward Pakistan by their statements and writings. In July 2006, for instance, a retired colonel, writing in the US Army Journal, outlined a possible scenario for the break-up of Pakistan. He suggested that the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) should be separated and joined with Afghanistan to make a “greater Pakhtunistan”; that the Pakistani side of Baluchistan and that of Iran should be made into a separate country, while Sindh province should be absorbed into India, leaving the Punjab as a rump Pakistani state. Whether this diabolical plot will materialize is a different matter; what it is important to note is that US planners have long been thinking in such terms about Pakistan’s future, despite claiming to be its friends and to be partners in the “war on terror”.

What we should be asking is why the US is so keen to destroy Pakistan. Baluchistan offers a good starting point. The province is important for a number of reasons. At a stroke the US would achieve several objectives. Making the Pakistani and Irani Baluchistans into a new entity called “greater Baluchistan” would give the US enormous political, geo-strategic and economic weight in the region. Gwadar, Pakistan’s brand new deep-water port, is in Baluchistan; it is barely 50 kilometres (about 30 miles) from the entrance to the Persian Gulf. More importantly, it is being constructed with Chinese assistance and will offer Beijing direct access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean as well as the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. If the Americans take control of the port, that will undermine Chinese plans for development and access to the Persian Gulf and Middle Eastern oil. Gwadar is also an important access route to Central Asia, whose rich oil and gas reserves both China and the US covet. Part of US strategy involves containing the rising economic and military power of China. This can best be achieved by depriving Beijing of access to energy resources. The propaganda war in Darfur is part of the same policy because China has signed a number of contracts with Sudan for oil-exploration.

On both sides of the Pakistan-Iran border, the US is financing separatist groups in Baluchistan. On the Irani side a group operating under the inappropriate name Jundallah (“army of God” in Arabic) is financed and armed by the Americans to undermine the Islamic government in Iran. The group came into existence in early 2006, after a drug-smuggler was killed in a gun-battle with Irani security forces. The brother of this smuggler, also a gangster, could not possibly have mobilized people to fight for the “rights” of gangsters to smuggle drugs. Instead, he has tried to whip up Shi’a-Sunni discord by alleging that the Sunnis of Baluchistan are being discriminated against because the central government in Tehran is based on “Shi’a ideology”. The US provides logistical and other support to this gang of drug-smuggling criminals. Groups operating under the same name elsewhere have been branded by the US as terrorist organizations, but because the Baluchi Jundallah are fighting the Islamic government in Iran they are backed and financed by Washington. The Baluch separatist groups on the Pakistani side also enjoy the support of a number of foreign governments, including the US, Britain and India. In fact, in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, the British are more deeply involved than their American cousins.

Baluch grievances–real or imagined–have been further exacerbated by the ill-conceived policies of Musharraf, whose simplistic understanding of political issues and easy resort to brute force have muddied the situation even more. The killing in 2006 of Sardar Akbar Bugti, a Baluchi tribal leader, is a case in point. While Bugti was not exactly a poster-sardar for democracy or human rights, the manner of his killing in a missile strike made worse an already tense situation. Another tribe was needlessly turned against the government when in fact Sardar Bugti had all along played the political game within rules set by the establishment. But Musharraf’s inflated ego and self-importance led him to perpetrate murder, thus creating another enemy in a volatile border region.

The situation in the NWFP has been mishandled similarly, and tribes are up in arms in various parts of the province. Whether it is the two Waziristans, or Dir and Swat, the army is fighting its own people and killing without regard for the impact of such actions on the thinking of people. There is widespread belief in Pakistan, including among many officials, that the rash of suicide bombings was perpetrated by agents working for the US, India and Afghan intelligence agencies. Another body of opinion maintains that even Musharraf’s backers were involved in these criminal activities as part of a deliberate policy to convince the Americans that, without Musharraf at the helm of affairs, the country’s nuclear assets would fall into the hands of the “fundamentalists”. The manner in which the Americans have continued to support Musharraf would suggest that he has succeeded to a large extent, although Pakistan’s new rulers are beginning to show some inclination to stand up to the Americans. Whether this will last is debatable; Pakistan’s ruling classes have seldom shown much backbone, preferring to surrender the country’s interests for personal ends.

There are indications that some parts of the ruling coalition are already kowtowing to the Americans. Asif Zardari, head of the People’s Party, frequently visits the US embassy in Islamabad to meet ambassador Anne Patterson or other officials visiting from the US. One is constrained to ask: why has the US embassy become such a favoured pilgrimage site for Zardari and his associates? Madam ambassador, on the other hand, travelled to London last month to meet Altaf Husain, head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a fascist outfit that has gained notoriety for torturing opponents to death. There are at least 40 murder cases pending against Altaf Husain himself, yet he has been granted political asylum in Britain, and even become a British citizen. It may be a coincidence, but a day after ambassador Patterson’s meeting with Altaf Husain, members of the MQM attacked a building in Karachi and burnt alive seven people, five of them lawyers deemed opposed to the MQM, to death. This “civilized” behaviour evoked little or no protest from the champions of human rights and their governments in the West.

It is, however, at the opposite end of the country, in the north, that Pakistan faces a threat to its very existence. Pakistan’s archenemy, India, has established a string of consulates in Afghan cities bordering Pakistan. Because there are few Indian citizens in Afghanistan, much less in cities like Jalalabad or Qandahar, one must wonder what the function of these consulates is. It is clear that these consulates are infested with agents from India’s premier intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), whose main task is the destabilization of Pakistan. This is now being done from Afghanistan as well. Thus, India is squeezing Pakistan from both the east and the west, thanks to Musharraf’s foolish policies since 911.

It also demonstrates the ingratitude of the Afghans, millions of whom are still in Pakistani refugee-camps, which have now become permanent towns. They arrived in the late seventies when the Red Army invaded. Successive Afghan governments have taken Pakistan for granted, despite 85 percent of Afghanistan’s foreign trade going through Pakistan. If the latter were to block Afghan goods from moving through its territory, the people of landlocked Afghanistan would starve. Yet its US-backed rulers are busy creating chaos and mayhem in Pakistan. But that is not new; those who do not think through their policies generally invite trouble.

What Pakistan is suffering today is the direct result of Musharraf’s policies. Perhaps never before in its history has Pakistan been so vulnerable. It is hemmed in from both the east and the west; American forces are operating freely in Pakistan and Washington’s rulers are openly threatening to take direct control of its nuclear weapons. With nearly 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan, hundreds of US Special Forces personnel operating in the tribal regions and hundreds of CIA and FBI agents crawling all over the country, Pakistan is as much occupied by the US as is Afghanistan. In fact, Afghans can claim some degree of freedom because they have not lost the will to resist. At least 12 of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces are outside US and Afghan government control. In Pakistan, there is no such will to resist or seek independence from the deathly embrace of Uncle Sam.

Washington, meanwhile, appears determined to destroy Pakistan in the name of friendship. With friends like this, it is obvious that Pakistan does not need its enemies.