Eric S. Margolis
WASHINGTON: Official Washington watches in mounting alarm and confusion as Pakistan spins out of control. The US-led war in Afghanistan has now poured over into Pakistan, bringing that nation of 167 million close to civil war.
Bombings and shootings are rocking Pakistan’s northwest regions, including a brazen attack on army HQ in Rawalpindi and repeated bombings of Lahore and Peshawar. Pakistan’s army has launched a major offensive against rebellious Pashtun tribes in South Waziristan.
Meanwhile, the weak, deeply unpopular government of Asif Zardari that was engineered into power by the US faces an increasingly rancorous confrontation with its own military.
Like the proverbial bull in the china shop, the Obama administration and US Congress chose this explosive time to try to impose yet another layer of American control over Pakistan – just as Nobel peace prize winner Barack Obama appears likely to send thousands more US troops to Afghanistan.
Tragically, US policy in the Muslim world continues to be driven by imperial arrogance, profound ignorance, and special interest groups.
The current Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill approved by Congress and signed by Obama is ham-fisted dollar diplomacy at its worst. Pakistan, bankrupted by corruption and feudal landlords, is being offered US$7.5 billion over five years. Washington claims there are no strings attached. Except, of course, that the US wants to build a mammoth new embassy for 1,000 personnel in Islamabad, the second largest after its giant fortress-embassy in Baghdad. New diplomatic personnel are needed, claims Washington, to monitor the US$7.5 billion in aid. So a small army of US mercenaries is being brought in to protect US “interests”. New US military bases will open. Most of the billions in new aid will go right into the pockets of the pro-western ruling establishment, about 1% of the population.
Washington has been also demanding veto power over promotions in Pakistan’s armed forces and intelligence agency, ISI. This crude attempt to take control of Pakistan’s proud, 617,000-man military and intelligence service has enraged its armed forces.
It’s all part of Washington’s “Afpak” strategy to clamp tighter control over restive Pakistan and make use its armed forces and intelligence agents in Afghanistan. The other key US objective is seizing control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the cornerstone of its national defence against much more powerful India. Welcome, Pakistan, to the
However, 90% of Pakistanis oppose the US-led war in Afghanistan, and see Taliban and its allies as national resistance to western occupation.
Alarmingly, violent attacks on Pakistan’s government are coming not only from once autonomous Pashtun tribes (wrongly called “Taliban”) in Northwest Frontier Province, but, increasingly, in the biggest province, Punjab.
Recently, the US Ambassador in Islamabad, in a fit of imperial arrogance, actually called for air attacks on Pashtun leaders in Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province.
Washington does not even bother to ask the Islamabad government’s permission to launch air attacks inside Pakistan, only informing it afterwards.
The Kerry-Lugar-Berman Big Bribe comes as many irate Pakistanis accuse President Asif Ali Zardari’s government of being American hirelings. Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto, has been dogged for decades by corruption charges.
Washington seems unaware of the fury its crude, counter-productive policies have whipped up in Pakistan. The Obama administration listens to Washington-based pro-Israel neo-conservatives, military hawks, and “experts” who tell it what it wants to hear, not the facts.
Pakistan’s military, the nation’s premier institution, is being pushed to the point of revolt. Against the backdrop of bombings and shootings come rumours the heads of Pakistan’s armed forces and intelligence may be replaced.
Pakistanis are calling for the removal of the Zardari regime’s strongman, Interior Minister Rehman Malik. The possibility of a military coup against the Zardari regime grows. But Pakistan is dependent on US money, and fears India. Can its generals afford to break with patron Washington?
Eric S. Margolis is a contributing editor to the Toronto Sun chain of newspapers, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org