Target Pakistan: Washington's next war has already started

By Farooq Sulehria

September 17, 2008 -- Washington's next war is already on the go. It is as yet undeclared. However, it is not unapproved. ``Classified orders'', according to September 11 New York Times, were passed by President Bush last July. And surprise of surprises! The target is not ``axis of evil''-fame Iran. It is Washington's close ally in the ``war on terror'', Pakistan.

At the time of writing, news is pouring in from the Waziristan (tribal areas) region of Pakistan of yet another US attack that has left another five ``Taliban'' dead. Only a week ago, 20 ``Taliban'' were killed in another US attack. Between August 13 and September 12, at least 79 ``Taliban'' have been killed in nine US attacks on Pakistan's tribal areas. Since January 29 (the year's first attack claimed 12 lives), more than 150 people have been killed.

Besides the rising death toll, a large-scale displacement is taking place across tribal areas. From Bajour district alone, more than 30,000 people have migrated to the relative safety of the neighbouring districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). True, the large-scale displacement also owes much to the Shia-Sunni conflict that has flared up in the tribal areas, which has claimed more than 1500 lives in Kurrum Agency alone in last year.

The massive military operation launched against Taliban by the Pakistan army under US pressure, continuing since 2003, has driven people out of their homes. The Taliban's successful attempt to capture and turn Pakistan's tribal areas into ``Talibanistan'' has, no doubt, also inflicted misery (beheadings, amputations, displacement, harsh dress codes) on the residents of tribal areas, which has also led to displacement. However, it was the US invasion of Afghanistan that has reduced the tribal areas to a battlefield for multipronged war, with Shias fighting Sunnis, the Taliban pitched against the Pakistan military and US missiles and air drones pounding Pakistan.

Sunni-Shia conflict

The Shia-Sunni conflict began plaguing Pakistan in 1980s. The recent Shia-Sunni clashes in the tribal areas partly reflect the wider problem afflicting Pakistan. However, the immediate cause is   the Talibanisation-at-gunpoint of the tribal areas. Staunchly anti-Shia, the Taliban when at the helm of Kabul in the late 1990s brought Afghanistan to the brink of war with Iran owing to its anti-Shia crusades. Reportedly, 5000 Shias were massacred by the Taliban when it was in power. But attributing the Taliban’s campaigns against the Kurrum Agency Shias to mere confessional fanaticism would be a half truth. This well-planned campaign is part of the wider Taliban strategy.

The strategy is to Talibanise, politically and administratively, the tribal areas. The writ of the Pakistan state over the tribal areas has effectively been replaced by Talibanised Sharia (Islamic law). Having defeated and expelled the state apparatus (police, civil administration, courts), Taliban militias have established their own courts to dispense speedy justice. They have established toll posts to levy road taxes on transport. This is a major source of income. Maliks (tribal elders) might pose a challenge to Taliban authority. Hence, public beheadings of ``US spies'' eliminated some and silenced others. Largely to subdue the local population and partly to win support of conservative elements, men were told to grow beards (standard length = 5 centimetres). Women were told to either stay home or hide themselves in blue burkas. ``Adulterers'' were duly stoned to death. Whippings were dispensed for not fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Thieves had their hands amputated. Having learned from their experience in Afghanistan, the Taliban do not shutdown girls' schools lest one day ``infidels'' defeat them and re-open the schools. They simply burn them. The tally so far is 500.

(A digression: the neo-cons in the US and their liberal cousins in Pakistan may invoke this information as a rationale to justify a future US invasion of tribal areas. But this information is meant for those on the left that hails the Taliban's mindless violence as ``anti-imperialism, resistance and liberation''.)

The Shia tribes are alarmed at the Taliban occupation of the tribal areas. The Shia massacre in Afghanistan is fresh in their minds. They have decided to resist tooth and nail. Iranian backing has also proved decisive. Hence, despite losses, the Shia tribes have stood their ground. The Shia resistance to the Taliban was not the only impediment the Taliban faced. They have encountered acts of resistance non-stop. A brave woman, refused to quit her job as school teacher and stay home. Villagers formed militias and resisted, though unsuccessfully. The local tribes at first were no match for the Taliban and al Qaeda cadre trained in the 1980s with CIA-provided manuals. However, the Shia resistance proved inspiring. It became an impetus for others. The tribes have now formed their own militia and have begun liberating their villages from the Taliban.

`Assent' from Pakistan

While tribes have been left on their own to defend themselves against the Taliban, the New York Times on September 11 quoted a senior US official as saying that the Pakistan government had ``privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by [US] Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission”. The official did not say which members of the government gave the approval.

Though the present Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government has denied such assertions, there is a general feeling in Pakistan that such an ``assent to the general concept of limited ground assaults'' exists. During the rule of Pervez Musharraf, every time the US attacked [inside Pakistan], the regime would claim responsibility instead. Now every US attack is followed by a protest statement by the Pakistan government and every protest statement is followed by another US attack.  

This whole mess might confuse many outside Pakistan as Pakistan has committed up to 90,000 troops to the tribal areas and has lost more than 1000 soldiers fighting the Taliban since 2003. Meanwhile, Bush administration keeps lashing out at Islamabad for not doing enough to flush al Qaeda out of the tribal areas.

The US accuse-and-attack policy in fact is nothing but a farcical repeat of history: unable to defeat the North Vietnamese army, Nixon dispatched troops to Combodia. Tariq Ali accurately points out: ``When in doubt, escalate the war is an old imperial motto''.

Islamabad’s role, however, in the tribal areas is complicated. The 27,200 square-kilometre tribal belt, officially known as the Federal Autonomous Tribal Area, or FATA, is home to 3.3 million Pashtun tribes. The Pashtuns constitute the world's largest tribal group. Imperial Britain divided them with an artificial border, the Durand Line, which went on to become Afghanistan-Pakistan border. When Pakistan was created in 1947, the Pashtuns were split between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

How Washington created the Taliban

In the wake of the radical 1978 ``Saur revolution'' in Afghanistan, when the USA decided to give the Soviet Union its ``Vietnam'', the tribal areas and parts of the NWFP bordering Afghanistan, were turned by the CIA into a safe heaven for the ``Mujahideen'', the Taliban's forerunners.

Society in the tribal areas suffered immensely as a result. It was brutalised, criminalised and militarised as the weapons and drug trade became a major source of funding for the anti-Soviet ``jihad''. When the Soviet Union withdrew, Afghan leader Dr Najibullah was able to hold the Mujahideen out for another three years. But in 1993, he gave in. The Mujahideen reduced Afghanistan to rubble in their attempt to capture Kabul. The unending chaos was finally put to an end with imperial help. Says Benazir Bhutto: ``Weapons were supplied to the Taliban by the USA and Britain with money from Saudi Arabia... Pakistan's territory was used to train solely the Afghan refugees -– Pushtoons, who made up the backbone of Taliban movement.''

Even if Benazir’s statement is treated cautiously, tacit US approval for the Talibanised fighters take over has been documented in detail by a number of writers. Taliban control of Kabul was the Pakistan military's first success on an external front. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's notorious military intelligence service, was the architect of the Taliban victory.

The Taliban-ISI duo were not merely tactical brothers. Both also had an ideological affinity. During the ``jihad'' against Soviets, the Pakistan military too was ``radicalised''. When after 9/11, Washington told Pakistan GHQ (military headquarters) to give the Taliban up, it reluctantly but obediently followed the instructions. A section of the military, however, refused to give up. The then ISI chief told the Taliban to resist the US invasion. He was duly removed by General Musharraf. But support for the Taliban was not limited to the ISI chief. It was/is widespread among the army ranks in general. Serious attempts on Musharraf's life were connived, if not planned, by military personnel. Some of them were executed after summary trials by military courts.

Pakistan military divided over support for `Talibanistan'

The Taliban could not hold out for long as they had no social base left in Afghanistan. Not a single person came to their defence. The pro-Taliban elements in the Pakistan military establishment, however, were able to mobilise and dispatch thousands of lashkaris (mercenaries) from Pakistan to aid the Taliban in its defence of Kabul.

Ironically, many of the lashkaris ended up in Guantanamo Bay while the Taliban escaped to the safety of Pakistan's tribal areas. Here, assisted by their military masters, they regrouped. The plan was to launch a proxy war as was the case in the 1980s, with the only difference being that the USA was on the other side this time. The region was skilfully Talibanised over a period of time. The GHQ under Musharraf's leadership was indecisive. It most likely gave assent to this proxy war initially. However, a siege of The tribal areas began when Washington exerted pressure. Hence, the situation has pitched sections of the Pakistan military (following US dictates) against other sections of Pakistan military (patronising Taliban) in the tribal areas. This divide in the army was reflected most nakedly in the wake of the Red Mosque operation in June 2007 when a series of suicide attacks on military targets shook Pakistan.

Thus, the situation is indeed complex. There are military hawks who have ``faith'' in driving the ``infidel'' out of Kabul and reTalibanising it. They are miscalculating. Capturing Kabul through a proxy war in 1997 against a ragtag freemasonry of Mujahideen defending Kabul was one thing. Snatching it from NATO is a recipe for disaster. Most likely, the Taliban not being able to march westward will spread eastward. Already, districts neighbouring the tribal areas, particularly the scenic valleys of Swat, have become a venue for pitched battles between the Taliban and the Pakistan military. Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan have received warning shots.

However, neither succesful Talibanisation nor the presence of Taliban hide-outs should serve as an excuse for an imperialist invasion of Pakistan. It will further plunge this region into chaos. The stability of the region cannot be guaranteed until the US occupation of Afghanistan (the mother of all instabilities) is ended. Talibanisation can be best fought against by the masses. The US presence in the region will only delay the Taliban's defeat.

Unfortunately, the signs coming out of Washington suggest otherwise. On Fox News on July 6,  Bill Kristol recounted that in a 90-minute, mostly off-the-record, meeting with a small group of journalists. Kristol said that Bush ``conveyed the ... impression that he thought the next president's biggest challenge would not be Iraq, which he thinks he'll leave in pretty good shape, and would not be Afghanistan, which is manageable by itself... It's Pakistan... [We have] a sort of friendly government that sort of cooperates and sort of doesn't. It's really a complicated and difficult situation.''

[Farooq Sulehria is a member of the Labour Party Pakistan resident in Sweden.]


Farooq Tariq

By Farooq Tariq
The 2 October suicidal attack on Asfand Yar Wali Khan's Hujra in Charsada and the 20/9 deadly attack in Islamabad must be condemned by all. So is the case of all the suicidal attacks all over. There must not be any pretext, rationalization or any foundation for such an attack. These are gutless acts by groups claiming to be anti imperialist. The sheer volume of dynamite, over 800 kilogram, used in 20/9 suicidal attack shows that it is not a work of an isolated group. It could be an Alqaida work or a group having similar power and resources.
However, these attacks have created a ground for an all out brutalities by the Pakistani government and the American imperialism against the ordinary citizens in all parts of Pakistan . Any act of individual terrorism can only create a puzzlement, confusion, bafflement, disappointments, panic, alarm, fright, dread, and fear for the time being. In most cases, the state forces immediately reorganize it to
respond to these attacks.
It is now feared that wholesale arrests will be made. More people will disappear. Many more will be killed in "defensive" attacks. There could be ban on public gatherings. "Democratic" government of Asif Zardari will be more closely linked with American imperialism. They will go even further in embracing the so-called war on terror. All sort of autocratic, tyrannical and vicious measure will be on the agenda without any hesitation. People like Rehman Malik, the unelected interior adviser
(who has powers more than a minister) will do all sort of dictatorial measures on the name of security of Pakistan and the nation.
The killing of two American soldiers and Ambassador of Czech republic during the blast will give an open hand to American imperialism to have an open military basis in Pakistan . It was already agreed that Pakistan will have American military experts based near Islamabad to train the Pakistan military and police officers in curbing the threat of terrorism. This was the first time a public acceptance of American military official presence in Pakistan . The move came after American forces landed in tribal areas on 3 September to kill over 20 "suspected terrorist". Later it was revealed that women and children of
a Mullah was the target in this attack. There were other four direct attacks by the Americans inside Pakistan within two weeks of this incident despite the duplicitous hue and cry by the Pakistan Peoples Party government. American commander in chief of army was quick to pay a visit to Islamabad and after talks it was agreed that American will not attack directly inside Pakistan . "We will do the job" was the offer of the Pakistani military chief. Few hours later of these talks of assurances of no more attacks, another American attack killed over 20 again.
Inside help
All this was happening within a week of this deadly attack in
Islamabad . The 20/9 attack has left whole Pakistan in shock. It was clear that the religious fundamentalist could not do this without "inside" help. Pakistani military intelligence agencies are littered with elements of religious fanatics. They cannot get rid of their past. They had helped to form groups of religious fanatics in Afghanistan on the name of Jihad in early eighties against the threat of communism. That went on openly till 9/11. It is absolute clear that Pakistan military agencies had a lot to contribute in the formation of these religious groups. Those linkages are still not broken in absolute terms.
Changing relationship
After 9/11, the relationship of these forces changed publicly. Those who were friends were declared enemies. Most of the Inter Services Intelligence agents among the civilians doing a holy job paid a high price of their association with ISI. They were either sold to the Americans or handed over to please them. Majority of the missing persons after 9/11 are those who had once conducted Jihad to please God and their families with American Dollars.
While helping the missing persons families during 2007/2008, I found out that majority of the missing persons were closely associated with ISI and were paid regular amounts by the intelligence agencies to feed their families. The ISI had the lists and after 9/11 went on rampage. I heard many relatives crying, "why are they doing it, they were our friends, we
have done a job for the country and gone for Jihad when they needed us, why are they ditching us, where are our loved ones, why they have disappeared?" and so on.
Friends becoming enemies
When a friend becomes an enemy, it creates more pain. That is what had happened in Pakistan . The state and the religious forces were friends. They became enemies at least in public for some times after 9/11. The reasons were not explained. The relationship went on for some time without hurting each other. They both believed that they can fool the American imperialism. The Musharraf dictatorship played both ways. For years after 9/11, it ensured the American imperialism that he is the
best to deal with the religious fundamentalist and got a lot of
financial help. However, this stage management could not go on very long. Musharraf dictatorship was seen an unproductive force to deal with the religious fanatics. A deal with Benazir Bhutto was agreed to share power. Benazir Bhutto unfortunate death on 27 December 2007 changed the relationship of PPP with Musharraf, but not with the Americans. It was clear that General has Musharraf gone on 18 August 2008 but not his policies.
Pakistan Peoples Party government went further in cooperation with American imperialism than even Musharraf could think of. It was during their seven months rule that American dared to attack directly inside Pakistan. The Americans knew if Musharraf could not do it, how Zardari, the husband of Benazir, could do it. They had to do it themselves. They can only kill people but not the ideas of religious fundamentalism.
Religious fundamentalist roots and strategies
When analyzing religious fundamentalism, one must understand that the religion of Islam and Islamic fundamentalism are not the same. Islamic fundamentalism is a reactionary non scientific movement aimed at returning society to a centuries old social set up, defying all material and historical factors. It is an attempt to roll back the wheel of history.
Fundamentalism is a political and not social or religious phenomenon. It is best defined as counter-thesis to modernism. Partly, the growth of religious fundamentalism owes to its peculiar regional and national conditions - Pakistan is not a national state. It is an unnatural and unhistorical country with its borders drawn in the name of religion. Religion was and still is, used to provide a rationale for the country.
The religious fundamentalist groups organized in Mutihida Majlas Amal (MMA) were in power in NWFP during 2002-2007. They had got a massive electoral boast during the 2002 general elections under Musharraf. The 9/11 was afresh in mind. People wanted to go for revenge from the imperialists. General Musharraf also wanted to go a dual game. On one side he wanted to show the Americans the massive power base of the religious fundamentalists to get more aid. On the other hand, the
relationship of the state and religious groups were not broken yet and the Musharraf dictatorship provided the needed state help for the religious groups.
The recent growth of Taliban
MMA once in power also played a dual game. They were not challenging the dictatorial rule of General Musharraf. They were all busy to provide all sort of help to those religious groups busy organizing themselves in Afghanistan against the NATO occupation. It was during these years when Taliban of Afghanistan had a place to hide and organise. The influence
of Taliban started growing during the power period of MMA in NWFP. However, the Mullahs, once in power forgot all that what was told to them by the religion. They became part of the game. They made money.
Rich politicians coming to power can hide their corruption easily but the Mullahs were seen by ordinary people growing in their wealth, and were driving in the most expensive jeeps and cars. They were once from them. The five years power in the province brought them too far from the people's life. They started living in expensive homes and hotels. A lot of land was allotted to their close relations. Finally, they were loosing the social base that they had enjoyed after 9/11. The MMA
leadership provided no jobs or the peace in the area that was the need of the hour.
Losing parliamentary majority
Come the general election of 2007, the MMA was divided. Jamaat Islami wanted to boycott the election on the bases of their long
term strategy. They knew very well that they can not repeat the
successes in parliamentary field that they had done in 2002. The Jamiat Ulemai Islam (JUI) of Fazal Rehman could not repeat the same success story of 2002. They ended up less than 3 percent of the total votes. It was over 15 percent of MMA in 2002.
Defeated in the parliamentary field, several new groups emerged to take an old road of Jihad. The religious fanatic groups escalated their effort of Jihad after the 2008 votes. The main target of these fanatics were mainly ANP and PPP before and after the general elections of February 2008.
The failure of negotiation
The masses in NWFP voted in favor of ANP and PPP in the hope of peace. The main slogan of ANP was peace. After the elections, however, instead of mobilizing the masses for peace, the ANP leadership took a road of negotiations. This was a wrong policy. It had been tested time and again and failed. You cannot negotiate with the neo-fascist trends. The fanatics do not believe in democracy. They believe in the physical elimination of the political opponents. The ANP leadership even went to
accept the implantation of "Sharia" in trade of peace. The process of implantation of "Sharia" is itself a violent act. How could the "Sharia" implementation would bring peace in the region? This strategy of ANP and PPP brought even more disaster. Some of the known religious fanatics were released under the deal. They all went to make up for the time lost in prisons.
The religious fanatics went on all out war. They organized suicidal attacks, target killings and burning of the schools and other public institutions. They made the life of the locals hell. The suicidal attack on WAH ordinance factory killing over 100 workers opened the eyes of many. There started a new process, a process of countering the religious fanatics by themselves. The locals had also lost all hopes on ANP and
PPP coalition provincial and federal government to bring peace.
The emergence of Awami lashkars
The Pakistani Taliban Tehreek, one of the new but the main religious fundamentalist organization and other fanatic groups are facing a massive resistance not by the state, but by the locals. In almost all areas, Awami Lashkar (Peoples Army) are been organized to fight these fanatics. The local life is been destroyed since the escalation of the war in these areas. Many Taliban have been dealt by these Lashkars in the villages. This has emerged as a new hope for many. These Lashkars are sometime working hands in hands with the state forces. However there
are many cases where an independent initiative is taken by the local civil society actors.
In Dir district, over 20,000 have joined such a Lashkar. In Swat valley, while thousands were protesting against the continuous bombing and killings, three persons were killed by the army firing on them. Thousands were breaking the curfew. These Lashkars are also killing the known Taliban. Welcome by many, these Lashkars are also creating a civil war-like situation all over. The violent responses of these private counter armies to Taliban are creating some immediate relief but it can not last
without the intervention and support of the state. However, the creation of these Lashkars shows a vote of no confidence on the state actors.
What to do?
We must oppose the both, the religious fanatics and imperialist forces. Siding with any one is a recipe of political suicide. They both are not friends of ordinary people. We must create and establish an independent voice of the working people. We must build up a movement of working people to oppose the both particularly in the areas where there are growth of religious fundamentalism. We must not abandon the people on the mercy of the both.
The policies of the present civil government to side publicly and openly with the American imperialism and its so-called war on terror and neo-liberal agenda are a real help for the growth of the religious fundamentalists. With the continuation of these policies, one can not expect that the fanatics will end their war and they will be defeated. May be defeated for the time being by military operations, they will come out in new areas with new faces and organizations. You can not kill ideas.
The civil society actors do not have to repeat the mistakes that some of them did after 9/11. They supported the occupation of Afghanistan in the hope that it will end religious fanatics. That did not happen. Let us not do it now, Let oppose the military actions, and the actions of the fanatics in one breath. There is nothing good to choose from them. There is no progressive action by any one of them.

Farooq Tariq is spokesperson of the Labour Party Pakistan

Contact: LPP, 40-Abbot Road Lahore, Pakistan
Tel: 92 42 6315162 Fax: 92 42 6271149 Mobile: 92 300 8411945

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