In President Obama’s much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Cairo June 5, he made a distinction between the Iraq War as “a war of choice” and the Afghanistan War as a war “of necessity” due to the 9-11 attacks.
He had of course declared Iraq a war of choice on the campaign trail. But to do so in this international forum was a little surprising, as it could be read as an implicit acknowledgment that the war was a violation of international law. (What is a war of choice after all but a war crime?) But in Cairo Obama — who declines to investigate Bush era officials for war crimes — merely pronounced some bromides about seeking wisdom along with power from now on and vowed to henceforth be a “partner” of Iraq rather than its “patron.”
Obama’s strongest criticism of the Iraq War during the campaign was that it was a “strategic blunder,” and course it would be rather too much to expect a U.S. president to denounce any U.S. imperialist war in truly heartfelt fashion. But he might in Cairo have returned to a theme he broached in October 2002 during the buildup to the war, in his famous Chicago “antiwar speech”:
“What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99591469
He might have noted that this particular war of choice was largely a war based on lies playing upon anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes disseminated as “intelligence” by neocons like the aforementioned Wolfowitz, Perle, “Scooter” Libby, and Douglas Feith whose “ideological agenda” involved (and continues to involve) “regime change” throughout Muslim Southwest Asia. It was a war to advance the interests of corporate America and the oil companies (although they didn’t necessarily drive it) — and also to create a better security environment for Israel so central to those neocon “ideological agendas.”
The war was justified in part by a false association between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden conjured up by Feith’s “Office of Special Plans.” The very idea that the secular Baathist regime of Saddam would have had a close working relationship with the fanatically Salafist al-Qaeda only made sense to those with highly simplistic views of the Islamic world (or those knowing better but trying to use those with such views). It assumed a readiness to conflate altogether dissimilar Muslims and a racist essentialization of Arabs.
Simply put, the al-Qaeda-Iraq link cynically exploited stereotypes. In that sense it and the entire “war on terror” are indeed anti-Muslim as often charged. Obama can declare as he did in Cairo (to applause), “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” But if he makes no fundamental changes in U.S. policy his words ring hollow.
Those who lied about Iraq-bin Laden links also lied about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. They provided the disinformation behind the carefully timed references by top officials in the fall of 2002 to a “mushroom cloud over New York City” designed to terrify the American people. (Libby was on the White House Iraq Group that came up with that “let’s hope the smoking gun’s not a mushroom cloud over New York” sales pitch.)
Are there not similarities between that propaganda and the “nuclear Holocaust” propaganda of hysteria currently being circulated by those praying for the U.S. to bomb Iran on behalf of Israel? What is Obama doing to fight the AIPAC crazies working overtime to thwart the U.S. intelligence community’s actual, empirical assessment that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program and to rather impose their hypothesis that it most definitely has one?
And speaking of “negative stereotypes,” what is Obama doing to challenge the preposterous notion that the Iranian leadership is prepared to use nukes on Israel, knowing that that would mean massive retaliation against Iran? The argument is that the mullahs so hate the Jews that they are rushing to produce nukes in order to use one against the Jewish state armed with a couple hundred of its own, consciously inviting the inevitable nuclear response from Israel and/or the U.S., provoking the annihilation of millions of their own people.
They will willingly accept that toll, the argument continues, because the Shiite Islam of the Iranian mullahs, with its peculiar martyrdom complex, makes them indifferent to this apocalyptic result of their planned attack. It’s a nonsensical caricature of a regime that told the Bush administration in 2003 it was prepared to accept the Arab League Peace Initiative to Israel, allows the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel representation in the Majlis, and leads a country that has attacked no other in modern times.
Obama: “Make no mistake . . . No debate . . . Afghanistan a War of Necessity”
In any case, turning in Cairo to the war in Afghanistan, Obama contrasted it with that in Iraq as a war of necessity. It was and is a clear-cut, righteous cause beyond debate. He lectured the Muslim world:
We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al-Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.
Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.
The lack of creativity here was striking. This could have been written by Bush “Axis-of-Evil” speech writer and Richard Perle associate David Frum in early 2002. This was emphatically not an explanation for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2009 but rather an obvious example of obfuscation. In declaring Afghanistan a war of necessity Obama failed to really establish links between the 9-11 attackers and the Taliban. He didn’t show that those engaging in armed struggle against the regimes in power in Afghanistan and Pakistan today are really determined to “kill as many Americans as they possibly can,” or if they have become so determined, where and why. One might say he set up a straw man, a straw jihadi, for GI Joe to attack.
Surely the Taliban nurtured al-Qaeda after 1996; the families of Mullah Omar and bin Laden even established marriage ties. But the Taliban were not bin Laden’s initial hosts in Afghanistan upon his return to the country from Sudan. The Taliban did not set up bin Laden in his camps; these date back to the 1980s when he was working with the CIA. The Taliban was a conservative Pashtun-based xenophobic Sunni Muslim movement rooted in the Pakistani madrassas attended by Afghan refugees. Formed in the early 1990s, it was backed for years by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Saudi Arabia.
There was a time when Zalmay Khalilzad could argue (in a op-ed piece in the Washington Post in 1996), that the Taliban were not anti-American and could be negotiating partners. He himself as a UNOCAL executive was happy to host Taliban officials on his Texas ranch to negotiate about the TAPI natural gas pipeline. Colin Powell was able to negotiate a highly successful opium eradication program with the Taliban in early 2001. The organization’s embrace of an anti-U.S. jihad along al-Qaeda lines is largely a function of the U.S. conflation of the two organizations (the Bushite “you’re either for us or against us” doctrine — in practice a “you’re either for us or against us, especially if you’re Muslim” doctrine). It’s a result of the U.S. attack.
Al-Qaeda is primarily an Arab international jihadi movement with an anti-American ideology born out of the stationing of U.S. troops on Saudi soil in the months prior to the first Gulf War. It has a vision of a revived Caliphate. It’s actually quite different from the Taliban and there was mounting tension between the two from at least 1999 when al-Qaeda’s international terrorist actions began to cost its hosts. This al-Qaeda has in any case largely been driven from Afghanistan, with the exception of some Uzbeks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who are based in the north.
The current confrontation in Afghanistan is not about al-Qaeda, or the issues that prompted some renegade Saudis to attack the Twin Towers and Pentagon eight years ago. It’s about Afghan dislike of outside interference, Pashtun nationalism, outrage at U.S. bombing (that has even caused MPs to shut down Parliament in protest on occasion), disillusionment with corruption in the Karzai-warlord regime, a certain comfort level some had with the previous socio-political order. Surely Islam has something to do with it in that the Qur’an calls upon the believer to fight injustices inflicted upon fellow Muslims. But for Obama to say the war in Afghanistan at this point is “necessary” because of 9-11 is disingenuous.
If it’s “necessary,” it may be so because Afghanistan runs between the gas fields of Turkmenistan and the Indian Ocean ports which could carry it to world markets avoiding Iran and Russia. A pipeline deal was signed in 2002 but its provisions can’t be carried out until the country’s stabilized. As a declining superpower competing, among others, with a resurgent Russia flush with oil and gas money, the U.S. experiences geopolitical, capitalist-imperialist necessities. Its energy corporations need to compete for access to that gas oil, and the profits that can be obtained from them, while the Pentagon strategizes about how to control global access to energy in the event of war.
But these necessities have nothing to do with 3000 dead eight years ago. And yes, we can debate the Afghan War, however much Mr. Obama may want to close off discussion with reference to those innocent victims and that painful day.
Holbrooke to Refugees: “Glad the army came in, even though you were driven out of your homes?”
The very same day Obama was speaking, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke was in Pakistan, offering high-level symbolic support for the Pakistani Army’s campaign against what has become a full blown insurgency conducted by the Pakistani Taliban. (This is a Taliban that did not exist before U.S. invaded Afghanistan.) That counter-insurgency effort had involved the strafing of a city of 375,000 and produced 2 million refugees from the Swat Valley which had been taken over by militants. Fighting reportedly continues and the refuges have yet to return.
According to the Washington Post: “In a message he repeated several times, Holbrooke told the Pakistanis here that President Obama and the people of the United States cared about them and were helping their government to aid them. Even as he spoke, he said, Obama was reaching out to Pakistanis and other Muslims around the world in a major address in Cairo.” Holbrooke asked some of the refuges if they were “glad the army came in, even though you were driven out of your homes?” Perhaps he was trying to reassure himself that this was indeed the case.
“We will be happy when there is peace,” one refugee told him. “We want this thing to end so we can go back to our own land,” an elder shouted to him. “We are fed up with living like this.” “America has given a lot of assistance and food,” Holbrooke replied. “But it’s up to the Pakistan army to give you security. That’s not our job.”
Having thus detached the U.S. from responsibility for the crisis, Holbrooke made an ominous response to an AFP reporter’s question in a separate interview. “I don’t want to be alarmist here,” he said, “but I’m predicting some massive influx. There are concerns that there may be some spillover as there was in the past.”
He was referring to an influx of refugees from Afghanistan — the result of the “surge” of 21,000 additional U.S. forces in that country — an admission in passing of one outcome of the toppling of the Taliban due to that “war of necessity” in 2001.
It’s apparent to many Muslims and others around the world that the initial U.S. response to 9-11 has produced many negative ripple effects, including the destabilization of Pakistan, the world’s second most populous Muslim nation. That is to say, what for many Americans is the “good war” foil to the bad blundering war in Iraq is for much of the world part of the same bloody thing: at minimum, a heavy-handed reaction to an attack by rogue Saudis that indiscriminately targeted unrelated Muslim (Afghan and Iraqi) civilians — and for that matter Taliban militants who, whatever the backwardness of their ideology and brutality of their policies, had little to do with the foreigners operating secretly in their midst and planning international terrorist actions.
The U.S. set up a new regime in Afghanistan following the Loya Jirga orchestrated by George Bush and his special envoy Khalilzad, the Afghan-American neocon. It delivered power from the Talibs to the Northern Alliance warlords in the Tajik-Uzbek north and failed to deliver much of a state apparatus at all in Pashtun areas. These areas were inexorably reclaimed by the former rulers, despite the U.S.’s attempt to build an army of 132,000 which (as one U.S. officer wryly put it) a country as poor as Afghanistan “will never be able to afford.”
The administration has taken to referring to Afghanistan and Pakistan together as “Af-Pak,” recognizing that that they constitute a single problem for itself (if not acknowledging that that particular problem was generated by U.S. action). Holbrooke sort of let it slip to AFP that there’d been “spillover” from the 2001 invasion. Now there’s something much more dire happening.
Retired CIA analyst Bruce O. Riedel, who chaired a special interagency committee to develop President Obama’s policies on Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the Council on Foreign Relations last month:
“In Pakistan, we face a growing coalescence of jihadist militant groups, not just in the tribal areas, but in the Punjab and in the major cities including Karachi. This is threatening the very survival of the Pakistani state as we have known it. It is not inevitable and it is not imminent, but there is a real possibility of a jihadist state emerging in Pakistan sometime in the future. And that has to be one of the worst nightmares American foreign policy could have to deal with.”
Note the truly grim tone. The survival of the Pakistani state “as we have known it” (as opposed to a Taliban State # 2 Plus Nukes) is a stake. Maybe the subtext is that the Bush administration by taking its “eye off the ball” in Afghanistan and going into the “war of choice” in Iraq miscalculated the Afghan-based Taliban, which is now (given its fundamentally pan-Pashtun character, which the neocons probably didn’t think about) capable of wreaking havoc in Pakistan. (The Taliban is rooted among the Pashtuns who make up 42% of the Afghan population — 14 million — and who also make up 15% of Pakistan’s population — 26 million. They are separated by the Durand Line, the border between the two countries, a line drawn by a British colonial officer’s pen in the 1890s which means nothing to the Pashtun tribes.)
Clinton: “The Existential Threat to the State of Pakistan”
On April 23 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress, “I think we cannot underscore [enough] the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances [of the Taliban],” adding that Pakistan also potentially poses a “mortal threat” to the U.S. and other countries. More recently General David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Pakistanis via Fox News that their “very existence” was threatened by Taliban militants and that “clearly, there is going to be a tough fight,” while Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a meeting of defense ministers in Singapore that the Taliban’s emergence in Pakistan is an “existential threat” to the country.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry was in Pakistan early in the month contributing to the sense of crisis, telling reporters, “The government has to ratchet up the urgency” in the counterinsurgency. It seems Kerry doesn’t think “that the effort has been resourced the way that it needs to be either in the personnel or the strategy.” (Former Lt. Kerry having won medals fighting Vietnamese freedom fighters apparently considers himself qualified to counsel the Pakistanis about countering insurgents.)
In April 1971 this Kerry as an antiwar activist famously asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Boston University professor Andrew J. Bacevich, perhaps the country’s preeminent military historian, has recently noted that Kerry also testified to Congress at that time that he and other soldiers were “probably angriest” about all the lies they’d been told about Vietnam and “the mystical war against communism.”
Bacevich likens “the mystical war on terrorism” with the “mystical war against communism” and says it “prevents us from seeing things as they are.” He says the “jihadist threat” in both Afghanistan and Pakistan “falls well short of being existential.” He also realizes that the war in Afghanistan is precisely what’s generating the Pakistani Taliban. But the consensus in Washington seems to be that the survival of Pakistan is at stake and that the U.S. has to somehow respond by altering its strategy in the region—in the direction of escalation justified my explanations that prevent us from seeing things as they really are. Surely what Barbara Tuchman called the “March of Folly.”
Interestingly enough, on that very same day Hillary Clinton made her “existential” remark the new Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that Israel’s biggest “existential threat” was not Iran (which it had been touting for many months as such) but in fact Pakistan. The Israel Lobby had been using that term “existential” a lot in reference to Iran’s supposed threat to itself — proposing that its nuclear power program constituted a threat to global Jewry unprecedented since Nazism — dangerously ratcheting up the tension between Tehran and Washington. Now Lieberman was holding up the specter of a Talibanized Pakistan (which unlike Iran, actually has nukes) as an even greater threat, while Clinton was impressing on Congress that Pakistan was in deep trouble and U.S. resources were urgently needed in “Af-Pak.”
Since April, the Pakistani Army has indeed taken action against the Pakistani Taliban — to loud expressions of U.S. approval. When Petraeus made his comment about the Taliban threatening Pakistan’s existence he followed up by praising the Pakistan Army for taking “the kind of action, with the size of forces they have in the western part of the country, [which] demonstrates that they understand that there is a more immediate threat to the country” than some other unspecified one.
It may seem odd that the U.S. military is expressing appreciation that the Pakistani military is showing an understanding of the security threat that the Taliban poses to itself on its own home turf. But twice before, in 2005 and 2008, Pakistan’s army has attacked the insurgents only to meet with defeat, cut deals and withdraw over U.S. murmurs of disapproval that this was not helping the effort in Afghanistan. This time the Pentagon hopes the Pakistani military is serious and will not just “pacify” Swat but move on to an engagement with the forces of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. The Swat operation was a dress rehearsal for this much larger, riskier campaign.
The U.S.-Pakistani Relationship
The U.S. does not exactly enjoy a neocolonial-type relationship with the Pakistani military, which dominates state affairs. Riedel refers to the latter’s enduring resentment of the Pressler Amendment sanctions imposed by the first President Bush, which from 1990 singled out Pakistan for punishment for its nuclear weapons program (itself a response to India’s explosion of a nuclear device in 1974). After a decade of close cooperation with the Pakistani military in the 1980s (in “bleeding the Soviet Union in Afghanistan”), following the end of the Cold War Washington decided it didn’t need Pakistan so much and cut off various forms of aid. (Meanwhile the Najibullah regime finally fell to the Northern Alliance jihadis in 1993, throwing Afghanistan into new bloody paroxysms for which the Pakistanis had to pay while the Gulbuddin’s Hekmatyar’s paymasters quietly left the stage.)
Strong military and political ties resumed after 9-11 but only after Islamabad was bludgeoned into obedience. The real “existential threat” to Pakistan loomed right after the attacks, when the U.S. State Department conveyed to President Musharraf the message that Pakistan should “prepare to be bombed, be prepared to go back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t cooperate in this war against the Taliban. Musharraf later, in an interview with BBC, called this a “very rude remark.” (By the way, what Iranian leader has ever made such a threat to any country?) The fact that Musharraf could publicly complain about such nuclear diplomacy may show a measure of independence. But of course at the time he capitulated to U.S. demands, much as they were to cost his country.
The Pentagon has recently reported to Congress that U.S. aid to Pakistan for fighting terrorism has been misused for purchasing combat aircraft among other things for conventional conflict with India. There appear to be deep issues of trust here on both sides. Pakistan is after all a Muslim state, born out of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s dream of a state formed from the Muslim-majority parts of the British Raj in distinction from what became overwhelmingly Hindu India. It was a vision of a secular state, but Islam is likely to be a strong part of any Pakistani military officer’s personal identity. Surely this is apparent U.S. officers (likely to be sincere Christians) having any personal contact with Pakistani counterparts as they collaborate and cooperate on border missions. It may leave some of them secretly wondering whether the Pakistanis can really handle the problem of anti-American Taliban militant activity in their country.
When you look at the biblical packaging of the daily intelligence briefings that circulated high up in the Defense Department in the early months of the Iraq war, or consider that a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence under Bush spoke in uniform at churches saying the Christian God is “bigger” than the Muslim one (since “his was an idol”), you can imagine that the Pentagon brass might suspect the Pakistanis, and that the Pakistanis might legitimately suspect that the U.S. is involved in a global effort against their religion. You can imagine, that is, a certain mutual wariness in the relationship between the militaries in whatever capacity they cooperate.
Then there is this matter Petraeus alludes to indirectly: “a more immediate threat to the country.” By this he obviously meant India, which the U.S. is cultivating as a regional superpower and ally vis-à-vis China and Russia. This is the India which, like Israel and Pakistan, never signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty but acquired nuclear weapons and was subject to U.S. sanctions as a result (although never as damaging to it as those applied to Pakistan).
The Commander of U.S. Central Command obviously thinks that the Taliban is a more immediate threat to Pakistan than India. He is a representative of a country whose Congress just passed the “123 Agreement” opening India’s vast nuclear industry to investment by U.S. firms. The Indian Parliament is expected to soon pass a Logistics Support Agreement that will allow refueling, maintenance and servicing of U.S. military ships and planes at Indian ports and bases and vice versa. Obviously the official U.S. position is that India is no threat to Pakistan at all.
In this context, as Pakistan copes with the consequences of the Swat crackdown, as the Pentagon urges the Pakistanis to move against Mehsud in South Waziristan — producing many more refugees; and and as State Department and Pentagon officials admit that they have no real plan about how to proceed in Afghanistan as the Taliban consolidate its position there, Obama through Holbrooke assures the Pakistani people and army of his “concern.”
Holbrooke: “I don’t want to be alarmist here, but I’m predicting some massive influx. There are concerns that there may be some spillover as there was in the past.”
In late 2001 the CIA station chief in Islamabad had concluded that the Taliban was a “spent force” even as the Guardian reported its leadership relocating to luxurious villas in Pakistan. Nowadays that “spent force” has regained control of much of the south and east of Afghanistan. Most of the real fighting is along the border with Pakistan. President Hamid Karzai realizes that the insurgency is not going to go away and has repeatedly offered to negotiate with the Taliban, including Mullah Omar. The Taliban-aligned forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i Islami are meanwhile advancing on Kabul, and as AP notes matter-of-factly, summer is “traditional fighting season in Afghanistan” when U.S. combat deaths already at record levels are likely to increase.
One recalls Marx’s observation that world-historical events occur twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. The initial “spillover” to which Holbrooke alluded cost the lives of over 1,100 Pakistani troops and 8000 insurgents, as well as (according to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies) 1,765 civilian deaths between October 2008 and March 2009 alone, and culminated in a refugee crisis involving two million people. These were the tragic and probably unintentional consequences of U.S. action in Afghanistan.
But here you have Obama’s special envoy to “Af-Pak” predicting even more refugees, as the consequence of the “surge” of 21,000 more troops next door, while Pakistan copes with the blowback of the U.S. actions to date. Another huge refugee exodus is predicted from South Waziristan as the Army moves in at U.S. urging. U.S. forces are proceeding ahead consciously towards a show-down with the Taliban aware that this may well destroy Pakistan “as we know it.”
“But let us be clear,” says Obama, “al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day.”
So that’s why we’re still in Afghanistan, you see, with more troops on the way, as waves of people stream across Pakistan. What a farce.
Ross and Holbrooke: “Everybody Needs to Worry About Iran”
Now, while over 50,000 U.S. troops alongside the Afghan army-in-training will be confronting local guerrillas (and attacking some across the border in Pakistan too) in order to prevent another 9-11, just imagine what all might be happening in the surrounding world.
Pakistan is not just bordered by Afghanistan but by India, China and Iran. It has generally had good relations with Iran, despite the fact that Iran’s Shiite theocracy opposed Pakistan’s policy of cultivating the fiercely anti-Shiite Taliban in Afghanistan. If the U.S. attacks Iran in the coming year (or if Israel does so) it will surely confirm in the minds of Muslims throughout the world — Pakistanis among those most directly affected — that the U.S. is engaged in a Crusade against them. All of them: Sunni and Shiite, from the more or less secular (Saddam’s Iraq) to the deeply traditional (the Taliban’s Afghanistan).
Holbrooke is, along with Dennis Ross, Hillary Clinton’s top advisor on Iran, the author of a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece that ran just nine months ago. Entitled “Everybody Needs to Worry About Iran” it strives to “mobilize the power of a united American public in opposition” to what it terms the Iranian regime’s drive to become “a nuclear state.” (Ross has been Special Advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia to Hillary Clinton but has left that post for a more powerful White House job.)
Linger on that statement alone for a moment. Here are Holbrooke and Ross writing ten months after the NIE in which the U.S. intelligence community declared with “high confidence” that Iran had no nuclear program that they want to mobilize public opinion to believe the exact opposite. This should make every aware person with an awareness of U.S. history (and the mobilization of public opinion around lies targeting Muslims) sick to their stomach.
Ross is known to favor a policy of “diplomatic engagement” with Iran whereby the Iranians are asked to to stop doing something every NPT signatory nation is legally entitled to do (enrich uranium) and when they decline to do so, attack them or give the green light to Israel to do so on the “existential threat”/”nuclear Holocaust” preemptive war causus belli pretext.
Perhaps Holbrooke does feel some alarm when he imagines how people in Afghanistan and Pakistan might respond to an infidel attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran — maybe in the context of massive refugee spillovers and civil wars all supposedly “necessitated” by the U.S. response to 9-11. Afghanistan is 19%, Pakistan 20% Shiite, and while Shiite belief does not necessitate sympathy with Shiite Iran under imperialist or Zionist attack it is a likely predictor of it.
I don’t want to be an alarmist here, but I will observe that Bush’s vaguely conceived “war on terror” is spilling over into Pakistan, big time. It could hardly be otherwise given the artificiality of the border, and its permeability, a legacy of Islamabad’s (necessarily) gentle hand in dealing with the tribes in the North-West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. By demanding Islamabad take action against militants on the border Washington has actually forced its Pakistani allies to repeatedly provoke the tribesmen, thus destabilizing a country of 173 million, armed with nukes and with a history of three wars with neighboring India and ongoing conflict over Kashmir.
They say in Pakistan “All Taliban are Pashtuns, but not all Pashtuns are Taliban” and it does seem that support for the Taliban is very limited. But the prospect that Riedel raises — of a “jihadist state” — is disturbing, and the potential for such perhaps exists as an Army deployed to suppress the jihadis repeatedly cuts deals with them, trading peace for the implementation of the sharia. But how could they have done otherwise, given the balance of forces in a country that Washington began to knock off balance in 2001?
As Pakistani opposition figure Imran Khan told the Middle East Institute recently, about 25 percent of the troops involved in recent campaign against the Taliban in the Swat Valley are Pashtuns. “Pakistan is at risk,” he declared. “How long will the government soldiers keep fighting their own people? If ever the Taliban were discredited and the public was behind the military operation, it was during the Swat operation. But the anger against the army is much greater. When the true horrors of the collateral damage are known . . . the Taliban will have won” through new recruits.
Holbrooke was in Pakistan to testify that that Pakistani Army, driving people out of their homes in the Swat Valley, is on the same side as Barack Obama. But he’s no doubt concerned about the prospect that the crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban will produce blowback for the U.S. He’s nervous about the prospects for the anti-Taliban effort retaining “hearts and minds” long-term as homelessness and war continue.
That’s the big picture: U.S. preparations for a dramatic acceleration of the Terror War in “Af-Pak,” still justified by tired references to that tragedy eight years ago, while the U.S. continues to threaten Iran and to make everything much worse still.
This isn’t Bush’s war anymore. It’s Obama’s slightly prettified War on Terror, Part II, Af-Pak Theater. And it’s not about 9-11. It has never been, really; that’s just been the rhetoric addressed to the U.S. masses designed to exploit to the max the recollected pain of that one day, and to the world to justify aggression in the name of national security.
It’s really about empire — endless “surges” on behalf of empire justified by urgent appeals for action against existential threats. It’s a farce with ongoing tragic consequences for people in the region, and pain the American people themselves have only begun to feel. So far the combined U.S. death toll for the Iraq and Afghan aggressions is just a little over 5,000. But lately the casualties in Afghanistan are nearly matching those in Iraq.
Those who’ve hoped or thought Obama would be an anti-war president: please watch his deputies Holbrooke and Ross carefully. They’re not so dissimilar from the neocons they’ve replaced and their visions of regime change may spell more ruin for the world.