The Main Result of the “War on Terror”

The Destabilization of Pakistan

So far the principal result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the events of 9-11 has been the destabilization of Pakistan. That breakdown is peaking with the events in what AP calls the “Swat town” of Mingora—actually a city of 375,000 from which all but 20,000 have fled as government forces moved in, strafing it with gunships. We’re talking urban guerrilla warfare, house-to-house fighting, not on the Afghan border but 50 miles away in the Swat Valley. We’re talking about Pakistani troops fighting to reclaim the nearby Malam Jabba ski resort from the Tehreek-e-Taliban, who since last year have been using it as a training center and logistics base. We’re talking about two million people fleeing the fighting in the valley and 160,000 in government refugee camps.

And of course, “collateral damage”: As was reported in The News in Pakistan May 19:

Several persons, including women and children, were killed and a number of others sustained injuries when families fleeing the military operation in Swat’s Matta town were shelled while crossing a mountainous path to reach Karo Darra in Dir Upper on Monday, eyewitnesses and official sources said. Eyewitnesses, who escaped the attack or were able to reach Wari town of Dir Upper in injured condition, said they were targeted by gunship helicopters. However, police officials said they might have been hit by a stray shell. Local people said they saw some 12 to 14 bodies on a mountain on the Swat side but could not go near to retrieve them or help the injured for fear of another aerial attack.

What a nightmare scenario for Pakistan.

We’re talking about the Pakistani Army sometimes fighting over the last year to retake towns from Taliban forces in the Buner region of the North-West Frontier Province that are closer to the capital of Islamabad than the Afghan border. And while the Talibs apparently lack popular support, even among the Pashtuns (who are 15 % of the Pakistani population—26 million and 42% of the Afghan population—14 million) they have been able to inflict embarrassing defeats on the army.

Tehreek-i-Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud, head of the militant forces in South Waziristan, established his credentials when his forces captured 300 Pakistani soldiers and traded them for about 30 imprisoned militants in the fall of 2007. Time and again, the several (sometimes rival) “Taliban” forces, which did not exist before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan created them, have forced the government to negotiate terms. Most recently in February, Islamabad agreed to the implementation of the Sharia in the Swat Valley in exchange for peace. The Taliban broke the agreement in April, or so the story goes, and the army claims it’s killed 1,100 militants since.

But curiously, as of Sunday it claimed to have killed only 10 Taliban, while boasting of seizing (according to AP) “a spot nicknamed ‘bloody intersection’ because militants routinely dumped the mutilated bodies of their victims there.” On Monday, I read of another four dead militants but the Taliban announced through a spokesman that they would maintain “aides” in place in the city, cease fire, and advise civilians to return. It appears most have retreated to other towns, including Buner and Daggar where fighting goes on now. This they can do under cover of the masses of refugees of course.

Now think of what has happened here. Whether or not this was Osama bin Laden’s conscious plan, the local, ethnically-based, ideological movement most receptive to his own (i.e., the Taliban, or more precisely, multiple talibans on the Pakistan side of the border) has flourished since the U.S. attack upon Afghanistan in response to the 9-11 attacks. The imperialist response to 9-11 inflamed Pashtunistan. The toppling of the Taliban itself aroused indignation among many Pakistani as well as Afghan Pashtuns. Some militants fleeing east met with the traditional Pasthtunwali welcome, as they would under less stressful circumstances, and beyond that political sympathy.

The drone missile attacks, the civilian deaths, the contemptuous official denials, the repeated insults to national sovereignty, the connivance of the regime in power, have angered many, perhaps most, Pakistanis. While the Taliban has undergone a quiet resurgence in southern Afghanistan, leading U.S. generals to conclude that a military solution to the war is impossible, bands of religious “students” gathering around tribal leaders and warlords in Pakistan forming the umbrella “Movement of the Taliban” or Tehreek-e-Taliban under Mahsud have been able to generate this kind of chaos.

The Army had been deployed before against Indian forces. But the disproportionately Pashtun force had never confronted or been trained to confront fanatical Pashtun jihadis–particularly when the issue was the implementation of the Sharia. Not surprisingly it performed badly and Islamabad wound up cutting a deal in February to implement Islamic law in the Swat Valley. U.S. Defense Secretary Gates can criticize that judgment in stating, “We want to support [the Pakistanis]. We want to help them in any way we can. But it is important that they recognize the real threats to their country.” And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can tell Congress, “I think the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists [by making a peace deal in Swat]. Changing paradigms and mindsets is not easy, but I do believe there is an increasing awareness of not just the Pakistani government but the Pakistani people that this insurgency coming closer and closer to major cities does pose such a threat.”

It’s easy to lecture about such things, to judge the actions of another government facing a crisis. But isn’t it obvious that (what Clinton has, since at least April, been calling) Pakistan’s “existential threat” wouldn’t be closing in on the cities of that country had the U.S. not responded to 9-11 with the knee-jerk bombing of Afghanistan and the toppling of the Taliban? President Pervez Musharraf recalled that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told him soon after 9-11 to “prepare to go back to the Stone Age” if he didn’t cooperate with the U.S. in the war on terrorism. The existential threat to Pakistan was the Bush administration!

The Bush administration pressured Musharraf to deploy the Pakistan Army in border provinces where it had never been deployed and where its very presence was perceived as a provocation. The result was the September 2005 “peace agreement” in which the government agreed to halt military operations along the border and dismantle checkpoints in return for tribal leaders’ commitment to end support for militancy and prevent cross-border incursions into Afghanistan. It was a face-saving defeat for the regime that drew U.S. criticism, as have all subsequent deals with the militants, which have in any case broken down, like the February deal in Swat.

The 2005 agreement followed the notorious Lal Masjid episode in Islamabad when the security forces stormed an important seminary and hotbed of Islamist activism. The khatib (prayer-leader) had been dismissed for issuing a fatwa stating no Pakistani Army officer could be given an Islamic burial if died fighting the Taliban, and then the mosque had risen up in general rebellion, sparking solidarity attacks on government forces by militants in North Waziristan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The government was forced to back down.

That’s been the pattern ever sense. Get tough on the “insurgents,” with U.S. prodding, funding, and threats of funding reduction and direct intervention. Then negotiate with tribal and religious leaders, recognizing locals’ mistrust of outsiders, the Pakistani state, and its international backers, which the mullahs may identify as U.S. imperialism and Zionism. And watch both carrot and stick policies fail as Pakistan’s own homegrown Taliban insurgency swells alongside the recrudescent original next door.

Now, while the Pakistani Army is still struggling to take control of Mingora and the Taliban is regrouping, the insurgents have pulled off a brazen attack on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) office compound in Lahore, in eastern Pakistan, on the border with India, killing about 30 and injuring 250. The irony here of course is that the Taliban was nurtured by the ISI in the 1990s and the attackers may well have known the location of ISI offices for that very reason.

Such terror has Bush’s war on terror visited on Pakistan, with no end in sight. And Obama’s war in “Af-Pak,” reliant on a troop surge, more Predator drone attacks, and maybe some “divide and conquer” tactics, hold out little promise for relief. U.S. officials screw up their faces as if genuinely puzzled about while the Pakistanis aren’t doing more–as if puzzled about why they don’t understand that their existence is at stake. The fact is that they are the ones on the outside looking in, who do not understand that the interests of U.S. imperialism do not cause religious and national and ethnic sensibilities to disappear or make it possible for local leaders, even those on the imperialist payroll, to snap their fingers, crush local resistance and produce social peace. The interests of U.S. imperialism in this case, in the form of regime change in Afghanistan, and the way it was done, have antagonized much of the Pakistani population.

This is Washington’s unwanted gift to Islamabad, for which Islamabad keeps getting paid and keeps paying.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rg the lg said on June 1st, 2009 at 8:49am #

    Well, you did dance all around the real issue: why the Empire, under its new clothes less emperor O’Bushma, is ‘going into Pakistan.’ They just have NOT been behaving themselves as our clients ought!

    In fact, they have been just a bit too independent! That is a SIN in the empires view … and so the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. It certainly isn’t a first strike …

    I sometimes wonder if the capitalists who demand ever expanding markets realize that attempting to control everything has BLOW BACK? They were hit in Wall Street, but hid behind the Bushian rhetoric of ‘they hate us because we are so democratic!’ Too bad the ‘bosses’ with their hands on the levers of power weren’t there instead of a bunch of sniveling little underlings doing the bidding of power … and even being sacrificed on the ‘cross of gold.’ The owners didn’t suffer … just those poor flunkies.

    And then, our entire population sits back and let’s all of this crap happen because voting is meaningless. We are worse than the USSR ever was about not having any affect on who pulls the strings. We waddle mindlessly down to the voting booth every now and then and pretend we make a choice. Shit … how f—ing dumb is that?

    Damn … and I almost voted for O’Bushma … but sanity kept my record in tact … I haven’t voted since 1976. And let’s face it … it wouldn’t have mattered one whit. We don’t have choice … only apparent choice. We might as well be a single party system for all of the good it does.

    Oh well, I suppose watching the whole shitterie collapse is something at least. Let’s call it entertainment, shall we?

    Just don’t blame me for the behavior of the EMPIRE. I wouldn’t have any affect no matter what I did … ever since my experience in Vietnam I have known that people like me are totally and completely powerless in the face of those who our constitution does protect: the wealthy … the property owners. Read Madison in the FEDERALIST PAPERS … it is all there about preventing the masses from hurting the people with money and property … and, while you are at it, recall, dim as it may be, that people were property … you know, slaves, women, children … the underclass and irrelevant.

    We, you and I, are part and parcel of that owned group.

    Maybe if enough people begin to realize just how damned irrelevant they are there will be hope for change? Nah … we have too much to lose … our homes, cars, junk … until that is gone, we will be compliant … maybe bitchy about it all, but ultimately compliant for all that!

    RG the LG

  2. brian said on June 1st, 2009 at 3:27pm #

    The war on terror is awar OF terror, the better to justify US military attacks and occupations….The medias role is in public relations,to provide the cover and justification for what the thugs do.

  3. amine said on June 1st, 2009 at 5:13pm #

    i agree with rg the lg… the Americans still think this is a democracy and they are free especially the right to vote and make a change, we don’t even count as voters..i never voted not because i do not care …but i realized it is a waiste of my time , this country belongs to board of few trilionaires…they pull the srtings of bush , obama,cheney..etc…you vote or not will not and never count…so stopping this empire from invading Iraq , Afghanistan , dropping drones on civilians in Pakistan is up to them not to you or me . you can refuse to go like back in the 60’s but today is different..this generation is ignorant ..this is the nintendo/wee/playstation/guitar hero LAZY GENERATION …no morals…they spend hours behind a video game…when in the 60’s people were asking questions …and rebelling…the army is filled with fools and ignorants that think carrying a gun and shooting innocents is heroic…open your mouth in your community and say ” stop the war” will be labeled unpatrioric,terrorist,hippie…go figure. what needs done…spread American…never believe Fox,CNN.

  4. Mike G said on June 1st, 2009 at 6:14pm #

    Rg the Lp, well said, but there was a choice in 2008, it was Ron Paul.

    I’m sure they would have had him shot if he had a chance of winning, but it was THE choice. The blackbush or Mclame were both fool choices.

  5. Subversify said on June 2nd, 2009 at 7:20am #

    One wonders what good the United States will have in fighting a people who are unplugged from western sensibilities and not exposed to alterative methods of thought. It would seem that that long-term security for the world will be found in education, breaking the hold of backwards tribalism from the minds of an isolated people. It means subverting a culture for security. And to a degree, this was being tried in Afghanistan in secured zones. And perhaps this is the biggest problem, the notion that freeing the minds of men can only be enforced by the war machine of a foreign power.

  6. rg the lg said on June 2nd, 2009 at 9:10am #

    Regarding Ron Paul …

    I suppose the libertarians are an alternative. My problem with them is NOT their grasp of foreign policy. With that I generally agree.

    What I deplore is the idea that capitalism is OK, and worse, that an unfettered market is a good thing.

    There, I part company.

    Regarding the comments of amine … we are in sync until you denigrate the current generation as lazy and immoral. They are a lot of things, but they are also a direct reflection of the society they live in. There is, whether we like the idea or not, the hope that their generation will bring down the empire by simply playing along … by being passively aggressive. Some are gun-happy and violent … but most, to their credit, simply do not give a shit and live for the moment.

    RG the LG

  7. kalidas said on June 2nd, 2009 at 10:13am #

    The Main Result of the “War on Terror”

    “We’re all Israelis now.”

  8. amine said on June 2nd, 2009 at 1:07pm #

    reply to RG the LG, you are right your article is very informative an A+++, i apologize when i said this new Generation is Lazy and Immoral.. not all , there are still young people that pay attention to what’s going on around them than playing video games, i also thank you for making a good point when you referred to the current situation is a product of the society…this absenteism of political activism or involment in making a difference is overshadowed by lack of information, political songs that critisize the government,wars or current control of the media over us will never get airplay: they are too dangerous but songs like ” waited,waited on the world to change” by John Meyer ” is a typical of what the government wants us to do ” sit tight and wait for a change to come ” and that is what i was referring to about a portion of this generation i should say which does not speak of every body of course …as far as if obama going to make a change ? he already proved it …he did not get elected to make a change regardless of his colour , he was put in power to follow the instructions of his masters..not to think about you and me.

  9. lichen said on June 2nd, 2009 at 4:56pm #

    “this generation is ignorant ..this is the nintendo/wee/playstation/guitar hero LAZY GENERATION …no morals…they spend hours behind a video game…when in the 60’s people were asking questions …and rebelling…”

    It too greatly object to these words; a small amount of people in the 60’s were asking questions and rebelling; the rest of them were sitting at home drinking beer and gluing themselves to the television; as a great deal of the baby boomers do right up until today. Clearly you know nothing about this generation, have little to no contact with us, and want to pretend that yours did not have any recreational activities (as if drugs and rock music festivals were really ‘politically aware activities.’) I know plenty of people who have played video games sometimes but are still quite aware, and no, not interested in conforming to outdated christian “morals.” As if the generation of old people didn’t deplore the young people in the 60’s for having “no morals!” Listen to yourself…

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 3rd, 2009 at 11:47pm #

    Kalidas, I think you mean ‘We are all Likudniks now’. To understand what is going on in Pakistan we must go to the source of all the disruption across the Near and Middle east-Israel.
    The destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan, with Iran, Syria and Lebanon and possibly Eritrea and Qatar clearly in the bomb-sights, is the result of Judeofascist machinations that go back a long, long way. Oded Yinon’s ‘A Zionist Plan for the Middle East’, and Netanyahu et al’s ‘A Clean Break’ both outlined plans to establish total Israeli hegemony over the Middle East by smashing the Arab states and Iran and Pakistan into powerless statelets along ethnic and religious lines. As the Zionazis partake, even if not religiously fundamentalist themselves, in the ideology of absolute Judaic supremacy over the ‘human animals’ of the Arab and other Islamic countries of the region, the gigantic civilian death-toll this project will inescapably cause is a matter of no concern whatsoever.
    Once Israel totally dominates the region, it can get on with finishing the Zionist project to establish Eretz Yisrael ‘ from the Nile to the Euphrates’, as their febrile mythological ideology tells them is their God-given right. While many good and decent Israelis and other Jews would not have a bar of such a maniacal project, their opinions are as irrelevant as those of all other decent minorities throughout the Western world. In Israel the Judaic Taliban of the settler movement and their ideological allies and allies of convenience like Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu in the Knesset call the shots.
    Iraq was the first target of the Zionist Plan, after Lebanon, although Lebanon has ended very badly with Hezbollah, a creation of the savagery of the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, about to take power, rallying the Arab street by their two defeats of Israel and rolling up Israel’s spy and Quisling networks, with the complicity of Israel in the killing of Rafik Hariri a very real possibility to be revealed soon. No doubt Israel will confect an excuse to obliterate Lebanon from the air, to show their displeasure, but Hezbollah will remain a scourge for their back that they themselves created.
    The Israelis have been using their puppet hyperpower, the US, to do their dirty work for them. After all the US ruling elite loves nothing better than making big bucks out of obliterating women and children, and they approach the task with gusto. Apparently the US is populated, at least in large part, by monsters in human form who see the killing of millions of innocent Islamic civilians as justified by the deaths of 3,000 US citizens, in an attack almost certainly a ‘false-flag operation’ with Mossad and the CIA the prime suspects in any rational analysis.
    Pakistan is being rent asunder for no greater reason than visceral hatred of Moslems. Its ruling elites have slavishly served the US, destabilising Afghanistan in pursuit of Cold War goals, helping set up al Qaeda for the task and loyally following orders. The infamous ISI is a security asset of the CIA, with Washington retaining a veto over the appointment of its head. A recent effort by the current Pakistani Government to bring the ISI under civilian control was quashed by Washington.
    So in Pakistan we are simply seeing a new front open up in the Israeli/US War of Terror against the Moslem world. The US is a deeply corrupt, unequal, sham democracy, governed by a ruthless, insatiably avaricious and hereditary parasitic elite. To keep the lumpen patsies quiet, as their wages sink into the mire, as the country is mortgaged forever to the banksters of Wall Street and as the neo-feudal reality of inter-generational debt peonage reveals itself, the Yankee ruling class needs an external ‘enemy’ to rally the suckers. One of Gorbachev’s many errors was to imagine that he could change the US by ‘taking away its enemy’. For the psychopathic US ruling elite, everyone is the enemy, even one another. Today it is Islam, and Chavez,Morales and Russia, tomorrow it will be China. If they realise their dream of installing compliant Quislings in every state of the planet, then they will pick on one or the other by rote, to keep their military-industrial complex humming along. If the rest of humanity disappeared, they would turn on each other or scour the cosmos looking for alien ‘Injuns’ to exterminate. It’s the nature of the beast. Murder is the highest expression of the will to dominate, and it’s also good for business.