The American War Moves to Pakistan

Bush's War Widens Dangerously

The decision to make public a presidential order of last July authorizing American strikes
inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani
government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush
administration. Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate
during his own long battle with Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her
by supporting a policy of U.S. strikes into Pakistan. Senator John
McCain and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this
view and so it has become, by consensus, official U.S. policy.

Its effects on Pakistan could be catastrophic, creating a severe crisis
within the army and in the country at large. The overwhelming majority
of Pakistanis are opposed to the U.S. presence in the region, viewing
it as the most serious threat to peace.

Why, then, has the U.S. decided to destabilize a crucial ally?
Within Pakistan, some analysts argue that this is a carefully
coordinated move to weaken the Pakistani state yet further by creating
a crisis that extends way beyond the badlands on the frontier with
Afghanistan. Its ultimate aim, they claim, would be the extraction of
the Pakistani military's nuclear fangs. If this were the case, it would
imply that Washington was indeed determined to break up the Pakistani
state, since the country would very simply not survive a disaster on
that scale.

In my view, however, the expansion of the war relates far more to the
Bush administration's disastrous occupation in Afghanistan. It is
hardly a secret that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is becoming
more isolated with each passing day, as Taliban guerrillas move ever closer to Kabul.

When in doubt, escalate the war is an old imperial motto. The strikes
against Pakistan represent -- like the decisions of President Richard
Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to bomb and
then invade Cambodia (acts that, in the end, empowered Pol Pot and his
monsters) -- a desperate bid to salvage a war that was never good, but
has now gone badly wrong.

It is true that those resisting the NATO occupation cross the
Pakistan-Afghan border with ease. However, the U.S. has often engaged
in quiet negotiations with them. Several feelers have been put out to
the Taliban in Pakistan, while U.S. intelligence experts regularly
check into the Serena Hotel in Swat to discuss possibilities with
Mullah Fazlullah, a local pro-Taliban leader. The same is true inside

After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a whole layer of the
Taliban's middle-level leadership crossed the border into Pakistan to
regroup and plan for what lay ahead. By 2003, their guerrilla factions
were starting to harass the occupying forces in Afghanistan and, during
2004, they began to be joined by a new generation of local recruits, by
no means all jihadists, who were being radicalized by the occupation itself.

Though, in the world of the Western media, the Taliban has been
entirely conflated with al-Qaeda, most of their supporters are, in
fact, driven by quite local concerns. If NATO and the U.S. were to
leave Afghanistan, their political evolution would most likely parallel
that of Pakistan's domesticated Islamists.

neo-Taliban now control at least twenty Afghan districts in Kandahar,
Helmand, and Uruzgan provinces. It is hardly a secret that many
officials in these zones are closet supporters of the guerrilla
fighters. Though often characterized as a rural jacquerie they
have won significant support in southern towns and they even led a
Tet-style offensive in Kandahar in 2006. Elsewhere, mullahs who had
initially supported President Karzai's allies are now railing against
the foreigners and the government in Kabul. For the first time, calls
for jihad against the occupation are even being heard in the
non-Pashtun northeast border provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

The neo-Taliban have said that they will not join any government until
"the foreigners" have left their country, which raises the question of
the strategic aims of the United States. Is it the case, as NATO
Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested to an audience at the
Brookings Institution earlier this year, that the war in Afghanistan
has little to do with spreading good governance in Afghanistan or even
destroying the remnants of al-Qaeda? Is it part of a master plan, as outlined by a strategist in NATO Review
in the Winter of 2005, to expand the focus of NATO from the
Euro-Atlantic zone, because "in the 21st century NATO must become an
alliance... designed to project systemic stability beyond its borders"?

As that strategist went on to write:

"The centre of gravity of power on this planet is
moving inexorably eastward. As it does, the nature of power itself is
changing. The Asia-Pacific region brings much that is dynamic and
positive to this world, but as yet the rapid change therein is neither
stable nor embedded in stable institutions. Until this is achieved, it
is the strategic responsibility of Europeans and North Americans, and
the institutions they have built, to lead the way... [S]ecurity
effectiveness in such a world is impossible without both legitimacy and

Such a strategy implies a permanent military presence on the borders of
both China and Iran. Given that this is unacceptable to most Pakistanis
and Afghans, it will only create a state of permanent mayhem in the
region, resulting in ever more violence and terror, as well as
heightened support for jihadi extremism, which, in turn, will but further stretch an already over-extended empire.

often speak as though U.S. hegemony and the spread of capitalism were
the same thing. This was certainly the case during the Cold War, but
the twin aims of yesteryear now stand in something closer to an inverse
relationship. For, in certain ways, it is the very spread of capitalism
that is gradually eroding U.S. hegemony in the world. Russian Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin's triumph in Georgia was a dramatic signal of
this fact. The American push into the Greater Middle East in recent
years, designed to demonstrate Washington's primacy over the Eurasian
powers, has descended into remarkable chaos, necessitating support from
the very powers it was meant to put on notice.

Pakistan's new, indirectly elected President, Asif Zardari, the husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto and a Pakistani "godfather"
of the first order, indicated his support for U.S. strategy by inviting
Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai to attend his inauguration, the only foreign
leader to do so. Twinning himself with a discredited satrap in Kabul
may have impressed some in Washington, but it only further decreased
support for the widower Bhutto in his own country.

The key in Pakistan, as always, is the army. If the already heightened
U.S. raids inside the country continue to escalate, the much-vaunted
unity of the military High Command might come under real strain. At a
meeting of corps commanders in Rawalpindi on September 12th, Pakistani
Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kayani received unanimous support for his
relatively mild public denunciation of the recent U.S. strikes inside
Pakistan in which he said the country's borders and sovereignty would be defended "at all cost."

Saying, however, that the Army will safeguard the country's sovereignty
is different from doing so in practice. This is the heart of the
contradiction. Perhaps the attacks will cease on November 4th. Perhaps
pigs (with or without lipstick) will fly. What is really required in
the region is an American/NATO exit strategy from Afghanistan, which
should entail a regional solution involving Pakistan, Iran, India, and
Russia. These four states could guarantee a national government and
massive social reconstruction in that country. No matter what, NATO and
the Americans have failed abysmally.

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