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23 August 2009
On the eve of the 62nd anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence from British rule, Obama justified the war on Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak) by evoking Bush’s mantra: “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again.” The invocation of the colonial “us versus them” is strategically vital for a war-crusading Obama to invisibilize the daily violence of Western state and corporate policies, to firmly entrench a civilizational (read: racial) divide, and to dismiss critics as “unpatriotic” or the all-purpose “terrorism supporters”.
In light of growing criticism of the Iraq war but not wanting to be an Empire lightweight, Obama has enlarged the U.S army by 22,000 troops, inaugurated the Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell, and pledged nearly $8 billion in military aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
U.S, Canada, and NATO involvement in Pakistan has steadily increased. In August, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke toured Pakistan to assess military operations. Last week, while in Pakistan, Canadian International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda pledged $25 million in aid. Oda stated “We do share with the United States and other countries working in Afghanistan [a recognition] of the importance of Pakistan to achieve the objectives we want to achieve in Afghanistan”. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak has emphasized that Pakistan is “a more pressing threat than Iran, even for Israel.”
Commander of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (aka “the world army” with over 100,000 troops from 50 countries) General McChrystal’s AfPak counterinsurgency strategy resembles that of the Vietnam War era. In the 1970’s, the expansion of military operations into Cambodia occurred on the premise that the North Vietnamese military was supplying troops to the South via Cambodia. In recent months, U.S Defence Secretary Robert Gates – parroted by mainstream media – has declared Pakistan a failed state, unable to control its militants or borders. (Interestingly, Gates is a former CIA Director who oversaw Operation Cyclone, one of the largest operations that trained Afghani and Pakistani mujaheedin from 1979 to 1989).
In reality, over the past year Pakistanis have engaged in a vibrant pro-democracy movement forcing the resignation of President Musharraf. Despite the shallow rhetoric of supporting Pakistani civil society, particularly its call for the separation of the military from state politics, the U.S recently confirmed $5 billion for the Pakistani military. According to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Canada is considering ending its 11-year embargo on the sale of military technology to nuclear-armed Pakistan. Canada will also restart a training program for Pakistani officers, which bodes ominously considering Canada’s much criticized involvement in training repressive security forces in Iraq and Haiti.
The growing movements for civilian rule in Pakistan are seen as undermining counterinsurgency efforts. A New York Times article states how Washington is trying to “convince Pakistan that the insurgency, not internal politics, was the most important challenge.” It appears to be lost on successive U.S administrations that U.S policies itself, such as the escalating drone attacks, have created much of this internal dissent about Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror.
While drone attacks were initiated by Bush, they have intensified under Obama. Pakistan is the only place in the world where a military campaign using unmanned aerial vehicles, armed with missiles and bombs operated by remote control in the U.S, is being conducted. Since mid-2008, over five hundred people – overwhelmingly civilians – have been killed in over 50 drone attacks. The deadliest strike was in June 2009 which killed over 80 people, many of whom were attending a funeral for those killed in an earlier air strike. Military operations by the Pakistani army have unsurprisingly elicited no condemnations by the US or Canada. The May 2009 Swat Valley offensive resulted in 2.4 million displaced people. The largest displacement on the subcontinent since the 1947 partition of Indian and Pakistan has left people on the brink of death.
According to a recent poll of Pakistanis conducted by Gallup, when asked if they supported U.S operations in Pakistan, only 9% answered yes while 67% were opposed. When asked what the greatest threat to Pakistan was, 59% answered the U.S while 11% identified Taliban fighters.
Much like the Taliban have become synonymous with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) has become subsumed into Western rhetoric of Islamic jihadis. Regardless of their motives and tactics, they are all categorized as Islamic zealots thriving on violence, oppression of women, and bigotry. While this simple caricature might be compelling given its basis in racist stereotypes, violence- in all its seemingly disdainful forms- is largely informed by social context rather than culture or religion.
The TTP is largely based in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas and parts of the North West Frontier Provinces, the most impoverished region in Pakistan. The pattern of governance is based on the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation, which the Pashtuns have been struggling against for decades. The Durrand Line- also a product of British colonization – demarcates the 1600 mile border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, cutting across Pashtun tribal areas to create a Pashtun majority in Afghanistan but a Pashtun minority in Pakistan. Historically, the primary focus of struggle of Pashtuns in Pakistan has been for greater local autonomy and increased representation federally.
Perhaps the most convenient distraction of the entire War on Terror has been the fact that war makes privatization easier. Energy economist John Foster notes how the focus on national security masks a critical motive of the AfPak war: “Rivalry for pipeline routes and energy resources reflects competition for power and control in the region.” One such route is the massive Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-India-Pakistan pipeline, which would transport 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year. Iran is also planning an alternative pipeline through Pakistan and India, to which Pakistan has agreed to in principle.
Similar to Afghanistan, Canada’s role in Pakistan will likely be based on the 3D counter-insurgency model of defence, diplomacy, and development integration. Canadian Trade Commissioner Marilyn Denton arrived in Pakistan last month to discuss broadening bilateral trade between Canada and Pakistan, particularly to support Canadian oil and gas exploration under the newly announced Pakistan Petroleum Exploration and Production Policy 2009. Meanwhile, Canada will be spending almost a billion dollars on drones, similar to those used by the U.S. Military analyst Steve Staples has noted that air strikes by Canadian Air Forces could play a prominent role in the AfPak War.
Capitalist extraordinaire Thomas Friedman put it bluntly: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist – McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15.”
Harsha Walia is a Vancouver activist, writer, and researcher.