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With Friends Like These …


A country really gets the message about its importance to America when a major event affecting it, in which the US is deeply involved, is given a mere 55 words on page 9 of the New York Times. The May 14 attack on Damadola, a village in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan abutting Afghanistan, in which US drones fired missiles inside Pakistan’s territory for the fourth time this year, killing some – oh, just a few – of its citizens, isn’t worth a yawn in Bush America. Even the Times, a reasonably liberal newspaper with no admiration for the regime in Washington, relegated the ‘incident’ to an inside page alongside an equally in-depth item about the effects of global warming on the supply of truffles in France.

But some news outlets were more informative, and Reuters reported Pakistan’s military spokesman, the urbane Major General Athar Abbas, as saying about the missile attack that “We have informed the coalition headquarters in Afghanistan [of the incident] . . . we have raised this issue in [the] tripartite commission” (which is a consultative group of military officers and civilian officials from the foreign military forces in Afghanistan, together with Afghan and Pakistan representatives – in that order of precedence). General Abbas left policy comment to the civilian authorities, as is proper, and AFP recorded Pakistan’s government being forthright, in that : “Asked about the attack apparently carried out by the US, Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani said: ‘I strongly condemn this. It’s absolutely wrong. It’s unfair. They should not have done this . . . Several innocent people have been killed. We condemn it’.”

The only foreign force in Afghanistan that operates drones capable of firing missiles is the US. Further, it is the only nation in the foreign “coalition” that is so arrogant as to think nothing of violating the territory of a sovereign nation and killing its citizens. There will be no apology for this contravention of international principles which, in the words of the Charter of the United Nations, require that its members refrain “from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

There is no moral ground for Washington to claim that its killing of Pakistani civilians – in this most recent case a woman and at least two children – was justified because they were allegedly in the vicinity of suspected militants. This was a war crime. Further, the very word “suspected” indicates the illegality of killing anyone of that description, never mind women and children. It is nonsense to aver that a person “suspected” of being a member of al Qaeda or any other band of fanatical thugs can be killed – murdered – without internationally recognised evidence and without recourse to even the most rudimentary process of international justice. Of course it can be claimed that some of the people who died may have been members of al Qaeda, but this does not justify in the slightest way a missile attack on a sovereign nation.

In any event, US intelligence concerning the presence of alleged terrorists in villages in Pakistan has proved ludicrously faulty in the past. Ayman al-Zawahiri was supposed to be in Damadola in January 2006. So the US fired four Hellfire missiles into the village, killing civilians. But he appeared two weeks later, vowing revenge. (Surprise, surprise.) Of course the government in Islamabad complained, calling the attack “highly condemnable” and protested against the “loss of innocent civilian lives” (five women and five children were killed in this one), but might as well have saved its collective breath, for all the effect its voice had in Washington or anywhere else, including the UN Security Council which is supposed to protect the weak against the strong. Fat chance of that.

And no matter who becomes US president next year it cannot be expected that these attacks will cease. After the 2006 Damadola attack Senator McCain declared “It’s terrible when innocent people are killed ; we regret that . . . but I can’t tell you that we wouldn’t do the same thing again.” (This is the man who is held to be a hero for bombing civilians in North Vietnam. Heaven knows how many children he killed in those days.) His leading opponent, Senator Obama, stated in August last year that “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistan] won’t act, we will.” So he endorses killing kids, too, if they get in the way of “high-value” targets. And there is no reason to believe that Senator Clinton would object to the CIA and the Pentagon continuing their crazy Crusade.

* * *

It is not difficult to imagine the fury in America if its southern neighbour, Mexico, sent a drone over the border and fired missiles that killed American citizens. There would be a hysterical reaction and calls for invasion, air strikes, economic sanctions, condemnation by the Security Council ; the whole box of indignant tricks. But what would happen if the CIA thought that Ayman al-Zawahiri or any other person of similar persuasion was in China or Russia? Would a US missile be fired into Chinese or Russian territory? Certainly not. So why blitz Pakistan?

There is a curious set of double standards being applied, and it is appalling that Pakistan should suffer the indignity of having its sovereignty violated and its citizens killed in the name of “freedom.” Apart from any other consideration, these attacks have rallied the Frontier tribes and, it seems, indeed, the majority of Pakistanis to the ever-welcoming banner of anti-Americanism. People resent the slaughter of fellow citizens by missiles fired by those who profess friendship. But with friends like these, who needs enemies?

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY lives in France.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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