In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, September 3, three U.S. helicopters carrying U.S. Special Operations Forces swooped down onto the Pakistani village of Musa Nika, in South Waziristan, killing fifteen to twenty people according to early reports. The U.S. press noted that this is the first known ground assault of U.S. troops in Pakistan. The provincial governor said twenty civilians including women and children were killed. The Foreign Minister denounced the attack, declaring that “no important terrorist or high-value target” was hit. The chief spokesman for the Pakistani Army registered its “strong objection.” Gen. Athar Abbas declared that the attack could provoke a general rebellion of local tribes against his government, and threaten NATO supply lines from Karachi into Afghanistan. The Foreign Minister angrily declared that “no important terrorist or high-value target” was hit. The U.S. ambassador was summoned to receive Islamabad’s official protest.
This is heavy stuff. But this news got sidelined by the star coverage conferred by the mainstream media on Sarah Palin, whose ringing oration, dripping with ignorance and contempt for the world, brought down the house Wednesday night in that celebration of stupidity in St. Paul. That speech, authored by George W. Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully for whatever vice presidential candidate McCain selected, asserted among other things that Bush’s “surge” had prevented al-Qaeda from taking over Iraq. The message is clear: all U.S. military action is designed to protect the U.S. from al-Qaeda terror.
Why would the mainstream media, pronouncing “a star is born,” want to highlight the little news story about remote Waziristan? Palin was splashed all over the front page of the Boston Globe on Thursday; the Pakistan story was on page A-3. On Friday a follow-up AP story made page A-26. It emphasized how the raid had “complicated life for presidential front-runner Asif Ali Zardari.”
But this largely ignored event holds potentially horrifying significance. “Top American officials” have told the New York Times that this raid “could be the opening salvo in a much broader campaign by Special Operations forces against the Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, a secret plan that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has been advocating for months within President Bush’s war council.” The plan of course enjoys the support of John McCain, who never met a warlike action he didn’t like, as well as his opponent in the presidential race. Barack Obama has been saying for over a year that is the U.S. has “actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets” in Pakistan and the chance to hit them, it should do so. The hell with Pakistani sovereignty! Why should such a detail matter after “we were attacked”?
Why should the outraged opposition of the Pakistani government constitute a major news story? Pakistan’s only a nuclear-armed Muslim country of 165 million people, which has at great cost to itself agreed—under duress, indeed the threat of being “bombed back into the Stone Age”—to abet U.S. objectives in neighboring Afghanistan. It’s just a country that having helped create and nurture the Taliban in order to stabilize Afghanistan, broke with that organization at the demand of the U.S. in 2001 and then found its frontier provinces flooded with Islamist militants fleeing across the border.
According to a White House “fact sheet” issued in August 2007:
Pakistan has worked closely with the United States to secure the arrest of terrorists like Khalid Shaykh Mohammad, Abu Zubaydah, and Ramzi bin al Shibh. Pakistan has killed or captured hundreds of suspected and known terrorists, including Mullah Obaidullah, who ranked second in the Taliban hierarchy at the time of his capture. About 100,000 Pakistani troops are deployed in the region near the Afghan border, and hundreds of Pakistani security forces have given their lives in the battle to combat terrorism post-9/11. Pakistan provides vital logistical support to coalition forces in Afghanistan. President Musharraf has a comprehensive strategy that combines three critical components–strengthened governance, increased economic development, and improved security–aimed at eradicating extremism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
No government has provided more assistance to Washington as it pursues its goals in Southwest Asia. No country has been more dramatically destabilized as the price of its cooperation. But not only does the U.S. political class take this disasterous compliance for granted, it wants to further emphasize Islamabad’s irrelevance by attacking the border area at will. It insults the sensibilities of a population that holds bin Laden in far greater esteem than the U.S. president. It provokes the powerful Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), originally the creation of the CIA, once a close partner with the U.S. in the project of destroying the secular pro-Soviet state that existed in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1993. (The ISI, a power unto itself, is already annoyed that Afghanistan, where anti-Indian Kashmiri jihadis used to hone their skills in training camps, has been cozying up to India.) Its embrace undermines any leader who seeks nationalist and religious credentials in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
“There’s potential to see more [attacks on Pakistan],” an unnamed U.S. official told the New York Times. Who do these people think they’re dealing with?
It is one thing to ignore the government of Iraq, placed in power by the U.S. invasion, when it says no to a permanent U.S. military presence, U.S. forces’ immunity from Iraqi law, or the privatization of Iraq’s petroleum resources. It’s one thing to laugh at al-Maliki & Co. and say, “Well, they don’t mean that,” confident that they’ll eventually knuckle under. It’s another thing to suppose that the Pakistanis, when they say “No,” mean anything other than “No” and will simply burn with quiet resentment indefinitely as U.S. forces violate their sovereignty. But that sort of insane arrogance stems naturally from the post 9-11 “us vs. them” mentality of U.S. leaders. Not just the neocons, mind you, but the entire political mainstream.
Pakistan, these leaders will note, is not doing enough to prevent militants from crossing over the border to attack U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. One should respond to this assertion with the following points:
The U.S. is conflating Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. But these are not the same thing. (This is perhaps the most obvious but obviously neglected point of fact in the post 9-11 era.) The Taliban is an indigenous Afghan movement and–however unsavory–unquestionably enjoys a social base. Al-Qaeda is a mostly Arab force rooted in the U.S.-sponsored anti-Soviet Mujahadeen of the 1980s. Nobody in Afghanistan asked the U.S. to invade, bomb, or continue bombing Afghanistan for seven years. Nor did the Pakistanis. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, against the advice and will of Pakistan, and the failure of that invasion to crush al-Qaeda, pushed al-Qaeda and Taliban forces into Pakistan. It’s likely the latter far outnumber the former. Pakistan’s government had never firmly controlled the frontier provinces or deployed large-scale military forces there in deference to the sensibilities of local tribes. Washington, oblivious to Pakistan’s realities, demanded that Islamabad suppress the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces that fled into the region. In effect, it demanded that Pakistan clean up a mess that the U.S. invasion had created. Pakistan’s efforts to obey Washington have taken a terrible toll on the Pakistani Army, solidified local resistance to the central government, and in fact produced a Pakistani Taliban rooted in the local Pashtuns who identify with the Afghan Pashtuns and have no use for the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan drawn by colonialists who never consulted with them in drawing the map. Faced with the prospect of a general tribal-based rebellion, Islamabad has cut deals with local Taliban-linked groups. Washington has expressed its disapproval, claiming such deals continue to allow militants to cross back and forth across the border attacking its forces and their allies in Afghanistan. Washington is, in effect, asking Pakistan’s government to risk civil war and its own collapse to prevent Afghans from attacking its forces in Afghanistan whose deployment Pakistan opposed in the first place. Washington is saying to this nuclear power, Pakistan: “You must obey!” And some in Pakistan are saying: “You do not know this region. You’ve responded to 9-11 by lashing out in all directions, creating enemies you never had before. You created this problem, our headache, in Waziristan and adjoining regions. And you make it worse by saying that since we’re not handling it to your satisfaction, you’re going to start landing your troops in our villages, shooting on our civilians. And you’re expecting us to say, ‘Ok, no problem, boss?’ You’re crazy.”
It is crazy, even for a cocky hyper-imperialist power, to manifest such arrogance and contempt. Such attacks on Pakistan say to the Muslims of the world: “You are the problem and we reserve the right to slaughter you, because back home, we have powerful politicians who respond to a mass base that thinks fighting you all is, as Sarah Palin put it, ‘a task from God.’ (USA! USA! USA! USA!) If you don’t agree with our program to restructure your region, supporting our misogynistic fanatical Islamists in the Northern Alliance as opposed to the Taliban misogynistic fanatical Islamists you used to sponsor, we’ll invade you and take care of the problem ourselves. (USA! USA! USA! USA!) Get used to it. It’s not just the Bush crowd. We’ve got Obama on board now too. We will strike Pakistani targets as we see fit. Screw international law, which we invoke when it serves our needs and ignore when it might restrain us. Nobody is allowed to cross any border to attack our brave Americans, no matter where we invade, or why. Just accept that, world, and avoid our wrath. (USA! USA! USA!)”
That’s indeed the message to Pakistan. If there were a free press in this country, honest education and genuine discussion, the people would recoil in horror from the crimes committed in their name and the premises—largely lies—behind those crimes. But we have none of that, just some posts on the internet. The outlook is grim.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org