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A pattern is beginning to emerge. Every time the Pakistani military and local tribal forces in Pakistan’s north form a successful alliance in the fight against terrorism, US forces launch offensives striking civilians in the area, thereby undermining the Pakistan military’s credibility vis a vis its own population and sabotaging the effectiveness of the joint strategy to combat terrorism in the region.
As a result, anti-Americanism in Pakistan has reached record highs and even those Pakistanis who are left-leaning and actively lobbying for an end to the brutality of terrorism are concluding that America’s primary interest lies in destabilizing Pakistan and not in putting an end to terrorism. This should be worrying for a nation that has few friends left in the Muslim world and needs Pakistan’s cooperation desperately if it is to maintain its supply routes in Afghanistan.
Following the recent attacks in North Waziristan, Pakistan’s Ary TV aired a short documentary characterizing the United States as an aggressor nation that has not hesitated to maim and kill civilians in various parts of the world, whether it was in Southeast Asia, Latin America, or more recently, the Middle East and South Asia. Let’s just say that it has become almost impossible for the United States to win the battle for hearts and minds as a result of its recent actions.
The United States has struck civilians on the pretext that tribes from Pakistan’s side of the border have made incursions into Afghanistan and targeted NATO/ISAF forces. The reality is that both American forces and strategy have failed miserably in Afghanistan and the Karzai government struggles, even after six years, to establish credibility with the Afghans or extend its writ beyond Kabul. The feeling in Pakistan is that the US government needs a scapegoat to dump its incompetence on and Pakistan is just that. The fact that this is election year in the US manifests the sheer desperation of the American forces in launching ground offensives based, at best, on bad intelligence, and at worst, on bad intentions, within Pakistan’s territory, threatening the nuclear-armed state’s sovereignty and killing several women and children.
The surprise attack which prompted a stern statement from General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, condemning US actions as beyond the scope of the clearly defined terms of engagement and warning that further attacks of this sort will not be tolerated was the first of its kind and came on the heels of a successful mobilization of awakening forces in Bajaur, a previous hotbed, where the government had partnered with the Salarzai tribe against Taliban operatives and managed to achieve peace so that displaced persons from the area were able to return to their homes. The US attacks changed all that. The tribes have greater reason to sympathize with the Taliban as siding with the government does not appear to ensure tranquillity.
While a couple of months ago, several stories in the Pakistani press talked about formulating a “made in Pakistan terrorism policy” and fed up with suicide attacks and violence, Pakistanis were refusing to empathize with the cause of the Taliban, today there is near consensus on the idea that American presence is dangerously destabilizing for the region and must be expelled at all cost. It is once again being viewed as “America’s war”; not “our war”.
Adding injury to insult, it is not just the case that America is focused on eliminating Al-Qaeeda supporters from the region, it is also a complicated mess that it has entangled itself in trying to ensure that it does that. In doing so, America has abandoned all democratic norms and values that it claims to want to export. In fact, it has gone further than that. It has actively worked to create obstacles in the way of civilian secular Pakistani movements who had exhibited great courage and valour in supporting the Chief Justice and other members of the superior judiciary ousted by General Musharraf last Novemeber. While the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan has, at great peril, fought for the introduction of checks and balances, constitutional supremacy and rule of law so that Pakistan can call itself a well-functioning democracy, America’s policy has been one of trying to make friends with a select few, whether dictators like Musharraf or corrupt politicians like Asif Zardari, so that it can have blind continuity of a policy that is clearly not working on the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistanis are therefore not wrong in concluding that America does not have the people’s interests at heart.
Last month, I was in New York and when I saw McCain and Obama questioned by Pastor Rick Warren, I was heartened at least by Obama’s response to: Does evil exist and what should we do about it? Obama was reasonable enough to comment that in confronting evil America must be mindful that it does not employ evil ways because then it will lose the moral high ground. This is already a fait accompli in the case of American policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It will take a long time to repair it.
Yet it is lamentable that even left-wing groups in America are talking about taking the war to Afghanistan. Guess what? The war is already in Afghanistan and its not working! It was only when I switched the television on at 12:30 am on a weeknight (I was probably the only one watching) that I heard Bill Maher say, “All wars are bad. Why do we think Afghanistan would be a good war?” Such discussions cannot only be held at odd hours of the night or on the fringes of society. Mainstream media has a responsibility to cover such stories front and centre.
America has some desperate soul-searching to do. There is a pretty good reason why anti-Americanism has grown in leaps and bounds in the Bush years. It will take a lot to undo it. The American media is not doing its people any favours by not showing the effects of American raids on civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Having lived in America for a few years myself, I do believe that if Americans were better informed, they would not let their government make the mistakes it makes and trample on the lives of people abroad in the manner that it does. America must ask itself: is it possible after all to mess up so much, destroy so many lives, and not expect pay back?
AYESHA IJAZ KHAN is a London-based lawyer turned political commentator. She can be contacted via her website www.ayeshaijazkhan.com