Threatening Pakistan

“We’ve now developed evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack,” declared Attorney General Eric Holder last Sunday, referring to the May 1 attempted car bombing of Times Square in New York City. “We know that they helped facilitate it. We know that they probably helped finance it, and that [Faizal Shabad] was working at their direction.” Days earlier General David Petraeus had told reporters Shabad was probably “a lone wolf” and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that the abortive bombing was nothing “other than a one-off.”

Meanwhile White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told “Fox News Sunday” that Shahzad was “operating on behalf of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, the TPP,” adding, “It’s a group that is closely allied with al Qaeda. They train together, they plan together, they plot together. They are almost indistinguishable.”

Actually, they are distinguishable, even if they reportedly share money and resources in common efforts to assist the Afghan Taliban and to resist the U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan as well as the Pakistani Army. The Pakistani Taliban emerged in solidarity with the original Afghan Taliban, fellow Pashtuns wanting to implement Sharia law. Neither they nor the Afghan originals is concerned with a global jihad against the U.S. so much as with being left alone. The Tehrik-e-Taliban was only formed in 2007, in response to the Pakistani Army’s attacks, at U.S. demand, on South Waziristan.

It’s may be true true that Hakimullah Mehsud, who took over leadership of the TTP last August, stated in a videotape released May 2, after the Manure Bomber incident, stated that “We Tehreek-e-Taliban with all the Pride and Bravery, take full responsibility for the recent attack in the USA.” And in a second tape released the same day, but dated April 14, he states, “Inshaallah (God willing) very soon in some days or a month’s time, the Muslim ummah (world) will see the fruits of most successful attacks of our fedayeen in USA.”

But according to Asia Times Online: “The TTP itself, via a spokesman, Azam Tariq, dismissed the whole thing, although it had initially claimed responsibility. Tariq was quoted as saying, “This is a noble job and we pray that all the Muslim youths should follow Faisal Shahzad. But he is not part of our network.” Instead, what the TTP says it sees is “a plot hatched by the US and its allies to trap Muslim and Pukhtun [Pashtun] youth in terrorist activities.” Meanwhile the Pakistani Army and Interior Ministry have expressed skepticism that TTP is behind the bombing attempt.

The McClatchy Newspapers reported Tuesday that “six US officials” have actually stated that “no credible evidence has been found” that Shahzad “received any serious terrorist training from the Pakistani Taliban or another radical Islamic group.” Yet the Obama administration is asserting that the Pakistani Taliban, or one of the several factions (they sometimes quarrel among themselves), is now even more dangerous, constituting a threat to the Homeland comparable to that posed by al-Qaeda. Hence the Pakistani government’s failure to suppress it is all the more unacceptable.

Pepe Escobar of Asia Times Online notes that “Earlier in 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency warned al-Qaeda might try an attack inside the US  ‘within the next six months.’ It did happen – like clockwork – with the added bonus that the alleged perpetrators are even more convenient than al-Qaeda.” In other words, in the absence of any more compelling evidence for Taliban plans to attack the U.S. this incident of the smoking SUV allows the CIA to say, “We predicted this,” even though evidence is in fact rather murky. It is politically useful to posit an intimate connection between Shahzad, TTP and al-Qaeda to further demonize the Talibs and thus defend the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Recall how right after the 9-11 attacks George W. Bush announced that the U.S. “will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them” and later elaborated: “We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
This boast about making “no distinction” was a declaration to the world that the U.S. would eschew careful rational thinking in order to multiply targets for attack. It was practically an announcement that the U.S. administration had gone berserk, and was in a trance-like fury. Hence the entire world should fear it more than ever. This is illogic itself used (very consciously) as a weapon.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was asked at a European security conference in February 2002 what Bush meant by the “axis of evil,” conflating as it did the highly dissimilar regimes of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. He responded, with insidious vagueness: “Countries must make a choice.” (In other words, don’t ask me to explain that ridiculous phrase logically, as a normal representative of a normal country might do. Fear and obey!) The Europeans were stunned.

Journalist Ron Suskind wrote in the New York Times in 2004 about a Bush aide who’d mocked him for being “in what we call the reality-based community,” or people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” (The “we” here is undoubtedly the neocons, whose Straussian political philosophy justifies the “noble lie.”) But when Suskind observed that reasonable people had been studying empirical reality since the Enlightenment, the aide cut him off contemptuously and said, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This assault on reason,  this arrogant insistence that the U.S. government and military can create their own reality out of whole cloth (such as a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, or the existence of Iraqi WMDs) didn’t die with the Bush administration. The Obama administration has insisted from its inception that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. In his very first press conference after the election, when asked his response to the Iranian president’s letter of congratulation, he changed the subject. “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable,” he declared. “And we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening.” It was a clear indication that he was on board the disinformation campaign just as much as Dick Cheney and the neocons.

That Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, or even wants to, is not proven; indeed the U.S. intelligence community has said for several years that there is no evidence of such a program and that any efforts were abandoned in 2003. Obama’s engaging in another  exercise in “creating our own reality” (otherwise known as disinformation)to deceive the people so that they’ll be more apt to accept the need to “act again” with vicious military force.

Of course it is in fact (in the real world) important to make distinctions, and to see things as they really are. The fact that Bush did not distinguish between the Taliban and al-Qaeda has had horrible consequences, beginning with the bombing of Afghanistan, the re-empowerment of the warlords, the death of over 13,000 civilians, the massive revival of opium poppy cultivation, and the revival of the Taliban as the preferred alternative to the corrupt Karzai regime and its boy-raping police.

In June 2002 Bush told West Point cadets, “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.” (This by the way was the year the Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Cruise Minority Report was released. In it police, rather than waiting for crimes to occur, premptively apprehend people based upon the foreknowledge provided by special psychics or “precogs” that they plan to commit crimes. That was fiction. In the real world, the president of the U.S. was surrounded by precogs.)

This “preemption” strategy was of course used to justify the invasion of Iraq, based on the false claim that Saddam had accumulated weapons of mass destruction. It has also been used, first by Bush, then by Obama, to justify drone strikes on Pakistani territory.

Australian David Kilcullen, a former counter-insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus, told the Financial Times in March 2009, “They [the strikes] have an undeniable benefit, because we have disrupted AQ [Al Qaeda] operations and damaged AQ cells in Pakistan. But they have a negative strategic effect in that they incite Punjabi militancy, which is the biggest problem in Pakistani right now.” He said the U.S. had killed 14 mid-level or lower level al-Qaeda leaders since 2006 but the strikes had killed 700 civilians, adding “That’s a hit rate of two per cent on 98 per cent collateral. It’s not moral.”

“They incite Punjabi militancy.” (Well, duh.)And they anger the people of Pakistan in general. The parliament and top officials indignantly protest the repeated violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty. U.S. officials comment blandly that the Pakistani leadership is secretly on board the program but can’t say so “for domestic political reasons.” In other words, they can’t say they’re cooperating in attacks on their country because their people would view them as traitors and try to drive them from power.

Pakistani-American Shahbad, reportedly enraged at the drone attacks on Waziristan, may have as alleged sought out members of one or more Pakistani Taliban groups while visiting the country of his birth. They may have given him some training, at his request. Similarly  the Nigerian Farouk Abdulmutallab, likely enraged at U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, may have gone to his mother’s homeland of Yemen for training before attempting to blow up an airplane last Christmas. It’s called blowback.

Bush’s declarations produce a vicious circle. Preemptive attacks (inevitably) killing civilians produce rage. Enraged people seek revenge. They turn to terrorism. When terrorists attack, or try to attack, the U.S., the U.S. responds by more attacks, producing more civilian casualties. It demands cooperation from governments where “terrorists” operate, threatening to target them if they don’t. (Remember that Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Pakistani President Musharraf right after 9-11, “Be prepared to be bombed [if you don’t cooperate with the U.S.]. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.”) Thus the war spreads. Refugees from the Afghan bombing flee into Pakistan, spreading pro-Taliban sentiment, producing local Taliban, who have to be bombed there too.

Now Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is threatening Pakistan with “severe consequences” if there is a successful attack on the U.S. planned in that country. What might those consequences be? The U.S. has been relentlessly pressuring the Pakistani government to conduct more operations against the proliferating Taliban in the “Af-Pak” border area. When the overstretched Pakistani Army hesitates or balks, the U.S. complains that Pakistan isn’t “doing enough.” Granted, they are cooperating, but they need to “do more.”

Clinton told CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Monday:  “I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in [the Pakistani] government are people who know where Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more cooperation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.” FOX News predictably spun it this way: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused members of the Pakistani government over the weekend of practically harboring Usama bin Laden…”

FOX is reminding us of Bush’s words: We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them. This remains U.S. doctrine, and the justification of all manner of imperialist aggression. Thus governments in nations like Yemen and Pakistan, fearing the accusation that they might be willingly harboring America’s enemies, can be intimidated into forms of cooperation with the U.S. that they know are unpopular and politically risky. But they can only do so much, and the demands of the U.S. hyperpower seem endless.

Let’s say the Pakistanis can’t or don’t comply to Clinton and Obama’s satisfaction. After a successful bombing in the U.S., by someone trained in Pakistan, the U.S. massively bombs the border area, with or without the permission of the regime. How would the Pakistani people react? A Pew Research Center public opinion poll taken last summer indicated that 64% of Pakistanis regard the U.S. as an enemy and only 9% consider it a “partner.” Presumably Clinton knows this. Is she hell-bent on further alienating Pakistanis, even as anti-U.S. sentiment mounts in Afghanistan? (According to an ABC News poll, 68% of Afghans supported the presence of U.S. troops in 2005. That number’s now down to 38%.)

What are the possible scenarios? (More) political upheaval? (Another) military coup? An ultimatum to the Pakistani military to move as directed by Washington, or accept direct U.S. military intervention with ground troops? How does Clinton suppose a proud Muslim nation armed with nukes might react to any “severe consequences” inflicted on it by the U.S.?

It might respond with severe consequences of its own. Practically every single U.S. measure or policy in the region from the Mediterranean to the Indus in recent history, from the unconditional support for Israel as it continues to occupy Arab land, to the imposition of the Shah’s vicious regime on Iran, to the criminal invasions of Iraq, the imposition of U.S. military bases on Saudi Arabia (from 1990 to 2003), the drone strikes on Yemen and Pakistan, have produced negative consequences for the U.S. government as well as the people of this country.

Those consequences include a rise in hatred for the U.S., which although actually quite rarely expressed in violence has produced such pathetic attempts as that of the Shoe Bomber, the Underwear Bomber, and the Times Square Bomber. When you kill 700 civilians in Pakistan, 13,000 in Afghanistan, 100,000 in Iraq in a part of the world that believes in “an eye for an eye” you have to expect the occasional violent reaction, including actions in the U.S.  To expect otherwise would be to retreat into the “create own own reality” mode, which is—rather like the mind of the schizophrenic, driven by delusions, withdrawn from the real world—profoundly demented.

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:




Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: