Pakistan: Between imperialist drones and terrorist attacks

April 4, 2009

In a disturbing development, US President Barack Obama has announced that Pakistan is now a main focus for the "war on terror" — foreshadowing an increasing expansion of the US-led war in Afganistan across the border.

While there are no immediate plans for US ground troops to be deployed to Pakistan, air strikes by US pilot-less drones are increasing.

Their adversaries, right-wing Islamic fundamentalist terrorists with close ties to Afghan anti-occupation forces, are also escalating their attacks in Pakistan. Hundreds of Pakistani civilians have been killed in attacks both by Washington's drones and jihadi terrorists.

Obama and US defence secretary Robert Gates have raised the spectre of Pakistan becoming a "failed state". Their solution is a package of drone attacks and US$5 billion aid to the Pakistani military — which has ties to the Islamic fundamentalist forces.

Previous US military aid to Pakistan, since the "war on terror" was launched in 2001, totals $12 billion.

President Asif Ali Zardari has condemned the US drone attacks as violations of Pakistani sovereignty. However, the drones are launched from a base inside Pakistan, with the cooperation of the government and military.


The drones are armed with missiles and bombs, and operated by remote control from bunkers inside the US by CIA "pilots".

On April 1, Pakistani Geo TV reported at least 12 people were killed in a drone strike on an alleged militant hideout in the Khadazai area of the Orakzai tribal agency.

Two days beforehand, the Manawan Police Training Centre in Lahore was attacked by terrorists. On April 1, Press TV quoted Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud saying the attack was "in retaliation for the continued drone strikes by the US in collaboration with Pakistan on our people".

Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) spokesperson Farooq Tariq told the Socialist Pakistan News e-list that day that about 10 terrorists armed with grenades and automatic rifles killed at least 20 police cadets and bystanders when they took over the training centre.

Tariq, who spoke to unionised workers at the bus depot that shares a building with the police training centre, said that while four of the attackers blew themselves up when police retook the building, a fifth, armed with a hand grenade, was tackled by workers and local residents and handed over to the police.

Tariq said the attack, and others including the March 3 ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team, have led to a popular backlash in Lahore against the terrorists.

A March 31 Lahore meeting of more than 100 activists called a rally against terrorism for April 4, with the message "we must condemn the reasons that are promoting terrorism in the name of religion, we must condemn the drone attacks of Americans but that does not justify kill[ing] people", Tariq said.

US-created terrorists

The Pakistani military's close links with both the US and the Islamist terrorists reflects that the latter were once US proxies.

In the 1980s, Pakistan was the base of US-backed Islamic fundamentalists fighting the leftist Afghan government and the Soviet forces that supported it. Operational control of this covert war was in the hands of the Pakistani military, particularly its intelligence wing, the ISI.

Pakistan's US-backed military dictator General Zia ul-Haq also used Islamists to terrorise domestic opponents.

Following the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and the assasination of Zia, Pakistan had a rare period of non-military government between 1990 and 1999.

However, rivals Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who alternated in power during this time, were mainly concerned with corruptly enriching themselves. They left foreign and security policy to the military and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who continued to use the Islamic fundamentalists as proxies.

The 1996 takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban was orchestrated by the ISI and acquiesced to by the US.

The rise of the "war on terror" after the 9/11 terrorist attacks resulted in the US becoming an enemy of the Islamic fundamentalist forces in Pakistan.

Both the US and the fundamentalists escalated attacks against Pakistani civilians. At the same time Pakistani military dictator General Pervez Musharraf opportunistically maintained ties to both sides. This policy has been continued by Zardari.

This disregard for civilian life reflects the narrow base of Pakistani governments, civilian and military — tied to the elite of feudal landlords and crony capitalists.

Both the civilian governments of the 1990s and the Musharraf regime were marked by rampant corruption and the implentation of neoliberal policies that increased poverty. Privatisation policies helped enrich corrupt politicians and army officers.

The economic devastation of Pakistan was increased by the fuel and food crises that struck the Third World in 2007 and 2008. Discontent with Musharraf was galvanised by the movement of lawyers that arose after Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March 2007.

To forestall the growing movement, Musharraf was forced to allow the return of civilian government. Bhutto and Sharif returned from exile to stand in February 2008 elections.

Lawyers' movement

However, Sharif was barred from running by military-appointed judges, while Bhutto was assassinated by fundamentalists. Her Pakistan People's Party (PPP), now led by her husband Zardari, went on to win.

However, Zardari did not deliver on the promise to reinstate Chaudhry, leading to a return to the streets of the lawyers' movement.

On March 16, with police repression unable to stop a long march led by lawyers that threatened to become a mass uprising, Zardari relented and announced Chaudhry's reinstatement.

The lawyers' movement was broadened by the involvement of the LPP and other leftists and trade unionists. "Had the lawyers' movement gone alone, they could not have won the battle", Tariq said in a March 20 interview on

The immediate beneficiary is likely to be Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). In the lead-up to the long march Sharif called for revolution. However, he pressured the lawyers' leaders to call off the march once Chaudhry was reinstated and not press other demands.

"The word revolution to Sharif means nothing and only comes out of his mouth when he is in the opposition … The [PML-N's] economic priorities are absolutely the same as those of the PPP.

"They both are for the neo-liberal agenda and both are happy to work with American imperialism", Tariq told Counterpunch.

On March 21, LPP activists led a strike of 700 non-unionised workers at two factories in Toba Tek Singh owned by Sharif's family. The strike won a 50% wage increase.

Workers at the factories are now in the process of forming a union.

[LPP youth secretary Ammar Jan Ali will be an international guest at the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, April 10-12. For more information, or to register, visit]

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