Pakistan: Carnage accompanies Clinton's visit

October 31, 2009

A three-day official visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Pakistan occurred against a backdrop of carnage. Within hours of her arrival on October 28, a car bomb exploded in a crowded market in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

More than 100 people were killed and 200 injured in the blast.

The bombing was preceded by three weeks of attacks by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists that killed more than 170 people. Some of the attacks targeted police or military facilities, but marketplaces, a university and the United Nations food agency's offices were also hit.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani army's offensive in South Waziristan, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), has led to an exodus of more than 200,000 people — a third of the population.

In a similar assault in May in the Swat valley in the NWFP, millions of people were displaced and 90% of casualties were civilians.

Casualties in South Waziristan are unknown because the army has excluded the media.

Throughout the areas of FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan, civilians continue to be the main victims of bombing attacks by US fighter drones — operated via remote control by "pilots" in Nevada.

Clinton used her visit to emphasise US approval for the Pakistani army's assault on South Waziristan, which began on October 18. "This is our struggle as well and we commend the Pakistan military for their courageous fight", she said.

"The main purpose of my trip is to show Pakistan that Washington is a reliable partner."

However, she suggested that Pakistan could be doing more to support the US "war on terror".

On October 29 she told journalists in Lahore: "Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002 ... I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to."

This statement is both true and misleading. Like other US leaders, Clinton uses the terms "al-Qaeda" and "Taliban" interchangeably to describe a mythical, monolithic enemy in the "war on terror": the justification for US aggression throughout the world.

It is true that there has been longstanding cooperation between the Pakistani establishment (in particular military intelligence, the ISI) and Islamist terrorists, local and foreign. However, the US has also been involved in this cooperation.

In the 1970s and '80s, all the protagonists now engaged in bombing Pakistani civilians — the Islamist terrorists, the Pakistani army and the US — were Cold War allies. The Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan by Pakistan-based Afghan and foreign Islamic fundamentalists fighting as US proxies.

In the Western propaganda of the time, the fundamentalists were freedom fighters and Pakistan (then under the military dictatorship of Zia al-Haq) a loyal ally.

However, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the US had no further need for its terrorist proxies.

US interest in Pakistan and Afghanistan was renewed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. These were carried out by al-Qaeda, the formerly US-sponsored foreign anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan.

The US-led occupation has failed to defeat the Taliban, one of the offshoots of the local Afghanistan anti-Soviet Islamic fundamentalists whose regime was overthrown by the 2001 invasion. It has also failed to create a stable client regime out of the disparate warlords, drug lords, terrorists and gangsters with which the occupation forces have replaced the Taliban warlords.

This has encouraged the Pakistani state to make plans for retaining influence in a post-occupation Afghanistan.

During the Cold War, the US backed Pakistan against India. However, in the "war on terror", India has been a reliable US ally. India also has links to many of the anti-Taliban, non-Pushtun warlords in Afghanistan benefiting from the US invasion.

Under the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharaf forced out of office by mass protests last year, Pakistan government policy was to arrest hundreds of innocent people to be handed over to the US as "terrorist suspects" while allowing anti-occupation Taliban forces to regroup in FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan.

Musharaf also allowed US drones to use airbases in Pakistan, despite formally condemning these attacks.

The civilian government of Ali Asif Zadari has continued this policy.

Like the US in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military distinguish between "good" and "bad" Taliban on the basis of which terrorists or warlords are willing to do deals.

Those who are "good" for the Pakistani government may not be so for the US. The October 22 London Guardian said three different Islamist groups allied to the military in the South Waziristan fighting have links with anti-US forces in Afghanistan.

As always, the losers in these power games are ordinary people.

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