Pakistan: The latest victims of the 'the war on terror'

Issue 

On April 29, Prime Minster Kevin Rudd's government announced the deployment of 450 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, bringing the Australian contingent to 1550. This is part of an overall increase in foreign troops taking part in the US-led occupation.

Both US President Barack Obama and Rudd, elected partially on anti-war sentiment, are committed to escalating the Afghan war. This escalation is not just in troop numbers but in geography — across the border into Pakistan.

Obama and Rudd have argued the invasion of Iraq was a "mistake" that diverted resources from the fight against Islamic terrorism — the "war on terror".

Al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies are based in the Pushtun-speaking areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is cited by US leaders as the greatest threat globally to US "national" security.

"I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan", Obama told an April 29 Washington press conference.

"We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognise that we have huge strategic interests huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable."

Since April 26, the Pakistani military have been driving Taliban fighters out of the Lower Dir and Buner districts of Malakand Division, North West Frontier Pronvince (NWFP).

The military claimed it killed 70 Taliban fighters in Lower Dir and more than 50 in Buner. The Taliban claimed it killed more than the 10 casualties admitted by the military.

However, it is clear civilians are also being killed.

On April 29, the Pakistani News said: "Several villages in Maidan seem to have been targeted by government artillery and gunship helicopters after Taliban forces fired on security forces from residential areas Eyewitnesses could see at least 10 houses completely destroyed while another 40 to 50 had partial damage."

An April 27 Amnesty International report, quoting eyewitnesses, said "bodies were lying on the streets and fields because people were too afraid to move them".

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director, told the News: "Pakistan is now facing a serious displacement crisis, as hundreds of thousands have been forced out of their homes, including tens of thousands now living in camps formerly used to house Afghan refugees."

Internal refugees have been fleeing both the Taliban (who use sadistic summary justice to enforce fundamentalist laws) and attacks by US forces.

The latter have been increasingly identifying the Pashtun areas of Pakistan as the base for anti-occupation fighters in Afghanistan. The US attacks with drones: pilotless remote-controlled war planes.

From the safety of a Nevada bunker, CIA "pilots" operate drones equipped with laser-guided bombs and hellfire missiles.

Pakistani government statistics leaked to the News report 537 civilians and nine al-Qaeda members killed in 60 drone attacks since August 2008.

During Obama's first 100 days in office, 14 drone strikes killed 152 civilians and two al-Qaeda members.

Despite official Pakistani condemnation of such attacks, the drones take off from an airbase inside Pakistan. Ties between the US and the Pakistani establishment, particularly the military, are close.

Since the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the US, Pakistan has received about US$1 billion a year in military aid to help fight the "war on terror".

However, there are also close ties between the Pakistani military and the Islamists, dating back decades.

On February 16, the federal and NWFP governments made a "peace deal" with the Taliban. The deal let the Taliban stay in the Swat district and enforce its ultra-violent and mysogynist laws throughout Malakand Division.

It was only when Taliban infiltration of Buner district brought the Islamic fundamentalists within 60 kilometres of the capital, Islamabad, that the military counter-attacked.

The contradictory alliances of Pakistan's establishment reflects that the US and their "war on terror" enemy were once allies.

At congressional hearings on April 23, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted: "Let's remember here ... the people we are fighting today we funded them 20 years ago ... and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union.

"They invaded Afghanistan ...and it was President Reagan in partnership with Congress led by Democrats who said ... let's deal with the ISI [Pakistani military intelligence] and the Pakistan military and let's go recruit these mujahideen ... Let them come from Saudi Arabia and other countries, importing their Wahabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union.

"And guess what it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union it wasn't a bad investment in terms of Soviet Union but let's be careful with what we sow because we will harvest."

The Taliban and al-Qaeda, are among the descendents of "these mujahideen" — as are the US-backed ruling clique of anti-Taliban warlords and drug gangs in Afghanistan.

While the Pakistani establishment tries to balance both sides in the "war on terror", Pakistani civilians pay the price. The Islamists showed their displeasure with the US alliance with terror attacks, including the March attacks against a police training college and a touring cricket team.

Neither does their Islamist ideology stop them bombing mosques.

The US uses drone attacks (rather than withdrawal of military aid) as "an incentive aimed [at] prodding the Pakistani government", US ambassador and director of National Security Studies at the Rand Corporation James Dobbins told IPS on April 16.

On April 30, Associated Press reported on a Lahore protest two days before in which "participants spoke out against the Taliban, but also condemned the American missile strikes".

The left-wing Labour Party Pakistan has helped organise similar protests, including a 2000-strong rally on April 4 in response to the Lahore terrorist attacks

An LPP report on the rally said: "Speakers condemned the flogging of women in Swat and acts of terrorism by religious fundamentalists. They also condemned the drone attacks by Americans. ... We have to mobilise people to fight them both was the main theme of the speakers."