Pakistan and U.S. are warring in nerves

A lethal US drone attack against an allegedly ‘terrorist’ target in North Waziristan region of Pakistan’s tribal north, on 4 June left 15 people dead. The Americans claimed that all the dead were ‘terrorists.’ The Pakistanis remonstrated, in response, that those killed were civilians.

US drone strikes against targets inside Pakistan have gone up in both numbers and intensity. The latest strike included, there have been more than a dozen such strikes against Pakistani targets since the Chicago conference, of last May 20-21. The casualty toll of the Pakistani civilians in these punishing attacks is close to 50, including a number of women and children.

In the American lexicon, civilian casualties have a totally different connotation than what the Pakistanis or anyone else in the world may think. To the war-mongers running the Washington show, civilian casualties are just “collateral damage” which, to them, is an unavoidable price of war.

Only a day or two before the June 4 attack exacted such a heavy toll in blood from the Pakistanis, Barack Obama had awarded the American Medal of Freedom to Madeleine Albright, who was Secretary of State under Clinton-and  was famously quoted as saying, in response to a question about the gargantuan casualty toll among the children of Iraq because of history’s most stringent sanctions against that country, that the death toll of half-a-million Iraqi children was “a legitimate”  and justifiable price of war.

Also honoured, along with Albright, at the impressive White House ceremony was Israel’s Shimon Peres, who has been presiding over the mass murder, torture and persecution of the Palestinians groaning under a ruthless and punishing Israeli occupation of their land. Obama does, certainly, know how crucial it’s for his re-election bid to keep his Jewish friends on his side.

The inordinate spike in drone attacks against the Pakistani targets is, undoubtedly, Obama’s and Washington’s response to Pakistan’s persistent demand that drone attacks be halted inside its territory. It’s one of the two main conditions-the other being an unconditional apology-that Pakistan has been insisting upon as the price for the resumption of US and NATO transit facilities across its territory for war supplies destined for Afghanistan. The transit corridor across Pakistan has remained suspended since last November 26 when US air force, based in Afghanistan, struck a Pakistani military check-post, at Salala, near the Afghan border, at the dead of night, and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Following the latest attack in the vicinity of Miranshah, the administrative seat of North Waziristan where Washington believes the Pakistani Taliban, especially the Haqqani group, have their bastion, Washington has gone to town claiming that one of those killed in it was the number two man of Al Qaeda, a man by the name of “Abu Yahya al-Libi” over whose head Washington had posted a bounty of a million dollars.

Interestingly, al-Libi’s death in US bombing raids has been claimed on more than one occasion in the past, too. One such claim that subsequently turned out to be false was made in 2009, after a similar drone strike.

Of Libyan provenance, al-Libi became known as the new number two of Al Qaeda, following Osama bin Laden’s death last year. But Libi had once been captured in Pakistan and handed over to the Americans; this happened in 2004 or 2005. He was jailed at the high-security US base at Bagram, outside Kabul. However, he managed to break out of that top security prison two years later. No one ever bothered to shed light on how a high-value terrorist like Libi could have sneaked out of a maximum security area? The explanation that he fled the prison had too many holes in it.

Irrespective of whether Libi, said to be the main target of the latest, June 4, raid against targets well inside Pakistan, was killed in it or not, it is a subject on which the jury is still out and may remain so for some time because of the number of earlier claims about his death. But to the Pakistanis a more important and sensitive subject is that Washington goes on heaping insult over injury by ignoring Pakistan’s persistent demand that these drone attacks-in total violation of international law-be halted for once and all.

As for the second Pakistani demand that Washington tender an unconditional apology for the brazen night attack which snuffed life out of 24 of its soldiers-which  is in tandem with the drone issue-the Obama administration has so far shown no inclination to entertain or honour the Pakistani demand. Obama’s apologists and votaries have argued that in this election year when his opponents are looking for any chinks in his armour he couldn’t afford to be seen supplicating to Pakistan. To the Pakistanis it may well be an issue of national honour. But to Obama it would be an unaffordable price to pay to bow to a client state-which is what Pakistan is to the Republicans and the hawks in Obama’s own coterie.

Obama’s obvious problem, in this election year in particular, is that he must portray himself as an effective commander-in-chief with his finger on the trigger. In the macho Republican logic, the president has to be hectoring and unbending in order to be effective and respected.

Conscious of this compulsion on him to be Rambo-like, and trounce all opposition to America’s global agenda of enforcing its edict in the world with unrelenting muscle-power, Obama has been striving hard to fit the paradigm of a ‘strong leader.’

In relation to the Islamic world, of which Pakistan is a key component, Obama has been throwing America’s weight around with abandon. He may have withdrawn US forces from Iraq-because staying there was becoming much too expensive in more senses than one-but in regard to Afghanistan he has been playing exactly  to the tune set for him by the Pentagon generals and the CIA sleuths. Drone strikes against Pakistan-in the face of constant disapproval of it from the Pakistani establishment and the people of Pakistan-are an irrefutable evidence of Obama pandering to the war lobby and, in the process, losing his marbles.

What a sorry spectacle it’s to the Muslim world that a man who was given the Nobel Peace Prize, gratuitously, is, in practice, even more hawkish and Muslim-baiting than his notorious predecessor, George W. Bush. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran , Libya, Yemen, Somalia and, lately, Syria are sterling evidences of the Muslim world’s utter disappointment with Obama and his ‘betrayal’ of his own promises-the platform used by him to garner Muslim support and sympathy at his election to the White House-to put paid to Bush’s undeclared crusade against the Islamic world.

However, the Pakistani leadership, in its own corner, is nearly as hopelessly hamstrung as Obama, for a variety of reasons.

The Pakistani establishment can fairly be said to have hoist itself with its own petard.

The current civilian leaders of Pakistan, President Zardari and PM Gilani, are both votaries of Washington and had been doing their biddings with unflinching loyalty to Obama and his oligarchs until the situation triggered by the Salala massacre forced them to take a stand on the side of the people of Pakistan.

The murder of 24 soldiers was seen by the Pakistani people-already enraged over the persistent violation of their national honour by US drone attacks-as cold-blooded and heinous. It was the last straw on their back and quickly became the tipping point for them to demand from their leaders to show some backbone, vis-à-vis their masters in Washington.

Both the civilian leadership and the military brass found a safety valve in referring the matter to the Pakistani Parliament to decide the shape of a new policy to deal with Washington. The army, before that, had raised the ante of public protest, and provided it with direction, by clamping down on the transit facilities for NATO across the Pakistani territory. That was deemed as the least it could do to salvage its honour and redeem the nation’s trust it seemed to have lost in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s murder at the hands of the Americans last year.

The Pakistani parliamentarians, sensing the agitated mood of the people in whose name they were sitting in the parliament, took nearly four months to come up with their set of recommendations to launch the Pak-US relations on a new keel of sovereign equality, mutual respect and trust. Fundamental to the new approach, the recommendations deemed it ineluctable that Washington should apologise for its high-handedness, as well as put a total halt to the infuriating spate of drone attacks against the helpless and indefensible civilian population of the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The issue of resumption of transit facilities for NATO hangs fire because Pakistan would, henceforth, like to be paid a fee of at least 5,000 dollars for each truck-load of container using its roads. This is deemed a fair price by the Pakistanis but ‘exorbitant’ by US. Leon Paneta, the Pentagon chief and Defence Secretary, has virtually derided the Pakistani demand as ‘highway robbery.’

That drone attacks are in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, besides being indefensible, morally and ethically, is a perception shared by all peace-loving and law-abiding people in the world. There couldn’t be a more telling approbation of Pakistan’s principled demand for the cessation of drone attacks against its people than the recent decision by the US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, to ask for premature recall from Islamabad. In an interview given to an American media outlet, Ambassador Munter bemoaned the unenviable position he had been cornered into by his own government.

Ambassador Munter’s parting words that he wasn’t aware, when sent to Pakistan, that his mission would also be to become party ‘to killing people’ should shame all those in Washington, including Obama, who still insist that drone is an essential tool in the war against terror.

Obama’s personal responsibility and culpability in this crime is beyond doubt. The latest disclosure that the order to kill, via the demonic drones, has the president’s seal of approval after he may have gone through the details of the target, or targets, leaves not a shred of doubt that the killing machine gets its license to kill from the occupant of the Oval Office.

Strained relations between Islamabad and Washington have been given a further, and nasty, jolt by the case of a Pakistani medical doctor found guilty of spying for US, and sentenced, because of it, to serve 33 years in prison.

Dr. Shakil Afridi, of shady repute, had conducted a phony polio vaccination campaign in the vicinity of the house where Osama bin Laden was said to be holed in in Abbottabad. It was his reconnaissance that confirmed OBL’s presence there to the Americans and paved the way for their operation to take him out.

However, Islamabad’s villain is a hero to Washington. The Obama administration has reacted angrily to the punishment awarded to their Pakistani quisling by a court in the tribal area. To punish Pakistan for its temerity of taking their man to judgment, US Congress has chopped off 33 million dollars from the proposed amount of aid to Pakistan in the next budget-one million dollars exacted as penalty for each year of the sentence given to Dr. Afridi.

So that’s where the tangled relations currently rest between the two countries supposedly allied in the front trenches of the war against terror. Their respective positions on all the divisive issues are still poles apart. Both have painted themselves into positions from where they could only climb down at some cost to the moral high ground where they’re currently perched. Who blinks first is now the million dollar question. As of now, all bets are off on this thorny issue anchored in national honour and dignity. The Pakistanis are learning, to their chagrin, how costly it could be to trade punches with an unequal and unprincipled ‘ally.’

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2012 on page no. 17

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