Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Flames from Afghanistan Ignite Pakistan

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Flames from Afghanistan Ignite Pakistan

Article excerpt

The eight-year war in Afghanistan has now set Pakistan on fire. What began in 2001 as a supposedly limited American anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan has now become a spreading regional conflict.

Pakistan's army just launched a major ground and air offensive against rebellious Pashtun tribes in wild South Waziristan, which Islamabad claims is the epicenter of the growing insurgency against the U.S.-backed government of Asif Ali Zardari.

It's likely the rebellious Pashtun tribesmen will simply fade into the mountains, leaving the army stuck garrisoning major towns and trying to protect roads. A similar uprising in Kashmir has tied down 500,000 Indian soldiers and paramilitary police.

Washington, by contrast, is delighted. It has long been a key U.S. goal to press Pakistan's tough army into fighting both Pashtun rebels in Pakistan, and the Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan has long hesitated doing so, loath to wage war on its own tribal people. The U.S. is paying most of the bills for the Waziristan offensive.

Washington has been urging Pakistan's governments to attack South Waziristan, not the least because these formerly autonomous tribal badlands are believed to be sheltering al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Bombings and shootings have been rocking Pakistan, a complex, unstable nation of 167 million, including a recent brazen attack on army HQ in Rawalpindi and a massive bombing of Peshawar's exotic Khyber Bazaar.

Meanwhile, the feeble, deeply unpopular U.S.-installed government in Islamabad faces an increasingly rancorous confrontation with the military and angry opposition groups who accuse it of betraying Pakistan's national interests.

Like the proverbial bull in the china shop, the Obama administration and U.S. Congress chose this explosive time to try to impose yet another layer of American control over Pakistan. This heavy-handed action comes at a time when Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama considers sending thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Tragically, U.S. policy in the Muslim world continues to be too often driven by arrogance, ignorance, and special interest groups.

Another Layer of U.S. Control

The current Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, advanced with President Barack Obama's blessing, is ham-handed dollar diplomacy at its worst. Pakistan, bankrupted by corruption, feudal landlords, and the previous Musharraf military regime, is being offered U.S. $7.5 billion over five years-but with outrageous strings attached.

Washington denies any strings are involved. But few in South Asia believe the cash-strapped U.S. is handing over $7.5 billion for the sake of altruism.

The U.S. wants to build a mammoth new embassy for 1,000 personnel in Islamabad, the second largest after its Baghdad fortress-embassy. New personnel are needed, claims Washington, to monitor the $7.5 billion in aid. So U.S. mercenaries (aka "contractors") are being brought in to protect U.S. interests and personnel. New U.S. bases may also be in the cards. Most of this new aid will go right into the pockets of the pro-Western ruling establishment, about 1 percent of the population.

Washington is also reportedly demanding some form of indirect veto power over promotions in Pakistan's armed forces and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). This crude attempt to exert more U.S. influence over Pakistan's 617,000-man military has enraged the armed forces and set off alarm bells.

It's all part of Washington's "Afpak" strategy to clamp tighter control over restive Pakistan and make use of its armed forces and spies in Afghanistan. …

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