By Ayaz Amir
Friday, September 19, 2008
The United States has us in a vice and we are not even yelping. A dog in our position would yelp. Even a goat would bleat. But the Islamic Republic, with the sixth or seventh largest army in the world, possessor of umpteen nuclear bombs, is smitten by nameless fears and, consequently, reduced to the silence of the lambs.
The Yanks may not be triumphant in Afghanistan but, by God, they feel triumphant when they have to deal with our officials who have turned prostration into a superior art form. The Yanks have us in a double whammy. Our army, now more at home running defence housing authorities than in doing anything remotely connected with warfare, has been prodded and pushed into carrying out the most sustained operation yet undertaken in the tribal areas, the focus of this operation the Bajaur agency. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, the 'collateral' baggage of a blind and indiscriminate war.
Yet even as the Pakistan army, helpless against American pressure, is carrying out this operation---very much in line with an American-dictated agenda---the Americans have taken to carrying out missile strikes from Predator drones against targets in the tribal areas. Osama bin Laden may be the leading symbol of terror for the US. But for the embattled people of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) the leading symbol of terror is the Predator drone and the Hellfire missiles streaming from its side.
This is a strange war we are caught in. The US is losing in Afghanistan and the Taliban, as all the evidence suggests, are getting stronger by the day. What happened to the Soviet army in the 1980s is what is happening to the US military 20 odd years later. Yet instead of doing a rethink about how it is fighting its Afghan war, the US is taking its anger out on Pakistan. Two hundred years of history have made the Afghans into a tough target. Our birth 61 years ago and our subsequent history have condemned us to be a soft target. Perhaps it is safe to predict that the more the going gets tough for the Americans in Afghanistan, the more they will take their ire out on Pakistan.
Amidst this growing chaos some comic relief is provided---although the humour involved is bitter and grim---by steady references to our sovereignty and the imperatives of seeing that it is not violated. Even as the Yanks go about violating what remains of our sovereignty, Pakistani officials, from the prime minister downwards, say that sovereignty will be defended at all costs, a chant that no citizen of Pakistan, however ill-informed, no longer believes.
Pity the army, caught on the horns of a dilemma: not in a position to really defy the US---the army since its first defence treaty with the US in the early 1950s not genetically programmed to hoe an independent line---but also aware of growing public anger at US aggression in FATA. So in an attempt to resolve this dilemma it settles on a half-measure: a statement by the army chief, endorsed by the corps commanders, that US operations will not be allowed this side of the border.
By which, presumably, the top brass means that the US has no authorization to carry out ground assaults this side of the Durand Line, like the helicopter assault near Angoor Adda early September. A nation demoralized and confused because of lack of leadership and near-total silence on the part of the PPP government, is reduced to a position where it is ready to be comforted by any crumbs of comfort thrown its way. So General Ashfaq Kayani's statement is hailed as an act of near-Churchillian defiance.
Two days after this act of defiance, the US carries out another missile strike in Waziristan. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrives in Islamabad on a hurried visit, presumably to assuage ruffled Pakistani feathers. A statement by the US embassy has him reiterating the US commitment to "respect" Pakistan's sovereignty. A few hours after his departure from Islamabad there is another missile strike on a house in South Waziristan.
Constant provider of comic relief is Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani who to the mantra of no one being allowed to violate Pakistani sovereignty brings in a rather different-sounding variation: that Pakistan is in no position to fight the US. Where did this brainwave come from? Who's talking of fighting? Makhdoom Yusuf Raza Gilani as the articulator of the national interest is not the least of the wonders happening to emerge on the national scene these days.
Defiance and resistance can take many forms. Even in our diminished position we still have some cards up our sleeve. We can tell the Americans that if missile attacks on FATA continue the Pakistan army will cease its current operations in that area. This will be a real threat because with the Americans over-extended in Afghanistan sending US troops into FATA is easier said than done.
American and NATO supplies move through Pakistan. We have the option of cutting this umbilical cord. But this will need heart and spirit and at the moment the Pakistani leadership has neither.
Amidst all these turbulent events anyone would have expected President Asif Zardari to stay at home. But only a few days after his election he is off on a "private visit" to Dubai, where he has a home, and from there to London. Perhaps to justify his UK trip he holds talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown whom no one takes seriously any more in the UK but whose intercession President Zardari seeks to ask the US not to violate that old chestnut: Pakistan's sovereignty.
President Zardari says (in answer to a question from media people) that the UK understands the subcontinent better than any other country, so it is in a better position to convey Pakistani concerns to the outside world. This is breathtaking stuff but it sheds a lurid if sad light on the sum of leadership currently available in Pakistan.
About Garibaldi, hero of Italian unity, I was reading the other day that shortly before his death, when all his triumphs were behind him, he wrote, "It was a very different Italy which I spent my life dreaming of, not the impoverished and humiliated country which we now see ruled by the dregs of the nation."
"Impoverished and humiliated country…" and then "…ruled by the dregs of the nation": says it all, doesn't it? For lack of leadership and no other reason Pakistan is demoralized, a nation psychologically drained and on its way to being psychologically traumatized.
Pervez Musharraf was an American pawn and satellite, selling Pakistan cheaply in Sep 2001 when the US, bent on vengeance, had decided to attack Afghanistan. As long as he remained a potent satellite, ready and able to deliver what the Americans wanted, he was feted and lionised by Washington. When he became a stricken figure, his weakening starting---and let us never forget this---by the lawyers' movement, Washington felt persuaded to shuffle the Pakistani deck to make way for a fresh leadership better able to serve American interests.
The people of Pakistan thought they were voting for change on Feb 18. How could they have known they were voting for an illusion? Liberation has not come Pakistan's way. It has been given a fresh set of chains which binds it more strongly than ever to America's war chariot---the same chariot Musharraf clambered aboard in 2001, to sell Pakistan cheaply and ensure his own survival in power.
This war will be the death of us for we are becoming its cannon fodder. If only the Taliban in Afghanistan were to fade away all would be well with us. But with their resistance growing stronger by the day---and for the Afghans this is as much a struggle against foreign occupation as their 'jihad' in the 1980s was a struggle against Soviet occupation---the US will force Pakistan and its army and air force more and more into this war, in order to lighten the burden of conflict for the US.
American financial markets are in turmoil. Russia, reversing the decline of the Yeltsin years, is beginning to reassert itself as a world power. China continues its upward climb. Yet we remain tied to the old forms, "ruled by the dregs of the nation", too psychologically broken to see the outlines of the new world order emerging in the distance.
Source: The News, Pakistan