US bombs Pakistan —again?

Five people were killed and six others wounded when a missile—allegedly fired from a US drone—hit a suspected militant compound in the restive North Waziristan region of Pakistan, near the Afghan border Nov. 2. Residents said a pilotless US drone fired two missiles into the compound in Dandi Darpakhel in the outskirts of Miran Shah, the regional capital. At least two of the wounded were said to be of Uzbek origin. The casualties were given first aid and taken away by men associated with a militant commander from South Waziristan. Militants sealed off the entire area and did not allow anyone to get to the compound. Some residents put the death toll at 10 and the number of wounded at 12. The compound was located near the madrassa of Waziristan Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is said to have close ties to Osama bin Laden. The Pentagon denied the US military was responsible for the missile strike. A spokesman for the CIA, which operates drones as well, declined to comment. (NYT; Dawn, Pakistan, Nov. 3)

The US has likewise denied it before and before.

See our last post on Pakistan.

  1. Martial law in Pakistan: whose side is the US on?
    So Gen. Musharraf suspends the constitution, shuts down opposition media and replaces chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry—just as the Supreme Court is to rule on whether he can stay on as army chief after being sworn in for another term as president Nov. 15 following a boycotted, messy and contested vote by parliament last month. (Guardian, Nov. 4) It seems US CentCom chief Admiral William J. Fallon was in Pakistan the night of Musharraf’s auto-golpe—and the New York Times asks us to believe that he “told General Musharraf and his top generals in a meeting here that declaring emergency rule would jeopardize the extensive American financial support for the Pakistani military.”

    However, Pakistan’s Daily Times reports Nov. 3 that Fallon had offered to actually send US troops to fight in Waziristan (as if they weren’t almost certainly there already)—and makes explicit the inevitable rumors that the timing of Fallon’s Pakistan visit was not coincidental:

    ISLAMABAD — The US Central Command (Centcom) chief Admiral William J Fallon on Friday offered the US forces’ assistance in fighting Taliban elements in the Tribal Areas and Swat to President General Pervez Musharraf, but Musharraf rejected the offer, saying only Pakistani troops would be allowed to conduct operations inside the country, Online reported quoting its sources.

    Talking to Fallon who called on him at Camp Office in Rawalpindi, Musharraf said that Pakistan Army was well equipped to meet the challenge. He said the presence of US forces in Pakistan would not be liked by the people. He said that US assistance in the elimination of terrorism from the Tribal Areas should remain confined to only intelligence sharing and technical assistance.

    “The situation in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, Afghanistan, the ongoing operation in Swat, joint military exercises and other issues of professional interest were discussed in the meeting,” Sajjad Malik reported diplomatic and government sources as saying.

    The president said the operation against extremist elements in Swat was continuing and peace would soon established there.

    Fallon lauded Pakistan’s efforts in the elimination of terror and said that the US would continue to provide assistance to Pakistan.

    Diplomatic sources said that the US position on Pakistan’s domestic political situation was clear. “The US wants a smooth transition to democracy and it will continue to encourage Pakistan through official and unofficial channels for this purpose,” they said.

    They said the date of Admiral Fallon’s visit had been planned weeks ahead of his arrival, and reports linking his visit to the rumours of martial law and emergency were mere “speculations.” “It has nothing to do with media reports that Fallon was here to convince Musharraf to avoid resorting to unconstitutional measures,” the sources said.

    The sources said that Pakistan’s political future was closely linked with the ongoing struggle against extremism and terrorism. “Pakistan’s war efforts were indirectly linked with its domestic scene and the US knew that forward movement against terrorism would help to consolidate democracy,” they said.

    According to an Inter Services Public Relations statement, Admiral Fallon also called on Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani at General Headquarters and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Tariq Majid at Joint Staff Headquarters, Rawalpindi, and discussed matters of professional and mutual interest with them.

    It was the first interaction of the US Centcom chief with the two top military officers of Pakistan after their elevation. Though officially there was no word about the details of the talks, defence sources said that terrorism, Waziristan and the Swat situation and increasing suicide attacks on security forces were part of the discussions.

    This reminds us of Alberto Fujimori’s 1992 auto-golpe in Peru. The US immediately denounced the move—but Undersecretary of State Bernard Aronson was in Lima the day of the coup—leading to much speculation about secret US support, appearances notwithstanding. (NACLA Report Vol. 26, 1992, via Questia)

    So was Fallon was in Pakistan to oppose Musharraf’s auto-golpe—or to grease it? Sound off, readers…

  2. Surprise! US to continue aid to Pakistan
    …And, as in Peru after Fujimori’s auto-golpe, US military aid to Pakistan will likely continue—official hand-wringing notwithstanding. The only real difference in Washington’s rhetoric then and now is the substitution of “anti-terrorist” for “anti-narcotics.” A Nov. 5 AP account quotes various administration figures (press secretary Dana Perino, State Department spokesman Tom Casey, defense undersecretary for policy issues Eric Edelman) all wagging their fingers at Musharraf—while hastening to add that nothing so hasty as an aid cut-off is in the works. Reads the lead: “President Bush’s top national security aides say U.S. financial backing for Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts likely will go uninterrupted despite the administration’s unhappiness with President Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency.”

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates talks out of both sides of his mouth, in classic politician manner: “We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts.”

    The Indian news agency IANS quotes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice making similar noises. “We’re going to review aid. But look, we do have continuing counter-terrorism concerns and we have to be able to protect America and protect American citizens by continuing to fight against terrorists. And we have a significant counter-terrorism effort in Pakistan and so we have to review this whole situation.”

    IANS reminds readers: “Pakistan this year will receive about $700 million in US economic and military assistance and in 2008 is expected to receive more than $800 million. It has received about $10 billion in US aid since 2001, much of that in counter-terrorism assistance.”

    Meanwhile, if Musharraf’s auto-golpe was aimed at the jihadi threat (which is, alas, real enough), funny that he has been shutting down secular opposition media outlets and rounding up hundreds of secular political opponents. AP reports that among the some 500 activists arrested in the sweeps are Javed Hashmi, acting president of the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif; cricket star-turned- politician Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former intelligence chief—”and a staunch critic of Musharraf’s support for the US.” Some 200 armed police stormed the Human Rights Commission office in Lahore yesterday and arrested about 50 activists.

    Seymour Hersh reported in 2004 that Hamid Gul told him the introduction of US troops into Pakistan would mean “a rupture in the relationship.” Asma Jehangir led anti-war protests during Musharraf’s 2002 showdown with India—and also, by the way, protested US connivance with warlords in Afghanistan, saying “If America wants to introduce Afghanistan-like democracy in Iraq, we will condemn it.”

    Sorry, but it smells to us like Washington’s admonishments are all for show and the US really quietly supported the auto-golpe as a prelude to direct military intervention in Pakistan…

  3. NYT op-eds call out Musharraf’s power grab
    Well, it’s vindicating to see many of the points we’ve been making on the op-ed page of the New York Times Nov. 7. Maybe the auto-golpe will not be a slam-dunk after all. First, from Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and the country’s prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and from 1993 to 1996. In “Musharraf’s Martial Plan,” she calls out Bush on his hypocrisy, and raises once again the specter of official complicity in the deadly Oct. 18 assassination attempt her:

    Nov. 3, 2007, will be remembered as the blackest day in the history of Pakistan. Let us be perfectly clear: Pakistan is a military dictatorship. Last Saturday, Gen. Pervez Musharraf removed all pretense of a transition to democracy by conducting what was in effect yet another extraconstitutional coup…

    In my view, General Musharraf’s ruling party understood that it would be trounced in any free elections and, together with its allies within the intelligence services, contrived to have the Constitution suspended and elections indefinitely postponed. Very conveniently, the assassination attempt against me last month that resulted in the deaths of at least 140 people is being used as the rationale to stop the democratic process by which my party would most likely have swept parliamentary elections. Maybe this explains why the government refuses to allow the F.B.I. and Scotland Yard to assist in a forensic investigation of the bombings.

    As I write, demonstrations are taking place across Pakistan. Opposition party members, lawyers, judges, human rights advocates and journalists have been rounded up by the police without charge. The press has been seriously constrained. The chief justice of the Supreme Court and many other judges are believed to be under house arrest.

    The United States, Britain and much of the West have always said the right things about democracy in Pakistan and around the world. I recall the words of President Bush in his second inaugural address when he said: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

    The United States alone has given the Musharraf government more than $10 billion in aid since 2001. We do not know exactly where or how this money has been spent, but it is clear that it has not brought about the defeat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, nor succeeded in capturing Osama bin Laden, nor has it broken the opium trade. It certainly has not succeeded in improving the quality of life of the children and families of Pakistan.

    The United States can promote democracy — which is the only way to truly contain extremism and terrorism — by telling General Musharraf that it does not accept martial law, and that it expects him to conduct free, fair, impartial and internationally monitored elections within 60 days under a reconstituted election commission. He should be given that choice: democracy or dictatorship with isolation…

    It is dangerous to stand up to a military dictatorship, but more dangerous not to. The moment has come for the Western democracies to show us in their actions, and not just in their rhetoric, which side they are on.

    Next, from Mohammed Hanif, the head of the BBC’s Urdu Service, the coyly-entitled “Pakistan’s General Anarchy“:

    The first people to be arrested after the imposition of emergency were not the leaders of Pakistani Taliban, nor their sympathizers in Islamabad. There was no crackdown on sleeper cells that have orchestrated a wave of suicide bombings across Pakistan.

    The people he has arrested in the last few days besides judges and lawyers have included peace activists, teachers, artists — basically the kind of people who have done more than anybody else to push ahead his avowed agenda of moving Pakistan away from religious militancy.

    On the night he declared the emergency, General Musharraf released 28 Taliban prisoners; according to news reports, one was serving a sentence of 24 years for transporting two suicide bombers’ jackets, the only fashion accessory allowed in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled areas. These are the kind of people who on their off days like to burn down video stores and harass barbers for giving shaves and head massages.

    In what can be seen only as a reciprocal gesture, the Taliban released a group of army soldiers it had held hostage — according to the BBC, each soldier was given 500 rupees for good behavior.

    Why do General Musharraf and his army feel a sense of kinship with the very people they are supposed to be fighting against? Why are he and his army scared of liberal lawyers and teachers but happy to deal with Islamist Pashtuns in the tribal areas?

    The reasons can be traced back to the 1980s, when another military dictator, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, launched a broad campaign to Islamicize Pakistani society and the armed forces in particular.

    He then recounts—through personal anecdotes of his own military service—how Islamism has become the official ideology and political culture of of the armed forces. Yet, he concludes, Musharraf’s own motivations are more prosaic…

    General Musharraf’s bond with his troops is not just ideological. Under his command Pakistan’s armed forces have become a hugely profitable empire. It’s the nation’s pre-eminent real estate dealer, it dominates the breakfast-cereal market, it runs banks and bakeries. Only last month Pakistan’s Navy, in an audacious move, set up a barbecue business on the banks of the Indus River about 400 miles away from the Arabian Sea it’s supposed to protect.

    It’s a happy marriage between God and greed.

    For now, the general’s weekend gamble seems to have paid off. From Washington and the European Union he heard regrets but no condemnation with teeth — exactly what he counted on.

    General Musharraf has always tried to cultivate an impression in the West that he is the only one holding the country together, that after him we can only expect anarchy. But in a country where arts teachers and lawyers are behind bars and suicide bombers are allowed to go free, we definitely need to redefine anarchy.

    Indeed so. We are reminded once again of the old R. Cobb cartoon.