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With friends like the US, Pakistan doesn't need enemies

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With friends like the US, Pakistan doesn't need enemies

Simon Tisdali

http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Thursday 15 October 2009

Washington's clumsy attempts to strengthen Pakistan's government only serve
to stoke a conflict approaching civil war

As the Obama administration dithers over what to do for the best in
Afghanistan, neighbouring Pakistan is paying an increasingly heavy price.
Like a spate of previous Taliban attacks in recent days, today's mayhem in
Lahore underscored fears that the principal consequence of Washington's
Afghan paralysis, albeit unintended, is the further destabilisation of the
Pakistani state.

Pakistanis might be forgiven for wondering whether, with friends like these
in Washington, who needs enemies? The rumbling row over a $7.5bn, five-year
US aid package is a case in point. Imperious conditions attached to the bill
by a Congress reluctant to send more unaccounted billions "down a rat hole",
as Democrat Howard Berman charmingly put it, were condemned as insulting and
colonialist in Pakistan.

By linking the cash to tighter civilian control of Pakistan's military,
Washington was trying, clumsily, to strengthen Asif Ali Zardari's
government. But it achieved the exact opposite. The president was accused of
failing to defend the country's sovereignty, much as he has failed to halt
escalating American cross-border air raids, and the occasional covert ground
incursion, on targets inside Pakistan.

After hurried consultations in Washington, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan's
foreign minister, obtained an "explanatory document" from Congress this week
that he said effectively waived some of the bill's more objectionable
caveats. But this is unlikely to silence critics who draw on deep
anti-American sentiment among the Pakistani public dating back to the 2001
invasion of Afghanistan and the launch of George Bush's "global war on
terror".

"Poll after poll shows Pakistanis increasingly do fear the threat posed by
Islamic extremists ... but they believe the US is an even bigger danger to
their country," Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution  was quoted as
saying this week. Many Pakistanis rated the threat posed by the US to their
independence and security above that from historical foe India, he said.
"Any time you out-poll India as the bad guy in Pakistan you are in deep
that he said effectively waived some of the bill's more objectionable
caveats. But this is unlikely to silence critics who draw on deep
anti-American sentiment among the Pakistani public dating back to the 2001
invasion of Afghanistan and the launch of George Bush's "global war on
terror".

"Poll after poll shows Pakistanis increasingly do fear the threat posed by
Islamic extremists ... but they believe the US is an even bigger danger to
their country," Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution  was quoted as
saying this week. Many Pakistanis rated the threat posed by the US to their
independence and security above that from historical foe India, he said.
"Any time you out-poll India as the bad guy in Pakistan you are in deep
trouble."

Intense Obama administration pressure on Pakistan to root out the
Tehrik-e-Taliban (Taliban Movement of Pakistan), close allies and
collaborators of the Afghan Taliban, resulted in this spring's costly
military offensive in Swat, in North West Frontier province, which displaced
hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Yet the Swat campaign is likely to be dwarfed by an imminent Pakistani army
offensive in South Waziristan, in the ungoverned tribal areas adjacent to
Afghanistan. Although senior Pakistani officials deny they are doing
Washington's bidding, it's no secret that US commanders are increasingly
focused on both sides of Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, where
Taliban militants and their foreign jihadi and al-Qaida allies have staked
out common ground ignoring national boundaries.

Pakistan's Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who replaced Baitullah Mehsud
after the latter was killed in a US drone missile strike in August, said in
a recent video that attacks such as today's in Lahore would quickly cease if
the government stopped behaving like a US lackey and broke its American
alliance. If that happened, Mehsud said he would turn his guns on India,
presumably in Kashmir. To many Pakistanis, that may not sound such a bad
idea.

The realisation that Washington is stoking a conflict approaching all-out
civil war is gradually dawning in the US. New York Post columnist Ralph
Peters drew a comparison with post-invasion Iraq. "Civil war never quite
happened [there]. Yet no one seems to notice that we're now caught up in two
authentic civil wars ­ one in Afghanistan, the other in Pakistan," he said.
By lumping the two together in one "Afpak" policy, the Obama administration
had effectively made both problems worse.

Neither extra US troops, nor extra aid, nor more "hugs-not-slugs
counterinsurgency nonsense" was the answer, Peters argued. "The only hope
for either beleaguered territory (these really are territories, not
authentic states) is a decision by its own population to fight and defeat
the Taliban."

The impulse, fanned by this sort of imperial hubris, to get out of
Afghanistan, or at least to narrow the fight to a counter-terrorism campaign
against al-Qaida, has gathered US adherents in recent months. But a
Washington Post editorial argued this week that with al-Qaida much reduced,
the Taliban in both countries now constituted the main enemy. Pakistan was
moving towards "full-scale war", it said. Pulling back in Afghanistan could
have disastrous, possibly fatal consequences there, too.

By this measure and others, only one conclusion is possible: Pakistan is
already so destabilised by US actions since 9/11 that it cannot be left to
fend for itself. In such tortuous logic is found the death of empires.

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