Veteran journalist Eric Margolis on the overblown hysteria in Washington and the affluent quarters of Islamabad about the Taliban threat. This context is useful for understanding why the present Pakistani military operation in Malakand portends catastrophic consequences. Margolis’s comment about the rebellious Pashtun being seen as heroes may be true of those fighting in Afghanistan but not of the ones across the border. In Pakistan they are led mostly by extreme elements who have little support. Nevertheless, as Anatol Lieven observed after a recent visit to the region, ‘the level of support for them there is such that crushing them completely would take a huge campaign of repression.’
PARIS — The Taliban are coming! The Taliban are coming!
French troops in Afghanistan were just rocketed by Taliban.
Last week, a bunch of lightly-armed Pashtun tribesmen rode down from the Malakand region on motorbikes and in pickup trucks and briefly swaggered around Buner, only 100 km from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.
Hysteria erupted in Washington. Hillary Clinton, still struggling through foreign affairs 101, warned that these scruffy tribesmen were a global threat.
Pakistan’s generals dutifully followed Washington’s orders by attacking the tribal miscreants in Buner, who failed to obey the American raj.
For context, may I immodestly refer Mrs. Clinton to page 30 of my book, War at the Top of the World?
“In the first quarter of the 20th century … two wonderfully colourful figures emerged from the barren mountains of the North-West Frontier. First was a fiery holy man with a wonderful name, the Fakir of Ipi. The old fakir rallied the Pashtun tribes against the infidel and came within a turban’s length of taking Peshawar from the British, who spent a decade chasing the elusive fakir through the mountains of Waziristan.
“Then, a fearsome figure, the ‘Mad Mullah’ (as the British press branded him), who rode down from the Malakand Pass at the head of 20,000 savage horsemen, determined to put the impious city of Peshawar (the main British imperial base) to the sword.”
Plus ca change: A century later, western imperial forces are again chasing unruly Pashtun tribesmen on the wild North-West Frontier. Today, they’re called terrorists.
Pashtun (a.k.a. Pathan) frontier tribes — collectively mislabelled “Taliban” by western media — are up in arms again because they are being bombed by U.S. Predator drones and attacked by the Pakistani army, which the U.S. rents for $1.5 billion US annually, to support its widening war in Afghanistan. Pashtun civilian casualties — collateral damage in Pentagonspeak — are rising fast.
The primary cause of the growing rebellion in North-West Frontier is the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which is rapidly spreading into Pakistan. Most Pakistanis see the Afghan Taliban and their own rebellious Pashtun as heroes fighting western domination, and scorn their own isolated leaders in Islamabad as working for the Yankee dollar.
Even the British Imperial Raj’s most junior officer knew it was foolhardy to provoke warlike Pashtun. But Washington has done just this. Still, the Pashtun “Taliban” have no influence outside their North-West Frontier and are not about to take over the rest of Pakistan.
But Washington’s ham-handed tactics in Afghanistan and Pakistan are creating a bigger storm: A national revolution in Pakistan against the western-backed feudal oligarchy that has ruled it since 1947.
Pakistan is among the world’s poorest nations. Half its people are illiterate. Most subsist on $1.13 daily. The feudal landowning elite, only 0.5% of the population, holds over 90% of national wealth. Corruption engulfs everything. Democracy is a sham; the legal system a cruel joke.
Islamic law, however draconian, offers the only justice that cannot be bought. Growing resistance movements in North-West Frontier and Baluchistan call for national leadership that represents Pakistan rather than western interests. Pakistanis are humiliated by being forced by the U.S. and Britain to wage war against their own people under the pretext of “fighting Islamic terrorism.”
Everyone now asks, “are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safe?” Yes. They are heavily guarded by crack army units and the intelligence service and will remain so unless the army splits in a power struggle. Pakistan’s nukes cannot be armed without special security codes.
My esteemed colleague and regional expert, Arnaud de Borchgrave, warns Pakistan could become another Iran. I’m not so sure. Islamic parties have never commanded much support. But Pakistan is headed into very dangerous waters.
As for the U.S.-led crusade in Afghanistan and North-West Frontier, recall the words of Victorian poet of the British Raj, Rudyard Kipling: “Asia is not going to be civilized after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old.”