U.S. stirs a hornet’s nest in Pakistan

Eric Margolis presents an overly idealized portrait of the Pakhtun but is otherwise astute in his analysis. One thing however needs to be made clear: while Margolis is right to point out that the government fails to make a distinction between Taliban and Pakhtun, the actual Taliban constitute a very small and radical minority within the larger Pakhtun nation. In the past they were completely marginal. If today they have turned into a political force requiring large scale military operation to tame them it testifies to the fact that the grievances run deeper and the way this operation has been conducted it will only confirm the view that this is a war on the indigent Pakhtuns, and is a war wage for the US. Despite the Pakistani elite’s embrace of the war as ‘our war’, let us not forget that it has taken the US invasion of Afghanistan, the drone attacks across the border, and the Pakistani military’s indiscriminate operations to turn a domestic nuisance into a national predicament.

PARIS — Pakistan finally bowed to Washington’s angry demands last week by unleashing its military against rebellious Pashtun tribesmen of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) — collectively mislabelled “Taliban” in the West.

The Obama administration had threatened to stop $2 billion US annual cash payments to bankrupt Pakistan’s political and military leadership and block $6.5 billion future aid, unless Islamabad sent its soldiers into Pakistan’s turbulent NWFP along the Afghan frontier.

The result was a bloodbath: Some 1,000 “terrorists” killed (read: mostly civilians) and 1.2 million people — most of Swat’s population — made refugees.

Pakistan’s U.S.-rented armed forces have scored a brilliant victory against their own people. Too bad they don’t do as well in wars against India. Blasting civilians, however, is much safer and more profitable.

Unable to pacify Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribes (a.k.a. Taliban), a deeply frustrated Washington has begun tearing Pakistan apart in an effort to end Pashtun resistance in both nations. CIA drone aircraft have so far killed over 700 Pakistani Pashtun. Only 6% were militants, according to Pakistan’s media, the rest civilians.

Pashtun, also improperly called Pathan, are the world’s largest tribal people. Fifteen million live in Afghanistan, forming half its population. Twenty-six million live right across the border in Pakistan. Britain’s imperialists divided Pashtun by an artificial border, the Durand Line (today’s Afghan-Pakistan border). Pashtun reject it.

Many Pashtun tribes agreed to join Pakistan in 1947, provided much of their homeland be autonomous and free of government troops. Pashtun Swat only joined Pakistan in 1969.

As Pakistan’s Pashtun increasingly aided Pashtun resistance in Afghanistan, U.S. drones began attacking them. Washington forced Islamabad to violate its own constitution by sending troops into Pashtun lands. The result was the current explosion of Pashtun anger.

I have been to war with the Pashtun and have seen their legendary courage, strong sense of honour and determination. They are also hugely quarrelsome, feuding and prickly.

One quickly learns never to threaten a Pashtun or give him ultimatums. These are the mountain warriors who defied the U.S. by refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden because he was a hero of the anti-Soviet war and their guest. The ancient code of “Pashtunwali” still guides them: Do not attack Pashtun, do not cheat them, do not cause them dishonour. To Pashtun, revenge is sacred.

HAM-HANDED

Now, Washington’s ham-handed policies and last week’s Swat atrocity threaten to ignite Pakistan’s second worst nightmare after invasion by India: That its 26 million Pashtun will secede and join Afghanistan’s Pashtun to form an independent Pashtun state, Pashtunistan.

This would rend Pakistan asunder, probably provoke its restive Baluchi tribes to secede and tempt mighty India to intervene militarily, risking nuclear war with beleaguered Pakistan.

The Pashtun of NWFP have no intention or capability of moving into Pakistan’s other provinces, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan. They just want to be left alone. Alarms of a “Taliban takeover of Pakistan” are pure propaganda.

Lowland Pakistanis repeatedly have rejected militant Islamic parties. Many have little love for Pashtun, whom they regard as mountain wild men best avoided.

Nor are Pakistan’s well-guarded nukes a danger — at least not yet. Alarms about Pakistan’s nukes come from the same fabricators with hidden agendas who brought us Saddam Hussein’s bogus weapons.

THE REAL DANGER

The real danger is in the U.S. acting like an enraged mastodon, trampling Pakistan under foot, and forcing Islamabad’s military to make war on its own people. Pakistan could end up like U.S.-occupied Iraq, split into three parts and helpless.

If this continues, at some point patriotic Pakistani soldiers may rebel and shoot the corrupt generals and politicians on Washington’s payroll.

Equally ominous, a poor people’s uprising spreading across Pakistan — also mislabelled “Taliban” — threatens a radical national rebellion reminiscent of India’s Naxalite rebels.

As in Iraq, profound ignorance and gung ho military arrogance drive U.S. Afghan policy. Obama’s people have no understanding what they are getting into in “AfPak.” I can tell them: An unholy mess we will long regret.

eric.margolis@sunmedia.ca

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

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