Friday, October 15, 2010

American aggression and Pakistani resistance, part 1

My friend and former student Pervaiz Safdar has spent his career in the Pakistani military. Having been educated at the Graduate School of International Studies (today the Korbel School), he is inclined to sympathy with an American point of view where such a point of view deserves sympathy. In the case of Pakistanis, this is, I am afraid, quite rare. His words aboutthe drone missiles, echo those of another Pakistani, Rifaat Hussain, a Professor of Strategic Studies at Islamabad University, to me and are powerful. They deserve to be given their full weight:

“these days Pakistan is really the worst target of all the known forms of the us imperialism. drone attacks, and now even the helicopter attacks --- including also the threats of physical military attacks, sponsoring and arming religious and ethnic terrorists, insurgency in balochistan province and the worst of all --- deliberately imposing on us the most corrupt and the most inefficient government of the world with a label of democracy, preceded by an american stooge's (general pervaiz musharraf) military dictatorship!”

American aggression against Pakistan is what the New York Times refers to elliptically in last Sunday’s long editorial, "Lethal Force Under Law” 10/10/10 here:

“The government is reluctant to discuss any of these issues publicly, in part to preserve the official fiction that the United States is not waging a formal war in Pakistan and elsewhere.”

I should underline that the US government is committing the crime of aggression against Pakistan – Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations charter bars such an unprovoked attack by a state on another people. The drones are murdering at long distance, by remote CIA control, many Pakistani civilians. That is what the editorial, with its elliptical phrasing about “the official fiction that the United States is not waging a formal war” – though much clearer than the administration – tiptoes around saying.

Taking the government’s word that it is somehow, from Creech air force base in Nevada targeting Taliban (if the US is knowledgeable enough to be accurate, how come Osama Bin Laden has still, after 9 long years, not been killed?), the Times appeals for some openness about how it selects and monitors targets, some care to preserve a figleaf of international law. Pervaiz’s anger and despair gives his words, even for the rare case where drones hit their intended target, weight.

Writing about drones 8 months ago ago in Imagine here, I suggested that one think of a deteriorated US at the end of the 21st century being attacked by drone missiles in Montana, Colorado and Nevada by the great power Saudi-China. I asked how each of us might feel when they blew up many innocents, along with some resistors and “terrorists,” and suggested that even those among us who had little sympathy for the latter would feel just anger and resistance toward the aggressors. See also Johann Hari here. This is but an application of John Rawls’ original position: put yourself in Pervaiz’s shoes and ask how drones from Creech air force base in Nevada, half away around the world, would seem to you. Think also of Kathy Kelly and the 14 honorable Americans who were arrested and recently tried – with the judge taking three months to think over the international law issues in the case - of civil disobedience there. See here and here.

In fact, the US is in the throes of militarism. Losing two wars and occupations is not enough. Instead, led by the bizarre advice of General Petraeus, the Obama administration has been instigating war with Pakistan, pushing Pakistanis into often justified resistance. Over Pakistani government protests, the US has been a continuing aggressor. If anything, Pakistan has moved up higher on the US priority list for aggression than the much touted by Cheney and the Netanyahu government in Israel, illegal and immoral bombing of Iran. Every day, from half way around the world, US drones murder Pakistani civilians. Petraeus is supposed to be a clever imperialist – the resuscitation of COIN is burbled about in mainstream circles (what I name the war complex) and especially by the tired and cynical arch-aggressor William Kristol, head of the Project for a New American Century and the Foreign Policy Initiative, editor of the Weekly Standard, student of Harvey Mansfield, worshipper of Leo Strauss, and reactionary fantasist, who still wants to conquer the entire Middle East…Note that Andrew Bacevich provides a lacerating critique (Washington Rules, ch 3) – see here.

Petraeus thought that the Pakistani government could just be taken for granted. He did not – and Obama and his foreign policy advisors (the Democratic “experts” who are always advocates of war) did not correct him. But as Gareth Porter indicates below, Petraeus’s murders (aggression) provoked the Pakistan government to block American convoys to supply the troops in Afghanistan. A Taliban attack while they were stopped then blew up many of the trucks. Obama, by then, had apologized for the murders. Yet the convoys for 7 days were not allowed to go through. In fact, Pakistan has the power to frustrate the American occupation, and the aggressors have to, at minimum, rein in Petraeus.

Yet the Pakistani government, a weak parliamentary regime is, partly, an American ally. It, too, is threatened by the Pakistani Taliban which has blown up civilians as well as murdering former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But the relation of its army and intelligence services, partly as a matter of government policy, partly as a matter of sympathy of individuals in the apparatus, to the Taliban is different from US’s complicated enmity (today’s Times –October 14, 2010 – indicates that US is seeking to divide the Taliban, negotiating in Afghanistan to find a way out; that is so far not the policy in Pakistan).

The US has increasingly, under Bush and Obama, moved to side with India against Pakistan. As opposed to being evenhanded, it aids a large and increasingly powerful democracy which exploits the people of Kashmir. Seized by India during the murderous conflicts in the partition of India and Pakistan by the British empire in 1947, Kashmir, with a restive Muslim population, is the initial K in the original Pakistan. To free Kashmir, a powerful cause among Pakistanis, Moazzem Begg and others trained in arms and perhaps terror (directed against civilians, though there is no evidence that Begg had anything to do with terrorism). Begg has written Enemy Combatant about his long imprisonment and torture at Bagram and Guantanamo. Here once again, the Bush administration reduced all conflicts involving Muslims to Al-Qaeda’s attacks in the U.S. The result is to insist blithely on American evils: its one-sided support of Israel in its occupation of the Palestinian territories, and its defense of Indian oppression in Kashmir where the US had no role initially and certainly, no “national” interest in supporting the oppressors. Bush and Cheney made of many Arabs and Muslims, those with just causes as in Kashmir or in Palestine, enemies when they were not. Such policies go beyond even the trumped-up aggression in Iraq. That Bush’s excuses were unusually phony, visible to those of us in the anti-war movement at the time, has now created a lasting distaste, even well up into the State Department, for American militarism. But the blind support of the US for Israel or now India moves many ordinary Palestinians, Kashmiris, Pakistanis and others into opposition to the US, and creates, as an outlier, recruits for Al-Qaeda.

In Kashmir last year, there was a huge uprising against India, as great as that of the green revolution in Iran. The Indian government slaughtered Kashmiris. The green revolution was covered in the American press; the Kashmiri rebellion left unnoticed. This is one of the more shocking examples of highly centralized commercial press controlled by the US government (American papers, even the Times, and even some leading blogs like Andrew Sullivan who did noble work on the “green revolution,” do a really good impression on issues of war and peace of what political scientists like Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski used to identify as a feature of “totalitarianism”: a controlled press (in Andrew’s case, however, this is clearly voluntary).

In the 1960s at Harvard, their Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy was a central textbook – one might say a bible** - in Government 1a, then taught to several hundred first year students by Friedrich. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were ostensibly exactly the same, though the aim of the Nazis had been to destroy “Jewish Bolshevism” and the Nazis were defeated decisively in 1943 at Stalingrad and in a dozen other battles in the Soviet Union – and then chased out, the Soviets heading for Berlin, long before the Normandy invasion of August 1944. All of this vanishes in Friedrich and Brzezinski’s nonetheless telling indictment of Stalin – not a hard thing to produce. But these regimes supposedly equally contrast with “the open society,” American democracy, a “non-ideological regime.” With regard to war and often to racism and ideas that sustain rapacious capitalism, nothing could be further from the truth. The clich├ęs of this book faded during America’s aggression in Vietnam (Barrington Moore would sometimes satirically apply the six characteristics of “totalitarianism” to the United States; even the notion of two party competition – as Gore Vidal once quipped, America is the only one party system with two right-wings - may not sufficiently differentiate it). Taking in the ideologies purveyed in education gives a clue to the themes which dominate the commercial press.*** Given the absence of thought about Pakistan and Kashmir, perhaps American citizens – and even war “experts” – I mean the talking heads on CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the like – do not take in the magnitude of the American lurch toward India.

Yet how is the U.S. government to do this without alienating the Pakistanis? How is it to do this without strengthening the emerging Taliban in a society, wracked by an immense flood in the Sind, killing and further impoverishing millions of people, and which has nuclear weapons?

Perhaps only by a) not aggressing in Pakistan, and in particular not relying on drones, b) trying to do something to further negotiations about Kashmir or at least not simply side with India. The US government can aid India and attempt to move it to some more decent position But the U.S is used to being led by Israel and seems also to be led by India (even though there is nothing comparable to remorse for genocide against Jews, no internal Indian population in America comparable to – now very divided – Jews, nor a powerful and reactionary Indian lobby in Congress). This Petraeus or militarist policy seems to have given no thought to how to deal intelligently with Pakistan. And so the Pakistani government has now halted and allowed to be destroy convoys to supply American occupying troops in Afghanistan!

Porter makes the hopeful point that Obama may be forced to back off by Pakistan. The US military desperately needs supply routes to Afghanistan. The US has no forces or wealth (and one still hopes, with Obama. little desire) to try – madness as Pervaiz points out - to conquer Pakistan. But Petraeus’ policy is corrupt. Destabilizing Pakistan as Pervaiz suggests, leads deeper into quagmire (crippling US occupation even in Afghanistan, committing the US to greater killing of civilians and enmity in Pakistan, increasing the maneuverability of the Pakistani Taliban, and the like) even short of producing Taliban victory and possession of nuclear weapons. In Pervaiz’ words,

“coming back to america, why one small logic does not appeal to the policy makers? if with all their might, they cannot control a smaller, poorer and totally fragmented country like afghanistan, how can they ever hope to destabilize and control Pakistan and later also pretend that there will be peace in the world? and what about the american economic interests in the region for which they actually came here, if there is no peace. economic activity in the area can only thrive if Pakistan is stable and peaceful.”

Petraeus’ militarism, emblematic of that of the generals, is the most powerful element in the war comple; it forced Obama, short of being fiercely baited on the Right, to escalate in Afghanistan, providing only alternatives about escalation of 30,000 and 40,000 troops, and violating, through General Stan McChrystal’s press conference in Paris, the supposed boundaries of civilian\military relations. This militarism is also the most counterproductive. Far from stabilizing Afghanistan or Pakistan, even the byproducts of COIN, cutting off Al-Qaida and the Taliban in Pakistan through drones, is self-destructive. A better American policy, even for imperial purposes, would be to further India ambitions (under Bush, the US gave aid to Indian nuclear material, probably for its weapons program), but push gradually for elections, under international supervision, in Kashmir. The aim would be to produce an overall settlement and decline of tensions, between these two nuclear powers which have engaged in four wars since the tragedy of partition and run the danger, particularly because of American ineptness, of a fifth. See Badshah Khan: Martin Luther King of the Pathans here.

As long as Pakistan is forced to balance against India, it will fear the rise of an independent Afghanistan (a pro-American, pro-Indian Afghanistan). The Pakistani government and intelligence services (the ISI) have long backed the Taliban in Afghanistan as a way of securing influence there. Yes, they want to head off the Pakistani Taliban, with its bombings and mass murders of civilians and threat to a continuing weak parliamentary democracy. But they also want the Afghani Taliban in reserve against India, not to be surrounded in the case of likely war over Kashmir by the Indian army and a hostile Afghanistan. This is of course a straightforward great power realist picture, the evidence for which is in the policies. What I call democratic internationalism – an internal critique of sophisticated realisms - takes the idea of a common good and the interests of ordinary people more explicitly and seriously than realists, and sees that many of us have common interests against reactionary state policies – say, Obama’s massive use of drones or military surge in Afghanistan – in alliance with ordinary Pakistanis or Afghanis. See Gilbert, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, introduction and chs. 1-2..

Here, too, some intelligent policy by Obama or even the American client Afghani President Hamid Karzai, say allying with parts of the Afghan Taliban to isolate Al Qaeda and permit an American withdrawal, might also accommodate Pakistani interests. According to today’s front page left hand column in the Times (10/15/10), Obama is apparently working in this direction. But intelligent American policy does not go along with Petraeus’ or the generals’ thoughts – to conduct unending wars, never winning, absorbing ever more of America’s now dwindling resources in the war complex’s bleak militarism (see here). They want to be fighting even when there is no definition or even hope of military victory, even during a depression when resources are scarce. Their voice is the baying of William Kristol and the American Enterprise Institute for more and more resources. As Andrew Sullivan and other conservative commentators pointed out last week, there is no continuing militarism and endless war without massively cutting the domestic budget, not providing jobs, foreclosing more families, robbing social security, and decimating health care. Roughly, this is the “program” on which the Republicans are about to “surge” to victory. Here, the most destructive and self-destructive elements, abroad and at home, in American policy stand out in relief.

Fortunately, if Porter is right, Obama seems to be tempering this aspect of Petraeus’s – more generally, militarism’s - craziness. U.S. apologies to Pakistan are not enough. Some scaling back of the drones is necessary. Cutting them out (except for a handful of cases like Bin Laden) – a long way up from here – would be a minimal sign of intelligence, not to mention decency.

One final point. Petraeus has been built into a great figure by the failed imperialists Cheney and Bush, and further puffed up by Obama (perhaps to avoid competition for President in 2012). Even though Obama tries to rein him in, the war complex now absorbs $708 billion a year, 2 and 1/2 times as much as the Cold War military budget. The reason for this is that the American occupiers are now privatized. Bush used one Xe corporation (Blackwater and other) agents, paid 10 times as much, for each soldier in Iraq. Obama’s “surge” in Afghanistan was 7 “civilian" mercenaries for every 3 soldiers. The republican idea of war, characteristic of America’s early leaders, was that citizens should be armed. A hierarchical, not even drafted, mercenary army was not what they had in mind. But even that would still be a public body. Today the dessicated American military has been eaten from within by Blackwater and other private companies. Petraeus and the joint chiefs are now the shadow heads of a privatized army, under the criminal and now escaped Eric Prince, the head of Blackwater, who has moved beyond the reach of law to Qatar.**** Dependent on nasty technological toys, it is not a serious or responsible military force.

Further, as Christopher Hill recently told me, Petraeus is working hard to replace competent State Department people in Iraq and Afghanistan - experienced professionals who have some grasp of local interests and would know better than to send drones flying here and there - with inexperienced, for profit lackeys. Blackwater and Petraeus – in reality, a collaborator in stripping away the American military tradition as a tradition of civilian rule over the military as in the “surge” in Afghanistan or drones over Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen – is privatizing the military, becoming more and more dependent on these private, beyond the law mercenaries. A financial casino and a tottering war complex - making more and more war, wasting more and more resources, with an empty mechanical quality (Cameron's "Avatar" got the company - the invading American effort in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan - to a t). Even in the era of Obama, one that rightly wakened the respect and hope of the world after the darkness of Cheney, this machine still seems bent on destruction and self-destruction.

Pervaiz sent me this letter following my posts about Peretz's racism and the social studies program at Harvard:

"respected dr alan,

*how ardently i like to be some where around you in your
classes! but, alas.

*may i also dare say that for similar reasons you should have
attended the condi dinner. i have seen that boycotts are ultimately
more helpful than harmful to the perpetrators of crime.

*i know the kind of committments you have and therefore do not
expect you to necessarily reply me. but please do confirm if i may
occassionally barge in?

*these days Pakistan is really the worst target of all the
known forms of the u s imperialism. drone attacks, and now even the
helicopter attacks --- including also the threats of physical military
attacks, sponsoring and arming religious and ethnic terrorists,
insurgency in balochistan province and the worst of all ---
deliberately imposing on us the most corrupt and the most inefficient
government of the world with a label of democracy, preceded by an
american stooge's (general pervaiz musharraf) military dictatorship!
you must have also known about 86 years of prison, last week to one
of our girls ( dr aafia siddiqui,a mother of the three, phd from m i t
and charged for attempting an assault on american soldiers with a
rifle snatched from them when she was actually under their very
captivity. among other things she was physically tortured to an extent
that she now wears artificial teeth. her photographs showing her half
dead and bleeding, were first revealed to the world by a british
journalist, miss yonne ridley, from afghanistan. she was kidnapped
from karachi. her little son was flown to Pakistan some months ago but
no one knows about the other two children yet).

*one thing i dont understand about the american policy. i know
they can bomb us to ruins. but how does that help america except for
some psychological consolation that they have successfully destroyed
yet another muslim country and this time at the behest of their new
found imperialist ally --- india.what a pity that the greatest super
power of human history should be at the cheap service of the two
countries [Israel and India] who actually depend on her for their own very survival! this
comment will look particularly strange with reference to india. but
few only know that it would have long ago disintegrated, had it not
been kept together by america. even now history will see that happen
in the coming few years.about twenty percent of india (about six-seven
states) in the east, is already practically out of the indian writ.
western media dont mention this. kashmir in the north may be the first
one to formally get out soon enough. but ---- coming back to america,
why one small logic does not appeal to the policy makers? if with all
their might, they cannot control a smaller, poorer and totally
fragmented country like afghanistan, how can they ever hope to
destabilize and control Pakistan and later also pretend that there
will be peace in the world? and what about the american economic
interests in the region for which they actually came here, if there is
no peace. economic activity in the area can only thrive if Pakistan is
stable and peaceful.

* lots of regards. pervaiz"

Saturday, October 9, 2010 by the Inter Press Service
Pakistan's Halts Convoy US to Reduce Tensions
by Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - - By continuing its halt in NATO convoys headed for Afghanistan through the Torkham border crossing into a second week, Pakistan's military leadership has brought an end to the unilateral attacks in Pakistan pushed by Gen. David Petraeus and forced Washington to make a new accommodation.

Gunmen armed with a rocket torched 29 NATO oil tankers in southwestern Pakistan before dawn today, Saturday October 9, 2010, the latest attack on the supply line for international troops in Afghanistan since Pakistani authorities closed a key border crossing amid a dispute with the United States.

And it may make it impossible for Petraeus to make the argument in the future that the United States can succeed in Afghanistan, given the refusal of Pakistan to budge on the issue.
The halt in NATO convoys bound for Afghanistan and unhindered attacks on tanker trucks have continued despite a decision by the White House to direct U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to apologize to the Pakistani government for the deaths of three Pakistani soldiers resulting from a U.S. helicopter raid from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

Pres. Barack Obama has clearly abandoned the tough line toward Pakistan represented by cross-border helicopter attacks and accelerated drone strikes in an effort to reduce tensions.
U.S. and Pakistani officials have been engaged at various levels to find a way out of the impasse, according to one administration official. The official said some of the tensions should dissipate in the coming days, suggesting that the U.S. is eager to avoid further troubles on the border.
The Pakistani government clearly sees the border closure and the attacks on tanker trucks as giving it powerful leverage on Washington to stop all cross-border attacks and to strictly limit the number of drone attacks and the areas in which they take place.

In his press briefing Thursday, foreign office spokesperson Abdul Basit attacked the drone strikes policy as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and said it "does not serve the larger strategic interests, especially in the context of our efforts to win hearts and minds...."
Pakistan's leverage stems from the fact that 70 to 80 percent of the U.S.-NATO logistical supplies for the war in Afghanistan go through Pakistan. As much 80 percent of the supplies that enter Afghanistan from Pakistan go through the Torkham crossing. A second logistics route through Chaman is still open.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Friday that 6,500 NATO vehicles are backed up along the entire 1,500 km route from the port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass.

Despite the claim by the spokesperson for the U.S.-NATO command in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Blotz, that the closing of the border crossing poses "no danger to ongoing future ISAF operations", replacing the Pakistani routes with alternative routes through Central Asia would be prohibitively time-consuming and expensive.

The crisis in U.S.-Pakistani relations was the result of a decision by the Obama administration - which press reports suggest was on the basis of a strong recommendation from Petraeus - to act much more aggressively and unilaterally if the Pakistani military did not do more to attack militant groups in North Waziristan, especially the Haqqani group, which dominates the successful insurgency in eastern Afghanistan.

Unnamed U.S. officials were reported in the Wall Street Journal Oct. 2-3 as saying that there was less concern about upsetting the Pakistanis than there had been only a few months earlier. Two days later, the Journal reported, without attribution, that Petraeus had determined that the safe havens in Pakistan were a greater threat than he had previously thought.

The Petraeus decision to push for a unilateral escalation of force thus provides an additional element for the narrative that he will have to construct to protect his personal interest in avoiding responsibility for military failure in Afghanistan.

One element of the decision was to increase drone strikes in Waziristan dramatically to an unprecedented 22 in September - more than four times the average number in the previous six months. In the past, the United States had gotten permission from the Pakistani government for specific geographic "boxes" in which drone strikes could be carried out, as revealed in "Obama's War" by Bob Woodward.

Evidently that was not done, however, before the sudden dramatic increase in drone strikes in September.

The second element was to carry out at a series of cross- border helicopter gunship attacks in Pakistan that were not cleared in advance with the Pakistani military. During the cross-border strike Sept. 30, moreover, three Pakistani army troops were killed by U.S. helicopter fire.

Petraeus and his allies in the Pentagon apparently underestimated the determination with which the Pakistani military would react. When the closure was first announced, some U.S. officials said they expected the bordered to reopen within 72 hours - that is, by Oct. 5 -- according to the Washington Post.

Instead, the spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign ministry, Abdul Basit, warned that the closure of the Torkham gate would continue until popular anger over the U.S. attacks inside Pakistan had subsided. Basit also virtually invited attacks on the NATO convoys by suggesting that they would be regarded as "the reaction of the Pakistani masses".

Since then there have been at least six attacks in which tankers have been torched over the past week.

The Pakistani response should have been no surprise to U.S. officials. In "Obama's War", Bob Woodward, who had unprecedented access to top officials, said U.S. intelligence "indicated the Pakistanis believed the U.S. would not jeopardize their relationship", because of its dependence on the country's agreement to allow convoys to use Pakistani logistics routes into Afghanistan.

The intelligence analysis pointed out that the Pakistanis would not even have to close the border itself, but would gain sufficient leverage simply by allowing some militants to close key bridges or overpasses.

The Pakistani military leaders had threatened to close down the supply routes in September 2008, in response to a single cross-border raid ordered by the George W. Bush administration.

The Pakistani closure of NATO's main logistics route may influence the domestic politics of the Obama administration's policy toward the war. As Woodward's book reveals, U.S. officials have long agreed privately that the war effort in Afghanistan cannot succeed without a change in Pakistani policy toward the safe havens for the Taliban.

If the result of the crisis in U.S.-Pakistani relations is a retreat by the United States, it would signal a clear end to the hope that Pakistan would change its policy on Afghanistan. That, in turn would strengthen Obama's hand in maneuvering with Petraeus over beginning a drawdown of troops in July 2011.

*Slithery name-changes are also a habit for Rove and other Republican authoritarians laundering big money into elections now.

**The other text was also by Friedrich. teaching, as if by rote, that constitutionalism is "effective, regularized restraint." I transferred out of Government 1 at the end of the semester.

***There is also an interplay here.

****Prince had been accused, based on evidence provided by two employees, of murdering another.


Anonymous said...

It seems that the Western audience knows too little about the connection with the Pakistani dictatorships. Tariq Ali wrote a book about it, "The Duel":

“The duel is a long struggle which has been waged by the people of this country, nearly 200 million of them, against a corrupt political elite backed by the military and the United States now for over fifty years. They have been struggling for basic sort of necessities of life: health, education, food to eat. And every time they have been frustrated, either by military coups backed by the United States or by corrupt political elites, of which Zardari is a prime example.”- Tariq Ali

Alan Gilbert said...


Thank you very much. Ali's work is very important and the US has been a leading sustainer of military rule and intrigue against and oppression of ordinary Pakistanis. Stirring tensions with India, and even justified reactions to Indian occupation of Kashmir also serve to maintain elite domination in Pakistan.

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