Eric Margolis | Edmonton Sun, Sep 14, 2008
The inauguration this week of Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the slain Benazir Bhutto, should have brought some hope and direction to embattled Pakistan.
It did not. A sense of weary deja vu hung over the event.
Zardari’s first major policy statement was a vow to continue waging the so-called “war on terror” in northwest Pakistan. His choice of the Bush administration’s terminology was a clear message to Washington that he intends to pursue the hated policies of disgraced former U.S.-backed dictator, Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan will continue to dance to Washington’s tune.
In fact, Zardari seems set to inherit the ills of Musharraf’s failed regime. Pakistan is bankrupt, with only 60 days of foreign exchange left to import fuel and food. Half its 165 million people subsist on under $2 daily.
Infusions of $11.2 billion in U.S. aid since 2001, and tens of millions in covert payments, rented the grudging services of Pakistan’s armed and security forces, and halfhearted co-operation of its government.
But 90% of Pakistanis oppose the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, which they, like most Europeans, see as a modern colonial war to secure U.S. domination of Central Asia’s energy. They despised Musharraf for sending 120,000 Pakistani troops to fight pro-Taliban Pashtun tribesmen in northwest Pakistan, killing thousands of civilians in the process, and for enabling the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.
Now, Zardari, who was helped into power with Washington’s financial and political support, appears set on the same course. Considering only 26% of voters support him, Zardari is heading for major trouble.
Zardari’s refusal to reinstate justices of Pakistan’s supreme court purged by Musharraf is a slap in the face of democracy and further evidence of his fear of indictment over serious corruption accusations that dog him. Widely known as “Mr 10%” from when he was minister of public contracts, Zardari denies any wrongdoing, insisting these charges were politically motivated.
Plans by the U.S. to launch ground attacks inside Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal zone (known as FATA) have ignited a new crisis. Zardari apparently has approved more U.S. raids against his own people. But Pakistan’s powerful chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, says the nation’s 650,000-man armed forces will not tolerate U.S. violation of its borders. The stage is set for possible head-on clashes between Pakistani and U.S. troops.
Whether Canada will be drawn into fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas is uncertain. The Harper government’s former defence minister rashly called for Canadian troops to invade Pakistan.
Truck convoys, upon which the U.S. and NATO depend for fuel, water, and munitions, face increasing attacks by Pakistani pro-Taliban groups as they make their way up to the fabled Khyber Pass.
A vicious cycle is now at play. The U.S. pays Pakistan’s armed forces to attack pro-Taliban tribesmen along the border, and aid the U.S. war in Afghanistan. U.S. and Pakistani warplanes bomb Pashtun villages in FATA.
Furious Pashtuns retaliate by staging bombing attacks against government targets (aka “terrorism”). The government and U.S. launch more attacks as Pakistanis demand their government stop killing its own people.
Musharraf was detested as an American stooge. If Zardari continues Mush’s failed policies, he also will meet the same fate.
The U.S. is about to kick yet another hornets’ nest by ground attacks on Pakistan. Unable to crush growing national resistance to the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan and secure planned pipeline routes, the frustrated Bush White House is launching a new conflict when it lacks the soldiers or money to subdue Afghanistan.
Spreading the Afghan War into Pakistan is perilous and foolhardy. It threatens to destabilize and tear apart fragile Pakistan, just as the U.S. has dismembered Iraq. A fragmented Pakistan could tempt India to intervene. Both are nuclear armed.
Asif Zardari is sitting atop a ticking bomb. He needs some new thinking. So do his western patrons, who urgently must end the futile Afghan War before it blows Pakistan apart.