I apologize for the strong-worded title, but I've been asking myself this question since I saw Amy Goodman's interview with Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan on Democracy Now yesterday. Ostensibly, of course, we're fighting terrorism in Pakistan. More specifically, we're fighting the Taliban, who are supposedly just like the Afghanistani Taliban, if not part of the same entity. We're also fighting the remnants of Al Qaeda. And perhaps we're still looking for Osama Bin Laden? Our method of choice for fighting terrorism has been attacking the bases of suspected militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan with unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft. We're also funding and arming the Pakistani military and pressuring them to eliminate the Taliban from the Swat valley.
The reason I ask what we are doing in Pakistan is because every tactic the U.S. government has chosen is having the exact opposite effect of its officially stated objective. Rather than eliminating the threat of terrorism, each of our actions appear to increase the threat. Imran Khan's interview makes that abundantly clear.
In the latter part of the interview, Amy Goodman asked Imran Khan about his views of the role of the United States in Pakistan and more specifically, the impact of the recent decision to expand the war in Afghanistan and set up a $700 million embassy in Islamabad. In answering the question, Mr. Khan gave a brief overview of the the history of the Pakistani Taliban and argued that the emergence of terrorism in Pakistan is a direct result of U.S. policy in the region, particularly the occupation of Afghanistan:
Well, there was no terrorism in Pakistan, we had no suicide bombing in Pakistan, ’til Pakistan sent its troops on—under pressure from the US. Musharraf, General Musharraf, capitulated under the pressure and sent Pakistani troops into the tribal area and Waziristan. So it was that that resulted in what was the new phenomenon: the Pakistani Taliban. We had no militant Taliban in Pakistan, until we got in—we were forced into this US war on terror by a military dictator, not by the people of Pakistan. And people never owned this war. People always thought that this is not our war, and quite rightly, because we did not have any terrorism in Pakistan, as subsequently grew.I had never heard this explanation before, and was surprised, frankly, to learn that the Pakistani Taliban were such a recent phenomenon. If we are to believe what Mr. Khan says, and I have no reason to doubt him, we must conclude that the terrorists we are supposedly pursuing in Afghanistan would not have existed had we not invaded Afghanistan and/or forced Pakistan to send its army on its own people.
The more operations we did, the more reaction came. And suddenly, as now, we have thirty Taliban groups. I mean, these groups call themselves Taliban, but basically these are radicalized people, these are extremists. And extremism is growing in Pakistan, the more we are being engulfed in this war, which is based in, basically, Afghanistan. So, as long as the US troops are in Afghanistan, I’m afraid there’s no peace in Pakistan either, because the tribal areas are basically—there’s no border there, so the Pashtuns are split between—on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we have, you know, this movement across the border. And, you know, to send a—think that the Pakistan army is going to stop it—I think Pakistan army itself is going to be stuck in this quagmire, the same as the US in Afghanistan.
Earlier in the interview, Ms. Goodman asked Mr. Khan about the drone attacks in Northwestern Pakistan. He had this to say:
So, so far, I have to say, they—all these operations make no sense. These drone attacks—I don’t know why they haven’t done an analysis that—what are the benefits of drone attacks, and what is the damage done in increased hatred against the US, anti-Americanism?...There’s—according to the Pakistan government, the figures they released, of sixty drone attacks, only fourteen Al-Qaeda were killed, 700 civilians died, not to mention the numbers injured. And so, this collateral damage, each time there’s collateral damage, militancy increases in that area. So this is counterproductive.Unlike the history of the Pakistani Taliban, I was aware of the U.S. drone attacks and the unacceptable level of civilian casualties which they have caused. I discussed the drone attacks in the context of our increasing shift towards robotic warfare in this post last January. His question as to whether anyone has done a cost-benefit analysis of the attacks is a very good one. The impact of the drone attacks, it appears, is quite similar to that of Musharraf's invasion of the tribal areas and our invasion of Afghanistan. Rather than reducing the threat of terrorism, we are radicalizing people and creating fertile ground for the recruitment of more terrorists.
Finally, Mr. Khan dedicated much of the interview to discussing the plight of the people in the Swat valley, which the Pakistani army has recently invaded in order to eliminate the Taliban. The Swat Taliban, of which there are a few thousand, are an even newer phenomenon than the Taliban in the border regions of the country. They are not not well liked by the vast majority of people in Swat, according to Khan. As a result, the people wanted something to be done about them. However, he believes the actions of the Pakistani army in Swat are entirely misguided and are creating a humanitarian disaster:
And it is true that the people wanted some sort of an operation, but not actually what happened. To go after 5,000 Taliban, they have displaced three-and-a-half million people. To use artillery, helicopter gunships, F-16s on civilian population, they’ve caused this massive human catastrophe. And so, yes, people wanted an operation, but they didn’t want this, because this now, if anything, is going to fan militancy. How are they going to rehabilitate these people? Their crops are destroyed. These are subsistence farmers, most of them. Their fruit orchards, their animals. So what are they going to go back to? This is another problem we face now.In other words, the constant theme of U.S. policy in Pakistan repeats itself: rather than solving the problem of terrorism, we have once again chosen tactics which further radicalize the population, not to mention provoking a humanitarian crisis as well. If you'd like to read more about the humanitarian conditions in Swat, in which over 2 million people have been displaced, check out Kathy Kelly's piece in today's Counterpunch. I should warn you, however, that the details are rather horrifying, particularly in light of the fact that the invasion has U.S. backing. Her article ends with a poignant question:
If we want to counter Al-Qaeda, if we want to be safe from further terrorist attacks, we'd do well to remember that even when we don’t recognize the humanity of people bearing the brunt of our wars, these very people have eyes to see and ears to hear. They must be asking themselves, who are the terrorists?In light of the manifest failure of U.S. policy in Pakistan to achieve its objectives, and its high success rate in terms of increasing the threat of terrorism, I return to my original question: Why are we doing what we're doing in Pakistan? During the Bush years, many Democrats blamed the crimes of the administration on incompetence and stupidity. It was a misdiagnosis then, which hid the truly malicious intentions of the Bushies, and I would venture that it's even wronger now under the current administration. Our current president obviously runs circles around our former chief executives intellectually. I doubt lack of competence is a big problem for his cabinet or the military brass either. Unfortunately, I cannot help but reach the conclusion that our current administration knows full well that its behavior in Pakistan is radicalizing the population, increasing the threat of terrorism, killing thousands of civilians, and ruining the lives of millions more innocent people.
My real question then, is what are their motives? The best guess I can come up with is that the U.S. and Pakistani military establishment are truly fearful of the Lawyer's Movement, which lead a successful campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to restore the chief justice of Pakistan and paved the way for the transition to civilian rule and the end of the Musharraf regime. Perhaps they fear that this movement will lead to the further democratization of Pakistani society, which one day might threaten its status as the best bud of the U.S. and transnational capital. As such, they are destabilizing the country in order to lay the foundations for the return of military rule, which could crush the incipient democracy movement of the Pakistani lawyers. However, the drone attacks began under the Musharraf regime, not when the civilians in power. As such, my logic could be all wrong.
At this point, I remain perplexed. What I do know, however, is that our current strategy isn't working and I'm not naive enough to think that it's just a result of incompetence. Something else is a foot and whatever it is, it can't be good.