Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Carry on down the Khyber

Here at StopWarBlog, we have tried to keep to the subject matter of our subtitle - Canada and Afghanistan. Thus, while we've had occasion to delve into Afghan political, economic, ethnic and tribal dynamics, we have generally shied away from blogging on Pakistan.

However, the current circumstances of the war have made that impossible, as recent US-led attacks into Pakistani territory - complete with the awful yet familiar civilian corpses - have escalated what was a somewhat low-level involvement in that country. (For its part, NATO has said it will not take part in any operations in Pakistan.)

True, there have been CIA teams operating in the Pakistani tribal areas for some time, and there have been numerous US missile attacks from Predator drones and reportedly by ground forces in Afghanistan. And true also, US aircraft and ground forces can, according to their existing operational rules, continue engagements with insurgents who cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan. But the latest attacks are widely seen as a significant escalation with unknown, but potentially very grave, effects.

So, today we have four articles on Pakistan, lovingly edited to bring you, dear time-poor reader, just the important and juicy bits.

The Sunday Times has a gut wrenching on-the-ground account of a US assault on a Pakistani village earlier this month which is said to have killed 20 civilians. US authorities, true to form, are claiming that those killed were insurgents.

Playing with firepower

SEPTEMBER 14 - The Americans picked an inauspicious day to open a new front in the war on terror. It was 4am on the third day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan...

Two US helicopters supported by a AC130 Spectre gunship landed close to the shrine of a local saint. Out jumped about three dozen heavily armed marines and Navy Seals from a crack unit called Detachment One. As they emerged from the churning dust onto the rock-strewn hills, they made for a terrifying sight in their night-vision goggles.

Within minutes the commandos had surrounded the mudwalled compound of Payo Jan Wazir, a 50-year-old woodcutter and cattle-herd. They believed an Al-Qaeda leader was hiding inside.

According to villagers, the troops burst in, guns blazing, killing Payo Jan, six children, two women and a male relation. Among the dead were a three-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, they said.

The gunfire brought neighbours running out of their homes. As people headed towards Payo Jan’s house to see what had caused the commotion, the commandos opened fire, killing 10 more villagers.

The Americans fanned out, conducting house-to-house searches, before jumping back into the gunships and off into the sky. Stunned villagers were left to carry away the bodies left in the street.

The first known American ground assault inside Pakistan had left 20 people dead...

Both US and British special forces have been carrying out missions inside Pakistan since March this year following an agreement in January between Bush and Pervez Musharraf, then president of Pakistan.

In return, Pakistan’s military received £227m to upgrade its F-16 fighters. The deal explains why the Bush administration – and Whitehall – were so keen to keep Musharraf in office after elections in February in which the party he backed was defeated...

Their missions have concentrated on surreptitious “special reconnaissance” operations designed to go undetected, a British source said. The only firepower has come from unmanned Predator spy planes...

In July all that changed. Pakistan’s new democratically elected government made its first visit to Washington. Instead of the congratulations and aid packages they expected, ministers received what they described as a “grilling” and left reeling at “the trust deficit” between Pakistan and its most significant financial backer...

Whether it was because of the worsening security situation, or in the hope of springing “an October surprise” in the form of Bin Laden’s head to boost the election chances of the Republican John McCain, Bush decided it was time to go beyond reconnaissance and tracking...

Another US attack took place on Friday, this time a missile directed against a former school in Miranshah being used as a base for a militant organisation. The front page of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper yesterday accused the US of “mocking talk of sovereignty”... (link)
Britain's Independent has the latest developments in Pakistan:
US drone strikes in Pakistan hours after sovereignty pledge
By Omar Waraich

ISLAMABAD, Sept 18 - A US drone attacked suspected militants inside Pakistan yesterday, only hours after the US military chief assured Pakistani leaders that the country's sovereignty would be respected...

Admiral Mullen met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the Pakistani army chief General Ashaf Kayani. Afterwards the US embassy said: "Admiral Mullen reiterated the US commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and to develop further... co-operation."

But within hours a pilotless drone fired four missiles into South Waziristan, killing five militants, according to local intelligence officials. Reuters claimed the attack was the product of "US-Pakistani intelligence-sharing", but government officials appeared to disagree... (link)
Third, we have a much-hyped report from Newsweek:
Pakistan’s Dangerous Double Game

... This July, top U.S. military and CIA officers confronted their Pakistani counterparts with evidence of the ISI links to [Pakistani Taliban leader Sirajuddin] Haqqani. One consequence: over the summer President George W. Bush approved new, more relaxed rules of engagement along the border.

The Pentagon once required "90 percent" confidence that a "high-value target" was present before approving Predator strikes in Pakistan territory. Now U.S. officials on the ground need to have only 50 to 60 percent confidence to shoot at compounds suspected of sheltering foreign fighters, according to knowledgeable U.S. sources who would speak of sensitive matters only anonymously. The CIA declined to comment.

The new rules also allow "hot pursuit" incursions by U.S. Special Operations troops into Pakistan, a move that Bush had long avoided so as not to offend his close ally President Pervez Musharraf, who resigned last month... (link)
Finally, Tariq Ali:
US pushes Pakistan towards the brink
By Tariq Ali

The decision to make public a presidential order of July authorizing American strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the George W Bush administration.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with Senator Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of US strikes into Pakistan. Republican Senator John McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official US policy.

[The effects of American assaults] on Pakistan could be catastrophic, creating a severe crisis within the army and in the country at large. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are opposed to the US presence in the region, viewing it as the most serious threat to peace.

Why, then, has the US decided to destabilize a crucial ally? ...

[In my view the expansion of the war relates] to the Bush administration's disastrous occupation in Afghanistan. It is hardly a secret that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is becoming more isolated with each passing day, as Taliban guerrillas move ever closer to Kabul.

When in doubt, escalate the war - this is an old imperial motto...

Although, in the world of the Western media, the Taliban have been entirely conflated with al-Qaeda, most of their supporters are, in fact, driven by quite local concerns...

The neo-Taliban now control at least 20 Afghan districts in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces...

Elsewhere, mullahs who had initially supported Karzai's allies are now railing against the foreigners and the government in Kabul. For the first time, calls for jihad against the occupation are even being heard in the non-Pashtun northeast border provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan...

The key in Pakistan, as always, is the army. If the already heightened US raids inside the country continue to escalate, the much-vaunted unity of the military high command might come under real strain. At a meeting of corps commanders in Rawalpindi on September 12, Pakistani Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kiani received unanimous support for his relatively mild public denunciation of the recent US strikes inside Pakistan in which he said the country's borders and sovereignty would be defended "at all cost"...

What is really required in the region is an American-NATO exit strategy from Afghanistan, which should entail a regional solution involving Pakistan, Iran, India and Russia. These four states could guarantee a national government and massive social reconstruction in that country. No matter what, NATO and the Americans have failed abysmally. (link)

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