"We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies," said Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik after a US/NATO manned air strike took out three Pakistani soldiers and wounded three others. If it isn’t clear to the Pakistani minister, it is crystal clear to the people of Pakistan, who live in fear of constant US drone attacks – and, now, open violations of their country’s sovereignty. Anti-American sentiment is at an all-time high, and the increasingly fragile government – which hangs by a very thin thread – is being rapidly undermined by US actions.
The attack was launched "in self-defense," according to the US military, but the Pakistanis weren’t appeased: they promptly cut off a vital supply route into Afghanistan. Slowly, but surely, the Obama administration is keeping one of the President’s more ominous campaign promises – that he would invade Pakistan, if necessary, to "win" the war in Afghanistan. Even John McCain found this a scary prospect, and denounced it as "dangerous" – and yet we hear nary a peep from the Democratic-controlled Congress, nor are any Republicans, including McCain, raising objections.
Yet this move toward an open confrontation with our Pakistani "allies" may be the most momentous development to date in our seemingly endless "war on terrorism," one that will plunge the entire region into a conflagration we can barely imagine. Today it is drone strikes, and occasional NATO manned incursions: tomorrow our armies will be marching on Islamabad, trying to unseat Islamic "radicals" on the verge of taking over the country.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is the prize Osama bin Laden and his cohorts have to win in order to strike a major blow at the US – and we are doing our best to deliver it to him, gift-wrapped. The raids that resulted in the deaths of Pakistani soldiers are said to be somehow connected to vague intelligence reports of a "Mumbai-style" attack planned for somewhere in Europe: the Eiffel Tower was evacuated briefly the other day, and police presence at British landmarks and other sites in Germany was beefed up. But one wonders: if these plans are already in the execution stage, then how would an attack in Pakistan stop or deter them?
The answer is: it wouldn’t. But then again the entire rationale for occupying Afghanistan and destabilizing Pakistan – to eliminate the possibility of attacks on the West – has never been all that convincing. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were launched from Hamburg, Germany, and Hollywood, Florida, not Afghanistan or Pakistan. But then again, no one believes anything coming out of the mouths of US officials, including the officials themselves.
The Americans are constantly harping on the alleged unwillingness of Pakistani authorities to take on the terrorists, but in reality it is Pakistan that has caught and neutralized more terrorists than the US and its allies combined. However, the Obama administration facing political pressure on the home front to "do something," and stuck in a quagmire of its own making, needs a scapegoat – preferably a foreign (and Islamic) one. Pakistan fits the bill.
It’s all about politics – shocking, isn’t it?
Driven by this dynamic, the US is on a course that has to end in a much-extended war, one that will have us openly fighting in Pakistan before too long. In which case the civilian government is likely to fall and the Pakistani military – trained and armed by the US – will fill the vacuum. This is just what the Pakistani branch of the Taliban wants: it gives them a clear narrative to recite to potential recruits, who are bound to flow into their ranks. In the wake of the worst floods in Pakistan’s long history, which have left four million homeless, and hopeless, a full-blown insurgency is likely to spread from the tribal regions to the rest of the country, threatening the cities – and creating an opportunity for India to move in.
The Indian factor is the one big unknown is all this turmoil, one that could play a decisive role in making a bad situation worse. Pakistan and India have been in a state of undeclared war since 1947, and the rise of Hindu ultra-nationalism has exacerbated tensions with Muslims, who have been the targets of violence by Hindu extremists. Tensions are high right now due to the expected court decision over who owns the land on which the Ayodhya mosque once sat: Muslims want to rebuild the 16th century structure, while extremist Hindus are opposed. The issue could spark yet another round of ethno-religious rioting in India, provoke more terrorist attacks in the region, and ultimately lead to a violent clash with Pakistan over one of many flashpoints on the long Indo-Pakistani border.
The very dangerous course the Obama is currently pursuing could easily end in the world’s first nuclear exchange: Indian nukes are aimed straight at Islamabad, just as Pakistan’s nuclear-tipped missiles are pointed at New Delhi.
This grisly prospect doesn’t seem to be deterring the Obama administration one bit: indeed, our provocations aimed at Pakistan have only increased in recent days. Reckless is too mild a word to employ in this regard: crazy is more like it.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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