January 2002, when President Bush named Iraq, Iran and North Korea
as the first targets in his 'global war against terror' - the
putative 'axis of evil' - few noticed a curious omission. Pakistan
was not on the list.
countries - we were told - sought weapons of mass destruction.
In truth, Iraq and Iran were targeted because they stood in the
way of Israeli ambitions - and they had oil.
Pakistan has been unlucky in oil, it could make stronger claims
as a target for American and Israeli ire. It is the only Muslim
country with nuclear weapons, a nuclear proliferator, the Taliban's
chief patron, and a sponsor of jihadis in Kashmir.
did the US not target Pakistan?
later, this question is not less pertinent: and for two reasons.
After being stalled by the Iraqi resistance, US plans for war
against Iran are again gathering steam. If Iran is such a tempting
target, why not take a few potshots at Pakistan also?
since their rout in Afghanistan, bands of Muslim 'extremists'
have found safe havens in Pakistan's northern districts, as well
as Quetta and Karachi. More ominously, last July, the Taliban
challenged the authority of the state in Pakistan's capital.
has been little talk in Washington or Tel Aviv about adding Pakistan
to the 'axis of evil.' This is the Pakistani paradox.
has a simple explanation. In Pakistan, the US had effected regime
change without a change of regime. Almost overnight, following
the attacks of 9/11, the US had drafted the Pakistani military
to wage war against Muslim extremists. The US had gained an army:
and Pakistan's military dictators had gained longevity.
the Pakistani military deliver on its promise to fight the Taliban
and Al-Qaeda? At first, it appeared that it was succeeding. Pakistan
president, General Pervez Musharraf, boasted that the country
had collected US$50 million in exchange for extremists handed
over to the US.
Pakistan, the US had effected regime change without a change
of regime. Almost overnight, following the attacks of 9/11,
the US had drafted the Pakistani military to wage war against
Muslim extremists. The US had gained an army: and Pakistan's
military dictators had gained longevity.
losses, however, did not deter the extremists from regrouping;
and before long they were attacking NATO forces in Afghanistan
from bases inside Pakistan. As NATO casualties rose, the US ratcheted
its pressure on Pakistan. And by August 2004, Pakistan had deployed
100,000 troops to guard its frontier with Afghanistan.
now began targeting Pakistani troops. In September 2006, in the
face of rising losses, Pakistan pulled out its troops from Waziristan
in return for a Taliban promise not to mount attacks from bases
in Pakistan. It was an improbable truce.
the Taliban had 'liberated' Waziristan.
The US was
unhappy about the truce. And with good reason: Taliban attacks
in Afghanistan began to rise after the truce. Since then, US has
been ratcheting its pressures on Pakistan to hunt down the extremists
operating out of bases along its northern frontier.
to Newsweek Oct. 8, the Pentagon is now demanding that
General Musharraf "turn much of Pakistan's military into a counter-insurgency
force, trained and equipped to combat Al-Qaeda and its extremist
supporters along the Afghan border."
American approach to counter-insurgency is not likely to work
in Pakistan. Their military juntas were firmly rooted in the elites
and middle classes, set apart from the leftist insurgents - mostly
Amerindians or Mestizos - by both class and race. The boundary
between the adversaries in Latin America was firmly drawn.
the insurgents are Muslim nationalists. They are drawn mainly
from Pashtun peasants, but they enjoy broad support among the
peasants as well as the middle classes all over Pakistan.
On the other
side, about a fourth of the Pakistani army consists of Pashtuns;
and mid- and low-ranking officers are middle-class in their origin
and orientation. Only the top military brass identify firmly with
one scenario) an alliance of Muslim nationalists - the fighters
and their allies in the army and civil society - will enforce
their own regime change, and create an Islamist Pakistan.
Instantly, the US and Israel will clamor for a regime change
of the hard variety: through covert operations, air strikes,
invasions, and civil wars.
the boundary between the opposite camps is not as firmly drawn
as in Latin America. As a result, as Pakistan army escalates the
war against its own people, this boundary has been shifting, shrinking
the support base of the military elite.
If this is
the irreversible dynamic behind the US-inspired counter-insurgency,
it is unlikely that Pakistani elites can long sustain their decision
to fight America's war against Muslim nationalists.
events support this prognosis. As the military has escalated its
offensive, its reputation has plummeted. Hundreds of soldiers
have surrendered or, more likely, defected. General Musharraf
has rescinded corruption cases against Benazir Bhutto to court
her party; but this has eroded the standing of her party.
How is this
'civil war' likely to end? In one scenario, at some point, an
alliance of Muslim nationalists - the fighters and their allies
in the army and civil society - will enforce their own regime
change, and create an Islamist Pakistan.
end the civil war, but not Pakistan's troubles. Instantly, the
US and Israel will clamor for a regime change of the hard variety:
through covert operations, air strikes, invasions, and civil wars.
events unfold, the US may well decide to start a war against Iran.
This can only advance the timetable for an Islamist takeover in
Pakistan. When that happens, the US and Israel will be engaged
in a major war along an Islamic arc stretching from Lebanon to
Pakistan - and perhaps beyond, to the north and the east.
Is this the
'clash of civilizations' that the Neocons had advocated - and
have worked so hard to advance? Over the past century, the nations
that initiated the two major wars eventually came to regret them.
Is it likely that this history may repeat itself?
the course of wars cannot always be foretold. Germany, Japan and
Italy learned this lesson the hard way. With some wisdom, the
US and Israel could learn this lesson the easy way - from the
mistakes of belligerent nations before. Even now, it may not be
too late to take this lesson to heart, and avoid a major war that
promises to be catastrophic for all sides.
here for other articles by M. Shahid Alam:
The Killer Elites Of Pakistan
A History Of Violence
Islam Now, China Then - Any Parallels?
America's 'Fake Global War On Terrorism'
Has Regime Change Boomeranged?
An 'Islamic Civil War'
Pitting The West Against Islam
Not All Terrorists Are Muslim
Israel, The U.S. And The New Orientalism
The Muslims America Loves
Real Men Go To Tehran
Did Thomas Friedman Flunk History
Shahid Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University,
is also a regular contributor to CounterPunch.org. Some of
his CounterPunch essays are now available
in the book, Is There An Islamic Problem? (Kuala Lumpur: The
Other Press, 2004). He is also the author of Challenging the
New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays on America's 'War
Against Islam' (IPI Publications: forthcoming).He may be reached
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