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The Alliance From Hell

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Posted on Oct 18, 2012
yourbartender (CC BY 2.0)

By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

The American public’s view of Pakistan is equally bleak. February polls by Gallup and Fox News indicated that 81% of Americans had an unfavorable view of that country; just 15% held a contrary view, the lowest figure of the post-9/11 period (with only the remaining “axis of evil” states of Iran and North Korea faring worse).

Clashing Views on the War on Terror

Most Americans consider Pakistan an especially unreliable ally in Washington’s war on terror. That it provided safe haven to bin Laden for 10 years before his violent death in 2011 reinforced this perception. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman Zawahiri, is widely believed to be hiding in Pakistan. So, too, are Mullah Muhammad Omar and other leaders of the Afghan Taliban.

It beggars belief that this array of Washington’s enemies can continue to function inside the country without the knowledge of its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) which reputedly has nearly 100,000 employees and informers. Even if serving ISI officers are not in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban, many retired ISI officers clearly are.

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The rationale for this, top Pakistani officials say privately, is that the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani Network are not attacking targets in Pakistan and so pose no threat to the state. In practice, these political-military entities are being sustained by Islamabad as future surrogates in a post-American Afghanistan.  Their task is to ensure a pro-Islamabad government in Kabul, immune to offers of large-scale economic aid from India, the regional superpower. In short, it all boils down to Washington and Islamabad pursuing clashing aims in war-ravaged Afghanistan and in Pakistan as well.

The Pakistani government’s multifaceted stance toward Washington has wide public support. Popular hostility toward the U.S. stems from several interrelated factors.  Above all, most Pakistanis view the war on terror from a radically differently perspective than Americans. Since its primary targets have been the predominantly Muslim countries of Afghanistan and Iraq, they equate it with an American crusade against Islam.

While U.S. pundits and politicians invariably cite the $24 billion in assistance and military aid Washington has given Islamabad in the post-9/11 period, Pakistanis stress the heavy price they have paid for participating in the Washington-led war. “No country and no people have suffered more in the epic struggle against terrorism than Pakistan,” said President Asif Ali Zardari at the United Nations General Assembly last month.

His government argues that, as a result of joining the war on terror, Pakistan has suffered a loss of $68 billion over the past decade.  A widely disseminated statistic at home, it includes estimated losses due to a decline in foreign investments and adverse effects on trade, tourism, and businesses.  Islamabad attributes all this to the insecurity caused by the terrorist acts of local jihadists in response to its participation in Washington’s war. Then there are the roughly 4,000 Pakistani military fatalities suffered during post-9/11 operations against terror groups and other homegrown militants—significantly higher than all allied troops killed in Afghanistan. Some 35,000 civilians have also died or suffered injuries in the process.

Drones Fuel Popular Rage

During a September address to the Asia Society in New York, Foreign Minister Hinna Rabbani Khar was asked for an explanation of the rampant anti-American sentiment in her country.  She replied with a single word: “drones.” At any given time, CIA drones, buzzing like wasps and armed with Hellfire missiles, circle round the clock over an area in Pakistan’s tribal zone, their high-resolution cameras recording movements below. This fills people on the ground with unending terror, being unable to guess when and where the missiles will be fired.

A June Pew Research Center survey shows that 97% of Pakistanis familiar with the drone attacks held a negative view of them.  “Those who are familiar with the drone campaign also overwhelmingly (94%) believe the attacks kill too many innocent people,” states its report. “Nearly three-quarters (74%) say they are not necessary to defend Pakistan from extremist organizations.” (In stark contrast, a February Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 83% of Americans—and 73% of liberal Democrats—support Obama’s drone onslaught.)

A recent anti-drone “march” by a nine-mile long motorcade from Islamabad to the border of the South Waziristan tribal agency was led by Imran Khan, head of the Movement for Justice political party.  Joined by protesters from the U.S. and Britain, it was a dramatic reminder of the depth of popular feeling against the drones. By refraining from forcibly entering South Waziristan in defiance of an official ban, Khan stayed within the law. And by so doing, he enhanced his already impressive 70% approval rating and improved the chances of his party—committed to ending Islamabad’s participation in Washington’s war on terror—to achieve a breakthrough in the upcoming parliamentary election.


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