WHY I OPPOSE THE PALESTINIAN BID FOR STATEHOOD AT THE UN
Despite relishing the possibility of irritating Israel which this bid undoubtedly will. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I oppose the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of statehood. Not, it must be said because I share the arguments of the Israeli’s or American’s who disingenuously call for the PA to return to negotiations. But for the opposite reason, that the bid for statehood is not only a red herring but runs the danger of actually solidifying the occupation and Israeli settlements and therefore actually compounding the injustice facing Palestinians.
What is the UNs recognition of statehood meant to actually achieve? Apart from the fact that nothing will change on the ground of course and the occupation will continue, my concern is with the entire narrative of seeking a two state solution. Let’s say the Israeli’s agree to a state on 67 borders, even without substantial land swaps and even with the dismantling of settlements (which of course won’t happen but for arguments sake). What does it give Palestinians? An independant state in the West Bank and Gaza would be a bantustan. A non viable, non independant entity with no military, no control of its borders or air space or waters, no economy, a “state” of postage stamps and pretty flags but a state totally under the control of Israel who will look down from their checkpoints and who will be able to switch off the lights and bring down the jackboot at a moments notice.No military checkpoints or troops on the ground, its true, but Gaza doesn’t have that now and noone but the most deluded would say Gaza is anything but a prison under total Israeli control. If you want a vision of what a Palestinian state on 67 borders would look like, take a look at Gaza today. Is that the best the Palestinians can expect? Is that the image of a just and lasting peace?
I think it is time to reject the entire concept of national statehood for Palestine. With massive areas of the West Bank already settled by some 300.000 settlers and an apartheid wall surrounding it, the option for a viable nation state in areas approaching 67 borders is dead. It may have been possible under Oslo (and even that is debatable) when there were 100.000 Israeli’s living across the green line but not now that number is over half a million and settlement continues unabated. We should admit the grim but obvious reality, that the time for a Palestinian state has passed because Palestine has already been ethnically cleansed.
Instead the focus of the debate should change. It should learn the lesson from the struggle against apartheid and reframe the debate away from a call for nation statehood into a demand for national rights along the lines of the anti apartheid struggle. One state, secular and multi ethnic for all who live in that land and including the right of return for refugees. That would mean challenging the racist apartheid logic of Zionism itself and fighting to replace a state built on national citizenship based on religion and replacing it with a democratic, secular binational state with equal rights for all and that means a struggle against the very idea of a Jewish state itself because a state built for one religious group in a land where not all citizens are Jewish can only mean Apartheid or exclusion
This bid for statehood has far more to do with Abbas attempting to boost his credibility amongst Palestinians and strengthen the PA’s hand in any further negotiations with Israel. But this misses the fundamental point that for Israel there are not and have never been serious about negotiations. Negotiations for Israel have always been a stalling tactic while it accelerates settlements and changes “facts on the ground” . This bid for statehood may actually help accelerate that process as Israel uses it as an excuse to deepen settlements. We can safely assume the world will do nothing to protect the sovereignty of any state that is approved.
The PA has a serious credibility problem. It is 3 years over its electoral mandate and is afraid to call elections out of fear of the results. In the unlikely event that the UN grants Palestinian statehood, it is likley that the PA would take the Palestinian seat at the UN but the PA has absolutely no mandate to do so. First the PA is now ruling without electoral mandate and secondly the PA represents only the West Bank and has no right to speak for Gaza (which unlike the West Bank has an elected govt) or the 5 million refugees or Palestinian citizens of Israel. That role belongs not to the PA but to the PLO. Thus ironically this bid for statehood, which is being made by an unelected unaccountable and unrepresentative authority may actually undermine Palestinian rights rather than enhance them. All UN recognition will achieve is international recognition for Abbas and his cronies as leaders of an imaginary state while absolutely nothing changes on the ground for ordinary Palestinians.
Of course we all know such a state will not emerge from this process. It is purely symbolic and has far more to do with boosting the PA’s support than with offering peace and justice to Palestinians. Hamas understand this which is why they are opposed. Contrary to popular belief, Hamas are not opposed to a settlement on 67 borders. They have accepted 67 borders as a condition for peace for several years. Rather they are opposed because they see through the cynical bluff that is Abbas’ real motivation.
Two states is no solution at all. Even for Abbas the declaration of statehood is merely a symbolic act to strengthen and internationalise the Palestinian position before resuming negotiations. He says
Once admitted to the United Nations, our state stands ready to negotiate all core issues of the conflict with Israel.
“Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, however, and not as a vanquished people ready to accept whatever terms are put in front of us.”
The beginning of negotiations in which Abbas has already stated his willingness to accept half a million settlers and the cantonisation of the West Bank. So lets get this right. Abbas seeks to declare statehood in order to do the one thing that real states never do, to cede large parts of its territory to a colonising occupier. That is the act of a traitor.
what will UN recognition mean for Palestinians? Will the world then move to end the military occupation? Will a no fly zone operate and UN troops enter to drive Israeli soldiers out? Will the apartheid wall (which runs far beyond the green line) be torn down? will the massive security system and private roads and checkpoints and watch towers and security gates and barbed wire and armed troops and attack dogs and armoured vehicles and aerial drones and robot snipers suddenly disappear? Will the olive groves stop being razed. Will the house demolitions stop? Will the detentions without trial end? Will 5 million stateless people be allowed home? Will half a million settlers and all the military infrastructure needed to maintain those settlements be gone?
No. The world will, at best vote for it and continue business as usual, or worse offer the Palestinians a sop such as observer status and for ordinary Palestinians the occupation, settlements, demolitions, killings, road blocks, land siezures, arrests, evictions, torture and brutality will continue unabated while Palestinians are relentlessly driven from their land and the treacherous collaborator Abbas will continue to line his own pockets and beg for useless negotiations while he and his entourage parade in front of the world press playing at being international statesmen and leaders of a non existent fictional state.
It is often said that a one state solution is impossible because Israeli’s will never accept it. Well I remember the same thing said about white South African’s under apartheid. I can hear the bleating now. It went something like
There is no chance that South African whites will agree to live in a black run country that would result from one person one vote.
And where is Apartheid now? Of course they didn’t and won’t simply “agree”. A democratic and just peace must be fought for and won and Israeli’s, like white South African’s before them, must be forced to accept the only genuinely democratic solution. Equal rights for all in a single democratic state. In fact it is a glaring example of how accepted the racist Israeli narrative has become that such a reasonable demand, one accepted by every democratic state on Earth, is seen as so impossible. What this amounts to is claiming that Israeli’s will never accept the extention of national and democratic rights to the people whose rights they are denying. If they won’t accept it then the world must force them to.
One thing is for sure. Any “peace” that is achieved without offering real justice to an oppressed people will bring neither peace nor justice and only create the conditions for continued conflict. The problem, the heart of the issue is the racist, exclusivist ideology called zionism and the assumptions behind it and, like apartheid before it, it is that ideology that must be fought and broken if there is ever to be peace
The Muslim Brotherhood and Egypts Elections
The Muslim brotherhood have been waved around a lot over the past few months and I want to write a few thoughts on them and their role in the Egyptian uprising and to answer the question that is often asked about what kind of “threat” if any, the movement presents to the democratic struggle
The fear has been expressed in the Western media about the “danger” of the MB somehow hijacking the revolution and emerging as a significant force either in any future electoral process or within civil society in general.
According to this thesis, the MB have deliberately played down their size and level of organisation and are waiting events to play out before revealing their true agenda and strength and may emerge in the coming months to present an Islamist agenda which will change the character of this uprising from a generally democratic and secularist uprising into a specifically Islamist one. Depending on the arguments of those making these claims they will put into force their significant support and organisational abilities to hijack the revolution and impose an theocratic government of various shades of Islamism.
According to this argument then, the MB have a hidden radical agenda and want to ride the popular movement before unveiling their real intentions and taking power.
This is the usual argument and it takes various forms from at its most hysterical claims that the MB want to turn Egypt into Iran to the more rational claim that though they may respect the democratic process, they may take Egypt in an altogether more Islamist direction by enforcing legislation detrimental to women and minorities etc.
To this the usual response is to either point to the democratic and secular demands of the movement and to the lack of visible Islamist symbols in this uprising and to down play the size of the MB support or to (naively in my view) argue that the MB “respect” the democracy movement.
The argument for a potential Islamist hijacking of the Egyptian revolution do not convince me but I must say neither do the arguments presented against it. Downplaying the MB strength or base of support seems to me to be simply wishful thinking. Instead I want to present a different argument. I want to argue that the MB are indeed a very real threat and indeed do enjoy significant support (at least in some sectors) and do indeed have a hidden agenda but not the one that people think. I want to argue that far from being a radical threat, the opposite is the case, they are actually an obstacle to real regime change.
The MB are a threat to the radical dynamics of the democracy movement because they are actually acting as a brake on attempts at real regime change. In other words the MB are a threat precisely because they may increasingly be used by the military as a method through which to demobilse and de radicalise this movement, to blunt its edge and ultimately to save the remnants of the Egyptian ruling class from further eroding of their interests. In this thesis the MB are (unwittingly in the case of many members who did indeed play a heroic role in the uprising) a tool of the Egyptian state to be used against the democracy movement.
This thesis, of course, will surprise many, it is the opposite view of the MB from many who warn of their “radical hidden agenda”. I am arguing that they have a deradicalising, pro regime, hidden agenda and that this is a role they have played for long before the present uprising.
The Egyptian uprising has many roots of course but it didn’t begin last January. Its roots are in much smaller political and industrial struggles. On a political level mobilisations were made around boycott campaigns against the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2005 and 2010. It was overwhelmingly successful with over 80% support. Voting in these fraudulent elections it was argued would only serve to justify the Mubarak regime.
The glaring exception to this was the Muslim brotherhood who, despite being banned, and having many members in prison, stood in both elections as independents. By doing so they gave legitimacy to the Mubarak regime and recieved widespread condemnation by all real opposition factions. Factions who the MB resolutely refused all calls for united anti regime action. For this treacherous behaviour they were rewarded with a lessening of intimidation and harassment (actions which were stepped up against the rest of the opposition with no word of protest by the MB)
Worse, the state rewarded the MB by allowing it to maintain ideological control key areas of the state. Yes you read that right. The MB were not only complicit with supporting the Mubarak regime but they were in effect a part of it. They were allowed control of the spheres of education, justice and state TV. Anyone who has lived in Egypt for any period of time can testify to the creeping Islamisation of the state. Descrimination against Copts, banning of pork products, increased censorship (on Islamic grounds) of TV production and news, and the imposition of the hejab in schools. In law we have seen the introduction of elements of Sharia into a previously secular judicial system. All this was done with the active collaboration of the MB. It suited the state because this creeping Islamisation was blamed not on the state but on Egyptian society and on the MB societal influence and was in turn used by Mubarak as a further justification for the continuation of emergency law.
We could go on, the heroic Mahallah strikes of 2006 and 2007 were condemned as unislamic by the MB who still retain a political position that opposes organised labour and strikes and which defends the free market and private ownership of land. All positions exploited by the Mubarak regime. Even their much vaunted anti Israeli positions are exaggerated. They took no role in mass demonstrations against the Iraq invasion in 2003, the list goes on but I guess my point is made. Far from being a talibanesque radical threat the MB have been an colloborationist force in Egyptian politics.
This is most apparent by the stark fact that the MB OPPOSED the current uprising for the first 4 days and only joined when the massive size and irreversible scale of the uprising made it clear that refusal to support it would have destroyed the organisation. Only when it was clear that the movement could not be defeated did they reluctantly join and even then they specifically avoided a public role, not (as has been implied) because they had a cunning plan to hijack the movement but because they had a cunning plan to save their own skins if the uprising failed.
After the fall of Mubarak the regime (with US support) attempted to impose the hated Omar Suleiman onto the country. They are not stupid, the MB did not openly support Suleiman but what they did do was accept and enter into negotiations with the regime against the demands of Tahrir. Those negotiations failed and Suleiman fell but because of the determination and political maturity of the mass movement not for want of the MB who would otherwise have been perfectly happy to take part in the US strategy of “orderly transition.
So where does this leave the MB now. Are they biding their time, waiting to unleash their non existant “radical Islamism” onto the Egyptian people by revealing their “true character and storming elections? The opposite is the case. They are accomodating themselves with the military to make themselves the regimes best choice for a post election government. Not to impose “Talibanesque Sharia” but to save the regime and US geo political strategy.
Oh the irony of the feared Muslim brotherhood saving the Egyptian state for Israel. and how do they intend to do this. The military strategy is to organise for elections sooner rather than later. Given the disorganisation and lack of leadership of the opposition this can only benefit the MB who, whatever their size (and contrary to popular belief they do have significant support particularly amongst the poor and the professional classes) are the most organised faction of the opposition. The opposition needs to push for a slow transition to national elections to give themselves time to organise and campaign, while focussing not on elections per say but on the realisation of their democratic demands such as an end to emergency laws etc. Early elections are merely a tactic by the military to aid the MB. The MB far from being a radical threat to democracy are a threat to democracy precisely because they are NOT radical.
THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE IN THE WORLD
An analysis of US strategic policy in Afghanistan and its implications for Pakistan
Since the death of Bin Laden, Pakistan/US relations have taken a turn for the worst. The killing itself and US violation of Pakistan sovereignty has triggered outrage across the country as has the use of cross border drone attacks which have cost the lives of many civilians. On the other hand, the US is becoming increasingly strident in its demands on the Pakistan military and in its accusations that Pakistan is not only not doing enough to counter militant activity within the country but is actively assisting or hiding senior Al Qaeda figures. The result is a growing crisis in Pakistan/US relations.
The problem is, in recent years Afghanistan has proved to be a destabilising force within Pakistan itself. Not only are there millions of Afghan refugees languishing for decades in refugee camps who are fertile ground for Taliban recruitment, but the Taliban has increasingly turned on Pakistan itself
Pakistan is faced with a flood of weapons and fighters who have seized territory and engaged the Pakistan military. In addition, the US increasing use of drone aircraft to attack Pakistan itself is provoking an enormous backlash within the Pakistan population, a backlash aimed not only at the US but at the Pakistan civilian leadership itself. only a few weeks ago there were mass demonstrations in the Khyber region which closed the border for several days.
There is widespread suspicion in the US that the ISI or some sections of it, have been protecting Bin Laden for a long time and that they are probably still protecting senior Qaeda figures now. The question then is did the US simply get lucky and act alone with no knowledge of the Pakistan military or more plausibly, has Pakistan done its sums, realised that that the benefit cost ratio of protecting him is no longer worthwhile and shopped him to the Americans. I am guessing the latter but time will tell
Pakistan is next. The counter insurgency operation in Afghanistan is about to be changed into a counter terrorist operation in Pakistan. There is no Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. There is in Pakistan. Pakistan has been caught protecting senior Al Qaeda figures, this is going to be very bad for Pakistan. My guess is that pressure will mount on Obama to suspend the $1.5 billion in military and $1.billion in non military aid to the country and that such pressure will lead to the US giving Pakistan a harsh ultimatum. Commit Pakistan forces fully to North Waziristan, purge the ISI of Taliban sympathisers allow an expansion of US cross border operations including ground troops or lose the money. It is no accident that General Petraeus architect of US counter insurgency operations in Afghanistan has been moved to the CIA.
Lose if they do and lose if they don’t, Pakistan will face an impossible dilemma. If it gives in to US demands then it risks inflaming its own population who are widely opposed to US intervention in Pakistan and who are already demonstrating in their hundreds of thousands against US drone attacks. It will also risk re-igniting and fuelling the low level civil war that is raging both in the tribal areas and in Northern Swat province and turning it into a wider internal conflict that will exacerbate its already deep instability and could tear the country apart.
If it refuses US demands it will face a crippling financial price and the loss of its superpower protection visa vis its great enemy India. It also risks the USA operating within its borders without its consent. Pakistan is a tinder box waiting to ignite.
We are about to witness a strategic shift away from the counter insurgency and nation building towards counter terrorism. What does this practically mean? It means a strategic and political recognition of the separate character of local insurgents (the Taliban) and Terror groups such as Al Qaeda and other Jihadi group. It means either a withdrawal or a significant pull out of coalition troops in Afghanistan and a an end to counter insurgency operations against the Taliban by the US forces while relying on the Afghan forces to continue counter insurgency and pressing the Pakistan government to act against Taliban and insurgency forces within Pakistan. This will probably be carried out alongside a process of negotiation with the Taliban. A carrot and stick approach using local as opposed to international forces. This will almost certainly precipitate a renewed civil war with the Taliban in the south supported by Pakistan (which in itself explains the pakistani approach to the Taliban and its reluctance to accede to US demands to strike against Taliban forces within the country) pitted again the Northern alliance and Karzai supported by the US and possibly other forces such as India and Russia.The counter terrorist option will see a situation similar to that played in Yemen and Somalia (and Pakistan) right now with the US using drones and special forces aimed at specific targets in Pakistan and if necessary Afghanistan, operations aimed at specific targets and threats whilst retreating from any attempt at nation building and counter insurgency operations against local insurgents.
My guess is that Pakistan’s current weakness and embarrassment in the face of the location of Bin Laden will be used to leverage political assurances from Pakistan to allow a continuation and expansion of US operations in that country and an increase in Pakistani troops in the tribal areas of Pakistan and pressure for Pakistan to end its long standing support for the Taliban, indeed to turn against them. We can thus invisage a situation where a decrease in military forces in Afghanistan will be made alongside an increase in military action within Pakistan. Pakistan will thus be placed in an even tighter vice.
On the one hand it will witness a resumption of the Afghan civil war and an increase in India’s role in
that country and on the other hand it will find itself under pressure from the US in relation to its desire to support Taliban forces in response. The result as I said above a no win situation for Pakistan. If it acquiesces to US pressure it will have to abandon its principle means of retaining control in Afghanistan in the face of an increase in the role of its enemies, particularly India, in Afghanistan. It will be pressed to confront the Taliban, something it will find very difficult to do as it is in effect been pressured to turn against the one force it has as leverage against Indian interference in its sphere of influence. If it does move against its old friends, it will face a renewed Taliban and local militant threat within its borders and it will face increasingly anger from its own population over US violation of Pakistan sovereignty. If it refuses US pressure, it will lose its massive financial aid package and run the risk of falling foul of US counter terror strategy itself.
Some things need to be understood. The first is that Pakistan is not a unified state with any sense of unified national identity. It is a country created on a false national religious ideal. That Islam is akin to national identity and as such religion is the sole basis for Pakistan’s existence. However religion in Pakistan is a divisive not a unifying force. There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan and of course Muslims in virtually every country in the world, most of whom have no problem reconciling their national identity with their religious identity. But in Pakistan religious identity is the only basis for the existence of the nation and the only source of national identity.
Pakistan is a country of diverse ethnic and regional identities and Islam is seen through a different prism by each one. Pakistan is home to over 40 million Pushtuns. They are the largest tribal people in the world. There are some 27 million native Pushtun in the tribal areas and Baluchistan as well as millions of Pushtun across the country particularly in Karachi which is home to some 7 million Pushtun. With the addition to some ten million Afghan refugees we are talking about close to 50 million people who increasingly perceive the Pakistan state to be at war with them. They are the fiercest most passionate defenders of independence of identity in the world. Independence is at the heart of their cultural identity and they have never been subdued or dominated.
Further they share historical ethnic, tribal, cultural and religious affinity with their tribal brothers over the border in Afghanistan, ten million of whom live as permanent refugees inside Pakistan’s borders. A people engaged in life and death struggle against the US occupation. A war in which the Pakistani state is increasingly seen as a collaborator and as their common enemy. In 1947 the Pushtun of the North West Frontier Province never wanted Pakistan. They wanted an independent Pashtunistan alongside their kin now in neighbouring Afghanistan . That the Pashtun reluctantly accepted the creation of Pakistan was based on, to them, an enormous compromise. Acceptance of a false partition between themselves and their natural ethnic and tribal kin across the border in exchange for a solemn promise by the newly created Pakistan state to respect their independence. This promise is now fatally compromised.
From the very beginning, Obama made no secret of his intention of extended the “war on terror” into Pakistan and since 2004 the US has steadily increased cross border drone and Special Forces attacks on the tribal areas, particularly North Waziristan. Drone attacks have killed some 2000 people, most of them civilians and most of them in the past 2 years. In addition, for its part the Pakistan army has sent some 120.000 troops into the region. Thus to those in the tribal areas, US cross border attacks are not simply a US attack but are a US/Pakistan attack. indeed it was precisely and exactly the decision by Pakistan to send troops into the tribal regions in 2002 that proved the spark that created the Pakistan Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, an organisation with the explicit goal of overthrowing the Pakistan state and which seized control of the beautiful and peaceful valley of Swat a few years ago
In any other country in the world, any country with a unified sense of identity, foreign aggression would be a unifying situation, something that unites the country in common hostility to the outside aggression and indeed even in Pakistan this is the case in regard to India. In regards to US attacks however it has the opposite effect of further alienating the people of tribal areas against the Pakistan state which is perceived as launching a war against their ethnic and cultural independence in breach of the founding promise of Pakistan itself. The war against the tribal areas thus invalidates in the minds of millions the very condition of their loyalty to the state.
In a nutshell they feel betrayed. And in historical terms they are being betrayed, by their own government. A government that they have never really identified with as their own but as an outside force to be defended against. Enmity then is not only aimed at the US but increasingly against Pakistan itself. In addition this further increases regional nationalism and reinforces the loyalty and sympathy of the tribal areas for their fellow Pushtun across the border This is the seeds of separatism and civil war. All indications are that the US is set to insist on further military action by the Pakistan military into the tribal areas, action that is guaranteed to increase the resentment of the people of this region with the Pakistan state. The dangers should be obvious. 40-50 million armed and angry Pushtun tribes people in open rebellion against the Pakistan state could bring the entire country crashing down. It also risks provoking a mutiny within the military as units or officers increasingly feel they are forced to act in Pakistan’s interest against what they see as intolerant foreign pressure and humiliation.
Refusing such demands risks Pakistan losing some or all of the $2.5 billion per year in military and non military aid and every indication is that the US will simply continue with cross border raids regardless. , Pakistan faces a no win dilemma, nevertheless given that Pakistan’s greatest danger lies in the alienation of its own people and the Pakistan state’s association with US attacks it may be that refusing further US pressure is its best bet regardless of the enormous financial price it will have to pay. The alternative is a social price that it really can’t afford and given that it a nuclear armed state, neither can the region or the world.
As far as the US is concerned, there are two narratives and policy choices emerging and they both leave Pakistan in a difficult situation. The first is a call to declare victory and to use Bin Laden’s death as an excuse to begin withdrawing troops. Remember Obama is formally committed to beginning troop withdrawal in July. This call is framed by the call for the replacement of the present counter insurgency, nation building and regime strengthening strategy in Afghanistan with a counter terrorism strategy, this is based on a withdrawal of forces, an increase in specific intelligence driven attacks in Pakistan and an increased use of special forces and predator drones.
The second narrative says that the US is now on a roll and should use Bin Ladens death in order to increase military action against militants in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is also accompanied by a call for the increased use of drone and special forces attacks on Pakistan as well as putting pressure on Pakistan to increase its military offensive in the tribal areas, including the call for the threat of withdrawal of financial aid to Pakistan if they don’t.
All indications are that the latter is winning the argument. Despite claims to be withdrawing troops, Obama has set a target of a mere 5000 troops to be withdrawn in July, this is less than 2.5 percent of forces. Given that Obama was responsible for a troop increase of something like 30.000 (plus an equivalent number of support personal) since taking power, such a figure is hardly an indication of US plans to end the US troop commitment in the country. (There are at present some 200.000 US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan and at the rate of troop withdrawal outlined by Obama Western forces would remain in Afghanistan for another decade or more)
Both scenarios are bad for Pakistan. They are both based on a strategy of pressuring Pakistan to increase its military offensives in the tribal areas and both are based on a continued use of predator drones and unilateral cross border attacks. As such both are guaranteed to increase the alienation of the Tribal population with the Pakistan state. In a nutshell expect a wave of bombings and killings across Pakistan in the coming months
What we are witnessing is the consequences of increased US interference in Pakistan. Direct US interference is humiliating the Pakistani military, killing civilians and is deeply unpopular and resented by tens of millions of ordinary Pakistanis. It is now fair to say that the Pakistan population now perceives the USA as a hostile power attacking their country. In other words, they are seen as the enemy. For the second time a mass demonstration against drone attacks has just taken place in the North West Frontier Province and a fire fight broke out a few weeks ago between Pakistan and US forces. This is weakening the respect of Pakistan’s population for the military and increasing the popular sympathy for Taliban forces.
At the same time the US is increasing pressure on Pakistan to move against Taliban and militant forces in the frontier regions. This is bringing it into direct confrontation with the Pakistan Taliban and alienating a large section of the population who are now not only raging against US involvement in the region but are more and more hostile to the Pakistan state itself.
Pakistan is caught in a vice and we are watching that vice tighten around it. The Pakistan Taliban attacks have been bold and sophisticated and in two cases aimed directly at the Pakistan military
itself. Pakistan is at war with itself and we can only expect that conflict to grow. Dark days are ahead for Pakistan.
Military aid is the price the US pays for leverage with the Pakistan military in terms of enlisting its support in fighting militants in the tribal areas as well as allowing massive amounts of US materials to flow through the country for the US military in Afganistan. Despite the apparent schizophrenic contradictions in Pakistan policy towards militant groups, and despite US claims of Pakistani inaction, it is simply untrue to say that Pakistan isn’t at war with Islamist militants. There are presently over 34000 Pakistani troops presently deployed in the tribal areas and some 7000 have lost their lives. In fact a new offensive was launched earlier this month in the North Western district of Kuran.This is a direct result of American pressure on Pakistan to increase its military activity against militants.
Despite this the US seems determined to push Pakistan into an impossible position. Forcing it to choose between its long term national stability, its regional geopolitical interests and its commitments to US demands. The US has just announced the withdrawal $800 million in military aid. This has been expected and should be considered a warning to Pakistan that the US expects Pakistan to commit more fully to US demands in terms of increasing its military commitment within the tribal areas. In particular the US wants a general offensive into the country’s 7 tribal districts, particularly against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, an action that if carried out would turn large swathes of the population against the military and risk turning an insurgency into a civil war.
The US is playing a dangerous game, Pakistan is a powder keg of competing regional and tribal interests and identities. The military is the only real force holding the country together and the war in the tribal areas is massively unpopular as is Pakistan’s alliance with the US in general especially given the US use of cross border drone attacks have taken a huge toll in terms of civilian lives. The 27 million Pushtuns in tribal areas are in danger of being totally alienated from Islamabad and the military and the consequences of an increase in Pakistan military involvement within the tribal areas is precisely the opposite of that intended by the US, namely an increase in Islamist militancy instead of its defeat. The result is civil war. This is where US policy is leading
What we have to understand first of all is that the degree to which Pakistan acquiesces to US foreign policy demands represents the failure of Pakistans own strategic policy. In other words, every step Pakistan makes towards following US demands takes them one step away from their own strategic goals. This is the central contradiction in Pakistan’s relationship to the US and it is only by understanding this that we can understand the seemingly schizophrenic policy decisions made by Islamabad.
The highpoint of Pakistan foreign policy, it’s absolute success in action in fact, was the installation of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The Taliban were their creation in every way. They gave birth to them, trained them, funded them, armed them and guided their political decisions when in power. This was, for Pakistan, their prize for all the years of support for the US war against the Soviets and an example of their victory in that war. To Pakistan, the Taliban meant one thing. Control of Afghanistan and control of Afghanistan was essential in relation to Pakistan policy towards India. Pakistan has lost every war it ever fought with India, it is Pakistan’s national obsession and represents for it an existential threat.
National defence against India is therefore the number one policy priority of every single government in the country. Securing control of Afghanistan is central to this because Pakistan knows that defence against an Indian invasion is impossible within Pakistan itself. Pakistan defence against this possibility, crazy as this sounds, is based on an idea called strategic depth. A policy based on the idea of the withdrawal of military and bureaucratic institutions into Afghanistan in the event of an Indian invasion ahead of a counter attack. There is much wrong with this policy, in fact it has been called a mythical defence policy. The practicality of this policy however isn’t the issue so much as that Pakistan believes it and prepares for it. Central to this plan is control over Afghanistan. Thus the overthrow of the Taliban, while seen as a success to the US, was seen as a disaster for Pakistan.
In 2002, following Sept 11, Pakistan was presented with an ultimatum. They were either with the US or against it. By issuing this demand the US was in effect demanding Pakistan dismantle their entire foreign policy and a central plank of their national defence policy. The military government of Musharaf surrendered to America’s demands and joined the war on terror, effectively throwing Pakistan’s own national security policy in the bin.
What all this means in terms of US policy is that their interests are fundamentally at odds. Every demand made by the US for Pakistan action against the Taliban or against Islamist militants is a demand that Pakistan further act against their own strategic interests. Every attempt by Pakistan to retain some element of that strategic policy in turn is greeted as a hostile act by the US. This is very important to understand. Islamabad does not retain relationships with Taliban and militant forces out of ideological agreement so much as strategic necessity.
What could this mean for Pakistan? There are a number of possibilities. One is a coup in Islamabad, a total rejection of US policy goals and a victory of a pro Taliban regime in Pakistan. A regime in control of nuclear weapons. Needless to add this would be totally unacceptable to the US or India and such a move could precipitate an Indian or US invasion.
Alternatively, and I think the most likely outcome is the physical break up of Pakistan along ethnic lines with Baluchistan and the NWFP seceding to Afghanistan and Punjab and Sindh returning to India. Such an outcome would probably be a bloodbath and ongoing communal/sectarian/ethnic violence.
The third alternative is that Pakistan, faced with an uncontrollable civil conflict, seeks to divert attention and rally support by attacking India or creating a situation where India is provoked to attack Pakistan. Such a situation, a war between two nuclear armed states, hardly bears thinking about but is a very real possibility. Following the Mumbai attacks, in which Pakistan was undoubtedly involved, India mobilised half a million troops at the border and the two countries came very close to war.
The fourth alternative is Pakistan ambling along much as it has for the past 60 years, lurching from one crisis to another but somehow retaining geographic integrity through a unified national military structure. This is the best alternative and for this to happen the US had better do a little homework and back off because of all the factors driving Pakistan towards civil war, the most destabilizing factor is US interference. The single unifying factor in Pakistan, the sole force capable of holding the country together is the military and recent US actions have served to humiliate and delegitimise it. A very dangerous game.