Guest contribution-Pakistan should shudder; Afghanistan should despair

July 17, 2008

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone.  The writer is a commentator on South Asian political and military affairs and author of “A History of the Pakistan Army”.

                                           By Brian Cloughley

The trouble with the contest to become president of the United States is that it affects us all. No matter how appalled we might be about machine politics of a foreign presidential election, driven and at the mercy of money supplied by staggeringly powerful business interests, the bottom line (literally and figuratively) is that the entire world feels (and sometimes reels from) the influence of the US President. For the past seven years we have witnessed and been gravely affected by economic mismanagement; insolent and malevolent disdain for those who object to “You’re with us or against us”; and an arrogant policy of global military domination to an extent never even dreamed of by the Caesars, Genghis Khan, Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler or Stalin.

Senator Barack Obama in July 15 speech/Jim YoungIt might have been hoped that in November this year the American people would elect a man or woman for all peoples. A person with vision, compassion, a deep knowledge of the world that America dominates, and, above all, that most important of human attributes: informed Common Sense.

It is not to be so.

Leaving aside Senator McCain, who may well be elected in spite of his manifold deficiencies and war service that focussed on bombing cities in North Vietnam (OK, so I served in Vietnam ; but at least I realise I was wrong), I had hoped that Senator Obama – young, intelligent, seemingly forthright, in tune with the modern age – would be elected. But on reading his recent speech I am in despair on many accounts, and particularly concerning his proposed policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If he is elected, Pakistan should shudder. And Afghanistan should despair.

File photo of two boys in South WaziristanSenator Obama’s foreign policy advisers and slick speechwriters had him say that  “The greatest threat to our security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan.  We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as president I won’t … We must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.”

The threat could not be more blunt: if the government of Pakistan does not give permission for US forces to conduct offensive operations inside Pakistan  (which it can’t: what government of any nation could do that and retain the support, the respect, the loyalty of its people?), then the US will strike inside Pakistan no matter how much the democratically elected government might protest. In fact, this option is on the cards right now, anyway, and Senator Obama is merely echoing current Bush feelings.

Pakistani tribesmen sit near an unexploded missile (2007 file photo)So Senator Obama would continue Bush policy to send US troops and strike aircraft and missile-firing drones  (“We need more Predator drones on the Afghan border region,” he declared) to attack US-identified targets in the territory of a friendly nation. He says  “We must expect more of the Pakistani government”; but how much more does he want? His country has already killed scores of civilians in Pakistan in the past two years by having drone-launched missiles blast villages in which US-recruited Pushtun-origin agents, Afghan and Pakistan citizens, picked out what Senator Obama calls “high level terrorist targets” and sent information to their controllers in Bagram or Islamabad (and elsewhere that I won’t mention) by their amazingly technically advanced communications devices.  But it is ironic, as well as morally appalling, that the villagers in Pakistan who were killed in the Predator-guided missile attacks – these slaughtered women and children – died because the target information that led to their massacre was incorrect.  (And unfortunately for these pawns of the US, who were well-paid and inserted by ingenious means into the tribal areas on both sides of the border, many were identified and killed in the most disgusting manner. But their families in the US and elsewhere have been fairly generously recompensed, which may be some consolation.)

Pakistani soldier on the Afghan borderFurther to that comparatively minor slaughter (after all, what’s the death of a few innocent villagers, here and there?) has Senator Obama any notion of how many soldiers of the Pakistan army and the Frontier Corps have been killed in combating militants who were driven into Pakistan by the US invasion of Afghanistan, or who were turned to militancy by these unwelcome refugees? Does he know that well over a thousand grieving families of the army and the Frontier Corps have suffered the loss of sons, husbands, fathers and brothers because the US army is incapable of securing its side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border?

Of course not: because his speechwriters concentrate only on the sharp, US-centric aspects of international affairs. They care nothing about the sacrifices of Pakistan in this US-created conflict. He doesn’t know that Pakistan has been host to millions of Afghan refugees for decades. (No other country in the world has been forced to look after so many refugees for so long – a horrible global record, which is hardly the fault of Pakistan.)

And if any talk-show interviewer asked Senator Obama  “How many Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan” he wouldn’t have a clue what was being talked about. The fact that over a million Afghans are still in Pakistan and don’t want to go back to their own country because it is in a state of ungovernable chaos is neither here nor there to the presidential candidate, or to most of the world, in fact. Doesn’t it dawn on anyone that in that million (about 1.3 million, according to the UN) Afghans in Pakistan there are many who have reason to detest the present regime in Kabul and who want to get rid of it by fair means or preferably foul?

Let’s have no nonsense about the Pakistan government failing to do “more” about the Pakistan-Afghan border.  Islamabad proposed that a barrier be built, and actually provided a detailed scheme for it.  I attended a briefing by the former foreign minister of Pakistan at which he described it in detail.  (Although I did not agree at all with the proposal to plant anti-personnel mines.  I’ve seen too much of the effects of Soviet mines on Afghan children – the shattered legs and hands, the total destruction of youthful aspirations – to ever imagine that mines are anything but evil. OK, so I used them – Claymore mines – when in ambush in Borneo when we were fighting the Indonesians who wanted to take over Malaysia,  decades ago;  but I’ve changed my mind, having visited hospitals full of Afghan kids who have had their arms or legs blown off.) Predictably,  however, the Kabul government vetoed the project, although a few miles of fences were eventually erected in spite of that stupid objection, which was entirely to do with Afghanistan’s insular objection to the well-established legality of the border.

But if America can’t secure its own border with Mexico, in spite of annual expenditure of billions of dollars in security measures, how can it expect Pakistan to seal its frontier with Afghanistan? Half a million illegal immigrants cross from Mexico into the US each year, including criminals of all natures, and, no doubt, some terrorists intent on mayhem in America. Yet Washington – and Senator Obama – make the demand that Pakistan stop all the militants and drug smugglers who want to move to and from their areas of operation.

How fatuous.

Senator Obama declares that “The greatest threat to our security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan.” No it doesn’t: it lies in the ignorance of those who fail to understand the problem.

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