America’s expanding war in Pakistan

November 23, 2008

U.S. military operations crossed another threshold in Pakistan this week when a Predator ‘drone’ aircraft fired missiles into Bannu area in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), away from the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas where it has conducted raids with impunity.

Attacking the self-governing and semi-autonomous FATA on the Afghan border, considered a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban,  is one thing. Targeting the North West Frontier Province, or settled areas as Pakistanis call it, is quite another.

This is a  province governed by the national assembly – unlike the tribal areas which are not subject to the national assembly – and therefore  represents an expansion of U.S. operating area into Pakistan proper.

Pakistanis are worrying that if the United States can attack deep inside the North West Frontier Province, then what stops them from raining down missiles on Pakistani cities in pursuit of al Qaeda, according to a report in The Hindu. They are wondering just how far will the United States go in its battle against the militants.

At the moment, though, the raid in Bannu in which the five people including an al Qaeda operative were killed, is a signal that there are no limits to targets in Pakistan for the United States.

At this rate and if they are not stopped,  the U.S. military may end up attacking Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, the Daily Times said, quoting unnamed government and military officials.

Pakistanis had led themselves to believe that the Predators would remain confined to the unsettled tribal areas and the leave the rest of the country alone, wrote columnist Ayaz Amir in The News. “Our American friends have surprised us once again…,” he wrote.

Amir argued that President Asif Ali Zardari was doing exactly what his predecessor Pervez Musharraf promised to the Americans but didn’t deliver. While Musharraf put the army -the only thing he had – at the disposal of the Americans, Zardari, on the other hand, had placed the country, its democratic institutions at the service of the United States.

It was a far cry from the hopes that voters came with at the polling stations in the February election that gave Zardari’s party the highest number of seats in parliament.  “The people of Pakistan, chumps as ever, thought they were knocking at the gates of a new redemption. Little could they have realised that they were merely tinkering with the old and giving it a new facelift.”

“The people of Pakistan haven’t been betrayed. That would be to put too apocalyptic a meaning on current events. They have merely been used to lend the semblance of popular backing to an unpopular cause. Pakistan’s democracy is now hitched to America’s war chariot which is not quite what the people of Pakistan were expecting when they marched to the polling booths on Feb 18,” Amir wrote.

Zardari told CBS earlier this month that the United States should at least inform Pakistan  that it was launching missile strikes. Many people in the gathering gloom of Pakistan took this statement as acquiescence to missile strikes

Where does Pakistan go from here? U.S. cross-border strikes have increased sharply in the past few months and indeed as Rahimullah Yusufzai, the respected resident editor of The News said, the more Pakistan protests, the more are the raids. The Pakistani government really must come clean on the war and reveal the terms of engagement with the United States, he said.
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