The writer is based in the Gulf and has extensively written on the Muslim world affairs.
Even though it was Colin Powell who rang up Gen Musharraf that cold September morning in 2001 asking him, in the finest diplomatese, to join America’s war, it was his deputy, Richard Armitage, who proved himself more persuasive by offering to help Pakistan go back to the Stone Age where it belonged with the Taliban. Musharraf has repeatedly revisited those eventful days in the wake of 9/11 ever since, patting himself for rescuing Pakistan from meeting a fate that has befallen its neighbour across the Durand Line.
Over the past decade or so, Pakistan has upended itself to keep its “commitment” to Uncle Sam and to avoid ending up the way Afghanistan has. It has lost nearly 35,000 lives in Washington’s war; its economy is on the brink and the country is unravelling faster than you could say the War on Terror.
It now turns out that all that hard work and those impossible feats of bending over backwards to please the Emperor have, after all, been of little consequence. Pakistan appears all set to go the way of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Washington’s suspension of $800 million military aid to Islamabad – coupled with top US officials, including military chief Admiral Mike Mullen, openly accusing Pakistan’s military of being in cahoots with the terrorist groups it has been fighting all this while – doesn’t merely signal the end of a broken marriage. It suggests that after Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan could be the next front of America’s war.
The detention of Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, head of the Kashmiri American Council this week for lobbying for the Pakistani government in a city where every other guy is a lobbyist, is part of the plot. The target, of course, isn’t Fai, a popular figure on Capitol Hill because of his activism for Kashmir, but Islamabad. This is a seismic shift in Washington that has gone little noticed. America is done with Pakistan.
The US military-industrial establishment, the Israeli lobby and Muslim-bashers on the Hill have been looking for an excuse to take the war to Pakistan, the only Muslim state with a nuclear arsenal. And they got it when Osama bin Laden was conveniently discovered, not in a cold cave along the Afghan frontier but living cheek-by-jowl with Pakistan’s elite military academy.
So if the Pakistanis and Afghans thought that with the killing of Sheikh Osama the Yanks will declare “Mission Accomplished” and happily go home, they could be in for a shock. This war is far from over; only the action has moved to a new front.
While there has never been any love lost for Pakistan in the US establishment despite its having been Washington’s devoted, unquestioning ally for more than half a century and helping the Americans win the Cold War, the past few months have seen the campaign against Islamabad gather steam.
The US media, with Murdoch’s Fox News and the Wall Street Journal leading from the front, has lately been full of stories targeting Pakistan with “incriminating evidence” about the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies sleeping with Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda. Admiral Mullen, no less, has suggested that Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad was bumped off by the ISI because he was about to expose the agency’s links to the militants.
While the spy agency’s affair with the Taliban and their far more ruthless allies has never been a secret, the Americans choose to forget that there are actually three in this marriage. The third one in this threesome is none other than Uncle Sam himself. Indeed, it was the Americans who encouraged the Pakistanis to initiate the affair before the West and Arab fighters, including a certain Sheikh, joined the jihad to drive out the Russians and bring down the Soviet Union. Today, those chickens have come home to roost.
This is a chapter from recent history that America and the West have chosen to erase from their collective memory and would have the world do the same. But history isn’t something you could just wish away by hitting the “delete” key on your computer. You can’t obliterate it the way you obliterate those faceless, nameless people in Pakistan’s northwest using those drones. It will confront you time and time again.
But what’s new? Seldom do empires learn from history. And they are condemned to repeat it, again and again. So today, even as the disastrous campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are hastily being wrapped up, after the United States’ burning $4 trillion dollars, the ever-voracious monster that is America’s war machine is now sizing up Pakistan.
Indeed, Pakistan may only be the stepping stone to take a shot at the greater prize – the oil-rich, Israel-baiting, fiercely independent Iran.
Iran has long been an inviting target for the so-called champions of the New American Century and their Israeli gurus, not just because of its nuclear ambitions or its rhetoric on Zionist machinations. It is Iran’s rich oil resources, its leadership ambitions and continuing defiance of the US-Israeli hegemony that make it a perfect target.
Over the past decade or so, the Middle East has lived with the fear of an imminent US-Israeli attack on Iran. Indeed, as Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker has repeatedly warned following his investigative reports, Bush’s Crusaders and the Israelis had been itching for a showdown with the Ayatollahs, taking the new imperial project to its next level.
If they eventually backed out, it wasn’t because of Ahmadinejad’s persuasive powers or his soliloquies on Israel’s future and the Holocaust, but because of the mess that greeted Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Uncle Sam had spread himself so thin and already had so much on his plate that Iran had to be put on the backburner. Or so we thought. Now that witches’ brew is being vigorously stirred all over again.
Iran already finds itself encircled with the US forces in Iraq on its West and Afghanistan in the north, not to mention the US military assets across the Gulf.
If Pakistan eventually goes down and gives up its desperate attempts to maintain its independence – or what little remains of it – it wouldn’t be too difficult, from Washington’s viewpoint, to beat the proud Iranians into submission. Gets you two birds with one stone and takes care of two potential, or imagined, challenges to Israeli and Western hegemony.
I’m no sucker for conspiracy theories, but I wish for once this was merely a conspiracy theory of idle pundits. An attack on Pakistan and then Iran sounds like a crazy, outrageous idea out of a Tom Clancy thriller. But, then, so did the idea of Iraq’s invasion. If you take into account the madness of Zionism and the US Right’s raving ambitions to take total control of the strategic, energy-rich region, nothing looks impossible.
These are challenging times for the Middle East. Those in the line of fire could confront this threat only by sticking together. Pakistan, Iran and the Arabs must learn from the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan. If they do not huddle together, they will be taken out like sitting ducks, one after another. The next showdown in the Middle East is more than a distinct possibility. And those who aren’t prepared for it will perish.