Blog Archives

Will the Afghan Surge Succeed?

By M. Shahid AlamDissident Voice

It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’

More than eight years after dismantling the Taliban, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan. Indeed, last October it launched a much-hyped ‘surge’ to prevent a second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, not imminent yet, but eminently possible.

The first dismantling of the Taliban was a cakewalk.

In 2001, the United States quickly and decisively defeated the Taliban, killed, captured or scattered their fighters, and handed over the running of Afghanistan to their rivals, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.

Unaware of Pashtoon history, American commentators were pleased at the smashing victory of their military, convinced that they had consigned the Taliban to history’s graveyard.

Instead, the Taliban came back from the dead. Within months of their near-total destruction, they had regained morale, regrouped, organized, trained, and returned to fight what they saw as a foreign occupation of their country. Slowly, tenaciously they continued to build on their gains, and by 2008 they were dreaming of taking back the country they had lost in 2001.

Could this really happen? That only time will tell, but prospects for the Taliban today look better than at any time since November 2001.

In 2001, the United States had captured Afghanistan with the loss of only twelve of its own troops. Last year it lost 316 soldiers, and the British lost another 108. The numbers speak for themselves.

The United States had occupied Afghanistan with 9000 troops. When Obama took office in January 2009, these numbers had climbed to 30,000. In October, US troop strength in Afghanistan had more than doubled. This does not include tens of thousands of foreign contractors and some 200,000 Afghan troops armed and trained by the Americans.

Yet, NATO could not deter the Taliban advance.

That is when President Obama ordered a troop surge. US troop strength will soon reach 100,000. At the same time, the United States is inviting Taliban fighters to defect in return for bribes. In tandem, President Karzai – for the umpteenth time – is offering amnesty to defecting Taliban fighters. So far, there have been no high-ranking defections.

Can the United States defeat these men – returned from the dead – it calls terrorists? It is a vital question. It should be, since the United States claims that if the Taliban come back, Afghanistan will again become a haven for Al-Qaida, their training ground and launching pad for future attacks against Western targets.

How did the Taliban stage this comeback?

Simply, the answer is: by finding strength in their handicaps. If you had compared the defeated Taliban in December 2001 to the Mujahidin in 1980, you would conclude that history had closed its books on them irrevocably.

The Mujahidin brought several advantages to their fight. All Afghan ethnicities opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. They had financial, military and political support from all the Western powers. President Reagan honored them as freedom-fighters. They also had support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. In addition, tens of thousands of foreign fighters would join the Afghan Mujahidin.

In comparison, Taliban prospects looked quite dismal after their rout in November 2001. Nearly all the factors that favored the Mujahidin worked against the Taliban. Taliban support was confined mostly to one Afghan ethnicity, the Pashtoons. In the United States and its European allies, they faced a more formidable opponent than the Mujahidin did in the Soviet Union.

There was not a single Muslim country that could support the return of the Taliban: the US forbade it. Worst of all, the Pakistani military, partly for lucre and partly under US pressure, threw its forces against the Taliban. Under the circumstances, few Muslim fighters from outside Pakistan have joined the Taliban.

Their goose was cooked: or so it seemed.

Nevertheless, the Taliban defied these odds, and now, some eight years later, they have taken positions in nearly every Afghan province, with shadow governments in most of them. Is it possible to reverse the gains that Taliban have made in the face of nearly impossible odds?

What can the US do to weaken the Taliban? They have few vulnerabilities because the United States has been so effective in denying them any help from external sources. They have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away.

What then are some of these strengths? Unlike the Mujahidin, the Afghan resistance against the United States is less fractious. The Taliban make up the bulk of the resistance. Other groups – led by Haqqani and Hekmatyaar – are much smaller. The Afghan resistance has a central leadership that the Mujahidin never had.

Unlike the Mujahidin, the Taliban do not have the technology to knock out the helicopters, drones or jets that attack them from the air. On the ground, however, they have technology the Mujahidin did not have. They have acquired suicide vests and, more importantly, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) developed by the resistance in Iraq. Indeed, the Taliban claim to have improved upon the IEDs they acquired from Iraq.

Notwithstanding their apparent lack of sophistication, the Taliban leadership have proved to be savvy in their use of videos, CDs, FM radio stations, and the internet to publicize their gains, build morale, and mobilize recruits.

Despite the satellites, drones, spies on the ground, and prize money for their capture, much of the Taliban leadership has evaded capture. In particular, Mulla Omar remains a ghost. He has not been seen or interviewed since 2001. Yet he remains in touch with his commanders through human couriers.

Afghanistan’s corrupt government is another Taliban asset. They have spawned a tiny class of Afghan nouveau riche battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism. President Karzai implicates the US occupation in the blatant corruption of his own government.

It appears that there is little that the United States can do to neutralize these elusive advantages. Instead, it tries to blame and shift the burden of the war on Pakistan. It continues to pressure and bribe Pakistan’s rulers to mount full-scale military operations against the Taliban support network in Pakistan.

More and more, Pakistan’s military leaders have been caving under these pressures, escalating their wars against their own population. This has provoked a backlash. A new faction of the Taliban has emerged to launch deadly attacks against military and civilian targets in Pakistan. These attacks are destabilizing Pakistan. In turn, the US uses these attacks to push Pakistani rulers into greater capitulation to its demands.

In addition, President Obama has dramatically escalated drone attacks against the Taliban support network in Pakistan. In tandem, Pakistan too has been launching more massive air and ground attacks against their hideouts. However, none of this has deterred the escalating Taliban attacks against NATO and Afghan forces.

No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late eighteenth century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal, barring a few rarely mentioned exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the Mujahidin whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.

The West celebrated the Mujahidin’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the United States into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?

Once or twice, the United States has retreated from unwinnable wars and survived. It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’ Let’s hope that this stratagem works somehow, because the alternative is likely to be much worse for all parties involved in this unwinnable war.

Advertisements

US offered Rigi ‘extensive aid’ for Iran attacks

Press TV

US promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran

The captured ringleader of the Jundallah terrorist group, Abdolmalek Rigi, has confessed that the US administration had assured him of unlimited military aid and funding for waging an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The following is the detailed transcript of Rigi’s confession, stated in Farsi, as broadcasted on Press TV.

“After Obama was elected, the Americans contacted us and they met me in Pakistan.They met us after clashes with my group around March 17 in (the southeastern city of) Zahedan, and he (the US operative) said that Americans had requested a meeting.”

“I said we didn’t have any time for a meeting and if we do help them they should promise to give us aid. They said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran.”

“They asked to meet me and we said where should we meet you and he said in Dubai. We sent someone to Dubai and we told a person to ask a place for myself in Afghanistan from the area near the operations and they complied that they would sort out the problem for us and they will find Mr. Rigi a base and guarantee his own security in Afghanistan or in any of the countries adjacent to Iran so that he can carry on his operations.

“They told me that in Kyrgyzstan they have a base called Manas near Bishkek, and that a high-ranking person was coming to meet me and that if such high-ranking people come to the United Arab Emirates, they may be observed by intelligence people but in a place like Bishkek this high-ranking American person could come and we could reach an agreement on making personal contacts. But after the last major operation we took part in, they said that they wanted to meet with us.

“The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said our problem at the present is Iran… not al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran. We don’t have a military plan against Iran. Attacking Iran is very difficult for us (the US). The CIA is very particular about you and is prepared to do anything for you because our government has reached the conclusion that there was nothing Americans could do about Iran and only I could take care of the operations for them.

“One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for us to attack Iran militarily, but we plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iran groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for the Iranian (Islamic) system. They reached the conclusion that your organization has the power to create difficulties for the Islamic Republic and they are prepared to give you training and/or any assistance that you would require, in terms of telecommunications security and procedures as well as other support, the Americans said they would be willing to provide it at an extensive level.”

Iran’s security forces arrested Rigi on Tuesday by bringing down his plane over the Iranian airspace, as he was onboard a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Kyrgyzstan.

Taliban Regime Pressed bin Laden on anti-U.S. Terror

By Gareth PorterInter Press Service

bin Laden was forbidden to talk to the media without the consent of the Taliban regime or to make plans to attack U.S. targets

Evidence now available from various sources, including recently declassified U.S. State Department documents, shows that the Taliban regime led by Mullah Mohammad Omar imposed strict isolation on Osama bin Laden after 1998 to prevent him from carrying out any plots against the United States.

The evidence contradicts the claims by top officials of the Barack Obama administration that Mullah Omar was complicit in Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the al Qaeda plot to carry out the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sep. 11, 2001. It also bolsters the credibility of Taliban statements in recent months asserting that it has no interest in al Qaeda’s global jihadist aims.

A primary source on the relationship between bin Laden and Mullah Omar before 9/11 is a detailed personal account provided by Egyptian jihadist Abu’l Walid al-Masri published on Arabic-language jihadist websites in 1997.

Al-Masri had a unique knowledge of the subject, because he worked closely with both bin Laden and the Taliban during the period. He was a member of bin Laden’s Arab entourage in Afghanistan, but became much more sympathetic to the Afghan cause than bin Laden and other al Qaeda officials from 1998 through 2001.

The first published English-language report on al-Masri’s account, however, was an article in the January issue of the CTC Sentinal, the journal of the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point, by Vahid Brown, a fellow at the CTC.

Mullah Omar’s willingness to allow bin Laden to remain in Afghanistan was conditioned from the beginning, according to al-Masri’s account, on two prohibitions on his activities: bin Laden was forbidden to talk to the media without the consent of the Taliban regime or to make plans to attack U.S. targets.

Former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told IPS in an interview that the regime “put bin Laden in Kandahar to control him better.” Kandahar remained the Taliban political headquarters after the organisation’s seizure of power in 1996.

The August 1998 U.S. cruise missile strikes against training camps in Afghanistan run by bin Laden in retaliation for the bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa on Aug. 7, 1998 appears to have had a dramatic impact on Mullah Omar and the Taliban regime’s policy toward bin Laden.

Two days after the strike, Omar unexpectedly entered a phone conversation between a State Department official and one of his aides, and told the U.S. official he was unaware of any evidence that bin Laden “had engaged in or planned terrorist acts while on Afghan soil”. The Taliban leader said he was “open to dialogue” with the United States and asked for evidence of bin Laden’s involvement, according to the State Department cable reporting the conversation.

Only three weeks after Omar asked for evidence against bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader sought to allay Taliban suspicions by appearing to accept the prohibition by Omar against planning any actions against the United States.

“There is an opinion among the Taliban that we should not move from within Afghanistan against any other state,” bin Laden said in an interview with al Jazeera. “This was the decision of the Commander of the Faithful, as is known.”

Mullah Omar had taken the title “Commander of the Faithful”, the term used by some Muslim Caliphs in the past to claim to be “leader of the Muslims”, in April 1996, five months before Kabul fell to the Taliban forces.

During September and October 1998, the Taliban regime apparently sought to position itself to turn bin Laden over to the Saudi government as part of a deal by getting a ruling by the Afghan Supreme Court that he was guilty of the Embassy bombings.

In a conversation with the U.S. chargé in Islamabad on Nov. 28, 1998, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, Omar’s spokesman and chief adviser on foreign affairs, referred to a previous Taliban request to the United States for evidence of bin Laden’s guilt to be examined by the Afghan Supreme Court, according to the U.S. diplomat’s report to the State Department.

Muttawakil said the United States had provided “some papers and a videocassette,” but complained that the videocassette had contained nothing new and had therefore not been submitted to the Supreme Court. He told the chargé that the court had ruled that no evidence that had been presented warranted the conviction of bin Laden.

Muttawakil said the court trial approach had “not worked” but suggested that the Taliban regime was now carrying out a strategy to “restrict [bin Laden’s] activities in such a way that he would decide to leave of his own volition.”

On Feb. 10, 1999, the Taliban sent a group of 10 officers to replace bin Laden’s own bodyguards, touching off an exchange of gunfire, according to a New York Times story of Mar. 4, 1999. Three days later, bodyguards working for Taliban intelligence and the Foreign Affairs Ministry personnel took control of bin Laden’s compound near Kandahar and took away his satellite telephone, according to the U.S. and Taliban sources cited by the Times.

Taliban official Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, who was then in the Taliban Embassy in Pakistan, confirmed that the 10 Taliban bodyguards had been provided to bin Laden to “supervise him and observe that he will not contact any foreigner or use any communication system in Afghanistan,” according to the Times story.

The pressure on bin Laden in 1999 also extended to threats to eliminate al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. An e-mail from two leading Arab jihadists in Afghanistan to bin Laden in July 1999, later found on a laptop previously belonging to al Qaeda in and purchased by the Wall Street Journal , referred to “problems between you and the Leader of the Faithful” as a “crisis”.

The e-mail, published in article by Alan Cullison in the September 2004 issue of The Atlantic, said, “Talk about closing down the camps has spread.”

The message even suggested that the jihadists feared the Taliban regime could go so far as to “kick them out” of Afghanistan.

In the face of a new Taliban hostility, bin Laden sought to convince Mullah Omar that he had given his personal allegiance to Omar as a Muslim. In April 2001 bin Laden referred publicly to having sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar as the “Commander of the Faithful”.

But al-Masri recalls that bin Laden had refused to personally swear such an oath of allegiance to Omar in 1998-99, and had instead asked al-Masri himself to give the oath to Omar in his stead. Al-Masri suggests that bin Laden deliberately avoided giving the oath of allegiance to Omar personally, so that he would be able to argue within the Arab jihadi community that he was not bound by Omar’s strictures on his activities.

Even in summer 2001, as the Taliban regime became increasingly dependent on foreign jihadi troop contingents, including Arabs trained in bin Laden’s camps, for its defence against the military advances of the Northern Alliance, Mullah Omar found yet another way to express his unhappiness with bin Laden’s presence.

After a series of clashes between al Qaeda forces and those of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Taliban leader intervened to give overall control of foreign volunteer forces to the Tahir Yuldash of the IMU, according to a blog post last October by Leah Farrall, an Australian specialist on jihadi politics in Afghanistan.

In Late January, Geoff Morrell, the spokesman for Defence Secretary Robert Gates, suggested that the United States could not negotiate with Mullah Omar, because he has “the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands,” implying that he had knowingly allowed bin Laden’s planning of the 9/11 attacks.

US is pushing Pakistan into the Abyss of Oblivion

By Zafar BangashCrescent Online

Pakistan is rapidly hurtling into the abyss of oblivion

We are supposed to hate suicide bombers, those grotesque creatures hell-bent on killing innocent people because of their “demented ideology”. There is no shortage of experts delivering sermons from every pulpit pontificating on the evils of terrorism. Government officials and their media sycophants join in this chorus but few bother to ask whence these hateful creatures came? There were no suicide bombers in Pakistan or Afghanistan a mere five years ago. What happened during this period to give birth to the phenomenon of suicide bombings is a question that must be addressed in earnest.

No problem can be tackled or solved properly without understanding its genesis, the circumstances surrounding its emergence and factors that feed its growth. Equally important is the fact that if a particular approach fails to solve the problem, alternatives must be explored.

Pakistan is rapidly hurtling into the abyss of oblivion. Hardly a day passes by without a bomb explosion or suicide bombing in some part of the country. What possible excuse could there be for the murderous attack on a masjid as happened on December 4 that killed more than 40 people in Rawalpindi, we are asked. The coordinated attack by suicide bombers followed by armed men shooting worshippers during Friday prayers when the masjid was full was particularly gruesome. Among those killed were a major general, a brigadier, a colonel, two lieutenant colonels and two majors. Seventeen children were also killed.

Four days later (December 8), the Moon Market in Iqbal Town, Lahore was bombed when it was full of shoppers; 43 people died in that carnage. On December 9 the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) offices in Multan were attacked. Unable to enter the building, the attackers detonated their lethal wares in the nearby building where families of ISI officials live. The car bombing left 12 dead and scores injured. Many more such attacks will occur in the days to come if past experience is anything to go by. The brief hiatus during Eid al-Adha celebrations has been shattered with far greater bloodletting.

Theories abound about the identity of the perpetrators: Taliban, Indian agents, American agents, Afghan agents, Blackwater mercenaries and Mossad. The list is endless. All of them may be involved but how has this situation evolved? Why were there no suicide bombers a mere five years ago; what circumstances led to their emergence and who else is fishing in the troubled waters of Pakistan? Is the US a friend or foe? The people of Pakistan know the answer but Pakistani elites continue to harbor illusions about America’s friendship and believe it wants to help Pakistan — presumably over a cliff.

Immediately after the Moon Market bombing in Lahore, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government had evidence that weapons were being smuggled from Afghanistan. Perhaps. Lahore Police chief, Pervez Rathore said India was involved. This may also be true. The Lahore daily, The Nation, reported on December 9 that two vehicles were stopped attempting to enter the restricted area of Lahore Cantonment late at night. The occupants were Americans who refused to show their identity papers or allow the police to search their vehicles. Officials from the US Consulate finally arrived at the scene to get the vehicles and their occupants freed. There is widespread belief that these were Blackwater mercenaries.

Thousands of Blackwater operatives (the organization has now renamed itself Xe Service to hide the criminal past associated with its former name) have descended on Pakistan. They carry prohibited weapons and on numerous occasions have been arrested by the police in suspicious circumstances only to be released on orders of Pakistani government officials. The US embassy in Islamabad has also hired a large number of retired army officers that act like warlords, trying to browbeat the police into submission. Poorly paid and lacking motivation, the police are easily intimidated by ex-army officers who throw their weight about driving in expensive, American-provided vehicles.

Last November, a plane load of Blackwater mercenaries arrived in Pakistan and were immediately whisked through Islamabad International Airport without going through immigration and customs formalities, according to officials at the airport quoted by The Nation newspaper (November 4, 2009). “We had instructions to allow the foreigners entry without custom procedure,” officials on duty at Islamabad airport said. Blackwater mercenaries have operated in Pakistan for many years. On several occasions Pakistani police have arrested them at odd hours near Pakistan’s nuclear sites or other sensitive installations. Every time ex-army officers working for the US embassy have intervened to secure their release. These former military officers and a long list of bureaucrats, journalists and politicians are on the US embassy payroll and are working directly against the interests of Pakistan.

Former Chief of Army Staff Mirza Aslam Baig has gone so far as to accuse the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf of being complicit in Blackwater crimes. General Baig has said it was Musharraf who gave these mercenaries the green light to carry out terrorist operations in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Quetta. The current civilian rulers, led by Asif Ali Zardari, a venal character and a notorious crook, are in no position to say no to the Americans. Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times reported on August 29, 2009 that the CIA hired these mercenaries for targeted assassinations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as early as 2004. Following a particularly gruesome episode in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 Iraqis were murdered in cold blood, the Iraqi regime refused to grant the company an “operating license.” In a joint piece in the New York Times on December 11, Mazzetti and James Risen shed light on the tight relationship between the CIA and Blackwater. Hired for security duties, Blackwater operatives have indulged in wanton killings in Iraq. In Pakistan, the US hired them for illegal drone attacks as well as targeted killings.

Blackwater mercenaries are only one, even if the major problem facing Pakistan. There are other factors as well behind the escalating mayhem that is rapidly spinning out of control. The root of the problem is the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan that has now spilled over into Pakistan. As a consequence of the US-NATO war and brutality in Afghanistan and the incessant drone attacks, there is great resentment in Pakistan toward the US. With fighting concentrated primarily in the south and southeast of Afghanistan where the Pashtuns reside, mass killings there have aroused much anger among the Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of the border as well.

It was bad enough when the US-NATO forces launched their aerial assault with B-1 bombers in October 2001 killing thousands of people in Afghanistan; the bombing of wedding parties and defenseless villagers in their mud huts in subsequent years has intensified hatred of the US. This has been heightened by the Pakistan military launching operations against its own people in the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, Swat, Bajaur and now in Orakzai Agency. This ongoing painful chapter has contributed greatly to escalating tensions in Pakistan where none existed before, leading to the phenomenon of suicide bombings.

We need to consider the timeline of several events.

Military attacks in North and South Waziristan

If one can establish a turning point in Pakistan’s tortuous history, the Lal Masjid saga must stand out as the one that pushed the country over the brink

Under pressure from the US, the former Pakistani dictator, General Pervez Musharraf ordered military operations against the people of South Waziristan in early 2004. The excuse advanced was that Pakistan had to “flush out” foreign fighters, mainly Uzbeks and Arabs. After several weeks of fighting that left hundreds of villagers dead and thousands as refugees, an agreement was reached with Naik Muhammad, the young charismatic tribal leader in the region. As a gesture of goodwill during a ceremony on April 24, 2004, the tribesmen surrendered their pistols and handed a copy of the Qur’an to the Pakistani general.

The agreement horrified Washington; it did not want peace in the area. On May 21, 2004, Musharraf presidedover a high-powered meeting in Islamabad and ordered resumption of attacks. While the Corps Commander Peshawar, in charge of military operations in Waziristan, opposed such attacks and warned against breaking the agreement because it would have serious repercussions for the future, Musharraf was adamant. He insisted on attacking the tribesmen because Washington demanded it. The military relaunched its operations in early June. The US also joined with drone attacks and killed Naik Muhammad with whom the Pakistani military had, only a few weeks earlier, signed a widely publicized peace deal. The people of Waziristan were incensed by such betrayal. In order to protect the US, Musharraf claimed the Pakistan army had carried out the attack that killed Naik Muhammad. More than 15,000 people attended his funeral prayer in defiance of threats that the funeral procession would be bombed.

Between 2004 and 2006, Waziristan — both North and South — became a war zone. The US continued drone attacks killing civilians, mostly women and children. Several ceasefires were agreed upon only to be violated as a result of US pressure or drone attacks. As the attacks continued, there emerged a group calling itself Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Suicide bombings increased in Pakistani cities mainly in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The Pakistan army continued attacking its own people while the Americans intensified their demands that Islamabad must “do more”.

Lal Masjid attack: July 2007

As if the war in Waziristan that had already spread to other areas of the NWFP and the adjoining tribal areas was not bad enough, Musharraf perpetrated another outrage by attacking the Lal Masjid-madrassa compound in Islamabad in July 2007. Run by two imams, with long ties to the government and several ministers, they became embroiled in a dispute over growing immorality in the capital, especially prostitution. Girl students from the madrassa took it upon themselves to clean up the filth because the government had refused to do so. The girls’ action was taken as a great affront by the regime as well as the secular elite. How could government-paid imams demand an end to prostitution when the ruling elites regularly patronize their dens? Several weeks of negotiations between the clerics and government emissaries fell apart because Musharraf did not want a peaceful resolution. He insisted on a military showdown to establish the “government’s writ” and to prove he was in charge. The Americans also demanded crushing the militants.

On July 11, 2007, Musharraf ordered his commandos to attack the Lal Masjid. In the weeklong attack, more than 1,400 students, most of them girls, were brutally murdered. Phosphorous bombs were used to burn people to death. The overwhelming majority of girls belonged to Swat; they were from poor families and had found the madrassa-masjid complex a useful place to educate their daughters and to provide them a roof, being too poor even to feed them (madrassas in Pakistan do not charged fees; Muslim philanthropists often contribute toward such expenses as part of their Islamic duty).

The Lal Masjid attack sent a shockwave throughout the country, particularly in Swat. While the secular elites, including Benazir Bhutto, then still “languishing” in her luxury apartment in London or commuting to her palaces in Dubai, applauded the commando raid and the killing of hundreds of innocent girls, ordinary Pakistanis were horrified. The Americans, too, applauded the killings. The result was catastrophic for Pakistan.

Bombings and suicide attacks immediately escalated. If one can establish a turning point in Pakistan’s tortuous history, the Lal Masjid saga must stand out as the one that pushed the country over the brink. Battle lines became so clearly drawn that only the blind could fail to see. The ruling elites have never cared for ordinary people or their children but hitherto it was reflected in lack of services. Now the elites had embarked on a killing spree. The reaction was swift and strong. There has been no turning back since. Soon Musharraf was engulfed in a political crisis that forced him out of office following a British-American brokered deal that facilitated Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. Corruption cases against Bhutto, her even more corrupt husband Asif Zardari, and thousands of other thieves and criminals, totaling 8041 people, were withdrawn under what came to be called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Critics dubbed it the National Robbers’ Ordinance.

Before the January 8, 2008 national elections were held, Benazir Bhutto was shot dead in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. Her death has been engulfed in controversy; few believe the official version that she hit her head on a door handle in the vehicle when she fell down after being hit. There is widespread belief in Pakistan that her husband had a hand in her killing. The street urchin, not fit to be even a doorman, ended up as president of the country and its unfortunate people after Musharraf was forced to resign on August 18, 2008. Musharraf’s departure, however, did little to contain the mayhem that was rapidly engulfing the country. More than 100,000 troops were deployed in the tribal area fighting its own people, merely to appease the US.

Attack on Swat

On April 26, 2009, the military attacked Swat. It immediately resulted in more than three million people becoming refugees. In the sweltering heat, people were forced to live in dusty camps in Peshawar, Mardan and Sawabi. There was little or no government help extended to them. Pakistani bureaucrats that had gained notoriety for past corruption were appointed to look after the new refugees referred to as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), stole donations earmarked for refugees. The Swat operation lasted several months. Massive damage was inflicted on major towns in Swat and the surrounding areas; hundreds of young people were executed in cold blood but leaders of the Taliban, against whom the operation was ostensibly launched, were neither captured nor killed. Some have been apprehended but it is widely believed that they are being sheltered by the regime.

On October 17, 2009, the military launched a fresh attack on South Waziristan, again under the rubric of extending “government writ”. This strange animal is invoked each time the Americans exert pressure on Pakistan to “do more”. While the military has continued to bomb villages in South Waziristan turning it into wasteland driving 500,000 people from their homes, car and suicide bombings have escalated in cities like Kohat, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore and Multan. October was a particularly bad month with attacks on a number of military targets including the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. A number of brigadiers were also killed in Islamabad.

On December 12, 2009, the Pakistan government announced that it was halting military operations in South Waziristan but attacks against Orakzai Agency had already commenced. Long-range artillery batteries placed in Hangu, the district headquarter bordering Orakzai Agency, are being used to fire at villages like Bagh and other places in the tribal area. An estimated 250,000 people, the overwhelming majority women and children, from Orakzai Agency have been forced to flee and are now living in appalling conditions in refugee camps in Hangu. With the onset of winter that is extremely harsh in that region coupled with lack of proper shelter and heating facilities as well as lack of food, people’s suffering will escalate, as will their resentment to seek revenge for the military’s barbarous attacks. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gailani said this would be a 10-12 year war. He is beginning to sound like American officials.

As US President Barack Obama announced his surge for Afghanistan, he also called upon Pakistan to launch military operations in Baluchistan. Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, wants to turn the whole of Pakistan into a war zone. He has threatened to extend drone attacks into Baluchistan as well. The Los Angeles Times reported on December 12 that the US intends to launch drone attacks o the Afghan Taliban Shura’s alleged home base in Quetta. Now that would be a real gesture of peace!

When the Pakistan army and American drones kill innocent civilians, it is unrealistic to expect that people will not react. Each killing escalates resentment and stokes the urge to exact revenge, a long-established tradition in that part of the world. Victims have long memories; they do not easily forget their dead no matter how many rhetorical phrases are hurled at them. If for 3,000 American deaths on 9/11, the US can attack two countries and murder more than 1.5 million people, why is it so difficult to understand that other people will feel equally hurt and seek revenge?

The ruling elites in Pakistan should understand that they have aligned themselves with the enemy — the US government — against their own people for a fistful of dollars. They are now enemy agents and therefore, legitimate targets for those who have lost loved ones in the ongoing escalating attacks on their villages where they witnessed their children, mothers or wives blown to pieces. It is not and never was Pakistan’s war; it is America’s war imposed on Pakistan. And it does not help to prattle about an “extremist ideology” driving people to do crazy things; this is the reaction of very normal, ordinary people. It would be highly abnormal if they did not react this way.

Hamid Mir, the Pakistani journalist recounts the story of a young boy lying in a run-down hospital in Waziristan. The boy who had lost his limbs in a US Drone attack, told Mir that his mother too had died in a similar strike. In her dying moments, she had instructed him to avenge in Islamabad — where the decisions to maim and kill are made — what was done to her in Bajaur. Years later, his older brother was caught in Islamabad attempting to blow himself up in a high-security area.

The Pakistani elites have embarked on a suicidal policy. Their actions can only invite suicide bombers. They have only themselves to blame. History will render a very harsh verdict because they are actively engaged in destroying Pakistan.