Revolution#109, November 18, 2007
Crisis in Pakistan:
Instability and Clampdown in Crucial Front of U.S. “War on Terror”
On November 6, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf used his power as Army Chief of Staff to declare a state of emergency and suspend the nation’s constitution. All non-government TV channels were taken off the air. Mobile phone networks were jammed. The Supreme Court was surrounded by paramilitary units and all of the judges were dismissed. New hand-picked judges, who pledged loyalty to Musharraf, were installed. The President of the Bar Association and the civil rights activists of the Human Right Commission of Pakistan were all arrested. In the following days, thousands of people have been beaten in the streets, rounded up and arrested.
The U.S. issued statements criticizing these moves and Bush called on Musharraf to hold elections and remove his military uniform. But officials in the Bush administration have made it clear that they are not about to take “tough action” against Musharraf—such as a reduction in U.S. aid to Pakistan. In fact, on November 6, the U.S. announced it will continue military aid to Pakistan, in spite of Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution. (Pakistan has received over $10 billion in aid since it signed on to the U.S. “war on terror.” In 2007 Pakistan received $300 million from U.S. Foreign Military Financing [FMF], which stipulates that the funds must be spent on U.S. equipment under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. And this same amount has been allocated for 2008.)
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense said that the state of emergency would not affect the military funding: “At this point, the declaration does not impact on our military support for Pakistan’s efforts in the war on terror... Obviously, the stakes are high there. Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror.”
“The declaration does not impact on our military support for Pakistan’s efforts in the war on terror... “
In other words: The U.S. is not going to let dictatorial powers, military rule, the roundup of lawyers, banning of protests, beatings and mass arrests, suspension of the constitution—get in the way of carrying out the “war on terror.” This tells you something about what the “war on terror” is about.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, argued that Bush is being naïve to demand that Musharraf hold elections. Bolton said elections in Pakistan would risk instability—perhaps even an Islamic government with a nuclear arsenal. “While Pervez Musharraf might not be a Jeffersonian democrat,” Bolton said, “he is the best bet to secure the nuclear arsenal.”
With a population of 164 million, Pakistan is the sixth most populous nation in the world and the second largest Muslim-majority country after Indonesia. And if you look at a map of Pakistan, you can see why the U.S. considers control of this country as crucial to U.S. imperialist interests in the whole region. Pakistan is located in the middle of central Asia, India and the Persian Gulf. It shares a 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan on the northwest. On its western border is Iran. China is to the northeast, India to the east, and the Arabian Sea on the south. This means that control of Pakistan is extremely important to the U.S. in terms of access to shipping lanes and trade routes, military airspace and control of borders in politically volatile areas. When the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s cooperation was crucial. Pakistan’s subordination to the U.S. remains extremely vital to the continuing U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and efforts to crush the Taliban. And most importantly, the U.S. does not want the currently pro-U.S. government of Pakistan—which has nuclear weapons—to be overthrown by Islamic fundamentalist forces.
The U.S. faces tremendous objective necessity in its relationship with Musharraf—a situation in which there are many different contradictions and constraints. Control of Pakistan is pivotal to the U.S. “war on terror”—and U.S. domination in the region overall. A relatively stable pro-U.S. government in Pakistan is critical to the U.S. strategy in the Middle East. But there are a lot of wild cards in this extremely precarious situation—where Islamic fundamentalist forces, with a lot of ties in the government and military—have been escalating attacks on the Pakistan military. And meanwhile the Taliban is making a significant comeback in Afghanistan. It is in this context that the U.S. is supporting various oppositional forces—in order to keep the opposition to Musharraf strictly within a pro-U.S. framework. The U.S. has been trying to broker a power-sharing deal between Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto—who has a long history of corruption and craven subservience to the United States—and Musharraf. The hope has been that this would put a democratic face on the government, give it a broader base of support and help Musharraf stay in power. But the current crisis threatens to upend this fragile strategy.
Pakistan and the U.S. “War on Terror”
The U.S. has been relying on Musharraf to fight the Taliban—those coming over the border from Afghanistan as well as Pakistani Taliban forces. But Musharraf has had and continues to have close ties with Islamic fundamentalist forces—even as he has had to confront them in the service of U.S. imperialism.
When Musharraf seized power in an army coup in 1999, he had links to Islamic fundamentalists. After 9/11 Musharraf followed orders from Bush to sign on to the U.S. “war on terror” and made a big show of breaking off his alliance with the Taliban in Afghanistan. But his government maintained close relations with what are often called Pakistani Taliban, various groups and political parties in the Pashtun tribal areas along the Afghan border in Waziristan and the Northwest.
A World to Win News Service has pointed out:
“Musharraf’s strategy has been to hold domestic fundamentalists as closely as possible in a powerful embrace, while cooperating as closely as possible with the U.S. military in public and even more in private. For instance, the CIA has been permitted to set up secret bases in Pakistan, kidnap people and even use cruise missiles against suspected Al-Qaeda leaders there, but American troops haven’t been allowed to storm through the country in uniform. That would provoke too much uproar, and the regime might fall apart. As for the fundamentalists, the military dictatorship needs the legitimacy of Islamic credentials and the social and material support of the Islamic forces to maintain its rule. Further, it is often said that since the British created Pakistan on the arbitrary (and reactionary) basis of religion when they divided India into two at the moment of its independence, the Islamic clergy and the military are the only things holding it together as a country. The political power of each has depended to a large extent on the other. Both are deeply rooted in the country’s more or less feudal rural economy. The military also owns much of the country’s more modern side, its industry and other businesses.”
The Taliban and the CIA
The long history of ties between Pakistan’s government, military (and Musharraf)—and the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists is a major contradiction for the United States.
These ties, which make Pakistan’s role in the U.S. “war on terrorism” both useful and unstable for the U.S., stem from how the U.S. used Pakistan to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
In 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. offered aid to General Zia-ul-Haq’s brutal military regime and Pakistan was enlisted to train Afghan fighters. The U.S. supplied them with modern weapons and provided logistical and diplomatic support. In return, from 1982 to 1990, the U.S. gave Pakistan $5.4 billion, most of which was military aid.
During the 1980s, the CIA used Pakistan’s military and intelligence agency, the ISI, to build and support Islamic forces in fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan—including Osama bin Laden. This was instrumental in the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. After the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan in 1989, thousands of the fighters who had been trained by the CIA and ISI remained in Afghanistan. The U.S. stopped funding and backing these forces—since they were no longer needed to fight the Soviet Union. But these Islamic forces were still backed by the ISI, and Pakistan looked to them as a base of support to counter India and secure its power in the region.
Musharraf has been committed to subordinating Pakistan to the needs of the U.S. global empire. And as A World to Win News Service points out: “That is something that some Islamists cannot tolerate, and not only or even mainly because of the suffering of the people and national humiliation under American domination. Imperialist capital cannot just leave them alone, but must continually transform economic and social relations and culture in the countries it dominates, undermining their power and their very existence and fuelling their anger at ‘the West’ and their determination to revive and defend a medieval outlook. More immediately, their ideology demands unrestricted and expansive Islamic rule. They are not nationalists in religious clothing or even ‘objective’ representatives of the people’s desire for national liberation, but representatives of the same feudal and other backward relations that have made it possible for imperialism to subjugate the country economically and politically. While the U.S. must and is more than willing to rely on local backward forces and reactionaries to impose its domination, it considers Islamic fundamentalism a long-term obstacle, and, especially, now a serious immediate threat. It is determined to crush these forces and dig up their breeding grounds—even if this means temporary alliances with some of them.”
For decades the U.S. has built up and relied on Pakistan’s powerful military. And the U.S. has backed military rule in Pakistan because this has kept the country under the control of and subservient to the interests and needs of U.S. imperialism. All this has been and continues to be a dicey and precarious situation for the region, the world and the continuing U.S. war for empire.
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