|U.S. Stirs a Hornet's Nest in Pakistan by Eric Margolis|
May 17, 2009
Pakistan finally bowed to Washington's angry demands last week by unleashing its military against rebellious Pashtun tribesmen of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) -- collectively mislabelled "Taliban" in the West.
The Obama administration had threatened to stop $2 billion US annual cash payments to bankrupt Pakistan's political and military leadership and block $6.5 billion future aid, unless Islamabad sent its soldiers into Pakistan's turbulent NWFP along the Afghan frontier.
The result was a bloodbath: Some 1,000 "terrorists" killed (read: mostly civilians) and 1.2 million people -- most of Swat's population -- made refugees.
Pakistan's U.S.-rented armed forces have scored a brilliant victory against their own people. Too bad they don't do as well in wars against India. Blasting civilians, however, is much safer and more profitable.
Unable to pacify Afghanistan's Pashtun tribes (a.k.a. Taliban), a deeply frustrated Washington has begun tearing Pakistan apart in an effort to end Pashtun resistance in both nations. CIA drone aircraft have so far killed over 700 Pakistani Pashtun. Only 6% were militants, according to Pakistan's media, the rest civilians.
Pashtun, also improperly called Pathan, are the world's largest tribal people. Fifteen million live in Afghanistan, forming half its population. Twenty-six million live right across the border in Pakistan. Britain's imperialists divided Pashtun by an artificial border, the Durand Line (today's Afghan-Pakistan border). Pashtun reject it.
Many Pashtun tribes agreed to join Pakistan in 1947, provided much of their homeland be autonomous and free of government troops. Pashtun Swat only joined Pakistan in 1969.
As Pakistan's Pashtun increasingly aided Pashtun resistance in Afghanistan, U.S. drones began attacking them. Washington forced Islamabad to violate its own constitution by sending troops into Pashtun lands. The result was the current explosion of Pashtun anger.
I have been to war with the Pashtun and have seen their legendary courage, strong sense of honour and determination. They are also hugely quarrelsome, feuding and prickly.
One quickly learns never to threaten a Pashtun or give him ultimatums. These are the mountain warriors who defied the U.S. by refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden because he was a hero of the anti-Soviet war and their guest. The ancient code of "Pashtunwali" still guides them: Do not attack Pashtun, do not cheat them, do not cause them dishonour. To Pashtun, revenge is sacred.
Now, Washington's ham-handed policies and last week's Swat atrocity threaten to ignite Pakistan's second worst nightmare after invasion by India: That its 26 million Pashtun will secede and join Afghanistan's Pashtun to form an independent Pashtun state, Pashtunistan.
This would rend Pakistan asunder, probably provoke its restive Baluchi tribes to secede and tempt mighty India to intervene militarily, risking nuclear war with beleaguered Pakistan.
The Pashtun of NWFP have no intention or capability of moving into Pakistan's other provinces, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan. They just want to be left alone. Alarms of a "Taliban takeover of Pakistan" are pure propaganda.
Lowland Pakistanis repeatedly have rejected militant Islamic parties. Many have little love for Pashtun, whom they regard as mountain wild men best avoided.
Nor are Pakistan's well-guarded nukes a danger -- at least not yet. Alarms about Pakistan's nukes come from the same fabricators with hidden agendas who brought us Saddam Hussein's bogus weapons.
THE REAL DANGER
The real danger is in the U.S. acting like an enraged mastodon, trampling Pakistan under foot, and forcing Islamabad's military to make war on its own people. Pakistan could end up like U.S.-occupied Iraq, split into three parts and helpless.
If this continues, at some point patriotic Pakistani soldiers may rebel and shoot the corrupt generals and politicians on Washington's payroll.
Equally ominous, a poor people's uprising spreading across Pakistan -- also mislabelled "Taliban" -- threatens a radical national rebellion reminiscent of India's Naxalite rebels.
As in Iraq, profound ignorance and gung ho military arrogance drive U.S. Afghan policy. Obama's people have no understanding what they are getting into in "AfPak." I can tell them: An unholy mess we will long regret.
Eric Margolis is the highly distinguished columnist and foreign correspondent for The Toronto Sun.