US ‘Biggest’ Threat, Say Pakistanis

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Owen Fay, Al Jazeera

2009-08-09T151039Z_01_AAL113_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN

Men pray during rally in the northwest Pakistan city Peshawar August 9, 2009. Over 500 supporters of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami gathered in a park in Peshawar to protest against military operations in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. 

REUTERS/Ali Imam

A survey commissioned by Al Jazeera in Pakistan has revealed a widespread disenchantment with the United States for interfering with what most people consider internal Pakistani affairs.

The polling was conducted by Gallup Pakistan – a separate organisation affiliated with the US-based Gallup Inc – and more than 2,600 people took part.

Interviews were conducted across the political spectrum, and represented men and women of every economic and ethnic background.

The resentment was made clear when residents were asked if they support or oppose Pakistan’s own military offensive against Taliban targets.

Keeping with recent trends a growing number of people, now 41 per cent, support the campaign.

About 24 per cent of people remain opposed, but an additional 22 per cent of Pakistanis remain neutral on the question.

That number changes quite significantly when people were asked if they would support government-sanctioned dialogue with Taliban fighters if it were a viable option.

The same 41 per cent said they would still support the military offensive. But the number of those supporting dialogue leaps up to 43 per cent.

So clearly, Pakistanis are, right now, fairly evenly split on how to deal with the Taliban threat.

However, when asked if they support or oppose the US military’s drone attacks against what Washington claims are Taliban and al-Qaeda targets, only nine per cent of respondents reacted favorably.

A massive 67 per cent say they oppose US military operations on Pakistani soil.

“This is a fact that the hatred against the US is growing very quickly, mainly because of these drone attacks,” Makhdoom Babar, the editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s The Daily Mail newspaper, said.

“Maybe the intelligence channels, the military channels consider it productive, but for the general public it is controversial … the drone attacks are causing collateral damage,” he told Al Jazeera.

The consensus of opinion on US military involvement is notable given the fact that on a raft of internal issues there is a clear level of disagreement, which can be expected in a country of this size.

When asked for their opinions on Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, 42 per cent of respondents believe he is doing a bad job. Around 11 per cent approve of his leadership, and another 34 per cent have no strong opinion either way.

That pattern was reflected in a question about the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Forty-one per cent of Pakistanis say they support the offensive against the Taliban

Respondents were asked if they thought the PPP is good or bad for the country.

About 38 per cent said the PPP is bad for the country, 20 per cent believe it is good for the country and another 30 per cent said they have no strong opinion.

Respondents were even more fractured when asked for their views on how the country should be led.

By far, the largest percentage would opt for Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, as leader. At least 38 per cent back him to run Pakistan.

Zardari received only nine per cent support, while Reza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, has the backing of 13 per cent.

But from there, opinions vary greatly. Eight per cent of the population would support a military government, 11 per cent back a political coalition of the PPP and Sharif’s PML-N party.

Another six per cent throw their support behind religious parties and the remaining 15 per cent would either back smaller groups or simply do not have an opinion.

Babar told Al Jazeera that Zardari’s unpopularity was understandable given the challenges that the country had faced since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

“Any president in Pakistan would be having the same popularity that President Zardari is having, because under this situation the president of Pakistan has to take a lot of unpopular decisions,” he said.

“He is in no position to not take unpopular decisions that are actually in the wider interests of the country, but for common people these are very unpopular decisions.”

The level of diversity disappears when broader questions of security and military intervention are posed.

In the same way that most Pakistanis right now reject what they see as US military interference, they strongly oppose US policies as a whole.

The respondents were asked what they consider to be the biggest threat to the nation of Pakistan: 11 per cent of the population sees the Taliban as the largest threat, while 18 per cent believe it comes from India.

But by an overwhelming margin, 59 per cent of respondents said the greatest threat to Pakistan right now is, in fact, the US.

That is a number worth bearing in mind the next time the US claims its military campaign is succeeding.

11-34

How the Serenity of Swat Was Vandalized

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Javed Akbar, The Canadian Charger

Nightmarish scenes in the valley of Swat in northern Pakistan – a major tourist attraction known for its ‘indescribable beauty and serenity’ mark the latest stage of that nation’s crisis, brought to a boil by the U.S. escalation of its war in Afghanistan, which is spilling across the border.

But the turmoil is also a sign of the deepening contradictions of Pakistani politics following the downfall of the U.S.-backed strongman, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, last year amid growing unrest.

The rise of extremism, militancy and the Taliban are a reaction to the American-led “war on terror” and the occupation of Afghanistan. So big has been the displacement of people (1.7 million according to the UN) due to the latest military operations in Swat that UN officials are already comparing the unfortunate situation prevailing in Pakistan with that of Rwanda, the Central African country where genocide in 1994 forced large-scale dislocation of communities.

The resulting disequilibrium of Pakistani society has as its latest consequence an increasing influx of the internally displaced people of Swat.

The refugees from Swat are victims of a Pakistani Army offensive, backed by the U.S., against forces of the Taliban, which operate in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military broke a ceasefire arrangement with the Taliban and carried out a scorched-earth assault — with the excuse that this is the only way to flush out Taliban fighters.

But the civilian population is paying a terrible price. The Pakistani military will never be able to win over those people who actually experienced what is happening on the ground. And certainly those people are not Taliban supporters either, since they have experienced their terror.

The U.S. has created the bizarre new moniker “Af/Pak” as a way to cover over its expansion of the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Building consent for this expansion has been what all the State Department, Pentagon and media propaganda has been about before the onslaught of this military expedition.
Leading counterinsurgency theorist John Nagl, an Iraq combat veteran and now the head of the Center for a New American Security, writes that “there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an ‘Arc of Instability’ that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia.”

That goes a long way towards explaining U.S. strategic planning.

The U.S. wants to wind down its occupation in Iraq, which it sees as a distraction, and push ahead with a much larger scenario — ‘in the arc of instability’ from North Africa to the Middle East to South and Central Asia. The U.S. is gearing up for, in the shocking words of Nagl, 50 years of warfare in this area.

Such imperial-style strategic concepts echo the “Great Game” of rivalries in the region over who’s going to control the oil and natural gas resources. Beyond that geopolitical battle, the military industrial complex has a material interest in perpetual warfare.

This is the new Great Game involving the U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran. It’s all about the resources that we have been observing since the beginning of the war in 2001. The U.S. had planned a pipeline to go from Central Asia through the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Planners saw Afghanistan as strategically important in these designs. The strategic importance was considered high enough to open a new front on its open-ended “war on terror.”

Despite eight years of war, occupation and counter-insurgency, and seeing that war and occupation aren’t working and are, in fact, backfiring, U.S. thinking doesn’t seem to be shifting at all. The Obama administration is certainly trying to repackage its essential continuity with the Bush administration’s policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But there isn’t a whole lot of finessing that needs to be done to sell this to the American public, since there is a widespread impression that the Afghan war is a moral war, a necessary response to the 9/ll attackers, and that Pakistan is an untrustworthy and reluctant ally that is crawling with militants.
The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to address legitimate Muslim concerns, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.

By not recognizing that the unresolved Kashmir issue is a cause for promoting militancy in the region, Washington has opted for selective engagement with the underlying causes of militancy and terrorism in the region.

The anti-war movement should not let Obama continue this imperial policy of aggression into Afghanistan and Pakistan (and potentially many other states).

The heart of the crisis is that this has become a multiple-front war, and the main theater has spawned a second, more diffused arena for potentially disastrous outcomes.

Meanwhile the sufferings of the people of the Northern Pakistan continue, with the rest of country adversely affected due to a war imposed upon its people.
Barack Obama has been bombing Pakistan since the third day of his presidency, and on the ground the Pakistani army has been acting as his country’s mercenaries.

* Javed Akbar is a freelance writer based in Toronto.