I will go back out to Pakistan again later this year. In the meantime I have been talking to Pakistani friends and to journalists and others based in Pakistan, before trying to give a few considered thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary and calculated remarks on Wednesday about the “mortal threat” to the USA posed by Pakistan.
The first and most obvious point is that, since Obama and Hillary have been in office, the United States has killed over 200 Pakistani civilians in Pakistan. Pakistanis have killed no United States civilians in the United States. For Hillary to call Pakistan a mortal threat is therefore somewhat rich.
The evidence is incontrovertible that missile strikes from aerial drones are a particularly indiscriminate way of killing. Very often the justification of the attacks is a desire to assassinate a particular indivdual; but the average number killed in each strike in Pakistan is 19. The majority of those killed have been women and children.
It should be self-evident that these brutal attacks will stoke resentment of the US in Pakistan. They are helping to create the fundamentalism which Hillary claims horrifies her. Which leads me to wonder, as I have wondered so often in the “War on Terror”, whether apparently brutish action by the United States is in fact intended to provoke a reaction.
The attacks not only stoke outrage, but are a blow to the self-esteeem of the average Pakistani and fuel contempt for the Pakistani government which permits the United States to attack its territory and kill its women and children. The truth is that the spread of the Pakistani “Taliban”, which Clinton so deplores, is not achieved through military strength but through popular sympathy.
One of the most potent things the Pakistani government could do to prevent the leeching of support towards Islamic extremists, would be to forbid the United States absolutely to carry out any more bombing operations in Pakistan, with the threat of physical resistance. That would damage the cause of the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan much more effectively than bombing ever will.
I share the Clinton viewpoint that theocratic government is, in itself, a bad thing. But it is also important to consider the motivation behind the increasing support for Islamism – manifested in the issue of sharia law – among ordinary Pakistanis. We very seldom hear their voices. The very pleasant and highly educated Pakistani commentators from all sides we hear on the mainstream media, are a tiny fraction of the population.
I strongly supported the reinstatement of the judges sacked by General Musharraff, but these middle class concerns mean nothing to the 90% of the Pakistani population who live on under $350 a year. They have no access to justice at all and are subject to oppression by an arbitrary and extremely corrupt police, backed by corrupt courts. The appeal of sharia law is that the westernised system has corrupted and failed the poor. Add to that an economy going backwards while neighbouring India has surged forward. It is impossible to tackle corruption under the President who is its walking embodiment, but without radical reform the theocratic movement is going to continue to make ground – literally. Clinton’s harsh words and bombs will do the opposite of help.
On 12 April the US signed a new military agreement with Islam Karimov, the Butcher of Tashkent, for supply of US forces in Afghanistan through Uzbekistan – thus conclusively killing any hope that the Obama/Clinton administration would prioritise human rights in foreign policy. The increase of US forces in Afghanistan is in progress. The ultimate goal remains the revival of the Unocal plan for a pipeline over Afghanistan and through Pakistan to bring out Central Asia’s massive hydrocarbon resources to the sea. But the actual result of US action throughout Central Asia and of their support of deeply corrupt regimes in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, continues to be the growth of fundamentalist Islam. A radical change of US policy is needed. Instead, like a desperate gambler, Hillary is upping the ante.
Either the United States is preparing the ground for ultimate invasion of Pakistan, or it is behaving very stupidly indeed.