Bajaur: US Attempt to Destabilize Government?
By Dr Shireen M Mazari

The missile attack by the US on Pakistani territory in Bajaur Agency on Friday, 13th January, has naturally drawn strong reaction from Pakistanis across the board. The government's reaction has been somewhat muted, even though the US ambassador was summoned by the Foreign Office. At an immediate level, this act reflects a lack of respect for Pakistan's sovereignty and a neo-imperialist approach to the territorial integrity of "other" states. In addition, it once again shows a complete lack of concern for innocent human lives -- especially if they happen to be Muslims. After all, the main victims in this latest US outrage were women and children. Worse still, it also shows that the US is not only trigger happy, but also continues to suffer from bad intelligence -- for which innocent Pakistanis have to pay with their lives. And not as much as even an expression of regret for the loss of innocent lives.
However, going beyond the obvious, one needs to really examine why this action happened at this particular time. One needs to then focus on a disturbing question: Is the US trying to destabilize the present government and the state of Pakistan? What exactly is the US game-plan? The reason why these questions arise is because it is abundantly clear to everyone that Pakistan is in the grip of political controversies, not only over the Kalabagh Dam but also the situation in Balochistan. The last thing the government of Pakistan needed at this time was to see a so-called ally carry out a missile attack on its territories -- especially given that we are supposed to be allies in the war on terror and therefore committed to taking action ourselves, if required, in our own territory against al-Qaeda suspects. After all, it has been Pakistan that has so far helped to deliver all the al-Qaeda leadership to the US. So why this unilateral action?
The suspicions become more substantiated when one sees how the action was coordinated by a media campaign in the US which gave out that the attack was not only in the knowledge of the Pakistan government but supported by them operationally. What purpose can such disinformation serve but to discredit the present GoP? Had there been any truth in this information at all, the intelligence would have not been so inaccurate! For anyone in the GoP who still feels that there was nothing insidious in US intent towards Islamabad should take careful note of Condoleezza Rice's statement defending this arrogant act of violence. She not only stood by the killing of innocent Pakistanis but also declared that the US would "try to address" Pakistani government concerns -- meaning that at the end of the day such concerns clearly were of limited value to the US. She went on to add that al-Qaeda and the Taliban were not "people who could be dealt with lightly", but clearly she regards Pakistanis as such. As for her imperious declaration that the biggest threat to Pakistan is al-Qaeda's attempts to "radicalize" the country, she should rest assured that if the US continues to behave this way in this region and globally, it will do al-Qaeda's job for them. Post-9/11, US policies have created an ever-expanding political space for this terrorist outfit.
But coming back to the timing of the missile attack -- it came a few days before the secretary-level talks between Pakistan and India, which are taking place in the backdrop of Pakistan linking the terrorism in Balochistan to India and India rejecting Pakistan's demilitarization and self-governance proposals on Kashmir. The missile attack also comes when the GoP is already burdened with critical political issues within the country. The attack precedes the visit to South Asia of US Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Nicholas Burns -- the man who in his ultimate ignorance declared that India had an impeccable record on non-proliferation, having totally ignored India's nuclear cooperation treaties with Iran and the Saddam regime and a well-documented record of Indian nuclear assistance to Iran including in the form of scientists working in Bushehr. Finally, the attack came a few days before Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's visit to the US.
What purpose does such a murderous missile attack serve? It creates more problems within Pakistan for the GoP, especially allowing the opposition forces to unite under a common cause. It destabilizes the border area with Afghanistan further, again allowing for greater space to the terrorists. It creates even more problems for the Pakistan military, not only in Balochistan, but also in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. It certainly helps detract Pakistan from a forceful approach towards India in the secretary-level talks; and it presents a dilemma for the political forces within the GoP thereby creating more fissures within the ruling party. Already there have been calls from some PML members for the cancellation of the US visit by the Pakistani Prime Minister. Whichever way one looks at it, there seems to be little purpose in this unwarranted act of military destruction on the part of the US, beyond undermining the present GoP. A dangerous aspect of the present US policy is the growing sense that it is attempting to play the military against the political forces in Pakistan. Even more dangerous is that this action will add to the alienation and misery of the people of the tribal belt; so is the US intent to break up the state of Pakistan? US arrogance is also reflected in the declarations of US Senators like McCain and Bayh that the US would do the same again -- with Bayh referring to the tribal belt as the "wild, wild west", and we know what happened to the native population of the "wild west" in the US!
So it makes little sense for the Pakistan government to pussyfoot on the issue of condemning the US missile attack -- the second of its kind so far against Pakistan. At the very least the Prime Minister should postpone his present visit to the US. There are times when the leadership has to show a greater sensitivity to its own civil society from which it eventually must draw its strength, rather than the demands of external forces. We have shown an amazing level of tolerance for US abuse of our sovereignty, including raids across the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to kidnap individuals from Pakistani soil. Surely we have reached the limits of tolerance now.
Therefore, we should also tell Mr. Burns not to visit us on this round of his South Asian tour. Finally, the President needs to summon back our ambassador in the US, as this will signal a strong and unequivocal condemnation of the US action. We should not allow ourselves to be treated with the level of disdain and frivolity which the US is heaping on us, even as it forges ahead with its strategic partnership with India. There comes a time when we need to be assertive regardless of our internal limitations -- especially when we are in the right in defending the sanctity of our territory and our nationals' lives. We expect no less from any GoP.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)



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