US policy in Pakistan counter-productive and dangerous
As each day passes, nuclear-armed Pakistan and potentially nuclear-armed Iran are finding common cause
By Linda S. Heard, Special to Gulf News
Published: 00:00 June 12, 2012
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Image Credit: Nino Jose Heredia/©Gulf News
The US government is concerned that an unfriendly country Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Tehran is billed as the biggest threat to western interests in the region and, indeed, there is truth in that assessment. But in case the powers that be in Washington have not noticed, Pakistan already is a nuclear-armed country and, as in Iran, the majority of its people are angry at US interference and generally suspicious over western designs real or imagined. I say that because the US appears to be going out of its way to humiliate Islamabad seemingly without a care that doing so is likely to turn an ally into an enemy.
Did the US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, really have to rub salt in Pakistans wounds by gloating over the fact that the Pakistani government was given no advance knowledge of the planned killing of Osama Bin Laden in front of an appreciative Indian audience? They didnt know about our operation. That was the whole idea, he told them with a chuckle.
The question is what is Americas endgame in so doing?
Pakistan was bludgeoned into becoming a US partner in the so-called war on terror subsequent to threats from the George W. Bush administration that it would be returned to the Stone Age, a pill that was softened with billions of dollars in aid. General Pervez Musharraf chose to toe the line a decision that was accepted, albeit reluctantly, by Pakistans elites, but was greeted with outrage by the countrys Pashtuns that share bloodlines and culture with Afghanistans Pashtuns that make up some 40 per cent of the population. A situation akin to say China demanding the Celtic Welsh turn against the Celtic Scots was made worse by the Pashtun belt being used as launch pads to kill Al Qaida and the Taliban.
US-Pakistan relations were fraught from the word go and have gone downhill mostly due to US insensitivity when dealing with a proud people along with its disregard for innocent Pakistani casualties, which the Americans write off as collateral damage. This gives the impression that sacrificing the lives of Pakistani people is an unfortunate by-product of the war. A few days ago, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for a UN investigation into drone attacks approved by US President Barack Obama and justified by Panetta as self-defence as potential breaches of international law that violate human rights. I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians in any circumstances as human rights violations, she said.
If the US aim in that part of the world was to eradicate terrorists, it hasnt worked. Its strikes are far from being surgical and each time there are victims of drone attacks, anti-Americanism ratchets-up and militant extremists are given fodder to attract new recruits. According to the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, up to 830 Pakistani civilians, including women and children, have had their lives cut short during US attempts to eradicate high-profile terrorist targets. Those victims will have left behind fathers, husbands, sons and cousins, many understandably keen to avenge their loss.
Former CIA counter-terrorism chief, Robert Grenier, told the Guardian newspaper that the drone programme was too broadly targeted. He said: The unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences. Thats exactly my point! Is it arrogance that makes Obama and his advisers oblivious to the simple truth that treating human lives as disposable and stomping on the sovereign integrity of an ally is not the way to win friends or influence anyone?
Now it seems that Pakistans government has had enough of being demonised by both the Pakistani street and its fair-weather American friend. Subsequent to Natos attack on two military checkpoints that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, the authorities closed supply routes to Afghanistan on which Nato relied. Eager to get them re-opened, Washington has been piling pressure, but will not concede to demands made by Pakistans parliamentarians in April for a US apology as opposed to condolences as well as a US commitment to cease drone attacks and the transportation of weapons across Pakistans soil.
You dont have to be a whizz-kid political or military strategist to conclude that US policy is deeply flawed. As each day passes, nuclear-armed Pakistan and potentially nuclear-armed Iran are finding common cause. Indeed, to the severe displeasure of US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, Pakistan has sealed a deal with Iran for a $1.6 billion (Dh5.88 billion) pipeline for the import of natural gas from Irans South Pars field. After warning off India from participating in the pipeline project, Clinton is now threatening Pakistan with damaging consequences.
Its not hard to imagine that Pakistans leadership, in the belief it is damned if it does and damned if it doesnt in Washingtons eyes, might take its cooperation with Iran into different fields. If that happens, the days when any US government will be in a position to turn Pakistanis into the Flintstones will be gone along with the regions current balance of power when the actions of a handful of terrorists will seem like nothing more than bites from a gnat in comparison.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at email@example.com Some of the comments may be considered for publication.
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