By Arab News
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Pakistan may be the next theater of war as the US military establishment and Israeli lobby expand their campaign
Even though it was Colin Powell who rang up Musharraf that cold September morning in 2001 asking him to join America’s war in the finest diplomatese, it was his deputy Richard Armitage who proved himself more persuasive by offering to help Pakistan go back to the Stone Age where it belonged. Musharraf has repeatedly revisited those eventful days in the wake of 9/11 ever since, patting himself for rescuing Pakistan from meeting a fate that has befallen its neighbor across the Durand Line.
Over the past decade or so, Pakistan has upended itself to keep its “commitment” to Uncle Sam and to avoid ending up the way Afghanistan has. It has lost nearly 35,000 lives in Washington’s war; its economy is on the brink and the country is unraveling faster than you could say the so-called “war on terror”.
It now turns out that all that hard work and those impossible feats of bending over backward to please the emperor after all have been of little consequence. Pakistan appears all set to go the way of Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington’s suspension of $800 million military aid to Islamabad this week, coupled with top US officials, including military chief Adm. Mike Mullen openly accusing Pakistan’s military of being in cahoots with the terrorist groups it has been fighting all this while doesn’t merely signal the end of a broken marriage. It suggests that after Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan could be the next front of America’s war.
The detention of Ghulam Nabi Fai, head of the Kashmiri American Council this week for lobbying for the Pakistani government in a city where every other guy is a lobbyist is part of the plot. The target of course isn’t Fai, a popular figure on the Capitol Hill because of his activism for Kashmir, but Islamabad. This is a seismic shift in Washington that has gone little noticed. America is done with Pakistan.
The US military-industrial establishment, the Israeli lobby and Muslim bashers on the Hill have been looking for an excuse to take the war to Pakistan, the only Muslim state with a nuclear arsenal. And they got it when Osama Bin Laden was conveniently discovered, not in a cold cave along the Afghan frontier but living cheek by jowl with Pakistan’s elite military academy.
So if the Pakistanis and Afghans thought that with the killing of Sheikh Osama the Yanks will declare “Mission Accomplished” and happily go home, they could be in for a shock. This war is far from over; only the action has moved to a new front. While there has never been any love lost for Pakistan in the US establishment despite it having been Washington’s devoted, unquestioning ally for more than half a century and helping it win the Cold war, the past few months have seen the campaign against Islamabad gather steam.
The US media, with Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal leading from the front, has lately been full of stories targeting Pakistan with “incriminating evidence” about the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies sleeping with Afghan Taleban and Al-Qaeda. Adm. Mullen, no less, has suggested that Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad was bumped off by the ISI because he was about to expose the agency’s links to the militants. While the spy agency’s affair with the Taleban and their far more ruthless allies has never been a secret, the Americans choose to forget that there are actually three in this marriage. The third one in this threesome is none other than Uncle Sam himself. Indeed, it was the Americans who encouraged the Pakistanis to initiate the affair before the West and Arab fighters, including a certain sheikh, joined the jihad to drive out the Russians and bring down the Soviet Union. Today, those chickens have come home to roost.
This is a chapter from recent history that America and the West have chosen to erase from their collective memory and would have the world to do the same. But history isn’t something you could just wish away by hitting the “delete” key on your computer. You can’t obliterate it the way you obliterate those faceless, nameless people in Pakistan’s northwest using those drones. It will confront you time and time again.
But what’s new? Seldom do empires learn from history. And they are condemned to repeat it, again and again. So today even as the disastrous campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are hastily being wrapped up, after burning 4 trillion US dollars, the ever voracious monster that is America’s war machine is now sizing up Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan may only be the stepping stone to take a shot at the greater prize-the oil-rich, Israel-baiting, fiercely independent Iran.
Iran has long been an inviting target for the so-called champions of the new American century and their Israeli gurus, not just because of its nuclear ambitions or its rhetoric on Zionist machinations. It is Iran’s rich oil resources, its leadership ambitions and continuing defiance of the US-Israeli hegemony that make it a perfect target. Over the past decade or so, the Middle East has lived with the fear of an imminent US-Israeli attack on Iran. Indeed, as Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker has repeatedly warned following his investigative reports, Bush’s Crusaders and the Israelis had been itching for a showdown with the Ayatollahs, taking the new imperial project to its next level.
If they eventually backed out, it wasn’t because of Ahmadinejad’s persuasive powers or his soliloquies on Israel’s future and Holocaust but because of the mess that greeted Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Uncle Sam had spread himself so thin and already had so much on his plate that Iran had to be put on the backburner. Or so we thought. Now that witches’ brew is being vigorously stirred all over again.
Iran already finds itself encircled with the US forces in Iraq on its West and Afghanistan in the north, not to mention the US military assets across the Gulf. If Pakistan eventually goes down and gives up its desperate attempts to maintain its independence — or what little remains of it — it wouldn’t be too difficult, from Washington’s viewpoint, to beat Iranians into submission. Gets you two birds with one stone and takes care of two potential, or imagined, challenges to Israel’s and Western hegemony.
I’m no sucker for conspiracy theories but I wish for once this was merely a conspiracy theory of idle pundits. An attack on Pakistan and then Iran sounds like a crazy, outrageous idea out of a Tom Clancy thriller. But then so did the idea of Iraq invasion. If you take into account the madness of Zionism and the US right’s raving ambitions to take total control of the strategic, energy-rich region, nothing looks impossible.
These are challenging times for the Middle East. Those in the line of fire could confront this threat only by sticking together. Pakistan, Iran and Arabs must learn from the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan. If they do not huddle together, they will be taken out like sitting ducks, one after another. The next showdown in the Middle East is more than a distinct possibility. And those who aren’t prepared for it will perish.
— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published commentator. Write him at [email protected]