The fourteenth of August was technically the Pakistani day of independence, but Pakistanis found little to celebrate this year; many citizens expressed their fear that their independence is gradually but surely being eroded away by American interventionism in the region.
Just a few days ago, the Americans announced that there was a high probability that the CIA had killed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Certainly not many Pakistanis will shed tears over the Taliban’s slain leader: recent polls indicate that support for the Taliban in Pakistan has dropped to less than five percent.. In fact, the majority of Pakistanis (80%) view the Taliban as a crucial threat to their country, and a similar number (78%) support their own government’s military campaign against the Pakistani Taliban. One would think then that Pakistanis would be grateful to the Americans for eliminating the top Taliban official in their country.
But such is not the case. In fact, the Pakistani populace stews in anger over what–according to international law–was an American attack against Pakistan. The United States ignored Pakistan’s sovereignty and initiated drone attacks on independent Pakistani soil, something which constitutes an act of war. This is of course the latest in a series of drone attacks on sovereign Pakistani territory; there have been over “60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14th, 2006 and April 8, 2009.” Even more damning is the fact that “only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders,” whereas on the other hand the drones have killed “687 innocent Pakistani civilians,” giving the US predator strikes a success rate of “not more than six percent.” (link)
Unfortunately, few Americans are introspective enough to ask: “how would we Americans feel if some Muslim government did the same to us?” For example, what would be the American reaction if the Iraqi government initiated drone attacks against Blackwater facilities in North Carolina? If the Americans are justified in striking against Baitullah Mehsud, who has never killed a single American, then would not Iraqis be justified in striking against Erik Prince, the Blackwater CEO responsible for massacres against Iraqi citizenry? But when the shoe is on the other foot, many Americans reject any “moral equivalency;” no American would tolerate another country launching missiles into sovereign U.S. territory, even if it be directed against criminals and murderers. We are quite capable of prosecuting our own, would be the prevalent American response. Yet, why is it then that the Americans cannot seem to understand that the Pakistanis want their own government to deal with militants in their country, not foreigners with a long history of what is viewed by some as neo-colonialism?
Can one imagine the American reaction if some foreign Muslim sounding country launched missiles into America that killed 687 American civilians, including women and children? There would be rage in the American eyes, and cries to “bomb them back into the stone age.” There would be a savage and absurdly disproportionate retaliation from the Americans. But suddenly when Americans kill 687 Pakistani civilians, then so what? Are brown lives really equal to those of Americans?
To add to the absurdity, some American neoconservatives had the gall to criticize the Pakistani “ingratitude:” after all, these hawks argued, shouldn’t Pakistan be thankful to America for getting rid of the Taliban’s top official in the country? If anyone were to attack American soil, these neoconservatives would be outraged–and they would call to bomb some country (any country!) back to the stone age–whereas Pakistanis should not only be silent about the same transgression, but send a thank you card.
Some Americans have tried to justify the drone attacks by arguing that the Pakistani government gave them the wink and nod, unofficially giving the Americans permission to launch these strikes. Yet the reality is that the Pakistani government has repeatedly issued official and unofficial statements categorically rejecting such fanciful claims.
The Pakistani foreign office issued the following statement: “It has been Pakistan’s consistent position that drone attacks are in violation of its sovereignty and must be stopped.” (link) A spokesman for the Pakistani military, Major Murad Khan, even went so far as to vow retaliation should America strike within Pakistani borders. Khan warned: “Border violations by US-led forces in Afghanistan, which have killed scores of Pakistani civilians, would no longer be tolerated, and we have informed them that we reserve the right to self defense and that we will retaliate if the US continues cross-border attacks.” (link)
The Pakistani government’s stance did not change after the strike against Baitullah Mehsud, as evidenced by a statement released after the attack:
No Drone Accord with US: FO
Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said…drone attacks had caused more damage than benefit to Pakistan…No accord existed between Pakistan and the US with regard to drone attacks, he said.
Former president of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf, rejected claims that he had an agreement with the United States, saying: “There was no such agreement. There was no permission for outside forces to operate inside Pakistan.” (link)
In 2007, the Foreign Office spokesperson, Tasnim Aslam, reiterated:
“We have stated in the clearest terms that any attack inside our territory would be unacceptable…We are committed [to fighting terrorism] and we will take firm action on the basis of information gathered by us through our own means or concrete and actionable intelligence shared with us…We are therefore, combating terrorism in our own interest. We do not want our efforts to be undermined by any ill-conceived action from any quarter that is inconsistent with the principles of international law.”
Amazingly, some of the Americans will continue to insist that the Pakistani government is just placating its own constituents, and that in reality they have given the green light to the Americans. Once again, these same Americans would categorically reject this logic if it were used by anyone else. Can one imagine Russia justifying an assault on Georgia by claiming that despite the Georgian denials, the Georgians had secretly sanctioned the Russian intervention in order to quell rebels and terrorists? Or perhaps Israel could invade Lebanon, claiming that the Lebanese government secretly requested its help against Hezbollah. Such sort of justification would completely destroy any semblance of international law.
Americans claim that they wish to spread democracy. Do they think it wise then to launch such strikes in Pakistan, even though an overwhelming majority (81%) of Pakistanis oppose U.S. missile strikes within their country? Is this how American democracy works? As Malcolm X said: “You and I have never seen democracy; all we’ve seen is hypocrisy.”
The American strikes within Pakistan destroy Pakistan’s credibility as a nation-state, call to question its sovereignty and hegemony, and bring it one step closer to becoming a failed state. It has stirred up feelings of resentment against America and the West in general, which do nothing but fuel the rise of fundamentalism and extremism. The death of hundreds of Pakistanis as a result of U.S. drone attacks serves to boost Taliban recruitment. The Pakistanis feel a great deal of shame and humiliation over the blatant U.S. encroachment on their country’s sovereignty; one cannot help but recall a similar sense of shame and humiliation that overcame Germans after the Allied Powers placed severe restrictions on their country’s sovereignty. It was this same sense of helplessness that allowed Adolf Hitler to throw aside the inept and incompetent Weimar Republic, promising the people to restore the country’s hegemony and honor. If a government cannot safeguard a country’s sovereignty, then what right does it have to rule the people? Similar questions will be asked by fundamentalists and extremists, who will use it as a recruiting tool to agitate against the government.
The Pakistani fear of American influence in the region is further exacerbated by the news that the U.S. is planning on massively expanding its embassy in Islamabad. It is estimated that the embassy will cost a whopping $736 million, rivaling that of the gargantuan U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which cost $740 million. Such massive compounds serve not simply as embassies but as military bases, and remind Pakistanis of the British trading posts established by the East Indian Company that preceded British colonial rule. Indeed, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was the control center for U.S. rule over Iraq; Pakistanis fear a similar fate with the creation of such a compound on Pakistani territory. The nonchalance with which Americans flout Pakistani sovereignty gives Pakistanis little reason not to fear growing American interference.
The embassy cum military base will house U.S. marines. The exact number of marines is unknown, and Washington insists that it won’t be more than a “couple of dozens.” Yet, the American government has allocated a staggering $112.5 million for the residential complex for Marines inside the embassy. Unless the “couple of dozens” of Marines plan on living in a palace, it is safe to say that the building would easily accommodate hundreds–if not thousands–of marines. The Pakistani Foreign Office Spokesman, Abdul Basit Khan, mentioned that some one thousand U.S. marines will be stationed there.
One recalls a similar situation in Saudi Arabia. Thousands of U.S. troops were stationed in the Arabian Peninsula, despite the local population’s opposition. It was in fact the issue that caused Usama bin Ladin to choose the “interesting” career path that he did. Islamic militants and extremists used the foreign deployment of troops in the birthplace of Islam as a recruitment tool. Is it not then foreseeable–nay, inevitable–that militants and extremists in Pakistan will use the heightened American presence in the country as a means to recruit fighters and agitate against the lackey Pakistani government?
Pakistanis know all too well that if they give an inch to the U.S., the Americans will take a mile. If in the first year, a few dozen soldiers station themselves in Pakistan, in subsequent years that number will double and triple and multiply many-fold. After all, it took decades for U.S. troops to leave Saudi Arabia, who stayed behind long after Saudis needed protection against Saddam. Pakistanis do not want a monstrous U.S. embassy cum base in their lands, for they know it will be the command center from which the Americans will micromanage the country. The Americans themselves have echoed a similar tone; an American diplomat “reassured” Pakistanis: “When you have got non-military and economic assistance going up to $1.5 billion every year and the security aid almost trebling, then you need people [Americans] to develop, implement and run the programmes and, more importantly, keep an oversight to ensure that money is appropriately spent.” (link)
The celebrity turned politician Imran Khan asked:
“The [Pakistani] government keeps begging the US for more dollars stating that the war is costing the country more than the money it is receiving from the US. If it is our war, then fighting it should not be dependent on funds and material flowing from the US. If it is our war, why do we have no control over it? If it is our war, then why is the US government asking us to do more?”
Pakistanis feel that America is forcing Pakistan to go against its own national interest by fighting a war at the behest of America (which is why Imran Khan famously said “this is America’s war, not Pakistan’s.”) Admittedly, unlike Mr. Khan, most Pakistanis want their government to take a forceful stance against the Pakistani Taliban, but they don’t want Pakistan to be puppeteered by America. The United States has become the school bully, declaring that it can bomb Pakistani land at will, whilst still demanding that Pakistanis eagerly respond to the American jihad against the Taliban; hundreds of Pakistani soldiers die fighting a war that oftentimes serves the American self-interest, not the Pakistani national interest. The American puppeteers have decided that the remote control they had from Washington was not good enough; now they want to move into Islamabad in order to exert even more influence.
On the sixty-second annual celebration of Pakistan’s independence, Pakistanis question how much independence they still have. The collectively wonder: how far off is the country from simply becoming a sock-puppet?