Is the US
Preparing To Attack Pakistan?
By Eric Margolis
07/25/07 "ich" -- - The Bush Administration may be
preparing to lash out at old ally Pakistan, which Washington
now blames for its humiliating failures to crush al-Qaida,
capture its elusive leaders, or defeat Taliban resistance
forces in Afghanistan.
One is immediately reminded of the Vietnam War when the
Pentagon, unable to defeat North Vietnamese Army and Viet
Cong forces, urged invasion of Cambodia.
Sources in Washington say the Pentagon is drawing up plans
to attack Pakistan’s "autonomous" tribal region bordering
Afghanistan. Limited "hot pursuit" ground incursions by US
forces based in Afghanistan, intensive air attacks, and
special forces raids into Pakistan’s autonomous tribal
region are being evaluated.
This weekend, the US national intelligence chief and other
intelligence spokesmen confirmed that strikes against
"terrorist targets" in Pakistan’s tribal belt are
increasingly possible. These warnings were designed to both
further pressure Pakistan’s beleaguered strongman, President
Pervez Musharraf into sending more troops to the tribal
areas to fight his own people, and to prepare US public
opinion for a possible widening of the Afghanistan war into
Pakistan’s 27,200 sq km tribal belt, officially known as the
Federal Autonomous Tribal Area, or FATA, is home to 3.3
million Pashtun tribesmen. It has become a safe haven for
al-Qaida, Taliban, other Afghan resistance groups, and a
hotbed of anti-American activity, thanks mostly to the
US-led occupation of Afghanistan which drove many militants
across the border into Pakistan. Osama bin Laden is very
likely sheltered in this region, as US intelligence claims.
I spent a remarkable time in this wild, medieval region
during the 1980’s and 90’s, traveling alone where even
Pakistani government officials dared not go, visiting the
tribes of Waziristan, Orakzai, Khyber, Chitral, and Kurram,
and meeting their chiefs, called "maliks."
These tribal belts are always referred to as "lawless."
Pashtun tribesmen could shoot you if they didn’t like your
looks. Rudyard Kipling warned British Imperial soldiers over
a century ago, when fighting cruel, ferocious Pashtun
warriors of the Afridi clan, if they fell wounded, "save
your last bullet for yourself."
But there is law: the traditional Pashtun tribal code,
Pashtunwali, that strictly governs behavior and personal
honor. Protecting guests was sacred. I was captivated by
this majestic mountain region and wrote of it extensively in
my book, "War at the Top of the World."
The 40 million Pashtun – called "Pathan" by the British –
are the world’s largest tribal group. Imperial Britain
divided them by an artificial border, the Durand Line, which
went on to become, like so many other British colonial
boundaries, today’s Afghanistan-Pakistan border. When
Pakistan was created in 1947, the Pashtun were split between
that new nation and Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s Pashtun number 28–30 million, plus an additional
2.5 million refugees from Afghanistan. Pashtuns, one of the
British Indian Army’s famed "martial races," occupy many
senior positions in Pakistan’s military, intelligence
service and bureaucracy, and naturally have much sympathy
for their embattled tribal cousins in Afghanistan. The 15
million Pashtun of Afghanistan form that nation’s largest
ethnic group and just under half the population.
The tribal agency’s Pashtun reluctantly joined newly-created
Pakistan in 1947 under express constitutional guarantee of
total autonomy and a ban on Pakistani troops ever entering
But under intense US pressure, President Pervez Musharraf
violated Pakistan’s constitution by sending 80,000 federal
troops to fight the region’s tribes, killing 3,000 of them.
In best British imperial tradition, Washington pays
Musharraf $100 million monthly to rent his sepoys (native
soldiers) to fight Pashtun tribesmen. As a result, Pakistan
is fast edging towards civil war, as the bloody siege of
Islamabad’s Red Mosque and a current wave of bombings across
the nation show.
The anti-Communist Taliban movement is part of the Pashtun
people. Taliban fighters move across the artificial
Pakistan-Afghanistan border, to borrow a Maoism, like fish
through the sea. Osama bin Laden is a hero in the region,
and likely shelters there.
The US just increased its reward for bin Laden to $50
million and plans to shower $750 million on the tribal
region in an effort to buy loyalty. Bush/Cheney & Co. do not
understand that while they can rent President Musharraf’s
government in Islamabad, many Pashtun value personal honor
far more than money, and cannot be bought. That is likely
why bin Laden has not yet been betrayed.
Any US attack on Pakistan would be a catastrophic mistake.
First, air and ground assaults will succeed only in widening
the anti-US war and merging it with Afghanistan’s resistance
to western occupation. US forces are already too
over-stretched to get involved in yet another little war.
Second, Pakistan’s army officers who refuse to be bought may
resist a US attack on their homeland, and overthrow the man
who allowed it, Gen. Musharraf. A US attack would sharply
raise the threat of anti-US extremists seizing control of
strategic Pakistan and marginalize those seeking return to
Third, a US attack on the tribal areas could re-ignite the
old irredentist movement to reunite Pashtun parts of
Pakistan and Afghanistan into an independent state, "Pashtunistan."
That could begin unraveling fragile Pakistan, leaving its
nuclear arsenal up for grabs, and India tempted to
The US military has grown used to attacking small, weak
nations like Grenada, Panama, and Iraq. Pakistan, with 163
million people, and a poorly equipped but very tough
550,000-man army, will offer no easy victories. Those Bush
Administration officials who foolishly advocate attacking
Pakistan are playing with fire.
Eric Margolis, contributing
foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author
of War at the Top of the World. Visit his website http://www.ericmargolis.com/
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