Sunday, July 22, 2007

Taking the Fight into Pakistan

The idea has been bandied about before - go after the Taliban insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists in their lairs inside Pakistan. It's an option George w. Bush himself brought up this week. It's a decision that also could have enormous ramifications, the sort that the frat boy Bush has repeatedly shown himself unwilling to grasp until it's too late.

Richard Nixon did it. He sent his military forces swarming into Cambodia to attack the safe havens of the North Vietnamese army infiltrators. He kicked proper hell out of the place, killed an awful lot of civilians, and maybe bought himself a year's grace before the inevitable.

The idea is the same but the turf is not and neither are the people our side would have to deal with, the Pashtun. It's sort of like putting a bare foot into a bag full of scorpions. You're going to get stung, it'll hurt like hell and it might even kill you. Chances are good, when it's over, you'll realize you made a huge mistake.

The Toronto Sun's Eric Margolis has travelled through these lands and he knows better:

I spent a remarkable time in this wild medieval region during the 1980s and '90s, travelling alone where even Pakistani government officials dared not go, visiting the tribes of Waziristan, Orakzai, Khyber, Chitral, and Kurram, and their chiefs, called "maliks."

These tribal belts are always called "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, "save your last bullet for yourself."

...there is law: The traditional Pashtun tribal code, Pashtunwali, that strictly governs behaviour and personal honour. 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, now the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pakistan's Pashtun number 28 million, plus an additional 2.5 million refugees from Afghanistan. The 15 million Pashtun of Afghanistan form that nation's largest ethnic group.

The tribal agency's Pashtun reluctantly joined Pakistan in 1947 under express constitutional guarantee of total autonomy and a ban on Pakistani troops entering there.

But under intense U.S. 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.

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.

Bush/Cheney & Co. do not understand that while they can rent President Musharraf's government in Islamabad, many Pashtun value personal honour far more than money, and cannot be bought.

Any U.S. attack on Pakistan would be a catastrophic mistake.

Margolis (quite correctly in my opinion) argues that carrying the fighting into Pakistan will only widen the war and transform it into a battle against western occupation. Think Iraq. Secondly, he points out that Musharraf's fate lies in the hands of his army's officers who may topple the general in response to US or NATO attacks. His third point is that this tactic could reignite the movement for a unified Pashtun homeland, Pashtunistan, that could fatally undermine the modern Pakistan state which, in case you need reminding, has a troublesome nuclear arsenal. Lastly he notes the US military has a mixed record from taking on what were, at best, weak and small opponents - such as Iraq. Pakistan, with its half-million soldier military, could well be much more than the US and NATO could handle.

Those Bush administration and Harper government officials who foolishly advocate attacking Pakistan are playing with fire.

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