Is Pakistan's Civil War a Class War?

The wily and persuasive Pepe Escobar had a column today over at the Asia Times suggesting that Pakistan is now openly being run from Washington. Mr. Escobar is, I think, half-right or perhaps more succinctly put is not too far off in his location. By Washington, Pepe Escobar clearly means the White House and the Defense Department. He's got the city right but the institutions wrong. Pakistan's fate may have been sealed back in November when the country agreed to a $7.6 billion USD bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Pepe Escobar, who is one of a last a dying breed the hard-nosed international correspondent, writes on the elements of class struggle in the current troubles in Swat Valley.

In this complex neo-colonial scenario Pakistan's "Talibanization" - the current craze in Washington - looks and feels more like a diversionary scare tactic. (Please see The Myth of Talibanistan, Asia Times Online, May 1, 2009. ) On the same topic, a report on the Pakistani daily Dawn about the specter of Talibanization of Karachi shows it has more to do with ethnic turbulence between Pashtuns and the Urdu-speaking, Indian-origin majority than about Karachi Pashtuns embracing the Taliban way.

The original Obama administration AfPak strategy, as everyone remembers, was essentially a drone war in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) coupled with a surge in Afghanistan. But the best and the brightest in Washington did not factor in an opportunist Taliban counter-surge.

The wily Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law), led by Sufi Muhammad, managed to regiment Swat valley landless peasants to fight for their rights and "economic redistribution" against the usual wealthy, greedy, feudal landlords who happened to double as local politicians and government officials.

It's as if the very parochial Taliban had been paying attention to what goes on across South America ... Essentially, it was the appropriation of good old class struggle that led to the Taliban getting the upper hand. Islamabad was finally forced to agree on establishing Nizam-e-Adl (Islamic jurisprudence) in the Swat valley.

Mr. Escobar's article is not the first to report some element of economic strife or class struggle in Pakistan's descent into civil war. While much of the world's attention when it comes to Pakistan has been on the situation in the FATA and the Malakand which includes Swat, Karachi has been enduring rolling riots that over the past six months have left hundreds dead. While the media often plays up an ethnic component to these riots, the rioters generally have a few things in common, they are poor and they are quite angry.

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The Pakistani Sinkhole

You cannot buy an Afghan, but you can rent one at very high price. - British Colonial Aphorism

We can't buy the Pakistanis either and renting them has in the past proved useless for Pakistan insists on pursuing a drunken recklessness and a careless ambivalence to its own extistential threats. Yet we continue to pour money down a Pakistani sinkhole. Currently we are considering in the near term providing Pakistan with $400 million in military aid and $500 million in economic aid and in the longer term sending $7.5 billion, over five years, to Pakistan. That it is likely to be approved I do not doubt, but it should not be approved.

Pakistan is not just a failed state but a rogue state with visions of geo-political grandeur in both south and central Asia. The country has long been a sponsor of international terrorism. It was Pakistan that first destabilized Afghanistan in the 1960s. It was Pakistan that provided the support critical in the Sardar Daud Khan coup of 1973 in Afghanistan. Pakistan created, financed and nurtured both Afghani groups like the Hezbi-i-Islam and the Taliban as well as Kashmiri groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba to further its strategic interests in India and Afghanistan.

Geo-politically, Pakistan's strategic plan, formulated by the Pakistani military and its notorious ISI, has been to endow Pakistan with a 'strategic depth' in relation to India, through the installation of a pro-Pakistan and anti-India government in Kabul or failing this to play the internal divisions of Afghanistan off against themselves in an effort to prevent the emergence of an Afghan government that might demand the return of Pashtun lands split off by the British in 1893.

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Bala Baluk

Casting a pall over the Af-Pak Summit is news out of the western Afghan province of Farah that a misdirected US air strike has killed as many as 120 Afghans, including dozens of women and children, in a community called Bala Baluk. The attack is the deadliest such bombing involving civilian casualties so far in the eight years since the US-led NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan surpassing the 90 civilians killed in Azizabad in nearby Herat province last August. Figures from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, released in late 2008, suggest that about 750 civilians were killed by NATO forces in all of 2008, the majority of these by errant air strikes.

However, Defense Department officials are questioning whether the dead in Bala Baluk were the result of errant air strike or if they were killed by the Taliban who attempted to pin the deaths on air strike. US official said late Wednesday that investigators were looking into witnesses' reports that the Afghan civilians were killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants, and that the militants then drove the bodies around the village claiming the dead were victims of an American air strike. More from the New York Times:

The initial examination of the site and of some of the bodies suggested the use of armaments more like grenades than the much larger bombs used by attack planes, said the military official, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

"We cannot confirm the report that the Taliban executed these people," said Capt. John Kirby, the spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. "We don't know if it's true, and we also don't know how many civilians were killed as a result of this operation."

Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for the United States military in Kabul, confirmed that United States Special Operations forces had called in close air support in the area on Monday night, including bombs and strafing with heavy machine guns. "There is a heavy insurgent presence there," he said.

We now face a situation where the civilian population is not only being used as human shields but also a props in a propaganda war. The killing of so many Afghan civilians by US aircraft only infuriates Afghans and leads to an increase in support for the Taliban. The bottom line is that there is no margin for error in Afghanistan and to fight a war under such conditions is simply not possible.

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Crusaders of the 21st Century

Of all blunders to commit, this one is beyond the pale and only sure to arose the ire of the Islamic world unnecessarily. US soldiers at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan have been filmed with local language Bibles and urged to be "witnesses for Jesus" despite anti-proselytizing rules.

In the video obtained by Qatar's Al Jazeera, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is shown telling US soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him."

"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down," he says.

"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business."

Al Jazeera's James Bays reports. I cannot in good conscience support any effort that involves proselytizing in Afghanistan. Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley must be removed from his position and reprimanded if not court-martial for breaking the military's anti-proselytizing rules. It is not our business to save souls. That is not the nature of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Whatever goodwill the President has so far engendered in his attempts to reach out to Muslims across the globe stands to be lost because of the reckless zeal of evangelical Christians who seem to view the US military as a modern day crusading institution.

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US Arms Sales to the Middle East Soar

A new report (pdf.) released earlier this week by the independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that the volume of arms transfers worldwide increased by 21 percent during the group's latest five-year reporting period. While that number is off a low base as arms transfers had been at their lowest level since the 1960's during the previous reporting period (1999-2003), the number masks a significant rise in arms transfers to the Middle East. The SIPRI report shows that arms transfers to the Middle East have increased by 38 percent during the past five years, compared to the base period.

It should come as no surprise that five biggest suppliers of major conventional weapons for the period 2004-2008 were the United States, Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom with these top five suppliers accounting for 78% of total world arms sales. Furthermore, the global arms trade is largely two nation game with the United States and Russia accounting for 56% of total arms sales. The US alone accounted for 31% of the world arms trade on sales to 69 different countries.

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