Osama bin Laden hasn’t been sighted anywhere since the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 but US government officials and most of its media insist that he is hiding somewhere in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The technologically superior and well-equipped US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have failed to defeat the largely resourceless Taliban during seven years of relentless fighting despite enjoying complete monopoly of the skies. Still the US and its western allies are pushing Pakistan to continue costly military operations in its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with a view to defeating Pakistani Taliban and other militants. Pakistan Army is supposed to accomplish what the combined forces of the west have been unable to achieve in a much longer period and with better resources.
It is alright if the British military indirectly makes a deal with the Afghan Taliban through tribal elders in Musa Qala district of Afghanistan’s southwestern Helmand province and withdraws troops from the area. But Pakistan is accused of showing lack of commitment and allowing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to regroup and launch attacks across the Durand Line border in Afghanistan whenever it uses the same method and concludes peace accords with its homegrown Taliban through the mediation of tribal jirgas.
Not once but several times US allies such as Italy, South Korea and Afghanistan have made deals with the Taliban to secure release of their prisoners. Prisoners have been swapped and ransom paid to the Taliban to win freedom for their abducted citizens. Washington and other western capitals looked on helplessly when such deals were made publicly in the case of Koreans and secretly in other instances. But Islamabad is subjected to harsh criticism whenever it cuts similar deals to secure release of its captured soldiers and government officials from Taliban custody. All such deals, whether made by Pakistan or governments of other countries, are unpleasant and a sign of weakness but what to do when there isn’t another option to save lives.
Since 2003 Pakistan has lost around 1,200 soldiers fighting the militants in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Bajaur, Darra Adamkhel, Swat and other battlefields compared to less than half that number of losses suffered by the US-led western troops in Afghanistan from October 2001 onwards but there is still no end to the demand from Washington and its allies for Islamabad to “do more” in the inappropriately named “war on terror.” It is primarily America’s war and thus Washington is required to do a lot more to protect itself instead of forcing vulnerable states such as Pakistan to turn their hitherto peaceful territories into a killing field for the sake of others.
Pakistan has deployed 90,000 or so soldiers in its tribal areas and Swat to tackle the militants despite widespread domestic opposition and taken the difficult decision to withdraw troops from its unfriendly borders with India. In comparison, 38 countries have jointly contributed not more than 47,000 troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with the US providing another 30,000 and still the total is less than that put together by a hapless Pakistan. This is despite the fact that the challenge is much bigger in Afghanistan as the success or failure of the NATO mission to stabilize the war-ravaged country in the face of the resurgent Taliban would decide the future direction and fate of the western military alliance. It is NATO’s first military mission outside its western borders and its failure could scuttle the ambitious plans of the US-dominated military organization to police the world and intervene in any place from where a threat against the West could emerge in future.
Perhaps no other country apart from Pakistan would have opted to carry out military operations of the kind demanded by the US in return for the payment of $ 10 billion. By accepting that amount and due to the open-ended nature of the so-called “war on terror,” Pakistan has restricted its options while trying to wriggle out of this unending battle between the world’s only superpower and the Islamic militants led by Al Qaeda and other assorted groups. Pakistan may have saved itself from the ire of the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks after aligning with Washington but the losses to its economy, sovereignty, democracy and peace are much more than the $10 billion paycheque that it got from Washington in return for its services as an active ally of NATO in the “war on terror.” In fact, there is no way that these huge losses could be quantified.
Probably the economic losses could be put into figures but the damage to the self-esteem of Pakistani people due to loss of sovereignty is unquantifiable. So is the damage suffered by democratic institutions as a result of the west’s blind support for Pakistan’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, who was above reproach after agreeing to become the most trusted US ally in the “war on terror.” It isn’t proper for sections of the western media to describe Pakistan as the most dangerous country in the world after having played a role in creating conditions that hastened its destabilization.
One cannot underestimate the seriousness of the situation now that no less a person than the US president has termed Pakistan’s tribal areas as a place from where the next major attack against America could originate. Before George W Bush, a similar warning came from CIA chief Michael Hayden, who has repeatedly claimed that bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda figures hiding in the tribal areas could be planning new terrorist attacks against the US. If the US has made up its mind that bin Laden, its public enemy number one, is hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas, then there is not much that Islamabad can do to dispute this claim except meekly asking it to pinpoint his hideout so that it could be attacked.
But the US apparently doesn’t know bin Laden’s hideout or it would have attacked it by now as its pilotless Predators flying unchallenged in Pakistan’s skies have been doing in recent years. We all know that the US has given itself the right to attack such hideouts on Pakistan’s soil and none can stop it from carrying out more missile strikes in case it got hold of actionable intelligence about the presence of bin Laden or any other Al Qaeda figure or their Taliban hosts. And this is despite the knowledge that the Al Qaeda founder hasn’t been seen in person since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. The only place where he is regularly visible are television screens in videotapes prepared and sent out by Al Qaeda’s publicity wing.
The US government and its intelligence agencies would have to “do more” to lend credibility to their claim that bin Laden and his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri were hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas and plotting new 9/11-like attacks. This is all the more necessary considering the unjust and arrogant US decision to justify its invasion and occupation of Iraq to deny Saddam Hussein the ability to produce weapons of mass destruction and threaten the west. Almost the same argument is now being used to bully Iran and it would not be surprising if Pakistan’s new democratic government is forced to continue with the failed Musharraf-era “war on terror” policy by highlighting the still unverifiable threat that our tribal areas present to the US and rest of the west.
The writer is executive editor of The News International based in Peshawar. Email: email@example.com
Source: The News, 19/4/2008