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Pakistani military operations in Waziristan turn into fiasco

Waseem Shehzad

It was supposed to be a mopping-up operation, with a number of al-Qa’ida and Taliban suspects being arrested and presented as trophies to Colin Powell, the visiting US secretary of state; the assault on villages in South Waziristan turned out to be a disaster. On the first day of the assault (March 16) at least 17 Pakistani soldiers were killed. The military used the Toori Scouts, comprised of Shi’as from the Parichanar region, against the Sunni Waziri tribes, in a blatant exploitation of sectarianism to achieve a dubious objective. Some 24 tribesmen were also killed on the first day. Faced by stiff resistance, the Pakistani forces withdrew, but not before losing a number of vehicles as well as soldiers, including the brigade commander, who was captured.

Several thousand troops (one estimate put the total at 7,000) from the 11th Corps were then brought in, backed by long-range artillery and helicopter gunships. An area of some 50 square kilometres was surrounded, and all the villages in it were subjected to a ferocious artillery barrage. The villages of Shin Warsak and Kaloosha bore the brunt of the attack. On March 20 helicopter gunships attacked passenger vehicles at Ghwa Khwa hamlet, near Karikot village; 13 people, some of them women and children, were killed, and seven others were wounded. Lieutenant general Safdar Hussain, commander of the 11th Corps, boasted that at least 100 "militants" had been captured, among them some foreigners. He said that the operations would continue, even as hundreds of women and children were forced to flee their villages. Because of the remoteness of the region and the lack of facilities, many of those wounded in the military assault will die: there is simply little or no medical help available. A number of Pakistani troops were also killed or captured.

How did things go so horribly wrong, and why were Pakistani villages being attacked in the first place? Under general Musharraf Pakistan has been reduced to an vassal state of the US. The general misses no opportunity to present himself as a loyal American ally: every time a senior American official is due to visit Pakistan, Musharraf puts on a display of military firepower, in an effort to impress his American visitors that Pakistan is serious about "fighting terrorism." Tall claims are made about a "high value target"–Usama bin Ladin, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri or Taliban leader Mullah Umar–being present and likely to be captured. Not one of these claims has been substantiated so far.

The latest operations in South Waziristan also coincided with Musharraf claiming on CNN on March 18 that the level of resistance indicated another "high value target." He cannot be unaware that Pakistani tribesmen are good fighters and highly motivated, especially when attacked without provocation. Pakistani government spokesmen, including information minister Shaikh Rashid, claimed on BBC World Service on March 19 that foreign fighters were present and that there was little support for them among the locals. Events have not borne any of this out. Despite repeated threats from the government, the tribesmen have not handed over any of the "wanted men", either local or foreign. Most foreigners are in any case settled in the area now, having married local women; the tribesmen do not regard them as foreigners, because of these marriage ties and because they fought shoulder to shoulder with the tribesmen during the struggle against Soviet occupation forces.

While the military operation was under way, Powell announced in Islamabad on March 18 that Pakistan would be given the status of a non-NATO ally, in virtue of which it would be able to purchase American weapons at "preferential rates". This was immediately projected as a great achievement by Musharraf. The sting, however, is in the detail; Powell’s offer is not unconditional: the US has demanded additional information about Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s alleged involvement in nuclear proliferation. Before leaving Washington Powell had demanded that Islamabad share with the US all information gleaned from the interrogation of Pakistani scientists. Further, the stage is being set for Pakistan to cap and then roll back its nuclear programme, with the carrot of conventional weapons being offered to Pakistan to replace the nuclear weapons. Such an offer is what Pakistani generals pray for. There are opportunities galore for huge kickbacks, with trips to the US thrown in. Pakistan has used India’s superiority in conventional weapons as the justification for its nuclear programme; now that the US is willing to offer conventional weapons at concessional rates, the case for nuclear weapons will become less tenable.

At his press conference in Islamabad, Powell was voluble in praise of Pakistan’s "determination and courage" in fighting terrorism, countering extremism, stopping nuclear proliferation, reforming education, and building "stronger democratic institutions". With its status of non-NATO ally, Pakistan joins other Muslim states, such as Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan. It is interesting to note that all three, as well as other Muslim countries like Kuwait, have been forced to modify their educational curricula under the pretence of "reforming" them. What this means mainly is that all references to jihad, exploiters, oppressors and fighting against tyranny and injustice have to be removed. Similarly, all references to great Muslim soldiers and commanders, such as Mahmud Ghaznavi, Shahabuddin Ghauri and others, must be deleted.

In Pakistan, in the mean time, there is deafening silence from the political leadership about the slaughter of Pakistani civilians by the military, as well as about the US’s demand for changes in school and college curricula. The few voices raised in the National Assembly by the Mutahhida Majlis-e Amal were so muted that they have been contemptuously dismissed by the military regime. Why is it permissible for the Pakistani military to kill its own people, regardless of their political views? Whose interests is it serving anyway? No one seems willing or able to push for answers to such questions. The military regime has admitted that a number of American experts are operating with Pakistani forces. Although their exact number is a closely guarded secret, there are definitely more than a few dozen. In addition, American planes and forces routinely violate Pakistani air space and territory in what is referred to as "hot pursuit" of "al-Qa’ida and Taliban sympathizers".

So Pakistan is as much occupied by American forces as are Afghanistan and Iraq. The main difference is that in those countries there is stiff resistance; in Pakistan everything is on offer to support the Americans.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 2

Safar 11, 14252004-04-01

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