Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo
Yesterday visitors to www.pak.gov.pk, instead of logging on to the website of the government of Pakistan, were confronted with an error message: "The site is temporarily down." It wasn't just the server, but the entire government that was shut down, overthrown by the military in a lightning coup. But that is just the beginning: for the entire subcontinent may be down sooner rather than later as a result consumed in the fire of a nuclear maelstrom.
But how could a military coup in a relatively obscure South Asian nation lead to the first nuclear exchange in the history of warfare? The answer lies in the history of the troubled region, and the unintended consequences of the Cold War.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was increasingly unpopular, and often accused of trying to establish a personal dictatorship: he had recently cracked down on the opposition, and made inroads on the authority of the judiciary, but the real reason for the decline of his political fortunes was his decision to withdraw support from Islamic radical rebels in Kashmir, a disputed province claimed by both Pakistan and India. For years, the Pakistani military has been encouraging Syed Salahuddin, chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen, the pro-Pakistani Islamic rebel organization in Kashmir, arming, supplying, and training the insurgents, who want "reunion" with Pakistan. While Sharif tried to whip up and ride the wave of Islamic radicalism that has engulfed Pakistan, the movement he helped to create quickly decided that he was not radical enough and called for his dismissal. Amid an economic downturn, and the ongoing humiliation in Kashmir where a primarily Muslim population is governed by Hindu nationalists in New Delhi it was only a matter of time before the Sharif government fell. The only question was: who will replace him the Islamic radicals, who invited Osama bin Laden as the guest of honor at a gigantic rally held in Islamabad last year, or the military? The military preempted the militants but don't break out the champagne just yet.
General Pervaiz Musharraf, the army chief who responded to his firing by firing the Prime Minister, was widely seen as the moving force behind the most recent chapter in Pakistan's proxy war in Kashmir. Under pressure from the U.S. and its allies, Sharif backed down and ordered a halt in the fighting yet the Islamic rebels, supported by the Pakistan-backed Taleban government in Afghanistan as well as homegrown militants, showed no signs of withdrawing. Since the Mujahideen are seen as creatures of the Pakistani military, it was clear that the Islamabad regime was facing a crisis of authority effectively resolved by the coup.
Musharraf rose through the ranks during Pakistan's two all-out wars with India, in 1965, when he fought in the Khem Karan region, in Punjab province, where he was decorated, for bravery; and in 1971, when he joined an elite commando unit, the Special Services Group. He was appointed military chief when his predecessor was forced to step down as a result of remarks interpreted as critical of the Prime Minister. The General's ascension to power does not bode well for the future of peace in the region. The war for the disputed province of Kashmir is likely to escalate, and this could well trigger an all-out military conflict in which the unthinkable suddenly becomes all too thinkable.
But look on the bright: it could have been worse. For the main beneficiary of Sharif's falling political fortunes was Jamaat-i-Islami, the radical fundamentalist party, which once warned Sharif that if he dared to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) he should "take a one way ticket" to Washington. If Jamaat ever takes power, it would be as if Osama bin Laden had his finger on the nuclear trigger. Which raises the possibility that this was a U.S.-engineered coup; or, more likely, that it took place without any particularly strenuous objections from Washington. While US officials routinely and immediately denied any foreknowledge of the event, can anyone doubt that these same officials breathed a sigh of relief when the long-rumored coup finally came down? After all, consider the alternative.
Yet it would be a mistake to view the military coup plotters as necessarily opposed to the radicals of the Jamaat party. The Islamists and the U.S.-trained-and-supplied Pakistani military share a common commitment to and pride in Pakistan's ascension to full membership in the nuclear club: the fundamentalists see nukes as a hi-tech Sword of Allah, and the generals see them as a means to deter Indian hegemony over the subcontinent. Both vehemently opposed Sharif's expressed willingness to abandon Kashmir and deal over the nuclear issue, and this will be the basis of the coup leaders' popular support. But this presents some problems, not only for Musharraf but for the US and the future of the entire region.
Sharif, too, appealed to Muslim fundamentalists in an attempt to shore up his perpetually shaky regime, at least in the beginning. But in the end, the radicals overtook him, and pushed him farther than he was willing or able to go. The new rulers of Pakistan will face the same pressures, not only from their own civilian supporters, but from the Pakistani-allied Taleban that has seized control of Afghanistan. The imposition of Islamic Sharia or strict religious law by the ideologues in control of Kabul has had an electrifying effect on radical fundamentalist parties from the West Bank to the streets of Jakarta, analogous to the effect that the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had on Marxist parties throughout the world. This is what is fueling the Muslim insurgency in Kashmir and Jammu, a region of vast mountains at the very top of the world, at the point where all the tensions and turmoil of the world seem to converge. Bordering the war-torn lands of the former Soviet Union, already in the throes of a radical Muslim insurgency, as well as China, Pakistan, and India, the Vale of Kashmir, as it used to be called, is a flashpoint that only requires the smallest spark to set off a general conflagration.
How often do we hear that the US cannot be "isolationist" in this modern day and age, and that virtually all problems necessarily take on a global character to be solved by the active intervention of world's Last and Only Superpower? Well, then, surely with a nuclear war between Pakistan and India about to break out a war that could incinerate millions now is the time for the US to assert its supposedly all-important role of "world leadership." But it seems that the interventionists, in this case, seem to have lost heart, if not their nerve. The Clintonians have cautiously refrained from condemning the coup outright, fueling suspicions that they knew in advance and tacitly approved with State Department spokesman James Rubin claiming that the US is "unaware" of any increased danger of war in the region.
But the lack of American leadership on this vital issue is due, in large part, to the Republican wing of the War Party which, along with Jamaat-i-Islami, the Taleban, and Osama bin Laden is intransigently opposed to the Nuclear Test Ban treaty. This confluence of opinion should cause conservative Republicans to question the knee-jerk response of a fossilized GOP Senate leadership that is still living in the era of the Cold War. These are the same people who will fight a war to preserve NATO a Cold War relic that outlived its usefulness long before the breakup and implosion of the Soviet it was conceived to counteract.
Here, ironically, is a case where US intervention is called for: but there are many more ways to intervene other than militarily. In this case, diplomatic intervention is not only justifiable but absolutely mandatory. For who can tell what effect an all-out nuclear war would have on the people of the US? Here is a clear case where the outbreak of an armed conflict on the other side of the world poses a direct threat to the physical well-being of Americans on American soil. We intervened in a civil war in the Balkans in the name of the fight against "ethnic cleansing" only to stand by and watch (and even encourage) the "reverse" ethnic cleansing committed by our Kosovar clients. Yet we are helpless in the face of a real war that represents a real threat to our interests and our security.
Now is the time for the US to exert real "world leadership" by taking the moral high ground and insisting on a policy of mutual nuclear disarmament and even threatening to break off all relations unless and until this occurs. The US is currently starving the children of Iraq to death under the pretext that Saddam Hussein may may be trying to develop "weapons of mass destruction." But what about the nukes our buddies in the Pakistani military are aiming at New Delhi? We have no dog in this fight. On one hand we have Islamic radicals who believe that to die for Allah is to achieve Paradise. On the other hand, we have Hindu nationalists, who worship Shiva, known as "the destroyer." We know that both parties have or will soon have access to weapons of mass destruction, and yet there is not even a hint of a similar reaction from Washington. Why the curious lack of symmetry?
The idea that the US needs to test nuclear weapons as a deterrent against a possible aggressor begs the question: what aggressor? The US military budget is already bigger than that of all other countries combined. Not only that, but no nation has a nuclear arsenal that even begins to approach our own. That the Test Ban treaty is now being held hostage by the antiquated Cold Warriors of the GOP-controlled Senate sounds the death knell of any attempt by the US to intervene diplomatically to de-escalate a potentially explosive confrontation between India and Pakistan. For if not even the US will sign on to the treaty, then why should the Pakistanis or the Indians even consider it?
There is apparently, no real benefit to being the Last and Only Superpower: the nuclear testing, the endless military buildup, the constant invention of new and more sinister threats it is like a perpetual motion machine that keeps churning of its own accord, even in the absence of any credible military threat to its hegemony, wheels spinning and gears meshing to no apparent purpose. What is striking about this mechanism is its utter uselessness; in a real crisis situation, such the impending war between India and Pakistan, it seems powerless, unable or unwilling to act. The utter haplessness of the American giant, in the face of the impending danger, underscores the irony of this albatross of Empire, and recalls the wise words of Garet Garrett, at the end of his classic book, The American Story:
"How, now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?
Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.
To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming potent, do you know where you are gong from here?"
The end of the Cold War has not brought us any closer to security: we are at the top of the world, but the possibility of nuclear war, far from receding, looms closer than ever before. I will not argue, here, about the origins of and alleged necessity of the Cold War: but surely now all can agree that we are living out its consequences. Not only in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, but throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union and especially in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, the monsters unleashed by both sides in that struggle continue to walk the earth.
For it was the West that armed and organized the Afghan "freedom fighters," who were used as pawns in the Cold War struggle against Moscow. But funneling money, arms, and political support to such "freedom fighters as Golboddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan fundamentalist military leader, backfired badly. It was Hekmatyar who helped set up the current Afghan regime and is now exporting his revolution to Kashmir, with the help of Pakistani militants and Musharraf.
The Frankenstein monster created in the laboratories of our Cold Warrior mad scientists is now running amok and not only on the Indian subcontinent. In the Balkans, and in the former Soviet Union itself, the consequences of that epic struggle continue to play themselves out. The complexity and sensitivity of post-Cold War diplomacy is the real test of leadership for our makers of foreign policy and they are so far failing rather dramatically.
For America to take real leadership and step into the breach requires, first of all, leading by example: not only signing the Test Ban Treaty but unilaterally reducing its nuclear stockpiles and threatening to cut off all foreign aid, both economic and military, and unilaterally and immediately abrogating all treaties with nations that refuse to do likewise. The post-Cold War world is a dangerous place but the danger is only increased by those who refuse to see that times have changed and the rules and risks are different. Instead of using our clout to bully other nations into accepting "democracy," or "civil rights," or some other completely foreign high-falutin' notion, why not put pressure on them to start disarming and move toward peace? A foreign policy of peace and noninterventionism that puts the interests of this nation and its citizens first is not a policy of isolationism but of self-interest actively pursued. We must have the courage to abandon the habits imbued over half a century of struggle, and lead as we have always led by example.
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