As Andrew Bacevich tells
us in the latest issue of the Atlantic, there's now a vigorous debate
going on in the military about the nature of the "next" American wars and how
to prepare for them. However, while military officers argue, that "next war"
may already be creeping up on us.
Having, with much hoopla, launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, each disastrous
in its own way, the Bush administration in its waning months seems intent on
a slo-mo launching of a third war in the border regions of Pakistan. Almost
every day now news trickles out of intensified American strikes
– by Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones, or even commando
raids from helicopters – in the Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghan
border; and there is a drumbeat of threats
of more to come. All of this, in turn, is reportedly
only "phase one" of a three-phase Bush administration plan in which the American
military "gloves" would "come off." Think of this as the green-lighting
of a new version of that old Vietnam-era
tactic of "hot pursuit" across national borders, or think of it simply
as the latest
Already Pakistan's sovereignty has functionally been declared
of no significance by our president, and so, without a word from Congress,
the American war that already stretches from Iraq to Afghanistan is threatening
to widen in ways that are potentially incendiary in the extreme. While Pakistani
sources report that no
significant Taliban or al-Qaeda figures have been killed in the recent
series of attacks, anger in Pakistan over the abrogation of national sovereignty
in Afghanistan, over civilian casualties is growing.
In Iraq, 146,000 American soldiers seem not to be going anywhere anytime
soon, while in Afghanistan another 33,000 embattled American troops (and tens
of thousands of NATO troops), suffering their highest casualties since the
Taliban fell in 2001, are fighting a spreading insurgency backed by growing
anger over foreign occupation. The disintegration seems to be proceeding apace
in that country as the Taliban begins to throttle
the supply routes leading into the Afghan capital of Kabul, while the governor
of a province just died
in an IED blast. "President" Hamid Karzai was long ago nicknamed "the mayor
of Kabul." Today, that tag seems ever more appropriate as the influence of
his corrupt government steadily weakens.
In the meantime, in Pakistan, a new war, no less unpredictable and unpalatable
than the last two, develops, as American strikes fan
the flames of Pakistani nationalism. Already the Pakistani military may
have fired its first
warning shots at American troops. Part of the horror here is that much
of the present nightmare in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be traced to the sorry
U.S. relationship with Pakistan's military and its intelligence services back
in the early 1980s. At that time, in its anti-Soviet jihad, the Reagan
administration was, in conjunction with the Pakistanis, actively nurturing
the forces that the Bush administration is now so intent on fighting. No one
knows this story, this record, better than the Pakistani-born journalist and
writer Tariq Ali.
As we head into our "next war," most Americans know almost nothing about
Pakistan, the sixth most populous country on the planet with 200 million people,
and the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons. As the Bush administration
commits to playing with fire in that desperately poor land, it's time to learn.
Ali, who posts below on the next U.S. war, has just written a new book, The
Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, that traces the
U.S.-Pakistani relationship from the 1950s to late last night. I can tell you
that it's both riveting and needed. Check it out. And while you're at it, check
Ali out in a two-part
video, released by TomDispatch, in which he discusses the history of the
tangled U.S.-Pakistani relationship and Barack Obama's Afghan and Pakistani
The American War Moves to Pakistan
Bush's war widens dangerously
by Tariq Ali
The decision to make public a
presidential order of last July authorizing American strikes
inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends
a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush administration. Sen.
Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with
Sen. Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of U.S.
strikes into Pakistan. Sen. John McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah
Palin have now echoed this view, and so it has become, by consensus, official
Its effects on Pakistan could be catastrophic, creating a severe crisis
within the army and in the country at large. The overwhelming majority of
Pakistanis are opposed to the U.S. presence in the region, viewing it as
the most serious threat to peace.
Why, then, has the U.S. decided to destabilize a crucial ally? Within Pakistan,
some analysts argue that this is a carefully coordinated move to weaken the
Pakistani state yet further by creating a crisis that extends way beyond
the badlands on the frontier with Afghanistan. Its ultimate aim, they claim,
would be the extraction of the Pakistani military's nuclear fangs. If this
were the case, it would imply that Washington was indeed determined to break
up the Pakistani state, since the country would very simply not survive a
disaster on that scale.
In my view, however, the expansion of the war relates far more to the Bush
administration's disastrous occupation in Afghanistan. It is hardly a secret
that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is becoming more isolated with
each passing day, as Taliban
guerrillas move ever closer to Kabul.
When in doubt, escalate the war is an old imperial motto. The strikes against
Pakistan represent – like the decisions of President Richard Nixon and his
National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to bomb and then invade Cambodia
(acts that, in the end, empowered Pol Pot and his monsters) – a desperate
bid to salvage a war that was never good, but has now gone badly wrong.
It is true that those resisting the NATO occupation cross the Pakistan-Afghan
border with ease. However, the U.S. has often engaged in quiet negotiations
with them. Several feelers have been put out to the Taliban in Pakistan,
while U.S. intelligence experts regularly check into the Serena Hotel in
Swat to discuss possibilities with Mullah Fazlullah, a local pro-Taliban
leader. The same is true inside Afghanistan.
After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a whole layer of the Taliban's
middle-level leadership crossed the border into Pakistan to regroup and plan
for what lay ahead. By 2003, their guerrilla factions were starting to harass
the occupying forces in Afghanistan and, during 2004, they began to be joined
by a new generation of local recruits, by no means all jihadists,
who were being radicalized by the occupation itself.
Though, in the world of the Western media, the Taliban has been entirely
conflated with al-Qaeda, most of their supporters are, in fact, driven by
quite local concerns. If NATO and the U.S. were to leave Afghanistan, their
political evolution would most likely parallel that of Pakistan's domesticated
The neo-Taliban now control at least twenty Afghan districts in Kandahar,
Helmand, and Uruzgan provinces. It is hardly a secret that many officials in
these zones are closet supporters of the guerrilla fighters. Though often characterized
as a rural jacquerie, they have won significant support in southern
towns and they even led a Tet-style offensive in Kandahar in 2006. Elsewhere,
mullahs who had initially supported President Karzai's allies are now railing
against the foreigners and the government in Kabul. For the first time, calls
for jihad against the occupation are even being heard in the non-Pashtun northeast
border provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.
The neo-Taliban have said that they will not join any government until "the
foreigners" have left their country, which raises the question of the strategic
aims of the United States. Is it the case, as NATO Secretary-General Jaap de
Hoop Scheffer suggested to an audience at the Brookings Institution earlier
this year, that the war in Afghanistan has little to do with spreading good
governance in Afghanistan or even destroying the remnants of al-Qaeda? Is it
part of a master plan, as outlined
by a strategist in NATO Review in the Winter of 2005, to expand the
focus of NATO from the Euro-Atlantic zone, because "in the 21st century NATO
must become an alliance … designed to project systemic stability beyond its
As that strategist went on to write:
"The center of gravity of power on this planet is moving inexorably eastward.
As it does, the nature of power itself is changing. The Asia-Pacific region
brings much that is dynamic and positive to this world, but as yet the rapid
change therein is neither stable nor embedded in stable institutions. Until
this is achieved, it is the strategic responsibility of Europeans and North
Americans, and the institutions they have built, to lead the way. … [S]ecurity
effectiveness in such a world is impossible without both legitimacy and capability."
Such a strategy implies a permanent military presence on the borders of
both China and Iran. Given that this is unacceptable to most Pakistanis and
Afghans, it will only create a state of permanent mayhem in the region, resulting
in ever more violence and terror, as well as heightened support for jihadi
extremism, which, in turn, will but further stretch an already over-extended
Globalizers often speak as though U.S. hegemony and the spread of capitalism
were the same thing. This was certainly the case during the Cold War, but
the twin aims of yesteryear now stand in something closer to an inverse relationship.
For, in certain ways, it is the very spread of capitalism that is gradually
eroding U.S. hegemony in the world. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's
triumph in Georgia was a dramatic signal of this fact. The American push
into the Greater Middle East in recent years, designed to demonstrate Washington's
primacy over the Eurasian powers, has descended into remarkable chaos, necessitating
support from the very powers it was meant to put on notice.
Pakistan's new, indirectly elected president, Asif Zardari, the husband of
the assassinated Benazir Bhutto and a Pakistani
"godfather" of the first order, indicated his support for U.S. strategy
by inviting Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai to attend his inauguration, the only
foreign leader to do so. Twinning himself with a discredited satrap in Kabul
may have impressed some in Washington, but it only further decreased support
for the widower Bhutto in his own country.
The key in Pakistan, as always, is the army. If the already heightened U.S.
raids inside the country continue to escalate, the much-vaunted unity of the
military High Command might come under real strain. At a meeting of corps commanders
in Rawalpindi on Sept. 12, Pakistani Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani received
unanimous support for his relatively mild public denunciation of the recent
U.S. strikes inside Pakistan in which he said
the country's borders and sovereignty would be defended "at all cost."
Saying, however, that the Army will safeguard the country's sovereignty is
different from doing so in practice. This is the heart of the contradiction.
Perhaps the attacks will cease on Nov. 4. Perhaps pigs (with or without lipstick)
will fly. What is really required in the region is an American/NATO exit strategy
from Afghanistan, which should entail a regional solution involving Pakistan,
Iran, India, and Russia. These four states could guarantee a national government
and massive social reconstruction in that country. No matter what, NATO and
the Americans have failed abysmally.
Tariq Ali, writer, journalist, filmmaker, contributes regularly to a range
of publications including the Guardian, the Nation, and the London
Review of Books. His most recent book, just published, is The
Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (Scribner, 2008).
In a two-part
video, released by TomDispatch.com, he offers critical commentary
on Barack Obama's plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as on the tangled
Copyright 2008 Tariq Ali