Pakistan: Obama’s new imperialist front line

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Barack Obama, even before he was elected, stated his intention to bomb deep into Pakistan.

"They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." (Guardian 1/8/8) "Mr Obama ... said President George Bush had chosen the wrong battlefield in Iraq and should have concentrated on Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said he would not hesitate to use force to destroy those who posed a threat to the United States, and if the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, would not act, he would." (ibid, 4/8/8)

President Musharraf resigned last August and since then we have witnessed a qualitative deterioration in the national security situation. Musharraf was followed by the husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, the notoriously corrupt Asif Zardari. The attacks on Mumbai last November (see "The terrorist slaughter in Mumbai" and "Growing tensions between India ad Pakistan fuel terrorist attacks" on our website) marked a further escalation of imperialist tensions. India was clear about who it blamed for the attacks. Pakistan, for its part, suffered its own attacks when a group of militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team, injuring many and killing at least 6 soldiers.

More recently, a police training academy in Lahore was attacked and briefly taken over by militants charging their way in with guns and grenades. At least 12 people were killed and there followed an 8-hour stand off before the police regained control. This demonstrates the knock-on effects of US bombing in the border regions: "A suspected US drone today fired two missiles at a hideout allegedly linked to a Taliban leader who has threatened to attack Washington. The air strike killed 12 people and wounded several others, officials said. The attack came a day after the Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a police academy in the eastern city of Lahore. Mehsud said the attack was retaliation for US missile strikes on alleged militant bases on the Afghan border."(Guardian 1/4/9).

The cumulative effect of this situation has led Islamabad to concede the implementation of sharia law in the Swat area. This shows the weakening of the Pakistan state when it has to make concessions to another form of law within its own boundaries. In addition to this the publicity over the video of a young woman's public flogging has been used as part of the campaign to justify future attacks on Pakistan.

Links between state and terrorists

One of the key problems faced by the Pakistani government in tackling the Taliban is the deep rooted links between the Pakistani security agency, the ISI, and some of the jihadist elements. These connections were forged in the heat of the confrontations between the American and Russian blocs, particularly during the 1980s as the Americans funded the creation of a huge jihadist force in Afghanistan: the Mujahadin. Many of these fighters, after the defeat of the USSR went on to form the basis for the Taliban. There has never been a clean break between the Pakistani army and the jihadists. Any attempts at a break were destined to failure as the army is, in the last analysis, the sole force capable of holding the state together.

After the Mumbai attacks, then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stated that "all of Pakistan's institutions should be facing the same way" - meaning that the government had to get to grips with the rogue elements inside the ISI. Despite the gigantic propaganda campaign about Obama, bringing ‘change we can believe in' he is in almost perfect continuity with George Bush Jnr - in the same way that the latter implemented the policy  for the invasion of Afghanistan concocted by Bill Clinton.

As for the Taliban, the name has become a catch-all for a variety of forces. There are those who want to overthrow the government and install the kind of rule previously seen in Afghanistan. Many of these elements criss cross the border regions variously fighting in Afghanistan or Pakistan as required.

There are also the tribal groups that have never accepted any kind of rule from Islamabad, especially in the Baluchistan/Waziristan regions. Then there are the increasing numbers of desperate and beleaguered peoples who have no hope of education or work and whose children often end up in the clutches of the religious schools, the madrassas. There is no shortage of people to recruit from - as there are over 1 million internally displaced people in Pakistan. Overall, it has been estimated that there are currently 1.5 million children in madrassas where, in the main, they are only taught Koranic verse. It is in these schools that the Taliban make their suicide recruitment drives, assisted by the fact that every US air strike has a tendency to kill innocent civilians and therefore create a real hatred and desire for revenge which the Taliban can exploit. The steady stream of killings and attacks have mounted up for the army; in the last 5 years 1500 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in fighting with the various insurgency forces.

What perspectives?

There is an accelerating slide into chaos. The US has a real fear of the consequences of a collapse of the civil administration. In particular there is the question of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. The US has belligerently asserted that it would invade to secure the bases, if it felt it served its interests. Any invasion would be extremely provocative and drastically worsen the social situation.

There is also the question of relations between Pakistan and India, already at straining point before the Mumbai attacks, after which many factions openly called for the bombing of Pakistan. Any attack on Pakistan would necessarily drag China (a key Pakistani backer) and thus also the US into the fray with disastrous consequences for the region.

Against this tendency there is only the potential of the struggle of the international working class. In particular, in the region, we have seen the waves of struggles in Bangladesh, posing a real proletarian alternative to the catastrophe of decrepit capitalism.  

Graham 1/4/9