There is no great pretence from the Pakistani state that US coerced it to take action against Taliban. But the reason given is Taliban take over of Buner. The truth is far from it and it may not be shocking if, some day, it is discovered that Taliban were encouraged to come to Buner by Pakistani or US secret services so that this war could begin. Frenzied propaganda about the march of Taliban to Islamabad allowed Pakistani bourgeoisie to mobilise its population behind itself for this war. It allowed Americans to tell the world that they are pushing Pakistan into this war for ‘their own good'.
In reality this war has nothing to do with defeating Osama bin Laden or Islamic terrorism. It is well known that US engendered Osama bin Laden and Islamic Mujahadeen to further its imperialist interests against the Soviets. Both Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist hordes that swarm Pakistan today were nurtured by Pakistani state as tools of its imperialist policy and social control. True the genie has now turned on the master, but this war is more than that.
Since the collapse of the eastern bloc and with it of the western bloc, US have been battling to maintain and impose is global domination. Over the last two decades its power has weakened but its resolve to remain the number one global imperialist gangster has not. US started the war in Iraq to deter its rivals and to implant itself in an area of great strategic importance. Its attack on Afghanistan in 2001 and the war since then is meant to establish its domination over South and Central Asia and to thwart its rivals China and Russia. By turning Pakistan into a theatre of War US not only strengthen its position in Afghanistan. It also strongly limits Chinese influence in Pakistan and further strengthens American domination in this whole area including against imperialist dreams of the Indian bourgeoisie. It is with these aims that US have been preparing to push Pakistan into this war since more than a year.
The latest war in Pakistan turns the entire region from South Asia to Middle East into vast theatre of war. It also set the stage of future wars. As a petty imperialism caught in the path of a global gangster, Pakistan has been forced to fall in line, but even in this extremely perilous situation, it does not stop forwarding its imperialist interests.
History of Imperialist Policy of Pakistan
In the Maoist and Stalinist legends imperialism is the hallmark of only America or other Western countries. According to them ruling gangs in third world countries like Pakistan and India, when they engage in bloody military adventures against each other, they are only playing the role of ‘compradors' or lackeys of one or the other great power without imperialist aspirations of their own.
The world is of course littered with countless examples debunking the leftist myth and showing that bourgeoisies of every nation, howsoever poor and wretched, are driven by the same imperialist appetites as ‘great powers'. A couple of months ago Sri Lanka set a ruthless and bloody example of a petty capitalist gang engaging in a near genocide of Tamils to ensure their continuing subjugation.
History of Pakistan is a ringing example of its tenacious, if reckless, defence of its imperialist interests even in the face of hostility of the global powers. It has never been deterred by ‘small' facts that its population lives in misery and medieval darkness, its economy teeters on the brink and its political apparatus is always in tatters where ‘elected' governments are regularly followed by juntas who use the ‘civil constitutions' merely as toilet paper. In fact the shambles of its own state and society turns Pakistani bourgeoisie only more reckless which is expressed in its genocide of Bangladeshis, in nuclear black market, in its thinly veiled terrorist campaigns against its rival India or by frenzied nurturing of the fundamentalist gangs who are now confronting it.
End of ‘Golden' Years of Pakistani Imperialist Policy
For imperialist policy of Pakistan, the years of anti soviet war in Afghanistan and its aftermath were the golden years so far. Although the main conflict was between USSR and US, it fitted well with imperialist aspirations of Pakistan. The Afghan Mujahadeen and later Taliban were set up and armed by the US but their direct control was in the hands of Pakistani army and secret services, the ISI. When soviets left and, some years later, when Taliban took over in Kabul, it was a great victory for Pakistan. It now had a client state in Afghanistan, it could dream of extending its influence toward Central Asia and its army could boast of gaining strategic depth against its enemy India. In addition it was able to push its rival India to the wall with separatist violence in Kashmir reaching its zenith.
But when US attacked Afghanistan in its ‘war against terror' and the Taliban power fell in Kabul in November 2001, it was a great setback for Pakistan. All its gains of more than two decades were gone. While Pakistan lost all influence in Afghanistan, its enemy India was gaining a foothold there. Worse, America forced it to sacrifice its own interests in Afghanistan and advance US interests.
But like any other imperialism, Pakistan could not stop defending its imperialist interests. Even as the Northern Alliance marched into Kabul and Taliban were routed, Pakistan tried to save its ‘strategic assets' - the entire Taliban leadership moved into Pakistan and got sanctuary with the ISI in Baluchistan. Since then, despite its ‘alliance' with US, Pakistan has zealously protected the Taliban leadership based in Quetta.
In the years following Nov 2001, US got mired in war in Iraq, its power weakened and Taliban power once again saw resurgence in Afghanistan in which Pakistan played no small role. Up to its ears in trouble in Iraq, US imperialism "studiously ignored the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership gathering in the tribal areas of Pakistan ..." and Pakistani state used this situation "as a free pass to re-engage the Taliban as a Pakistani proxy force .... Until this year, Pakistan appeared to be winning the game", Ahmed Rashid, Yale Global, 18 Sept 2008.
But as Taliban got stronger and threatened American control over Afghanistan, starting mid 2008 the US Army began to respond to the Afghan Taliban presence in tribal areas in Pakistan. Since August 2008, US have carried out regular drone attacks on Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in FATA in Pakistan. In Sept 2008, US soldiers crossed over into FATA sending out a clear message to Pakistani state to fall in line with imperialist interests of the USA. Since then US bourgeoisie have continuously threatened Pakistan ‘either deal with Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan or we will deal with them.'
This policy, named Af-Pak now, only accelerated after Obama came to power. The crux of this policy is that for US to win in Afghanistan it must compel Pakistan to wage war against Afghan, and Pakistani, Taliban in Pakistan. But it is not only about winning in Afghanistan.
The Af-Pak policy also brings Pakistan under tighter and more direct control of US so that it can confront its rivals China and Russia at their doorsteps. Also, this policy puts the Indian bourgeoisie on tenterhooks who now don't know which way to turn.
If to achieve this US have to push Pakistani state, like its neighbour Afghanistan, into civil war and chaos, so be it.
Taliban - A Monster Born Out of Imperialist
Wars and Decomposition
NWFP, FATA and Northern Territories in Pakistan, home to more than 30 million Pashtuns, are perhaps the most impoverished areas of an impoverished country. In areas like FATA, with population of 5.6 million, only 3% of the population is urban and literacy rate is 17%. Big landed aristocracy, coming from feudal times, continues to exist and plunder an impoverished peasantry. The pattern of administration - the agency system - is the one that was instituted by the British in 19th century to keep the Pashtuns down. Till a few years ago populations of these areas could not vote for national parliament and could not join political parties. Also, this impoverished area had often seethed with ethnic unrest with Pashtuns battling the Pakistani state. In 1960's and 1970's, these areas saw a major Pashtun separatist movement supported by India and Afghanistan in the time of Zahir Shah.
This movement was crushed, but hostility of Pashtun population to Punjabi dominated Pakistani state did not go away. The state was able to co-opt this hostility only during anti-soviet war in Afghanistan. During this period millions of refugees from Afghanistan, mostly Pashtuns, took shelters in camps in NWFP and FATA. As US and Pakistan started recruiting and building Islamic Mujahadeen and later Taliban armies for Afghanistan, they nurtured Islamic fundamentalist forces as supporting infrastructure. For some years Pakistani state was able to kill two birds with one stone - as it built Mujahadeen and Taliban armies to further US and its own imperialist interests in Afghanistan, it co-opted and mobilised its own Pashtun population for supporting these armies. Influence of Islamic fundamentalism and Taliban developed in these areas.
But it was not limited to North West of Pakistan. Emboldened by a sense of its own ‘indispensability' to US in Afghanistan, Pakistani state nurtured fundamentalist organizations in other parts of Pakistan too. These served as tools of social cohesion in a decomposing society and as recruiting centers for Afghan Taliban and for escalating Kashmiri separatist movement in India that was at its bloodiest at this time. Fundamentalist and Jehadi ideology penetrated the Pakistani state and above all its armed forces and secret services so that it became difficult to distinguish the ‘handlers' from the ‘handled'.
This policy worked till Taliban were in power in Kabul. But the game became dangerous when Taliban power fell in 2001. Since then the Pakistani state has been forced to play a double game both with the Americans and with Islamist forces in its own country. With US, in the open it fell in line. At the same it continued to host ousted Afghan Taliban leadership and provided them fertile ground, in the local Islamist gangs in NWFP, FATA, to re-nurture themselves. On the other hand, under American threats, drone attacks and incursions, it has to act against local Islamists and Taliban from time to time.
Unity that had earlier existed between the Islamist forces and vast echelons of the Pakistani state tended to fall apart with Islamists and Pakistani Taliban starting to fight against Pakistani state. But till the last moment, till a few weeks before 5th May 2009, the Pakistani state was loath to start a war against Taliban in Pakistan for it saw a much bigger abyss in front of it. If latest events are any indications, even after falling into the abyss the Pakistani state has not stopped pushing Mullah Omar and other Afghan Taliban as a bargaining chip with the Americans.
For the Exploited Population - Unfolding of a Human Tragedy
As the Pakistani army started bombing its own towns and villages from 6th May 2009, the call to leave their homes, originally limited to Buner and Swat, was extended to several districts of NWFP and FATA. Those who did not heed the call to leave were compelled to flee as "helicopters, jet fighters and artillery pounded ... the troubled region" (the Dawn, 8th May 2009) and as civilians were used as human shields both by the Taliban and army that stationed tanks in narrow, populated streets. Roads were blocked either by the Taliban or the Army. "Phone networks, water and electricity have all been cut (by administration) in the town (Mingora)", BBC, 9th May 2009.
Soon the number of ‘internally displaced people', people who have to flee their homes in the face of war between two bourgeois gangs, the army and the Taliban, jumped to nearly 3 millions. In some of the districts like Buner 90% of the population have to flee their homes. In other districts like Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand up to 50% of the population have to abandon their homes and are now refugees. Towns like Mingora, home to half a million people, were turned into ghost towns with tanks stationed in its streets. While the Pakistani army, that answers to no one but itself, and the war-lords of Taliban, both expressing the decomposition of Pakistani state, settle it out between themselves, three million impoverished people are living in tents or just on the roads.
Some of the fleeing people "died on the roads ... no one was willing to offer us any help - neither the army nor the Taliban. They are both committing atrocities and cruelty against the ordinary people", Al Jazeera, 11 May 2009, quoting a fleeing civilian.
On the first day of fighting 35 civilians were killed. Since then the military have stopped counting the civilian deaths although it claims to have killed 1600 Taliban fighters. For Mr. Gilani, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, death of civilians at the hand of army is merely ‘collateral damage'. For 3 million refugees and for those poor villagers who could not flee, the whole thing is a vast human tragedy. To them the role of both the Taliban and the army is repugnant. Amid tears a young refugee girl is said to have told the Pakistani paper, the Dawn on 8th May: "We are frightened of the Taliban and the army... If they want to fight, they should kill each other, they should not take refuge in our homes."
No End to Wars and Barbarism within Capitalism
Afghanistan has been ravaged by civil wars and chaos since more than three decades. Unable to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan despite their eight years of presence, the Americans have now pushed Pakistan into civil war and chaos. Also the stage is getting set for more wars in the future. In the process the entire region from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Iraq has been turned into a theatre of wars, barbarism and human misery.
The army in Pakistan may claim to have secured a quick victory against Taliban in Swat but there is no quick end to this war within its boundaries. As per a report of New York Times - "Taliban mostly melted away without a major fight, possibly to return when the military withdraws or to fight elsewhere", 27 June 2009. While taking the war to South Waziristan and other areas of Pakistan, the Pakistani Army has to stay put in ‘conquered areas' to fight other battles. Not only that, there are already signs that this war between Pakistani Taliban and Pakistani state could mutate into a war between the Pashtuns and Pakistani state. Giving a hint of things to come, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan and a Pashtun, Rustam Shah Mohmand called army action "Pashtun genocide," Al Jazeera, 12th May.
Even American experts see this danger. "The Pakistani army is ... mostly ...Punjabis. The Taliban is entirely Pashtun. For centuries, Pashtuns ... have fought to keep out invading Punjabi plainsmen. Sending Punjabi soldiers into Pashtun territory to fight jihadists pushes the country ever closer to an ethnically defined civil war...," Selig S. Harrison, Washington Post, 11h May 2009.
All this does not point to the coming of peace but toward further spread of war between competing bourgeois gangs and toward the spread of barbarism and human misery for the working class and exploited populations.
Caught in the global decomposition of its system and faced with greatest crises of its history, the bourgeoisie have nothing to offer the working and exploited classes but wars and barbarism. It will be a great setback for the working class and a victory for the bourgeoisie if it succeeds in mobilising the working classes behind Pakistani state or behind factions of the ethnic bourgeoisie (Pashtuns, Baluch or Sindhi).
Only way forward for the working class and exploited populations is to develop its class struggle and forge class unity across ethnicities and national boundaries. Only by doing this, working class can develop the means to overthrow the decomposing capitalist system and can stop the spread of barbarism.
AM, 5 July 2009.