October 1, 2010

NEW YORK – Pakistan’s temporary closure of the main US/NATO supply route from Karachi to Torkham after the killing of three Pakistani soldiers by US helicopter gunships has provoked deep anger in the United States government. The burning of a US/NATO fuel supply convoy further intensified tensions.

The focus of the Afghan War is clearly shifting south into northwest Pakistan, drawing that nation and the United States forces ever closer to a direct confrontation.

US helicopter gunships have staged at least four attacks on Pakistan this week alone, in addition to the mounting number of strikes by CIA drones that are inflicting heavy casualties on civilians and tribal militants alike.

Pakistan’s government has long closed its eyes to CIA’s drone attacks. Washington does not even seek permission for the raids or give advance warning to Islamabad. Pakistani civilians bear the brunt of the attacks.

Now, Pakistan’s failing government is caught between two fires. Pakistanis are furious and humiliated by the American attacks. Each new assault further undermines the feeble, US-installed Zardari government. Even Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the government’s strongman, protested the US attacks.

But Pakistan is on the edge of economic collapse after its devastating floods. Islamabad is now totally reliant on $2 billion annual US aid, plus tens of millions more “black” payments from CIA. Washington has given Islamabad $10 billion since 2001, most of which goes to renting 140,000 Pakistani troops as auxiliaries in the US-led Afghan war.

An influential former Pakistani general, Mirza Aslam Beg, just demanded Pakistan’s air force shoot down US drones and helicopters violating his nation’s sovereignty. His sentiments are widely shared in Pakistan’s increasingly angry military.

Pakistan’s senior generals are being blasted as “American stooges” by some of the media and are losing respect among Pakistanis. A video this week of the execution of six civilians by army troops has further damaged the army’s good name.

However, Washington’s view is very different. Pakistan is increasingly branded insubordinate, ungrateful for billions in aid, and a potential enemy of US regional interests. Many Americans are uncertain if Pakistan is a friend or foe. The limited US financial response to Pakistan’s flood was a sign of that nation’s poor repute in North America.

Meanwhile, unease, even fear, are growing in Washington that the nine-year Afghan War is being lost. In spite of constant pro-war propaganda, American popular opinion has turned against the war. The Pentagon fears a failure in Afghanistan will humiliate the US military and undermine America’s international power. In short, just what happened to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan?

America’s foreign policy establishment is venting its anger and frustration over the failing Afghan War by lashing out at Pakistan and the US-installed Karzai regime in Kabul. One faction of the Obama administration, backing by the powerful “New York Times” newspaper, is attacking Karzai and trying to replace him.

Pakistan’s Zardari is seen in Washington as hopeless and inept. Full US attention is now on Pakistan’s military, the de facto government, and its respected but embattled commander, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, whose tenure was just extended under US pressure. Kayani is still regarded as an “asset” by Washington. But like Zardari, he is caught between American demands and outraged Pakistanis –plus concerns about India.

The neoconservative far right in Washington and its media allies again claim Pakistan is a grave threat to US interests and to Israel. Pakistan must be declawed and dismembered, insist the neocons. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is reportedly being targeted for seizure or elimination by US Special Forces.

There is also talk in Washington of dividing Afghanistan into Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbek mini-states, as the US has done in Iraq. Little states are easier to rule or intimidate than big ones. We could be looking at a potential Balkanization of South Asia.

Now that America is in full mid-term election frenzy, expect more calls for tougher US military action in “AfPak.” Already unpopular politicians are terrified of being branded “soft on terrorism” and failing to maximally support US military campaigns.

This post is in: Asia, International Politics, Military and Security Affairs

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