January 13, 2018

Henry Kissinger rightly noted that it’s often more dangerous being an ally of the United States than its enemy.  The latest victim of this sad truism is Pakistan, a loyal ally of the US since the dawn of our era.

President Donald Trump’s visceral hatred of Muslims (never mind what kind, or why, or where) erupted this week as he ordered some $900 million in US aid to Pakistan to be abruptly cut off.  Trump accused Pakistan of lying and deceiving the US and providing a safe haven to Afghan resistance forces of Taliban (`terrorists’ in US speak) battling American occupation forces.

Frustrated and outwitted in Afghanistan, US imperial generals, Pentagon bureaucrats and politicians have been trying to cast blame on anyone they can find, with Pakistan the primary whipping boy.  Next in line is the notorious Haqqani network which is blamed for most US military failures in Afghanistan, though its active combat role is modest.  I knew its founder, old man Haqqani.  In the 1980’s, he was the golden boy of the CIA/Pakistani-led effort to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan.

Why has Washington given billions in aid to Pakistan?  In 2001, Washington decided to invade Afghanistan to uproot or destroy the Pashtun resistance movement, Taliban, which was wrongly blamed for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.  The ethnic Pashtun warriors President Reagan had hailed as ‘Freedom Fighters’ became ‘terrorists’ once the west wanted to occupy Afghanistan.

But invading land-locked Afghanistan was an awesome undertaking.  US troops there had to be supplied through Pakistan’s principal port, Karachi, then up twisting mountain roads and across the torturous Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.  The huge amount of logistical supplies required by US troops could not be met by air supply.  It cost $400 per barrel for one gallon of gasoline delivered to US troops in Afghanistan, and as much as $600,000 per sortie to keep a single US warplane over Afghanistan.   Without 24/7 air cover, the US occupation force would have been quickly defeated.

Invading Afghanistan without Pakistani cooperation would have been impossible.  Pakistan at first refused to let US armed forces cross its borders. But as Pakistan’s former military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf  told me, ‘the US put a gun to my head and said let US troops enter and use Pakistan or ‘we will bomb you back to the Stone Age.’

That was the big stick. The carrot was some $33 billion in US cash to secure ‘Ground Lines of Communication’ (the Karachi-Bagram route) and ‘Air Lines of Communication.’  In fact, Pakistan briefly closed them in 2011 after US warplanes killed two dozen Pakistani Army soldiers.   Pakistan could do it again unless Washington stops treating it like an enemy state.

Trump and his men just don’t understand that Pakistan has paramount national security interests in next-door Afghanistan.  Thirty million Pakistanis are ethnic Pashtuns.  They dominate Pakistan’s armed forces.  Another 1.4 million Pashtun are refugees in northern Pakistan.  Narrow-waisted Pakistan sees Afghanistan as its strategic hinterland in a next war with old enemy India.

The US-installed regime in Kabul routinely blames Pakistan for its glaring failures.  Its powerful Communist-dominated intelligence agency routinely spreads untruths about Pakistan, claiming it supports ‘terrorism.’

In fact, the warlike Pashtun tribes along the Durand Line, the artificial border between Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed by the British colonialists, have been on the warpath since the 19th Century.  Winston Churchill even approved the use of poison gas on the ‘unruly tribesmen.’  The wonderfully named Faqir of Ipi kept threatening to ride down from the Hindu Kush Mountains and put to the sack the British garrison at Peshwar.

Today, one hears threats in Pentagon circles that the US may begin bombing ‘Taliban sanctuaries’ (actually villages where these Pashtun locals live) and then send in air mobile US troops to attack them.  This would make the longest war in US history even longer.  Washington just can’t seem to accept that its military machine was defeated in Afghanistan, well-known as the Graveyard of Empires.

It’s also clear that the US has not given up its ambition to neutralize or destroy Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  Attacking so-called terrorist enclaves in northern Pakistan would offer a perfect cover for a major us air and ground assault on Pakistan’s nuclear complexes and dispersed storage sites.  India and Israel have long been pressing the US to attack Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure.

Any major US moves against Pakistan are very likely to push it closer to Beijing and expand Chinese influence in the region.  China is unlikely to allow old ally Pakistan to be torn apart by US power.  Unlike the US, China remembers its old friends.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2018

This post is in: Pakistan, USA


  1. You are right. Pakistan has in fact been cultivating closer relations with China for over 50 years, starting with then-President Ayub Khan’s visit to Beijing in 1964. But, Pakistan now has just the excuse it needs to become fully aligned with China and openly thumb its nose at Trump.

  2. Good thing that the Americans seem to have money to burn… it allows their incursions/meddling around the globe to continue and expand; one day you might think the money might ‘run out’… but, it doesn’t seem to.
    The attached link is a pretty good summary of why the war in Afghanistan is difficult to win and why a central form of government, in Afghanistan or the northern provinces in Pakistan, is almost impossible to maintain and likely doomed to failure. The article, below, does have a bit of a political spin, but, is essentially correct, IMHO.
    With Afghanistan, I’m afraid the Americans have already bitten off more than they can chew. They are continuing to throw resources at it and it shows no ‘signs of letting up’, or no signs of improving for that matter. The Americans are in a worse condition, now, than they were 16, or so, years back. If he were still alive, the late American baseball player, Yogi, might quip, “Just like Vietnam, all over again.” The invaders are haemorrhaging American dollars without attempting to control it. They are in desperate need of a tourniquet.
    Without seriously impacting the costs of the Afghanistan War, the Donald has to realise that the Americans have to continue hommage to Pakistan. There are some things the Donald may not like in life, but, he has to realise that if he is unable to change them, he must accept them. There is no easier ‘friendly’ manner of transporting supplies to Afghanistan than via Pakistan; the Khyber Pass is ‘the gateway’. There are other, less friendly and more tortuous, routes that could be used. The Americans may secure the friendship of other countries, but, I suspect neither party would be happy with the outcome, and it would not be sustainable or reliable. It is unlikely that other countries would have any trust, or, confidence with what the Americans might offer.
    The Americans seem to be ‘hell bent’ on starting WWIII with their actions in North Korea and the Middle East. The false ballistic missile attack on Hawaii, that occurred on 18-01-13, can accidentally ‘trigger hostilities’. At very least, the world becomes a little more tense, in particular, the residents of Hawaii. Apparently, a similar ‘false alarm’ situation occurred in Japan. This brings to mind the old movie, ‘Failsafe’ with Henry Fonda.
    Pakistan should declare, to the UN, that future incursions into its airspace, without permission, will not be tolerated. This will put all protagonists on notice. The same could be said about Syria providing a similar notice to the UN.
    In the absence of American ‘protection, Pakistan should seriously consider the means of providing protection against all forms of aerial attack. Pakistan terrain does not lend itself to ‘boots on’ type of invasion; an aerial attack is prescribed.
    The attack can be brought about by low and high altitude bombers acting on larger targets. Attacks on specific targets can be undertaken by drones or cruise missiles. For low flying jets, helicopters, drones and cruise missiles, MANPADS (shoulder fired surface to air missiles) can be a very effective defence; they are mobile, inexpensive, and easy to use; the targets can be quite expensive. The (target value) to (weapon cost) ratio can be quite favourable for the defender. Being inexpensive, they can be ‘scattered’ in large numbers throughout the targetted areas.
    The tribal nature of parts of Pakistan, and Afghanistan make it unlikely that these areas could ever be subjugated, or, effectively invaded and held. Historically, this has been the case. A central form of government for these areas is contraindicated. Best not start a war that cannot be won; this is something the Americans seem to have omitted or overlooked in their plans or thoughts.
    The small tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan are ‘tribally’ cohesive. The tribes are just as happy to fight an invader as they are another tribe. They have done this for centuries and have gotten quite good at it. The old statement about the Irish comes to mind, “They’re never at peace unless they’re at war.”

  3. Raj Sathya says:

    Its proper for Pakistan seek some financial assistance from Iran or Syria or some terrorist countries since US has withdrawn US 900 MILLION aid.Its not a small sum,since Pakistan allocated some 100 million dollars for terrorist activities along the Indian borders.The sudden withdrawal of the aid would encourage Pakistan to go aggressive against India and more suicide bombers are expected in Indian controlled Kashmir.

    • I’m not sure where the $900M goes. I suspect very little of it ends up in the General Accounts for Pakistan. The loss to the country may only be a financial loss to the ‘fatted calves’ that run the country.
      Pakistan would be ill advised to ‘take it out’ on India; they are not part of the troubles between the US and Pakistan. I suspect the Donald has come across this $900M and wants to extract more for his buck, and, this is his ‘Donald’ approach, which seems to be his manner of addressing all issues.
      Politically, Pakistan may not be able to provide more; with the various factions involved, both internally and externally, Pakistan is likely ‘walking on eggshells’ right now.
      The Kashmir will likely remain as it is, unless, India wants to ‘raise the stakes’ due to the uncertainty in Pakistan.

  4. Mike Smith says:

    China is already making its move by securing mutual beneficial economic agreements… with Pakistan and leaving open the participation for who ever is running Afghanistan in the next few years https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-pakistan-afghanistan/china-pakistan-to-look-at-including-afghanistan-in-57-billion-economic-corridor-idUSKBN1EK0ES

    • A good article Mike… but being from an American based news agency, they have omitted the fact that the current government of Afghanistan does not represent the people of Afghanistan.
      Give a few years with no outside interference, I suspect the current government would fail. It is the major ‘tribes’ (aka Pashtuns) that Pakistan and China would have to deal with to get any ‘deal’ to work.
      It may be that they can swing a deal with the significant tribes, but, a deal with the central government is likely doomed to failure.

      • Mike Smith says:

        I agree the central government is doomed, but I also think that China being masters of the long game have left themselves open to deal with anyone in this case… pick no sides and you have no baggage in negotiations.

  5. It would serve Trump and the US right if Pakistan were to move solidly into China’s orbit and refuse to allow the Americans to use their country to ship supplies and armaments to Afghanistan. With China willing to protect Pakistan, the US would not dare to attack it without risking a nuclear confrontation with China. It seems that the more Trump opens his yap, the more he serves to isolate the US from most other countries and put the US at dire risk.

    • That would be my next move, if I were running Pakistan. Up the toll for passage on the supply corridor. The Chinese Dragon can be a dual edged sword and can be a source of future problems. Presently, the Chinese can be an excellent source of surface to air missile batteries and MANPADS… just what Pakistan needs for defense.
      I’d have made overtures the day the Americans first indicated their reduction in payments. Since the Donald likes to ‘play the words’, it would be interesting to see how he would respond to that action.
      I don’t think nuclear is in the works… but, the Americans are currently pressing for the use of ‘small yield’ nuclear weapons for limited and contained attacks. This is a recent occurrence and there has not been a global outcry, yet.

    • Mike Smith says:

      I think that has been in the works for years… not just a Trump reaction

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.