US Has Taken Over Pakistan
It is a measure of the Pakistani state’s weakness that the Americans apparently have such scope and leeway to influence and direct its affairs.
LONDON, UK—Pakistan was already under the American hammer before the WikiLeaks crisis blew. But leaked US diplomatic cables published by the Guardian show the extraordinary extent to which Pakistan is in danger of becoming a mere satrapy of imperial Washington.
The US assault on Pakistani sovereignty, which is how these developments are widely viewed in the country, is multipronged. At one end of the spectrum, in the sphere of “hard power”, US special forces are increasingly involved, in one way or another, in covert military operations inside Pakistan.
These troops are being used to help hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in the tribal areas and co-ordinate drone attacks, as revealed by the Guardian’s Pakistan correspondent, Declan Walsh. Their activities come in addition to previous air and ground cross-border raids; and to the quasi-permanent basing of American technicians and other personnel at the Pakistani air force base from which drone attacks are launched.
The US hand can be seen at work in Pakistan’s complex politics, with the standing and competence of President Asif Ali Zardari seemingly constantly under harsh review. At one point, the military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, reportedly consults the US ambassador about the possibility of a coup, designed in part to stop the advance of the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif.
At the same time, Pakistani diplomats are convinced the Americans are somehow trying to commandeer the country’s nuclear deterrent, which they see as its only real defence against India. And all this importunity is underpinned by “soft power”, by a reverse cash tribute from Washington to Islamabad, approaching $2bn a year. In a very real sense, the Americans buy their way in.
This sort of helpful meddling, or shameless intrigue, or outrageous interference – decide yourself what you want to call it – in the internal affairs of a sovereign country is supposed to have gone out of fashion with the retreat of the British empire and the end of the Raj.
But that was never true in reality, of course. All great powers intrude in pursuit of their own interests; it’s what they do – and picking up where the British left off, the US is no different. It is a measure of the Pakistani state’s weakness that the Americans apparently have such scope and leeway to influence and direct its affairs.
What is equally remarkable, however, is how little the Americans appear able, ultimately, to control their satraps. Zardari talks a good game but achieves little. Millions of US taxpayer dollars earmarked for fighting Islamist extremists allegedly disappear into government coffers, never to be seen again. Washington’s staunch Pakistani allies in the “war on terror” play both sides, maintaining their ties to friendly Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group while simultaneously accepting America’s largesse. Being an imperialist is never easy.
So the Americans don’t get what they want. But neither do ordinary Pakistanis. The larger point is that Pakistan is suffering grievously, in terms of lives lost to terrorism; in soldiers and civilians killed and wounded in the campaigns against Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas; in a ravaged economy, acute poverty and lack of education; and in the all but forgotten but still terrible aftermath of this year’s floods.
Pakistan needs less foreign interference, not more. And that applies to Arab jihadi fanatics as much as it does to imperious Americans. But on current trends the opposite is happening. The clear danger, highlighted by the leaked cables, is that the west’s unwinnable war in Afghanistan is spilling over into its weak, ill-led and much put-upon neighbour – and that Pakistan, too, could become a war zone.
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