30 October 2008 Edition

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'War on Terror' brings ruin to Pakistan

Pakistan People’s Party leader, President Zardari

Pakistan People’s Party leader, President Zardari


BY DARA Mac NEILL

IT WOULD appear that Pakistan has finally grown tired of Washington’s ‘War on Terror’. It has grown tired of its use as a proxy to combat the great Muslim conspiracy that so vexes the Sarah Palins of this world, tired of the country’s role as a bloody battlefield, and very tired of its citizens’ unasked-for role as refugees in their own country and ‘collateral damage’ from no-warning missiles and suicide bombs.
Ordinarily, the threatened collapse of a country is a cause for concern, but the fact that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons – just one of nine countries that currently do  – adds to the sense of crisis on this issue.
Indeed, it is ironic that it is the grim determination of the Bush neo-cons to pursue their War on Terror without pause or thought for the consequences that has resulted in this very critical situation.
Today, Pakistan is without doubt one of the most unstable and dangerous states on earth – yet another legacy bequeathed us by the Bush presidency, the most politically arid and socially destructive era in living memory.
The unrelenting pressure from Washington resulted last week in Pakistan’s parliament overwhelmingly voting for an end to military action and for dialogue with ‘extreme groups’. The resolution received the support of all parties in the parliament.
The country’s legislators have very publicly spelt out precisely what many of its citizens have known for quite some time now – that the country is paying too high a price for its co-operation with Washington’s war.
A leading member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party characterised the move as being “a need to prioritise our own national security interests”. Tellingly, he damned US policy as one of “bulldozing Pakistan” to further US interests.
Most critically for the War on Terror, the resolution passed by parliament explicitly states that “dialogue must now be the highest priority, as the principal instrument of conflict management and resolution”.  That’s not what it says in those US Army manuals.

INDEPENDENT FOREIGN POLICY
Notably, the resolution also determined that Pakistan would now pursue an independent foreign policy and condemned US military incursions which have led to civilian deaths inside Pakistan in recent months and which were, for many, demonstrable proof of how the country is being ‘bulldozed’.
On Monday, 27 October, US military drones killed an estimated 20 people in an attack on a compound close to the Afghan border. It was the twelfth such incident in just 10 weeks and comes after a mid-October attack on an alleged Al-Qaeda madrassa (school) that left 11 dead.
Also on 27 October, a suicide bomb attack in Quetta left two dead, just one in a long line of such attacks on primarily civilian targets.
Domestically, the country is closer to actual meltdown than at any time in its turbulent history. Its towns and cities are subjected to severe energy shortages, with black-outs of up to 12 hours’ duration in many areas.
Inflation is heading for 30 per cent and the currency faces collapse. More seriously, food inflation is running at an astonishing 100 per cent, which has actually placed basic foodstuffs out of the reach of many people, thereby pushing more below the poverty line.
In June of this year, one survey reported some 86 per cent of the population were finding it difficult to obtain flour on a daily basis. That figure will have only worsened in the interim. Ironically, it is alleged that a contributory cause of the shortages is the smuggling of vast amounts of wheat across the border to Afghanistan, where the presence of NATO troops means it commands a far higher price.
Of course, matters have not been helped by the fact that, as a rule, Pakistan’s ruling class  – civilian or military – treats the national coffers as their own personal savings account and the source of their ‘walkabout money’.

BEGGING BOWL TO CHINA
Thus the country is currently run by the Pakistan People’s Party and its leader, President Zardari. His only previous claim to fame was as the husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, the former president who fled into exile and was killed upon her return in December 2007
Zardari is now the country’s second wealthiest man and is believed to have accumulated his vast wealth whilst his wife was in office.
This may or may not be related to the fact that Pakistan’s Central Bank now holds only enough reserves to cover just five weeks of imports.
Last week, Zardari took a begging bowl to China, but to no avail. He has now been forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund – a body in which the US has huge influence. It may well be that any bail-out package comes heavily-laden with conditions relating to the country’s ongoing ‘co-operation’ in the War on Terror.
That would be a mistake and would serve only to exacerbate the situation in what is the world’s second most populous Muslim nation.

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