Pakistan pays the price of defiance; Obama shows his true colors
Leading up to the NATO conference in Chicago last Friday, the U.S. was hopeful that President Zardari of Pakistan would announce the reopening of U.S. military supply routes in Pakistan, according to an article published in The Guardian of London on May 21, but their hopes were dashed. Zardari, who was invited at the last minute for a trilateral conference with U.S. President Obama and Afghan President Karzai, said, in a bilateral meeting with Hillary Clinton, that he would open the supply routes, but first the U.S. would have to apologize for killing 24 Pakistani soldiers during an air attack on a military base on the Afghan border last December and commit to ending drone strikes inside Pakistan. President Obama did not give a private audience to the Pakistani president. In fact, it appears that American officials were not shy about expressing their displeasure with Pakistan at the conference.
“Obama, at the opening of the second day of the Nato summit Monday morning, demonstrated his displeasure with the Pakistan government by singling out for mention the Central Asia countries and Russia that have stepped in to replace the Pakistan supply route. He made no mention of Pakistan, even though Zardari was in the room at the time. To ram home the point, the US defense secretary, Leon Panetta, also held a meeting at the Nato summit with senior ministers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Panetta expressed his “deep appreciation” for their support.”
This is a sharp rebuke, given the level of ongoing support that Pakistan has provided to the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan, which has lasted more than ten years. Mr. Zardari was apparently under some serious pressure to capitulate. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor on May 22, there were high hopes for a deal when he attended the NATO meeting. It appears, however, that he offered to reopen the routes, without demanding the cessation of the drone strikes, at a price about 20x higher than what the U.S./NATO had been paying before the routes were closed, an offer unlikely to be accepted. Meanwhile, back in Pakistan, according to any number of sources, Prime Minister Gilani has been convicted by the powerful Supreme Court of Pakistan for refusing to reopen an old corruption case against President Zardari. Their government is in a very vulnerable position.
This is not a happy circumstance in a country where the civilian government has frequently been removed by a military coup, and Mr. Zardari’s father-in-law was actually executed by Zia al Haq, the military dictator, supported by the United States, who removed him from office. From the viewpoint of the Pakistani government, this is a defeat any way you look at it. If even the reputedly corrupt Asif Zardari cannot bring himself to reopen the supply routes while the drone strikes continue to wreak havoc on the civilian population of North Waziristan, and cause upheaval in the general population of Pakistan, then it might be time to revisit the policy. However, the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe do not see it that way. This is their world and they will have their way. Violence, humiliation, and oppression are their tools of choice. The lives of individuals have no meaning for them, and their mantra of freedom and democracy is meant to drown out the cries of the impoverished and brutalized masses of their victims. As you may imagine, an insult to a already debased opponent was hardly an adequate response to the refusal of a chattel to provide the expected services. So, that wasn’t the end of the affair.
Even as the beleaguered president of Pakistan was being shown the goodwill of the U.S. government and their NATO allies along with their contempt for himself, his country, and the rest of the people who live there, a successful drone strike that targeted an Egyptian jihadist named Saeed al-Masri, or Yazid, killed half a dozen men and three small children. The Face of Collateral Damage, an article by Jefferson Morley on Salon.com, provides the details and a photo of one of the children, a small girl named Fatima. Fatima was not a member of Yazid’s family (not that that should matter) but the child of an associate who had already been killed along with his wives and other children in a previous drone strike on his vehicle. Fatima was killed in the compound where she lived in the village of Mohammed Khel in North Waziristan not far from the other villages listed below. Apparently this strike was not counted with the ones listed below because there was an actual ‘militant’ targeted. Despite the deaths of several children, it didn’t play into the global accounting.
Beginning the same day the NATO conference closed, May 21, three separate U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan killed 20 people and wounded many more. On Monday the 21st of May, a compound (in our frame of reference, that would be a home) in the town of Mirinshah was hit with two Hellfire missiles, resulting in four deaths and a number of injuries. On Tuesday, a mosque in a nearby village was struck by two Hellfire missiles during morning prayers, resulting in ten fatalities and more injuries. On Thursday, a bakery in another village in the region was struck with Hellfire missiles, resulting in five fatalities. My Google Drone Alert was flooded with these events for the entire week. Headlines in India, Pakistan, Russia, China, the U.S., U.K., and Canada echoed “Drone Attack Kills 10,” “US Drone Strike ‘Kills 5’ in North Waziristan,” “5 Killed in Pakistan Drone Strike,” “Drone Attack in North Waziristan Kills 5,” and on and on. These were so-called Signature Strikes so they did not target any identified individual.
Local people said that those killed in these strikes were “villagers.” Across the international press, the victims were referred to variously, as “militants,” “suspected militants,” and “people.” Some of the U.S. press presented them as “suspected” militants and “supporters” of terrorists. Even after looking at all those articles, I don’t know their names. I don’t believe the people who called the strikes know who they were. ABC News referred to the victims as militants in every case, and helpfully provided a Google terrain map with a single marker designated “Pakistan.” At least I can name the towns, and provide maps showing the locations of the strikes. The town struck on Monday was Mirinshah, a significant town in the region. The mosque struck on Tuesday was in the village of Mir Ali, about 15 miles east of Mirinshah, and on Thursday the bakery was struck in the village of Khassokhel, not far from Mir Ali.
Here is a map of the locations of the villages where the drones struck. The markers show drone strikes that occurred between 2004 and 2011. The yellow highlighted area on your left indicates the location of Mirinshah, and the yellow highlight on your right indicates the general location of both Mir Ali and Khassokhel. If you click on the map, it will open a Google Map with all the drone strikes and the legend.
The Western press coverage of these events provides the big picture. The Global Post, an internet news source has “Back to Back U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan Test Diplomatic Standoff Over Supply Lines,” and then “Drone Strikes Continue to Pound Pakistan’s Northwest.” Yes, I’ll say that’s a test of the diplomatic standoff. An “official” is quoted in the article as saying the victims were Uzbeks and other foreigners. They give no evidence of how he would know. Speaking of officials, the day of the first strike, the Christian Science Monitor ran “Pakistani Official: Position to Soften on NATO Supply Line,” where they cite a Pakistani official and a prominent Pakistani journalist saying that Pakistan is going to have to bite the bullet because they can’t win this one. They indicate that the negotiations were derailed by Zardari’s request for higher transit fees. But the bottom line is that there is nothing to negotiate because the Pakistani people will no longer tolerate U.S. drone attacks and the United States has no intention of discontinuing them. The next day, the headline was “US Drone Strike in Pakistan Highlights Divergent Interests in US, Pakistan.” I would say, the strike[s] highlight the near-infinite disparity in power between the United States and Pakistan; at least that is what the U.S. seems to be asserting.
The article elaborates the inconvenience that Pakistan has cause to the United States and NATO by closing the supply lines, and says that inviting President Zardari to the NATO conference was a goodwill gesture. So, Zardari spent 17 hours or so on an airplane twice, so he could spend a few hours schmoozing with the folks who matter because they thought he was finally going to give in and violate the wishes of his domestic constituency by offering them what they want, but he spoiled the gesture by refusing to do so.
Two later pieces of news summarize the U.S. perspective on this situation. On Friday, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran “Drone Strikes Continue in Pakistan as Tensions Increase and Senate Panel Cuts Aid.” Punishment is being piled on punishment, insult added to injury, in an attempt to bring the Pakistani government to its knees. All that is left is Regime Change. Interestingly, if you look at the first few paragraphs of this article, it seems like that is where they are heading. And then, today in The New York Times, “Secret Kill List Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” eight pages of arrogant, bluster, wherein we read such gems as:
“When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.”
“Without showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies — rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.”
following a reference to “the president’s attempt to apply the “just war” theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.” Then we have:
“Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
“Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.” [You could have fooled me.]
”In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.” [What principle guides this decision?]
The Republicans “get it”:
“Their policy is to take out high-value targets, versus capturing high-value targets,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the intelligence committee. “They are not going to advertise that, but that’s what they are doing.”
Mr. President, I have to ask, “What principles are reflected here? It would appear that Mr. Obama is playing God. Seduced by the power of the Presidency, and at the same time barred from constructive domestic action, President Obama has turned to the minute details of day-to-day issues of life and death for strangers on the far side of the planet who do not have it in their power to protect themselves from his personally structured version of state terrorism. And last week, his eminence apparently decided to teach the Pakistanis a lesson about defying the mighty powers of the American Olympians. Perhaps, Mr. Obama, you would deign to look down from your lofty post and say a few words of comfort to little Fatima and the dozens of others like her.
Judy Bello is a peace activist based in Webster, New York, and a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Task Force on the Middle East. She maintains a regular blog on U.S. foreign policy.