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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Bought and Paid for by the USA

Here in Pakistan, where I live, the general who runs things, Musharraf, declared a state of emergency yesterday. He sacked the head of the Supreme Court, suspended the Constitution, suspended a whole slew of local private TV channels, and cut phone lines to & from Islamabad. The emergency grants him powers to do pretty much whatever he wants; for example, he can have anyone arrested without charge, and held indefinitely--just like his friends the Americans do in Guantanamo. Opposition politicians like Imran Khan are under house arrest; so is Asma Jehangir, the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Others, like Nawaz Sharif, are in forced exile.

This will probably not affect me a great deal. There may be a curfew imposed, or some other inconvenience. But I'm unlikely to be stopped by police, or arrested, or deported.

How it will affect the country at large is another question. There is plenty of alienation among the population as whole, mainly due to three things: economic policy, military action the northwest, and most of all, American hegemony.

The economy is booming--if you're lucky. After 9/11, a lot of expat money came flooding back into the country, and a lot of development and investment came along with it. People who already had money found themselves in a position to make a lot more. But along with this came outrageous inflation. My rent has multiplied in the past eight years; my electric bill has risen by 400% since 2001. Uzee and I feel the squeeze but we're not desperate; but the huge proportion of the country living on $1-$2 dollars per day is getting desperate. Last month, tomatoes hit $2.50 a kilo; they normally sell for about 35 cents. Onions, carrots, sugar, all the basic staples have shot up. This may not sound like a lot to you, but for a guy who earns a buck or two a day to feed his whole family, it's a big bloody fookin' deal. Meanwhile, imported cars are getting bigger and bigger for the few super-rich who are getting super-richer: a Mercedes dealership has opened in Lahore (!) for the first time, and I actually saw a snazzy little Jaguar a few streets from my house. So there's a lot of anxiety on the part of the common citizen, and a growing amount of resentment as well.

The second part of the dissatisfaction stems from the government's civil war in the northwest. Please understand, I'm no fan of the Taliban, I think they're wackos who need to be stopped. Nothing would make me sadder than to see a Taliban-style regime in this country. BUT, I don't think the best way to quell "militancy" is by indiscriminate military action. The US tried that in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Vietnam. It has failed in all three arenas. Not surprisingly, when people are faced with two unpalatable options, they will choose the less immediately unpalatable. So when the US (or the Pakistan Air Force) is dropping bombs on their villages, and the Taliban is saying, "Help us fight them," many people will think something like: "Well, the Taliban are scary, but at least they're not trying to murder my family." As a result, militancy grown more powerful with every industrial-strength western military offensive. I have no idea why this simple idea is so mysterious to the governments Bush et al.

And to their puppets. Which brings us to the third part of the equation: Musharraf has received $9 billion from the US since 2002. Make no mistake, he is doing the bidding of the States, and people here are tired of that. Thousands of people have been rounded up and "disappeared," held indefinitely without charge, at the behest of the US and its "war on terror." Investigation of these disappearances was the reason why the Chief Justice was sacked the first time around. (What, you say never read about this in The New York Times or heard it on CNN? I'm so surprised.) Pakistanis are being tortured and killed to satisfy the Americans, or killing one another in military strikes. When the (Democrat-led) Congress responds by demanding that Pakistan "do more" or when idiots like Obama try to rustle up a few more votes by threatening to bomb the country, people are naturally furious that their countrymen's lives (private citizens, rebels and soldiers) are being sacrificed for an "ally" who talks to & about them in such terms.

All of which undermines Condi's petulant little comment that the US wants "a smooth transition to democracy" and won't tolerate anything else. What a joke: the US has been paying for "anything else" for the past six years. (And a good deal longer, in places like Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Latin America... make a list.) Tell anybody in this country that the States is keen to promote democracy, and they will fall down on the ground, helpless with laughter. Until they stop laughing and start getting pissed off. Because democracy is what they want, and the United States of America is devoting enormous resources to preventing it.

Let me say again: people here do NOT want an Iranian-style revolution or a Taliban-type takeover. But they think they have been co-opted into fighting someone else's war. Suicide bombings are a common occurrance here; before Mush's US-funded attacks, they had never taken place. Sunni-Shia attacks are more frequent than ever before, and so on. So are attacks on Christians and other minorities, previously rare. Violence begets violence, remember?

All of this has been bought and paid for by the United States. Musharraf is there because of the US. The war is taking place because of the US. People are being rounded up and "disappeared" because of the US.

So where all this will head, I can't say. Has Mush made a mistake by imposing the emergency? Probably. According to some reports, the Supreme Court was on the verge of overturning his election last month (elected by the provincial assemblies, not the population at large), so this is his way of retaining office. But has he made a mistake that will result in severe negative consequences for him? That's harder to say. The last time the Chief Justice got sacked, in March, people did protest and people did turn out on the streets, and the government did reinstate him after several months. Now there's even more bad feeling out there. So maybe something like that will happen again.


thosspot said...

I dont think laying all this at the feet of the US is that simple. And I bet the Bush Admin wished it were that easy. Sure, we've thrown a lot money at Pakistan, and much of it for ill, nil. And US foreign policy has been pretty oafish (when hasnt it?). And rounding up lawyers and journalists et al is a strange way to combat terrorism. Nor can I defend what appears to be a budding Argentine style "desaparecidos" situation.
But Musharraf isnt exactly a puppet; he looks kinda funny and he did go on Jon Stewart. But the guy did stage a coup before the US was involved. And there's also Kashmir and Baluchistan, problems that were there, again, before US involvement. I just think he's desparate; has his ass in a crack in a major way and the US once again has learned that you get what you pay for. Any bets Musharraf doesnt make it to year end?


Ted, of course Musharraf's a puppet. What, you think you can take that kind of money and not do what you're told? But like most puppets--Saddam Hussein comes to mind--he has crossed the line and started thinking he can dictate terms. Oops. Like Hussein, like Noreiga, like the Taliban, he will soon discover his mistake.

Kashmir is a problem that goes back to Partition, or earlier actually; the British sold the Muslim province to a Hindu ruler for one pound sterling, no kidding, and so set the stage for permanent unrest. They did this in Thailand too, where they sold the three independent Muslim kingdoms in the south to the king in the north for a pound, in 1909. This is called "divide and rule," also known as "get the natives fighting against one another, and they won't fight against you." Clever, hey? Now those Thai provinces are fighting for independence and, hey presto, we have more "Islamic militants" stirring up trouble against the benign forces of, oh, the royal family, the free market and so on.

Balochistan is, from what I can tell, an internal matter; Balochistan province has the lion's share of natural gas resources in Pakistan, yet is the poorest and least-developed province. (Akin to Aceh in Indonesia.) The Baloch want a bigger cut, or, failing that, they want out of the country. Mush has been sending troops to "quell the violence," ie, murder the opposition.

Yes, these 2 situations precede US involvement, but my point is that Mush has remained in power as a result of US funding and backing. I don't know why Americans have this knee-jerk "It's not our fault!" response. The Taliban were created by the USA to fight the Soviets when they invaded Afghanistan in 1980; of course the Soviets are responsible for the invasion, but the US must take the blame for the Frankenstein monster that it created, namely, the Taliban. Now, in order to resist the Taliban, they have propped up a dictator. No, they did not place him in power, but they have helped keep him in power, thinking it would serve their own short-term interests (ie, kill the beards). That has not happened and now the beards are being joined by other people who want things like democratic expression and free speech and so on. Once again, the States is on the wrong side of the equation, backing a repressive regime because it is somehow supposed to be better than the other repressive alternative. And Americans sit around thinking,"Why are they so anti-American?" Um, hypocrisy and lies have an awful lot to do with that. Not to mention bombs falling on their villages.

thosspot said...

OK then. It's not ALL our fault. And frankly, when hasnt the world been anti-American? (in recent decades anyway). And no one sits around and wonders about it. They know...or more accurately, more people now know; except they're so new to the world, so to speak, or they're becoming more aware of the world, etc, that they think it's a new feeling, when in fact it's been around since at least the Vietnam War.
Nor does anyone sit around here and try to figure out how to increase human suffering -- Bush included. My main point is that there's plenty of blame to go around. Mush can shoulder lots. And why doesnt anybody blame "the beards"? Why no protesting against them? Agains Al Qaeda? Does it stand to reason that if they werent a problem, we might not now be propping? Or still in Iraq? I think "reason" is the operative word here. It's something that is severely lacking in that part of the world (actually everywhere, but more so there). You're probably right that we've made the beards the good guys to go to. It's unfortunate and I hope those democratic-minded folks change their minds. Not bloody likely I suppose but one can hope.
By the way, I heard Mush's chief legal counsel on the radio yesterday (he's in Wash. I guess making the rounds). He basically blames the US, in "the devil made me do it" fashion, for all that's going on. No doubt this is the official line all over the world.
Why not? It's the easy line to take. But I refuse to believe we're the entire cause here.
Also, I'm curious. In your view, what would have happened/who would have taken over had Musharraf been overthrown?


I think you're wrong that people don't wonder about anti-Americanism. Or rather, I think you're wrong that people have a solid grasp of it. After 9/11, the question repeated over and over and over--on the media at least--was "Why do they hate us?" As Robert Fisk put it in his book about 9/11, "It's a fair question to ask who did this thing, but for God's sake don't ask why."

In 1953 Mohommad Mossadeq was the prime minister of Iran; he nationalized the oil, and so the CIA and MI6 overthrew him and placed the Shah--the king--in power. The Shah did what he was told and sold oil to the west for cheap. And we wonder, "Why did Iran have a revolution and take the Americans hostage and place beards in power and generally act like we're the bad guys?" The answer is, as far as Iranians are concerned, the US and UK model of "democracy" is reprehensible. Lots of people were surprised by Iran in 1979, and mad too. Maybe not you, Ted; but do you remember those "Nuke Iran" buttons? They weren't just for fun; some people wanted to use nuclear weapons on Iran for having the nerve to host a revolution that overthrew a king and replaced it with some other, semi-democratic government. That sucks. If the Iranians hate us, I don't blame them.

We followed this by supplying weapons to Iraq throughout the 1980s, so that they could fight a devastating war with Iran. Does Saddam take some blame for this? Sure he does. But so do we, who supplied him with the firepower to kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians. And then, when he got too big for himself, we took him out too... But not before a decade of sanctions killed 500,000 civilians in Iraq, many of them kids. (According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Int'l.) It is the US who imposed those sanctions, who enlarged them to include non-military items like medicine (no diabetics left in Iraq; they're all dead, because no insulin), and who by the way targeted facilities like drinking water plants and hospitals in the first gulf war (read The Fire This Time, by Ramsey Clark, who was attorney general).

Meanwhile, $3.6 billion per year goes to Israel; Palestinians are being killed at a ratio of 10:1 since the '80s. Some people think it's outrageous that the Palestinians are fighting for a homeland. I don't. This situation adds immeasurably to local anti-US feeling. In my opinion, it is the single largest component.

So then. This is the background when Russia invades Afghanistan and the Taliban are set up with US help. Can the Taliban take some blame for being pricks? Absolutely. They suck. I think they should go die. Etc. But you know what, they would have withered away and disappeared by now without US funding, US equipment, US training, US money. They got all that in order to fight the Russians. And when the Russians left, the US did too, and left the Taliban to do whatever. You say, "If they weren't a problem, would we still be there propping?" That's exactly my point, Ted. The beards were created by the States; then the dictator was used by the States to resist the beards. The US must accept responsibility for its actions. If you give a kid a gun, and teach the kid to use the gun, and reward the kid for using the gun, and encourage the kid to keep on using the gun to kill your enemies, and then the kid walks into the neighbor's house and uses the gun--guess what? The kid's responsible, yes, but so are you. Take away the guns, the training, the funding, and the Taliban is a bunch of loudmouth beards preaching in Kandahar.

It's worth remembering that the world's largest exporter of conventional weapons--guns, grenades, rocket launchers--is the USA. The UK is #2. These weapons kill 200,000 people per year. So I disagree with you that "no one sits around trying to figure out how to increase human suffering." There are plenty of people who profit from conflict. If the choice is between no conflict and more profit, they will choose more profit every time.

As for Bush--if he really believes that he can start a couple wars and NOT increase human suffering, then he's a fucking retard. In fact, I think one reason Americans are so blase about war is that none of us have ever experienced one fought on our home soil. I'm not saying I want one; I just think that the massive European resistance to the war, as opposed to the great American shrug, may have something to do with their more recent experiences with getting their cities bombed into the dirt. For Americans, war is a video game. It should be a given that war will destroy countless people's lives, but as you point out, Americans don't see it that way. It's just something on TV.

Also Ted, please quit with the "easy line to take" bit. The easy line is: "America loves freedom so we're not to blame." The much more difficult line is: "Actions have consequences, and the States has been messing about in foreign countries since WWII, securing resources and expanding its hegemony, propping up friendly regimes while undermining those that act in their own interests, and during that time it has made lots of mistakes, killed hundreds of thousands of people and engendered an enormous amount of ill will. Maybe we should reconsider our role in the world and the damage we're causing as opposed to all the good that we keep telling ourselves we're doing."

If Musharraf had been overthrown there would have been an interim period of considerable instability--street protests and so on--but I believe Nawaz Sharif would have come back from exile and been reinstated as Prime Minister by the Supreme Court (we would still have had a supreme court, in this scenario). Big protests as a result by supporters of other parties, and more creeping Talibanization in the northwest, which is what has happened anyway. Then there would have been elections, with either Nawaz or BB winning--I think Nawaz since people hate BB so much.

And the govt might have been more outspoken against the US war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and maybe, like Turkey, refused to allow its territory to be used for offensives into Afghanistan. Then again maybe not. Money can buy a lot of cooperation, and I'm sure there would have been plenty spent here.

BTW, I love your site. Really interesting ;)

thosspot said...

Wow, Dave. Thanks for the history lesson. Any other cliched U.S. evilness you care to throw in there? You didnt mention Chile or Vietnam or Native Americans. I sort of skimmed your reply because I got the same stuff in a Howard Zinn class back in college -- although honestly, not nearly as sanctimoniously delivered. Anyway, now happy to know that we're the only bad guys in the world. That AK-47s are our fault, as is Abdul Qadeer Khan, Ruhollah Khomeini, Chinese hegemony, Iran's ambitions (fuck the hostages! They got what they deserved), the "beards." And good thing no one uses those Katyushas anymore, eh? And arent those Silkworms cute? And we give all that money to Israel? And all they can do is blow up those peacy-cuddly Fatah/Hamas students? Darn, if only Iran would pump some cash into that area, everything would be cool. Anyway, good thing we dont give money to anyone else in the world. Phew! Thanks for clearing it all up. Just hope I can get the glaze out of my eyes before the Pats game Sunday.
And thanks for visiting my site; not much there yet -- kinda like yours;)


The history lesson seems necessary, Ted. Maybe the fact that you "skim" unpleasant information is part of the problem?

I don't blame the US for every problem in the world. Just for the ones it has contributed to, which is quite a lot of them. This seems to make you defensive.

Sure, we donate lots of money to good causes. So what? Does that in any way detract form the fact that we also pay for many bad ones? Nope.

Sure, we're uninvolved in, say, Chechnya. Does this absolve us of responsibility in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine? Nope.

pettitworld said...

While I appreciate both views, I think it's a deeper problem. It's corporations who actually manipulate the governments of the world. I believe Bush and most world leaders answer to multi-national corporations - top 10 being Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC Holding, General Electric, JPMorgan, American Intl Group, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, UBS Switzerland, and ING Group. If someone gets out of line, doesn't play by the rules, or (some country/gov't) defaults on a loan, they get taken out or have to create some crisis so the companies can make money... I believe you can see that globally/historically. "Evil" is created and disappears in cycles - along with the profits of disposing/fighting that evil. Of course, definitions of evil vary.
As in anything, there is a pecking order, and the big peckers are not necessarily those you see!