14 April 2009 **** Front Page

US's search for military hegemony in South Asia

By Tapani Lausti

Tariq Ali, Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power. Simon & Schuster 2008.

Many Finnish commentators are enthusiastic about Finland's current role in the "international community", which most often means supporting policy choices forged in Washington and London, the seats of latter-day colonialist ethos. Closer cooperation with NATO is seen as "a natural part of aligning the country with the West". In Afghanistan, it is claimed, Finland cooperates with NATO in advancing the security of the "international community". One ex-foreign minister talked about Finland's "international responsibility with other civilised European countries". For a small country's politician he showed a surprisingly colonial mentality.

These hallucinations are not disturbed by critical analyses because the commentators depend mainly on Western government sources and think tanks loyal to the Western powers. Tariq Ali's books are not part of their reading list. Ali's descriptions of US self-serving cynicism when it comes to Asian politics would contradict too blatantly their faith in Washington's mainly benign role in the world.

In a recent interview Ali said: "You know, what is quite staggering is that in order to sustain the occupation of Afghanistan, a country of 30 million people, the United States is now seriously considering destabilizing Pakistan, which is a country of 175 million people. And they don't seem to understand that if they destabilize this country and if the Pakistani military begins to crack up and split, what we are seeing in Afghanistan will be absolutely nothing compared to what could happen in Pakistan. It's a very serious business." (Tariq Ali on a People's Victory in Pakistan, Obama's Escalation of Afghanistan War, and 6 Years of US Occupation in Iraq, Democracy Now! 19 March 2009)

Ali's analyses of US-Pakistani relations offer a disturbing background to Washington's policies in the region. The US has fomented the hatred of most Pakistanis who have witnessed the way the American governments have backed their corrupt and uncaring rulers. Contrary to some Western analyses this deep hostility has little to do with religion "but is based on the knowledge that Washington has backed every military dictator who has squatted on top of the country." (p. x)

In spite of dreadful poverty and lack of basic social infrastructure and consequent hopelessness and despair, only a small minority of Pakistanis have turned to armed jihad. People are angry, however, at the corruption which is rife at every level of society. The strategic collaboration with the US has helped to militarise the society. Washington sees the armed forces as the only worthwhile institution in Pakistan. The impoverished country has nuclear weapons which certainly do nothing to help the poor.

Ali writes: "One of the basic contradictions confronting the country has become even more pronounced: thousands of villages and slums remain without electricity or running water. The wooden plow coexists with the atomic pile. This is the real scandal." (p. 3)

The history of US-Pakistani relations should make any sensible observer weary of current propaganda about "stabilising" Afghanistan. As always before, the US is trying to impose its military hegemony in the region. Yet, it is obvious that the presence of foreign troops there invites armed resistance as is the case in practically all similar historical precedents. It is the colonial mentality which keeps alive illusions about "security" through military means. All the talk about "helping the Afghans to build a stable state" is pure propaganda.

In a chapter titled "Operation Enduring Freedom: Mirage of the 'Good' War", Ali deals with this latest sorry tale of American military endeavour. However repugnant the Taliban regime had been with its fundamentalist posturing, it had created stability in the country. Many Afghans expected a similar level of order from the American occupiers. What followed destroyed this hope.

Ali writes: "The problem was not a lack of funds but the Western state-building project itself. By its nature a top-down process, it aims to construct an army constituted not to defend the nation but to impose order on its own people, on behalf of outside powers; a civil administration that will have no control over planning, health, education, etc., all of which will be run by NGOs whose employees will be far better paid than the locals, and answerable not to the population but to their overseas sponsors; and a government whose foreign policy is identical to Washington's." (pp. 227-228)

Western news audiences know how angry the Afghans are at the aerial bombings which have claimed innumerous civilian victims. Less well known is what the Afghans think of their "benefactors'" behaviour. Ali describes it like this: "The contrast between the wealth displayed by the occupiers, including corporate expense accounts that charged the cost of prostitutes to their firms, and the poverty of most Afghans created resentment and anger." (p. 228)

Ali sums up the results of the "good" occupation: "Overall, 'nation-building' in Afghanistan has so far produced only a puppet president dependent for his survival on foreign mercenaries, a corrupt and abusive police force, a 'nonfunctioning' judiciary, a burgeoning criminal layer, and a deepening social and economic crisis." (p. 234)

No wonder a growing majority in the entire region now see the result as a fully-fledged imperial occupation.

Visit the archive: Tariq Ali, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Robert Fisk, Asia


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