Does Pakistan Have Any Rights the US is Bound to Respect?

From A World to Win News Service

War Supply Route Reopened 

US-Pakistan relations have been very bumpy over the last few years. The US government claims that Pakistan is helping the Taliban and other Islamist forces fighting in Afghanistan, and Pakistan is outraged and embarrassed by blatant and repeated American aggression. Washington feels it has a right to interfere in Pakistan and that any sort of protest is baseless.

The Nato summit in Chicago revealed the extent of US bitterness when President Barack Obama refused to have a private meeting with Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president. For his part, Zardari expressed frustration about US drone strikes and urged the summit to find a "permanent solution". The US responded by launching four more drone strikes in North Waziristan, killing 30 people over the following week.

"Tensions with U.S. deepened after a tribal court sentenced a doctor who helped the CIA find Bin Laden to 33 years in prison for, according to a leaked court document, providing medical care to banned terror groups; U.S. Secretary of State Clinton 24 May called the move 'unjust and unwarranted.'" (International Crisis Group report, 1 June 2012)

In response the US Senate cut another 33 million dollars in aid to Pakistan, one for each year of the doctor's prison sentence. This was in addition to the 2-3 billion dollars in aid to Pakistan suspended last year.

The visit of US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to India, where he made nasty comments about Pakistan, was another show of bitterness between the two countries. Panetta warned that American officials were reaching "the limits of our patience" with Pakistan.

The extent to which the US feels free to do whatever it wants in Pakistan was brought to light in January 2011 by a shoot-out in a crowded area in the city of Lahore, in Punjab province, when a CIA contractor shot and killed two young men riding on a motorcycle. A third man was run over by a U.S. Embassy car sent to help the spy flee the scene. The CIA and the Pakistani military intelligence service – the ISI – made a deal behind closed doors and Davis was freed and flown out of the country. But the whole affair disclosed the existence of US covert operations in Pakistan, carried out independently of Pakistani officials and even without their knowledge. This provided a strong clue as to who was behind the assassination of several Taliban commanders in Pakistan for which no one had taken responsibility.

A few months later, in May 2011, a US raid deep inside Pakistan ended with the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. This American military operation on Pakistani soil carried out in secret from the country's authorities angered the Pakistani people and left the authorities embarrassed at their powerlessness and lack of authority. But the US made it clear that it felt entitled to intervene militarily in Pakistan (and by implication other countries), and suspended military aid to Pakistan with the explanation that the Pakistani government should have found and turned over Bin Laden themselves.

At the same time they continued to carry out attacks in Pakistan using pilotless drones, killing civilians on many occasions. According to human rights organisations, since 2008 there have been nearly 300 drone strikes in northern Pakistan, killing around 5,000 people, mainly civilians. Despite protests in Pakistan against this open aggression, Pakistan’s leaders reacted by taking a defensive attitude, denying that they had known Bin Laden's whereabouts and weakly complaining that the aid suspension was unfair, instead of taking a forthright stand against the US for violating the country's sovereignty. Yet US-Pakistani relations only worsened after that.

When a Nato attack on a Pakistani military outpost near the Afghanistan boarder in November 2011 killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, it seemed that the Pakistani power structure began to really worry about what the US might have in store for them. In response, Pakistan closed the Khyber pass, blocking the key road used to bring supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan. Also they asked Nato to evacuate its airbase in Pakistan, and boycotted the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan held in December of last year. The Nato commander called the attack a mistake, the excuse usually made to defend unjustifiable military operations.

Whether this was a deliberate act or a mistake is impossible to confirm. But it is not a secret that the US has sometimes used what they call a "mistake" to send a political message. For instance, when an American warship in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988, killing more than 500 passengers, it was widely seen as a deliberate (but "plausibly deniable") act meant to pressure the Iranian regime to accept a ceasefire with Iraq. Whatever the truth is in this case, by repeatedly refusing to apologize for this killing of Pakistani soldiers, the US has used this incident to make it clear that it does not consider Pakistan a sovereign country. In this the Obama government is acting no differently than its predecessors who spread the war in Vietnam to Cambodia and Laos – a move, it might be remembered, did not end well for the US.

It is striking that instead of apologizing for illegally attacking Pakistan, as the Pakistani government and parliament has asked, the US played the aggrieved party and reacted to the continued closing of the Khyber pass almost as furiously as if it were American territory. It has totally ignored the Pakistani government and parliament's calls for an end to the drone strikes (the latest was 1 July). They have openly set up their spy and commando network inside Pakistan, carried out major military operations deep inside the country and treated their Pakistani "allies" as though they were disobedient servants, and yet they feel justified declaring that they are reaching "the limits of our patience", which can only be taken as a warning of even more aggression. This is arrogant, blatant and outrageous imperialist bullying.

These American provocations have dragged Pakistan into a deep crisis. The Pakistan ruling classes have faced an inherent instability since the country was founded in 1948, but it has intensified in the last few years. This crises has domestic political and financial dimensions. But the main factors are the ruling classes' reduced regional influence, their dissatisfaction with developments in Afghanistan, their problems with India and their relations with the US and the Western imperialists in general, all of which intertwine with their complicated relations with Islamic fundamentalists, including the war between the regime and the Pakistani Taliban, and sectarian religious war between Sunni and Shia fundamentalists. This crisis has found expression in the contention between the army and the civilian government, and in the emergence of the judicial system as a powerful institution and its contention with the government that resulted in the disqualification and removal of Prime Minister Yousef Reza Gilani. The tensions with the US are conditioning and overshadowing these other contradictions.

What is driving US imperialism to be increasingly tough on this country still officially designated a "major non-Nato ally"? Whereas the US once needed a military-run and Islamic Pakistan, why does it now seek to weaken and isolate Pakistan and perhaps threaten its existence as a country? And what is driving the Pakistani ruling classes to push against the imperialist powers they have long been very dependent on?

The tensions between the US and Pakistan are not configured by the will and approach of the US and Pakistani governments alone.  Bigger forces and interests are shaping the approach of both sides. 

One point is that while the interests of the US and Pakistani ruling classes once converged, they are in conflict in the present situation. In the 1980s the Islamic fundamentalists were the US's main weapon against the Soviet bloc in Afghanistan and the region, and in fact a core part of American efforts to bring down the USSR. The US also backed Pakistan against India because Delhi was under Soviet influence. Pakistan invested in the fundamentalists to increase its influence in Afghanistan and in the region and then used them in Kashmir to serve its contention with India. Now the US needs to get rid of the Islamist forces allied with Pakistan.

In  recent years it has been evident that the US is increasingly siding with India and promoting it as Washington's new regional favourite. This is not unrelated to another strategic shift in a world where US-Soviet rivalry once defined so much. This shift is due to the rise of China as a capitalist rival, and US strategic plans to exploit India's differences with China so as to contain Peking's growing influence in a region the US needs to dominate.

Whereas the US once looked the other way as Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, now it considers those weapons a  threat – and at the same time has signed a treaty to help India develop its nuclear programme. It is extremely significant that US Defence Secretary Panetta chose India as the venue to mock Pakistan and emphasize Washington and Delhi's common interests in opposition to that country. "Just as India views the relationship with Pakistan as complicated, so do we… And it is," he joked. (The New York Times, 6 June 2012) Pakistan's rulers could not miss the message.

While the conflict of interests between the rulers of the US and Pakistan is not limited to Pakistan's support for Islamist forces, the dynamics of the situation are forcing Pakistan to cling to them as its only leverage in the region. So despite US warnings, it has not cut off support for them, even though this is not without danger for Pakistan's current political set-up. This is part of the complexity of the country's current crisis.

Pakistan's ruling classes have found themselves in this difficult situation exactly because they have relied on US support for well over half a century. Since Pakistan joined the anti-Soviet alliance known as the Baghdad Pact in 1954, US influence has shaped the country. For decades Pakistan's military was one of the world's leading recipients of US military funding. Washington played a central role in encouraging the rise of military rule and that military's efforts to further Islamicize Pakistani society in order to hold the country and its oppressive economic and social system together.

In fact the "tension" between the Pakistan ruling classes and the US is very different than a real protest or a fight against US bullying. Pakistan's ruling reactionaries have been using all their cards to convince Washington of their usefulness and are still begging, both for money (for instance, rather than standing on principle, they have offered to open the Khyber pass to the US for 5,000 dollars per lorry and 3,000 dollars per tank) and for political gestures from the imperialists that would allow them to save face in front of the people and justify their national betrayal and cowardice.

They have been putting the country on sale to the US and other Western imperialists for decades, ever since Pakistan broke away from India at the end of British rule. They supported and allied themselves with the West imperialists in all their wars of aggression and placed the country at the service of US interests during the height of superpower contention over who would get to dominate and plunder the world, and never really ceased to be dependent on the military and financial support of the US imperialists. How can they now expect the imperialist powers to respect a sovereignty that they have already sold out?

That is why the imperialists assume Pakistan is theirs, that they can either promote it or dump it and do whatever they want to do with it, and that Pakistan’s rulers will just have to accept whatever they get. Any class that relies on imperialists and serves their interest cannot expect a better fate.

The real interests of the people of Pakistan lie in overthrowing the reactionary regime that is so cowardly in the face of the imperialists and so fierce when it comes to suppressing the people. What is in the people's interest is not to seek an alliance with another powerful country, or to rely on Islamists who themselves have been a tool of the hand of Western imperialists and now threaten a religious civil war within Pakistan itself, but to rely on themselves and rebuild the country based on the interests of the masses of people there and throughout the world. All that is only possible through a new democratic revolution.