Attacking Pakistan? Don’t Do It

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

Back home in the sub-continent, they say you should always stay away from the cops; their friendship as well as adversity is bad for one’s health. I am reminded of the advice as the world’s chief cop, the United States, bombs its allies and friends in Pakistan. With friends like these, do you really need enemies?

When former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had promptly and so enthusiastically recruited Pakistan in America’s war after that call from Colin Powell, he had assured his people that this was the only option available to Pakistan. Else, the reasonable General reasoned later, the U.S. would have bombed Pakistan back to the Stone Age. Fortunately or unfortunately for Pakistan, Musharraf is not around. Otherwise we could have asked the good general why the Coalition of the Willing has turned on its own.

Or is Pakistan no longer part of Bush’s divine mission to promote Democracy and Freedom in the Muslim world now that Musharraf is not in power? Or have the new, democratic leaders of Pakistan happily relinquished the total control of the Islamic republic to Uncle Sam?

Last week as new President Asif Zardari joined ‘brother Hamid Karzai’ in a duet celebrating democracy and the glorious War on Terror after his inauguration, the U.S. special forces were going about taking out ‘the terrorists’ in the Northwest — terrorists who looked like women and children.

By hosting the mayor of Kabul — oops, the Afghan president — as the chief guest at his inauguration, Musharraf’s successor left no one in doubt where his priorities lay. But what was rather too much to take even for Zardari’s minders was his endless mollycoddling of ‘brother Karzai.’

Don’t take me wrong. I have nothing against the elegantly dressed Karzai and his ever-ready pearls of wisdom that he proffers from time to time for the benefit of his Western audiences. But he is not exactly the poster boy of democracy in the Muslim world, regardless of what his American friends might think of him. Most Pakistanis love to hate him. General Musharraf might have made a thousand policy blunders but the guy certainly knew how to deal with the likes of Karzai.

But how do Pakistan’s new leaders propose to deal with the increasingly demanding friends and allies like the Americans? Pakistan’s Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani won the instant gratitude and admiration of his worried people and surprised the world by standing up to the Coalition of the Willing. The reticent General was lustily cheered by the Americans as ‘our man’ when he took over from Musharraf as the army chief. There was much talk of his ‘Enlightened Moderation’ and his positive outlook on the West.

Which was why the Pakistanis were elated to see the general lash out at the Americans promising ‘retaliation’ if they continued to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Whether the Pak Army will really take on America, the leading member of the fabled trinity — the other two being Allah and Army of course — is still a hypothetical question.

However, by asserting himself General Kayani articulated the sentiments and aspirations of the nation of 170 million people that has been at the receiving end for some time. More importantly, Kayani has offered the much-needed leadership and sense of direction to his people at one of the most difficult points in the nation’s history.

But where are those who are supposed to lead the nation at all times? Where are the champions of democracy and freedom when they are under threat by the friends who are not so friendly?

While the rejuvenated Pakistani media is constantly debating the growing U.S. attacks inside Pakistani territory protesting against the mounting civilian casualties, the silence of the country’s leaders on the issue is deafening.

Zardari clumsily evaded all questions about the U.S. incursions at his first press conference that appeared more like the unveiling of Hamid Karzai. It’s been more than a week since he took over as the president. But he has offered no clue as to how the government proposed to deal with the issue. When the same question was raised in London after his meeting with British PM Gordon Brown, he quipped ‘there will be no more (attacks).’

It’s understandable if Benazir Bhutto’s widower finds himself inexorably indebted to Uncle Sam. After all, the U.S. did not play an insignificant role in the turnaround of his fortune. It was the U.S. pressure that persuaded Musharraf to bring in the National Reconciliation Ordinance paving the way for the return of Benazir and Zardari. It was the Bush administration again that pushed Musharraf to shed his uniform and hold elections.

So even though it was the pro-democracy movement pioneered by the lawyers and the media that eventually brought Musharraf down, the man who spent 11 years in the prison on his way to the presidency views Washington as his real benefactor.

Which is why it’s doubtful when and if the neocons in their last desperate bid to make the most out of the Bush presidency hit Pakistan, they’ll face much resistance from the political leadership.

Having totally wrecked Iraq and Afghanistan over the past seven years, the neocons are looking for fresh targets, new enemies and new territory to sustain the interest of the bored American voters. After the disastrous eight years of the Bush presidency, you would think the Republican would be too embarrassed to ask the voters for another shot at power.

But if you can get Bush re-elected after what he unleashed on the Americans and the world in his first term, you can surely get another disaster elected all over again. Even if he is too old to run and doesn’t know how to check his e-mail. Even if he is threatening to persist with the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan and open new fronts in Pakistan and Iran.

Right now, the Republicans and neocons are dangerously desperate. They could do anything to keep Barack Hussein Obama out of the White House. And for them, attacking Pakistan is the surest and only way to laugh all the way to the vote bank. Besides, that’s where Bin Laden is supposed to be holed up, right?

But who will tell the Bushies that if they hit Pakistan, the proverbial stuff will really hit the fan. The world’s first Muslim nuclear state might have been much abused by the men in khaki and the civvies over the past half a century.

However, it’s not the defanged and neutered Iraq of Saddam Hussein. This is a country that has fought three major wars with the giant called India. The U.S. may be the world’s greatest military power. But if it attacks Pakistan, all hell will break loose. It will end up turning the whole of Muslim world, from Morocco to Malaysia, into a large battlefield. So much so Saddam’s Iraq would look like a long picnic.

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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