I was visiting Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States when the phone on his desk rang. “The hot line,” he said. “Sorry, I have to take this call.”
This strongly pro-American Ambassador was wrong. While the US hails Pakistan as a key non-Nato ally, the US treats it like a militarily occupied country. The government in Islamabad is left to observe increasing drone attacks and CIA ground operation with deepening embarrassment and helplessness.
Average Pakistanis have no doubt about what’s happening. Most believe their nation was more or less occupied by the US after the 2001 attacks on it.
The Pakistani leader, who allowed this to happen, General Pervez Musharraf, has admitted that the US put a gun to his head and demanded he allow it to use Pakistan’s army, air bases, ports, intelligence service, logistics, and air space - or face war. Musharraf quickly caved into the US ultimatum, something a tough predecessor, General Ziaul Haq, would have surely rejected.
As US drone attacks intensify in Pakistan’s tribal belt and inside Afghanistan, the government of President Asif Zardari, which was engineered into power by Washington and sustained by US dollars, keeps imploring the US to halt the attacks that are enraging Pakistanis. Senior Pakistani diplomats have been warning that the drone strikes that have so far killed 2,500-3,000, mostly civilians, are fuelling extremist groups in Pakistan and humiliating its armed forces.
No one in Washington is listening. Islamabad’s attempted to show some independence by halting US-Nato truck convoys from Karachi to Afghanistan for seven months after a deadly US air attack last November that killed 25 Pakistani soldiers. But the blockade was recently lifted after $1 billion of American aid to Islamabad was unfrozen. The dollars are flowing again - many of them right back out into Swiss, Dubai or Singapore bank accounts.
Anti-American feelings in Pakistan have been soaring. Some polls show over 90 percent of respondents expressing hatred or anger against the US. These public sentiments have been worsened by more loose talk by the Republicans in Washington about seizing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, making its province of Balochistan a separate state, or putting it on America’s terrorist list.
Also, there are even rumbles from the far right and pro-Israel neocons about attacking Pakistan. Washington’s not so discreet threats of punishment have abated for the moment, thanks to the mess in Syria and rising threat of war against Iran. But Pakistan remains a potent generator for anti-American sentiment. Ironically, the US went to war in Afghanistan to supposedly punish anti-American groups, yet now ends up creating 10 times more enemies in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the truck craziness has reared its head again. Supply trucks for US and Nato forces are backed up at Pakistani border crossing points because supposedly because of security threats. Trucking supplies into northern Afghanistan via the Black Sea, Russia, and Central Asia has been costing the Washington $100 million monthly at a time when 44 million Americans live below the poverty level. Flying supplies and munitions from the US to Afghanistan costs 10 times more than ground transport. On top of this, the militants are annoyed that the truck convoys have stopped. Because they were being paid off millions more by the US to let the convoys pass.
Talks this past week in Washington between CIA Chief David Petraeus and Pakistan’s new intelligence Chief, Lt Gen Zahirul Islam, were said to be cordial, but not discernibly productive. Nor were talks between top Pakistani and US generals. Diplomats seem to have dropped out of the picture!
The writer is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles appear in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Gulf Times, Khaleej Times and other news sites in Asia. He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Lew Rockwell and Big Eye. He appears as an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, France 2, France 24, Fox News, CTV and CBC.