The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor,
ANOTHER U.S.-MADE DISASTER
By Asad Ismi
The February election in Pakistan makes no difference to U.S. and military dominance
of the country. The Pakistan army has never let any politician rule the state
even when they had a majority of the vote. No party won a majority in the February
vote, the biggest share of the 268 National Assembly seats going to the Pakistan
People's Party (PPP) (87) (whose leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated last
December) and to its rival Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) (66).
Such a weak and divided legislature will be no match for the powerful military
which will keep ruling the country under U.S. orders as it has since 1947, playing
off the politicians against each other.
The victories of PPP and PML (N) do not represent any major improvement for the
Pakistani people since both parties have proven to be corrupt U.S. puppets when
they have ruled the country in the past, and continue to be so. This is one reason
why 65% of the Pakistani electorate did not bother to vote in the election.
The story of the Bhuttos shows how the U.S. controls Pakistan not just through
the military but also through the emasculation of its political process. Benazir
Bhutto's assassination underlines the danger of being a U.S. puppet in Pakistan,
where competition for this post can be fierce within the national élite.
Bhutto was sent back to Pakistan by U.S. President George Bush and U.S. Secretary
of State Condaleezza Rice last fall. She was told to provide the hated military
dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf with a democratic façade in the
With public opposition to Musharraf mounting due to his declaration of martial
law, dismissal of the Supreme Court, arrest of thousands of opposition members,
and suppression of the media, this was the U.S. administration's latest attempt
to prolong his oppressive reign. Bhutto had always done the U.S.'s bidding during
her two terms as Pakistan's Prime Minister, but the problem this time was that
there already was a U.S. puppet ruling the country: Musharraf. The General had
no wish to share power with Bhutto, who he knew could "out-puppet" him in terms
of the extremes she would engage in to please Pakistan's American master. This
battle of U.S. clients could only have one end: the better-armed and more ruthless
one would win.
Several factors point to the involvement of the Pakistan military's intelligence
agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in Bhutto's assassination; the ISI,
in turn, takes its orders from the CIA. As Milton Bearden, a former CIA station
chief in Pakistan, put it, "[Pakistan is] the only country in South Asia that
always did what we asked."
The killing took place at a political rally in Rawalpindi, a garrison town tightly
controlled by the Pakistan army, which has its headquarters here. Two assassins
were involved. The first was the shooter, who fired three shots at Bhutto as
she waved at supporters, her head emerging from the sun roof of her Land Cruiser.
One bullet hit Bhutto in the head, killing her. Then the second assassin, who
was standing behind the shooter, blew himself up with a bomb, killing 20 people.
Police abandoned many of their posts during the speeches, leaving Bhutto with
mainly private security guards to protect her.
One hour after the assassination, the authorities hosed down the crime scene,
thus destroying all potential evidence. No autopsy was performed on Bhutto's
body. Doctors who attended Bhutto in her last hours say that the government ordered
them to keep silent and to destroy records of her treatment. The weapon used
to kill Bhutto was a Steyr 9mm handgun, issued only to Pakistan Army Special
Musharraf quickly blamed al-Qaeda for the murder. He came up with the bizarre
explanation that Bhutto died not from bullet wounds, but when the force of the
bomb caused her to hit her head on the lever of the Cruiser's sun roof. Musharraf
later added that she should not have emerged out of the sun roof, thereby blaming
her for her own murder.
Given all this, it is not surprising that in Pakistan, Musharraf, the ISI and
the army are widely blamed for the killing and that officials from Bhutto's Pakistan
People's Party accuse the government of covering up evidence of its involvement
in the assassination. Having received $10 billion in U.S. military aid for being
an ally in Washington's “war on terror,” the astoundingly corrupt and genocidal
Pakistan military elite had no intention of sharing its massive wealth and power
with any civilian politician, especially not one it had thrown out of power twice
and whose father it had hanged in 1979.
Bhutto's killing served U.S. objectives in Pakistan. The Bush administration
wanted a major increase in U.S. military operations in the country to expand
its “war on terror,” and the murder of Pakistan's most prominent politician,
supposedly by al-Qaeda, gave Washington a pretext to carry out this aim. As author
William Engdahl explains, “Were Musharraf to agree to the stationing of U.S.
Special Forces inside Pakistan... the democratic farce with Bhutto could be put
aside in favour of the continued Musharraf sole rule.”
Musharraf agreed, of course. One day before Bhutto was shot, "The Washington
Post" reported in an article titled "U.S. Troops to Head to Pakistan": “Beginning
early next year, U.S. Special Forces are expected to vastly expand their presence
in Pakistan, as part of an effort to train and support indigenous counter-insurgency
forces and clandestine counterterrorism units, according to defense officials
involved with the planning. These Pakistan-centric operations will mark a shift
for the U.S. military and for U.S.-Pakistan relations. In the aftermath of Sept.
11, the U.S. used Pakistani bases to stage movements into Afghanistan. Yet once
the U.S. deposed the Taliban government and established its main operating base
at Bagram, north of Kabul, U.S. forces left Pakistan almost entirely.
“Since then, Pakistan has restricted U.S. involvement in cross-border military
operations as well as paramilitary operations on its soil. But the Pentagon has
been frustrated by the inability of Pakistani national forces to control the
borders or the frontier area. And Pakistan's political instability has heightened
U.S. concern about Islamic extremists there. According to Pentagon sources, reaching
a different agreement with Pakistan became a priority for the new head of the
U.S. Special Operations Command, Admiral Eric T. Olson. Olson visited Pakistan
in August, November, and again this month, [December 2007], meeting with Pakistani
President Pervez Musharraf... Now, a new agreement has been finalized. And the
first U.S. personnel could be on the ground in Pakistan by early in the New Year,
 according to Pentagon sources.”
Only 50 U.S. military personnel were present in Pakistan before this new agreement.
Given the fierce hatred of the U.S. government among the Pakistani people, a
major catastrophe attributable to al-Qaeda would be required to make a significantly
expanded American military presence in the country acceptable to the public.
The murder of Pakistan's leading politician certainly fit this requirement. Some
puppets are more useful dead than alive.
However, the Pakistani people do not believe that al-Qaeda killed Benazir. They
blame the ISI, which works closely with the CIA. So the CIA/ISI intelligence
plan for widening the U.S. war within Pakistan appears to have backfired: Bhutto's
killing only increased the Pakistani people's hatred of the U.S. and its other
client, Musharraf, instead of focusing public anger on al-Qaeda. All over the
country, people reacted to Bhutto's murder by burning government offices. As
Hassan Abbas, a former official in the Bhutto and Musharraf governments, put
it, “My view is that this [the assassination] was a combination of elements from
the intelligence agencies with people from the extremist groups with whom they
have working relationships.” Abbas is author of the book "Pakistan's Drift into
Extremism: Allah, the Army and America's War on Terror."
The Taliban and al-Qaeda were both set up by the CIA and ISI, and the agencies
have long-standing links with these and many other Islamic fundamentalists, whom
they have routinely used against secular progressive parties and movements in
Pakistan and other Muslim countries.
The Western mainstream media portrays Bhutto as a martyr for democracy, but she
was far from that. She returned to Pakistan not to promote democracy, but to
serve the U.S. by providing a fig-leaf of legitimacy for a murderous and corrupt
military dictatorship. Bhutto's own two tenures as Prime Minister (1988 to 1990
and 1993 to 1996), were also marked by autocratic rule, official violence, and
widespread corruption. She appointed her husband, Asif Zardari, Minister for
Investment and together they stole $1.5 billion from the public treasury. She
faced corruption charges in Spain and England, and was convicted in Switzerland
of money laundering and taking bribes. Zardari was known as “Mr. Thirty Percent” in
Bhutto's second term for demanding “commissions” when granting government contracts.
During this time, security forces in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, killed
thousands of innocent people while fighting armed militants opposed to Bhutto.
Bhutto's violence extended even to her own family. While Prime Minister, she
was implicated in the murder of her brother, Murtaza, who was killed by police
outside his residence in Karachi in September 1996. Murtaza had denounced Benazir's
and Zardari's corruption and wanted to take the PPP in a left-wing direction,
thus making a split in the party likely. Benazir, who had declared herself “Chairperson
for life” of the party, would not tolerate any opposition to her absolute rule.
A judicial inquiry set up to investigate Murtaza's murder concluded (without
naming names) that the orders for it had to have come from the highest official
levels, thus making the culprit obvious. Witnesses to the murder were arrested,
but not the senior police officers who carried it out. All this is particularly
relevant now that the PPP has returned to power led by the notorious crook Asif
Extreme violence and corruption define the triumvirate that rules Pakistan: the
U.S. government and its proxies--the Pakistan army and the feudal land-owners.
A CIA agent called the Bhuttos "our feudals," and Benazir and her father, Zulfiqar
Ali Bhutto, never rose above this shameful position. The family owns vast tracts
of land in Sindh province. Zulfiqar is credited with being Pakistan's first democratically
elected leader, but this is not true. He was never elected Prime Minister of
Pakistan, and only came to power by encouraging the breakup of the country.
Pakistan's first national election, held in 1970, was won by Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman,
leader of the Awami League, a party dominant in East Pakistan. Mujib won all
but one of the seats in East Pakistan, which, with 55% of the population, had
more seats than West Pakistan. Mujib was thus Pakistan's first democratically
elected Prime Minister. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party won most
of the seats in West Pakistan, which made him leader of the opposition. This
was not good enough for Zulfiqar, who warned that he would “break the legs” of
anyone from West Pakistan who went to the eastern half for the meeting of the
Zulfiqar then encouraged military action against Mujib and the majority ethnic
Bengalis who made up the population of the east. The army, which was dominated
by the Punjabi ethnic group (from Punjab province) had, of course, no intention
of handing power to the Bengalis--not just because they were ethnically different,
but also because they were left-wing, wanted autonomy, and would have ended the
military's control of the country. In March, 1971, the army unleashed a genocide
on East Pakistan that killed up to three million Bengalis in eight months. Zulfiqar
was in Dhaka, East Pakistan's main city, when the killing started. In his own
words, he watched the city burn from his hotel window and said, “Pakistan is
East Pakistan was liberated from the Pakistan military's bloodbath by the Indian
army, which invaded the territory in December 1971 and defeated the Pakistani
troops in a week. East Pakistan then became the independent nation of Bangladesh.
The horrifying loss of half the country allowed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to become
Prime Minister of the remaining half in 1972. Thus Zulfiqar became the leader
of Pakistan not through elections, but due to the genocide in which he was complicit.
Once Prime Minister, he personally continued the slaughter of civilians by sending
the army into Balochistan province in 1973. Like the Bengalis, the elected Baloch
provincial government also wanted autonomy. Bhutto dismissed this democratic
government and the army killed 5,000 Balochis and brutally tortured more than
4,500. The killing restored the military's confidence, which it had lost after
the East Pakistan defeat and, ironically, emboldened it to overthrow Zulfiqar
himself in 1977 and to hang him two years later. The army had no more intention
of sharing power with Zulfiqar than it did with Mujib (or later with Benazir
Benazir continued her father's violent legacy, adding massive corruption to the
family misdeeds. She also encouraged the growth of religious fundamentalism by
helping create the Taliban in league with the ISI and CIA during her second term.
One of the main architects of the Taliban strategy was Naseerullah Babar, Benazir's
interior minister. The Bhuttos have long shared with the army the desire to take
over Afghanistan, which Benazir used the Taliban to do. Thus Benazir had much
to do with creating the religious extremism that she decried on her return to
Pakistan in 2007.
The question remains, though: why were the Bhuttos popular? Why did the people
of West Pakistan vote for them? The plausible answer is because Zulfiqar promised
a socialist system which he never delivered. The PPP's slogan was “Roti, Kapra,
aur Makan” (“Bread, Clothes and Housing” -- for the people) but none of these
amenities was provided. Instead, the people got genocide, corruption, and dynastic
Propping up the Pakistan army and feudals like the Bhuttos is the U.S government,
which is the real power in Pakistan. Washington's destruction of the political
process in the country and its backing of one military dictatorship after another
has today brought the remaining western half of Pakistan to the brink of disintegration.
There are four different insurgencies raging in the country that threaten to
tear it apart. This is in addition to the now weekly suicide bombings that killed
400 people in 2007. The insurgencies are located in the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan, Swat district in the North-West Frontier
Province (NWFP), Gilgit (near the Himalayas), and Balochistan province. The first
two conflicts involve Pashtuns fighting against the army. Pashtuns are the majority
ethnic group in the NWFP.
The Baloch struggle is the most significant one, as the province comprises 43%
of Pakistan's land area and holds most of its natural resources. It is rich in
oil, natural gas, coal, copper, gold, silver, platinum, aluminum, and uranium.
Also, a large part of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan are launched from
two American bases located in Balochistan. The province declared independence
24 hours after Pakistan's creation in 1947, only to be occupied by the latter's
army in 1948. The Balochis, who form a distinct ethnic group with their own language
and culture, have long been oppressed by the Punjabi-dominated army which has
kept them the poorest people in Pakistan and stolen their natural riches. Two-thirds
(63%) of Balochis live below the poverty line and only 2% have clean water. Natural
gas from Balochistan is crucial to Pakistan's economy, and the province produces
more than 40% of the country's primary energy (gas, coal and electricity); yet
only 6% of Balochis have access to gas and the province gets only 12.4% of the
gas royalties due to it.
Given such deprivation, there have been five Baloch insurgencies against the
central government since 1948, the latest one starting in 2005. Musharraf has
responded with what "The Guardian" (U.K.) calls a “scorched-earth military campaign,” killing
more than 900 Balochis, displacing 140,000, disappearing 450 political activists,
and arresting 4,000 others. Many detainees are tortured. “Musharraf's terror
tactics,” says "The Guardian", “include bombing and burning down more than 200
houses, schools, and clinics. The often indiscriminate attacks on civilian settlements...
involve the deployment of heavy artillery, fighter aircraft, and helicopter gunships.”
Mehran Baloch, the Baloch representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council,
warns that “Pakistan is determined to kill the Baloch people and has deployed
its entire state machinery to crush and eliminate the Baloch nation. This is
state terrorism.” According to Selig Harrison, the leading Western expert on
Balochistan, the Pakistan army's attack on the Balochis is “slow-motion genocide.”
The Baloch people want independence, and the well-armed and organized Baloch
Liberation Army and other nationalist groups have carried out hundreds of attacks
on army units, police barracks, oil and gas pipelines and railway tracks with
mortars, rockets, and bombs. Between January 3 and February 10, 2008, Baloch
insurgents killed 54 Pakistani soldiers and blew up 11 gas pipelines and 17 electricity
pylons. The guerrilla war is pinning down entire army divisions and has stopped
industrial production in Punjab for long periods (due to gas service interruptions).
It is unlikely that the Pakistan army will be able to crush this insurgency,
especially given the other three it also faces, as well as the frequent suicide
attacks. The military has similarly failed to defeat Pashtun tribesmen near the
Afghan border, where it has been fighting for five years and lost 700 soldiers.
The PPP's coming to power will worsen the situation given its preference for
violence in both East Pakistan and Balochistan.
The perilous condition of Pakistan is a direct result of Western imperialism.
The creation of Pakistan itself was a British ploy to divide and weaken India.
The function of Pakistan in Western imperial strategy has been to attack and
destabilize India and Afghanistan (in the Soviet era), since these countries
would not bow to Western dictates. For this reason, the U.S. has ensured that
the army remained paramount in Pakistan. The Pakistani people have usually voted
for progressive policies when they have been given the opportunity to do so.
They have wanted a welfare state that would eradicate poverty and provide free
education, medical care, subsidized housing, and political rights. Instead, the
U.S. has unleashed a 60-year reign of terror on them through the Pakistan army.
Commentators in the Western mainstream media worry about what they call Islamic
terrorists taking over Pakistan. The fact is that U.S.-backed terrorists have
been running the country for decades. The Pakistan army has always been an instrument
of U.S. terrorism, killing millions of people and ensuring that most Pakistanis
remain mired in massive poverty and illiteracy. This has driven people in four
different areas of the country to fight for their independence.
The ruinous results of U.S. strategy are clear in Afghanistan as well: the country
is occupied by 45,000 troops from 47 Western countries, unable to defeat the
Taliban even after six years but killing thousands of civilians to support a
brutal warlord regime that is the world's biggest heroin trafficker. The horrendously
bloody and criminal failure of the West in Pakistan and Afghanistan is overlooked
by its mainstream journalists, who regularly call Pakistan a “failed state.” But
Pakistan is only one in a long line of states devastated by U.S. imperialism,
from Iraq to the Congo to Vietnam.
As the Persian saying advises: “If you look in the mirror and do not like what
you see, don't smash the mirror. Smash your face.”
This article is dedicated to the Baloch people.
Asad Ismi is The CCPA Monitor's international affairs correspondent, and is from
Pakistan. He is author of the highly acclaimed radio documentary, "The Ravaging
of Africa" which is about the destructive impact of U.S. imperialism on that
continent. For his publications, visit www.asadismi.ws.