Saturday, 13 February 2010

Afghan war is destabilizing Pakistan

As the NATO offensive in Helmand begins, supporters of the Afghan war argue that it will bring stability to Pakistan. The truth is that Pakistan is becoming more unstable with every day that passes.

The war that is raging in Afghanistan is bringing intolerable death and destruction to Pakistan as well. The USA is carrying out air attacks inside Pakistan, using unmanned drone aircraft. The number of attacks has escalated dramatically since President Obama was elected. And with an estimated 700 deaths in 2009 alone – most of them civilians and children – it is provoking immense anger.

On top of this, Pakistanis are enduring a wave of terrorist attacks, with more than 3,000 people killed in 2009 alone. There is deep anger and hostility towards the Pakistani Taliban and their allies who are carrying out these horrible attacks – often with a sectarian motivation. Many Pakistanis are living in fear.

Continued US intervention into an already chaotic situation is liable to make the situation much worse.

One commentator, Pratap Chatterjee, draws a parallel with the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He says, “Think of them as the 1970s equivalent of the Pakistani Taliban who have settled into the wild borderlands of that country largely beyond the control of the Pakistani government.” He points out that the Khmer Rouge were weak until secret US bombing raids completely destabilised the country. Their rule ended only after they committed one of the worst crimes of genocide on the 20th century.

Modern Pakistan is very different to the Cambodia of the 1970s. But Chatterjee has a chilling warning: “Beware secret air wars that promise success and yet wreak havoc in lands that are not even enemy nations.”

With every escalation of the war in Afghanistan, the situation in Pakistan becomes more dangerous. Rather than escalate the war effort Western governments need to escalate a peace process.