The front lines of the “War on Terror”

Since the commencement of the “War on Terror,” the U.S. has by far been its most enthusiastic advocate. However, following the quagmire that is Iraq, President Bush has noticeably fallen behind in the management of the operation pursuing the greatest modern enemy of America: Osama bin Laden. In fact, at a 2002 news conference, Bush responded to a question of why so few of his speeches mentioned Osama or operations regarding him, “You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him… I don’t know where he is… I truly am not that concerned about him.” [Insert irony here].

Perhaps this indifference and complete 180º on the administration’s most commonly-used figure for the promotion of the “War on Terror” has prompted the criticism and violence that plagues U.S. military operations in recent years. Middle East nations of course bear the major force of the hotbed of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants on a home front, but Pakistan is the most severely affected autonomous, somewhat-stable country in the region.

The U.S. is known to have supported several governments in the past that seem to directly contradict the U.S.’s so highly-promoted ideal of democracy and freedom for the sole purpose of political gain such as dictator General Francisco Franco of Spain (opposed the Commies in the ‘70s) – and yes, he’s still dead. Similarly, the U.S. now sponsors Pakistan – which the U.S. used to pry the Soviets out of the Middle East in the ‘80s during the Cold War – to front the “War on Terror.” A former Pakistani diplomat and political confidant of the late Benazir Bhutto revealed that the U.S. had provided $21 billion to Pakistan in the past 50 years; only $3.4 billion of that aided elected governments, the other $17.6 billion was given during military rule of the country. However, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was not a genuinely-elected politician by any means.

In 1999, then-Chief of Army Staff Musharraf overthrew the democratically-elected prime minister, suspended the constitution, and named himself “Chief Executive.” As a man with thorough military background had just deposed a regime – and no doubt had the ability to deal with dissenters – the Supreme Court of Pakistan validated the coup and granted Musharraf executive powers for three years. One year later, he muscled out the President to take that position instead, accepting a Prime Minister three years later (in Pakistan’s semi-presidential republic, the prime minister administers domestic affairs, and the president foreign affairs).

After September 11, 2001, Pakistan realized the Taliban’s collaboration with Waziristan – the mountainous tribal region in northwestern Pakistan where most radical militants base their operations and attacks. Pakistan agreed with individual tribes to allow military presence, but South Waziristan’s sub-tribes inferred the military’s presence as an attempt at subjugation. Poor decisions on Pakistan’s part soured matters with the tribes, and two attempts at assassination suspected of Waziri origin ultimately fomented public resentment and undeclared war against the Pakistani army March 2004. The next year, a peace agreement with a Taliban commander settled the hostilities with South, but the next month he was killed by a U.S. hellfire missile thus scrapping the agreement and resuming hostilities.

Raids and airstrikes continued for two years until the Taliban military ceased major engagements with the Pakistani military; a second peace agreement, the Waziristan Accord, stipulating Pakistan’s reconstruction of Waziristan’s infrastructure was settled with tribal leaders. However, a U.S. air strike destroyed a school on the Pakistani-Afghan border believed to harbor terrorists; approximately 70 people – possibly teenaged students – are believed to have died. In retaliation, a suicide bomber detonated at an army base 8 days later, killing 42 Pakistani soldiers and making it the single deadliest attack on the Pakistani army since the engagement.

Meanwhile, Lal Masjid mosque in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad frequently challenged the government’s role in the “War on Terror,” campaigning against the demolition of mosques in Islamabad. When the Lal Masjid mosque was partially demolished in mid-2007, students occupied a neighboring children’s library; a siege of the complex lasted for a week, leaving 108 dead and once again breaking down peace agreements with Taliban militants. Several back-and-forth attacks ensued in the following year with casualties escalating per engagement, ultimately involving suicide bombings of buses carrying defense ministry and military intelligence personnel.

During these attacks, Pakistan’s President Musharraf declared a state of emergency, which suspended the constitution and dissolved the federal cabinet. Though the emergency was to control the recent attacks, Musharraf also used this time to insinuate himself into the President’s office for a second term and make over 3,500 arrests. As Pakistan continued to control Taliban offenses and repairs to its infrastructure, Benazir Bhutto, twice Prime Minister of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, was assassinated as she left a political rally. A wave of violence crashed through Pakistan, rioters burned cars and tires in the streets and hundreds of shops were looted; altogether, 47 people died in the mayhem.

According to various reports in the past few years, Osama bin Laden likely ranges the mountainous tribal areas of northwest Pakistan; however, Pakistan refuses any U.S. military operations within its borders other than the training of its special forces. Thus, the U.S. once again has little choice but to sponsor another Middle East nation to combat public enemy number one; hopefully, the sponsorship and armament of Pakistan won’t result the same as how the U.S. indirectly fought our former foes – the Soviets – by arming a certain Afghan insurgency group: Al-Qaeda.

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