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Bloodshed rises in Pakistan as

U.S. pushes regime to attack Islamists

Published Nov 2, 2007 11:49 PM

More and more, the Pakistani people are being drawn into U.S. imperialism’s bloody wars and occupations against their will.

The last week in October, the Islamabad government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator who is frequently described in the press as “a key ally in the U.S. war on terror,” sent 2,500 troops into the Swat Valley near Pakistan’s northwest frontier with Afghanistan. The area is said to be a stronghold of Pakistani religious leaders who sympathize with the fight of the Taliban in Afghanistan against occupation by the U.S. and its allies.

Dozens of soldiers, civilians and religious fighters called “militants” in the Western media were killed in several violent clashes. One news account said Pakistani forces, backed by helicopters, had traded fire with militants who were “using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and other weapons.” (AP, Oct. 27)

A later account told of thousands of civilians fleeing from the area, where, on Oct. 28, “Security forces backed by helicopter gunships pounded militant hideouts in the mountains.” (AP, Oct. 29)

Just one week earlier, the Pentagon had handed over 30 helicopters to the Musharraf regime, the latest installment in more than $6 billion worth of “security-related assistance” given to the Pakistan military by the U.S. government since 2001.

Bush had sent his national intelligence director, the notorious John Negroponte, to Pakistan in January to pressure Musharraf to go on the offensive against the militant Islamic opposition. In July, government forces stormed the Lal Masjid mosque right in central Islamabad, killing hundreds of Islamic teachers and students opposed to Musharraf and his alliance with Washington.

Yet far from being intimidated, the influence of the Islamic militants has been growing, especially in the northwest, where the population is very aware of the brutal war being carried out against their neighbors in Afghanistan and can sometimes hear the roar of U.S. jet planes as they unload their deadly bombs.

Can cynical deal survive a massacre?

At the same time, Washington has been trying to popularize the image of the Musharraf regime without losing the services of Musharraf, who heads the large and nuclear-armed Pakistani army and first took power in 1999 in a coup. It has been brokering a power-sharing deal whereby Musharraf would accept a coalition with Benazir Bhutto, the multi-millionaire head of the Pakistan People’s Party, who recently returned from exile.

“The administration concluded over the summer that a power-sharing deal with Ms. Bhutto might be the only way that General Musharraf could keep from being toppled,” wrote the New York Times bluntly on Oct. 20.

As part of the deal, Musharraf promised Bhutto, a former prime minister, that corruption charges against her and her family would be dropped on her return. However, as the newly arrived politician moved in a car caravan through the streets of Karachi on Oct. 18, where some 150,000 people had assembled to greet her, powerful bomb blasts ripped through the crowd. Bhutto barely escaped; more than 150 people, including 50 from her security detail, were killed and more than 500 others severely wounded in a scene of utter carnage.

Almost all Western news accounts blame the bombings on Al Qaeda, but that does not seem to be the view of most Pakistanis. While “few had a clear picture of what caused the explosions,” wrote a reporter who interviewed survivors, “overwhelmingly, they believed that the government was to blame for the attacks, and few blamed Al Qaeda or other Islamist militant groups.” (New York Times, Oct. 20)

Bhutto herself, while she did not directly blame the regime, said that “very powerful figures” were behind the assassination attempt and that the government had not given her proper security. (BBC News, Oct. 23)

Thus, Washington’s efforts to bolster a pro-U.S. regime in Pakistan by bringing Bhutto back—a scheme in which Negroponte, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad all personally participated—may already have boomeranged.

While the corruption of Bhutto and her husband is legendary, and they are accused of salting away hundreds of million of dollars in Swiss banks, her return unleashed a wave of popular anger at the regime, which was only heightened by the assassination attempt that killed so many people.

Facing quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration is desperate to stabilize Musharraf politically while forcing him to use his military more vigorously against the rising anti-U.S. movement. But many in the imperialist foreign policy establishment think it won’t work. “’This backroom deal I think is going to explode in our face,’ said Bruce Riedel, who advised three presidents on South Asian issues and is now at the Brookings Institution. ‘Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf detest each other, and the concept that they can somehow work collaboratively is a real stretch.’” (New York Times, Oct. 20)

With the country seething, the army attacking its own people in the northwest territories, and many of Bhutto’s followers demanding an end to the Musharraf dictatorship, the Pakistan Supreme Court has yet to validate the general’s “re-election” as president, which happened on Oct. 6. The election was able to proceed after Bhutto agreed she would not join in a boycott called by other parties in the bourgeois democratic opposition. On Oct. 29 the government’s top lawyer, Attorney General Malik Qayyum, told the Supreme Court that Musharraf would be president, no matter how the court ruled, raising speculation that the general “might impose martial law if the judgment goes against him.” (The Hindu, Oct. 29)

It is yet another sign of the instability and unpopularity of a regime central to imperialism’s goal of domination over the oil-rich Middle East and Central Asia.