Saturday, October 31, 2009

Unclaimed atrocities - who is behind the marketplace bombings in Pakistan?

Who is behind the market bombings in Pakistan? No-one claims responsibility for them and it’s impossible to know. Two things are certain though – they benefit the Pakistani and US governments, not the Taliban – and Pakistan’s military and military intelligence have been involved in backing terrorism for decades.

Some of the bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan attributed solely to the Taliban may be being organised by Pakistani military intelligence to try to get public support for the Swat and Waziristan offensives. At least two bombings of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan have been attributed to the Taliban, but are most likely to show that Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence continues to influence and back some Taliban factions to exclude Indian influence from a country which Pakistan’s military sees as theirs.(1)

Many previous “terrorist” attacks in Pakistan have actually been aided and abetted by the military. For instance Benazir Bhutto before her assassination said that if she was killed it would be by factions in the military. She was murdered in a military garrison town and the army made no attempt to prevent people getting close to her car (2). One US backed military dictator – General Zia – had her father hung; another - General Musharraf – let her assassins get near her in the town of Rawalpindi – a military garrison town where he had his headquarters (3).

Offensives demanded by the US and US drone strikes which have killed many civilians are both deeply unpopular inside Pakistan. After each “Taliban” bombing government ministers and generals make statements about how this terrorist attack shows the need to continue the offensives – first they did this for the Swat offensive, now for the Waziristan one. For instance after a bomb set in a market place in Peshawar on 9th October 2009 killed at least 49 civilians no-one claimed responsibility for the attack. However the Pakistan and US governments claimed the Taliban were responsible and Pakistan Interior Minister Reman Malik said “One thing is clear, these hired assassins called Taliban are to be dealt with more severely...All roads are leading to South Waziristan." Another market bomb killed at least 100 civilians in Peshawar on 28th October. Again there was no claim of responsibility. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton happened to be visiting Pakistan that day, allowing an offensive carried out due to US threats of airstrikes to be presented as the US and Pakistan governments protecting ordinary Pakistanis. The Taliban have made several attacks by gunmen and by setting bombs on Pakistan’s military and military intelligence forces – and when they’ve done so they’ve claimed responsibility for them. It’s hard to see what they would gain by killing large numbers of civilians in a city sympathetic to them – but easy to see what the US and Pakistan governments gain from apparent Taliban atrocities – i,e the Pakistani public’s support for a military offensive (4) – (7). A similar pattern of bombings targeting civilians, with no responsibility claimed for many of them – and the US and its allies the main propaganda beneficiaries – took place in Iraq. Of course it’s impossible to know for certain who is behind these bombings, but it’s as likely to be Pakistani Military Intelligence as the Taliban – or by a Taliban or Islamic extremist group manipulated by or allied to the ISI - and there is no evidence whatsoever that the Taliban carried them out (unlike Taliban claimed suicide bombings and armed attacks on police and soldiers, many of which also kill civilians).

Even if the bombings don’t involve the Pakistan military they clearly increase during each military offensive and after it – they are not reduced by them.

(1) = 08 oct 2009 ‘Deadly Kabul bomb targets Indian embassy’, (Taliban suicide bombings on Indian embassy in 2008 and 2009 – ISI suspected of being behind them)

(2) = 03 Oct 2007 ‘Bhutto : I know exactly who wants to kill me’,

(3) = Independent 28 Nov 2007 ‘What now for Pakistan?’,

(4) = 09 Oct 2009 ‘Pakistan market bomb kills dozens’,

(5) = 28 Oct 2009 ‘Bomb kills dozens in Pakistan as Hillary Clinton arrives’,

(6) = 11 Oct 2009 ‘Pakistani troops rescue hostages after militants attack military HQ’,

(7) = 28 May 2009 ‘Taliban deputy claims responsibility for Pakistan bomb attack’,

copyright©Duncan McFarlane2009

Use Bush’s methods, get Bush’s results – Part I - Military Aid to Pakistan

Pakistan’s government is now elected rather than a military dictatorship, but Obama, like Bush, may be indirectly funding Al Qa’ida and the Taliban by trying to buy Pakistan military support with increased military aid

While the Obama administration has not backed a military dictatorship in Pakistan so far (as the Bush and Clinton administrations did with Musharraf) it has followed the Bush administration’s method of trying to buy the Pakistan military’s support with increased military aid

In the Waziristan offensive the Pakistan military is allied with some Taliban groups against others. It’s allies in Pakistan still support the Afghan Taliban’s war against NATO and Karzai. This makes Obama’s doubling of military aid to Pakistan a risky action that could buy influence with Pakistan’s military but, given this and their history, may not stop them backing armed jihadist groups . Like the Bush administration’s military aid to Pakistan much of it may go to the Taliban and Al Qa’ida. Islamic extremism and backing for terrorist groups have been a means for Pakistan’s generals to keep an unfair share of their country’s money and power since independence, as well as being a result of their delusional belief that the “fighting spirit” of violent religious extremism will help them defeat India, despite repeated failures (e.g the war that created Bangladesh) (1) - (4).

Musharraf was no exception here, calling on the US to end air strikes on theTaliban before the Northern Alliance could force them out of government in October 2001 and almost triggering a nuclear war with India over Kashmir at Kargill in 1999 (5) - (6). Pakistan military training and support for Taliban forces operating between in Afghanistan, even involving giving covering artillery fire for Taliban retreating across the border,continued up to 2007. In the past the military has continued to back Islamic extremists even under elected governments (who live in constant fear of new western backed military coups). So there is no guarantee it’s ended now (7) .

Obama has made the tripling of civilian aid to Pakistan and a doubling of its military aid conditional on Pakistan’s military not appropriating any of the civilian aid for itself – and has said he won’t back any future military dictatorship in Pakistan – but US military aid to Pakistan at $2.8bn annually will still far exceed civilian aid at $1.5bn – and another of Obama’s conditions was that Pakistan’s military carry out offensives into North-West Pakistan, the theory being that NATO offensives on one side of the border and Pakistani ones on the other side will give the Taliban nowhere to retreat to (8) - (11). So far they’ve merely created millions of refugees, killed a large but unknown number of civilians and increased support for the Taliban among the surviving refugees (details and source in another post)

The long term solution is to strengthen civilian government and education, healthcare and similar aid in Pakistan in order to reduce military and Taliban influence while weakening the military, who always play a double game for their own ends.

(1) = Guardian 21 Oct 2009 ‘Strange bedfellows: Islamists and army join forces against insurgents’,

(2) = The Nation 01 Apr 2009 ‘US plans $ 2.8 bn military aid to Pakistan: report’,

(3) =Haqqani, Husain (2005) , ‘Pakistan : Between Mosque and Military’ , Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D.C. , 2005, entire book but especially pages 71-3 , 78-80,190-191, 290, 298, 299-300

(4) = Siddiqa, Ayesha (2007). ‘MILITARY INC. : Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’, Pluto Press, London, 2007, pages 96-97 of paperback edition

(5) = Haqqani, Husain (2005) , ‘Pakistan : Between Mosque and Military’ , Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D.C. , 2005, Chapter 6, pages 248-256 of paperback edition

(6) =New York Times 09 Oct 2001 , 'Pakistani Is Already Calling on U.S. to End Airstrikes Quickly',

(7) = Haqqani, Husain (2005) , ‘Pakistan : Between Mosque and Military’ , Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D.C. , 2005

(8) = The Nation 01 Apr 2009 ‘US plans $ 2.8 bn military aid to Pakistan: report’,

(9) = Sunday Times 27 Sep 2009 ‘US threatens airstrikes in Pakistan’,
(see 5th from last paragraph)

(10) = AP 05 May 2009 ‘Holbrooke: Pressure Pakistan to Fight Taliban’,

(11) = 15 Oct 2009 ‘Obama signs $7.5bn Pakistan aid bill into law’,

copyright©Duncan McFarlane2009

Summary of 'Use Bush's methods get Bush's results' and 'How to the war for hearts and minds'


So far Obama’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Pakistan looks a lot like Bush’s, which differed mainly in focusing on Iraq. Civilian casualties increased each year under bush and have continued to increase under Obama right to the present. Air strikes have not been reduced under Obama, while the number of missile strikes and civilians killed by them in Pakistan have increased. Switching to “counter insurgency” or “counter terrorism” tactics is not a solution, unless we want a repeat of the massacres of civilians by torturing US trained death squad in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 80s and Colombia and Iraq in the present. Hundreds of bodies bearing the marks of torture and military style execution have already been found after the Pakistan military’s offensive in the Swat valley – an offensive the Obama administration demanded in return for doubling rather than cutting US military aid to Pakistan. There have been lots of positive statements made about reducing civilian casualties by reducing the number of air and missile strikes, ending torture and protecting rather than killing civilians. President Obama, General McChrystal and the US military’s Australian counter insurgency adviser David Kilcullen have all made such statements and McChrystal has also acknowledged that providing jobs and negotiating with some of the “insurgents” will be necessary. These are positive – but they remain words so far – and units under McChrystal’s command were involved in torture by beating people unconscious and causing hypothermia with extreme cold. Some members of those units say McChrystal guaranteed the Red Cross would never have access to the bases where torture took place. Psychological torture has not been banned and indefinite ‘detention’ without trial has merely been moved from Guantanamo to Bagram. Torture by the militaries of democracies has continued while it was formally banned in many countries right to the present – and the new head of the CIA has said he may seek Presidential approval for “harsher interrogation techniques”; and that extraordinary rendition by the FBI and CIA to torturing dictatorships will continue.

It’s time to drop the pretence that NATO and Pakistan military offensives, air and missile strikes, raids, torture and death squads – all of which also kill civilians – are not increasing Taliban suicide and car bombings – just as similar offensives resulted in waves of bombings in Iraq. (There are also questions over who is responsible for some of the unclaimed market bombings and whether some of the increased military aid to Pakistan may be going to the Taliban and other clients of Pakistan's military) It’s also time to drop the pretence that NATO’s war in Afghanistan so far has protected Afghans, provided democracy, ensured women’s rights (the only area it’s made any progress at all in – though very little), ended the heroin trade, or that it’s preventing terrorist attacks in NATO countries or in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

So far the change in the war on terror under Obama is largely in the public relations. The name “war on terror” has been dropped, but many of the realities remain the same. If we want to win a “war for hearts and minds” rather than just kill and torture people while talking about one we need to drop less bombs, fire less bullets, drag less people away for “interrogation” and instead provide food, jobs, education and healthcare.