'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Killing Fields of Pakistan 

From Democracy Now earlier this week:

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s start with Pakistan and this catastrophe there and who is helping to help the people.

TARIQ ALI: It is the worst disaster we have seen for a very long time—24 million people homeless; massive malnutrition, which already existed, now worse; malaria and cholera raging in the camps, if one can call them that, where people are taking refuge. This should be a global appeal to the entire world to send doctors, to send medicines, to send food, to—for the United Nations really to move in and take over the rescue effort. That is what needs to be done. Any government—I admit the Pakistani government under Zardari is totally corrupt, and that is putting people off giving money, but there are lots of other organizations at work there which can be given money, and teams of doctors can be sent with medicines. I mean, the Cubans went during the last earthquake, and it was very effective.

But, I mean, just remember what happened in this country when the levees burst in New Orleans. People were stunned and shocked by the images that were coming out from New Orleans. Well, this is a hundred times worse. And so, this country really needs—its people need all the help they can get. Their tragedy is that they are ruled by a venal and corrupt elite. That’s not the fault of the people. And the overwhelming majority of the country is not involved in religious extremism. The images of Pakistan which we’ve seen on the screens just talks about sort of beards and people, you know, picking up guns. The overwhelming majority of the country is not like that, and it really needs help.

AMY GOODMAN: Just looking at the latest figures that the United States is spending, not on helping Pakistan, but on war, President Obama signed into legislation—this was one month ago—a war funding bill that provided 37 billion more dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama signed the bill without public remarks in a low-key Oval Office session. With the new war spending, the total amount of money Congress has allotted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has now surpassed $1 trillion.

TARIQ ALI: This is obscene. I mean, on any level, judged by any criteria—moral, political, economic—it is obscene what is taking place and the amount of money being spent on the wars. And, I mean, I’ll give you a concrete example. A few weeks ago, the city of Jacobabad in the province of Sindh in Pakistan was threatened by the River Indus. A hundred thousand people were risking their lives. Their homes had already gone. The government’s health department appealed to the Pakistani air force that they needed helicopters to transport people to take medicines. They were told that they couldn’t use the nearest air force base, the Shahbaz Air Force Base near Jacobabad, because it was occupied by the United States, and the United States were using it to send drones to kill villagers in other parts of the country and would not make that air base available for rescue operations. So the priorities are all upside down. And, you know, this is a president who put out, initially, a sort of humane face to the world: We’re going to be different. It’s virtually—it’s the same business which goes on.

AMY GOODMAN: We have heard that story over and over, the secret base, that not only was it not used to be a place for aid, but that water was diverted so that it flooded areas of hundreds of thousands of people around it so it wouldn’t flood the base. But this issue going on, Obama administration has been criticized for sending only six helicopters, despite a Pakistani request for dozens more. The US has denied the request because helicopters play such a key role in the war in Afghanistan. A senior military official was asked about this by the Washington Post, and he said the decision would have had to come from Washington, adding, Do [the helicopters] exist in the region? Yes. Are they available? No.

But this goes to a very important issue of national security and the justification for the wars in Iraq and the drone attacks in Pakistan. It’s about national security in the United States. It’s about going after people who threatened the United States. So this issue of killing in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the amount of money that’s used for it versus paying for aid that could well sway so many millions of people to feel much more positively about the United States.

TARIQ ALI: Well, exactly. You know, I mean, on that level, they should have poured in aid to try and help peoples, encourage the rest of the world to send doctors. All this should have been done. They don’t think like that, Amy. This war has now become obsessive for the American military political rulers. And Obama, as we know, has in fact ordered more drone attacks on Pakistan in his two years in office than Bush did for his previous eight years. And these drone attacks are largely killing civilians. When you read terrorists destroyed, militants killed, don’t believe it. Very unlikely that more than ten percent of those people targeted have anything to do with helping the Taliban or whatever they’re accused of. It’s largely innocent people being killed. And, you know, a year ago or so when that poor Iranian woman died, Neda, in Tehran and the entire world wept for her and a moist-eyed president appeared on the White House lawn, that same day US drones killed fifty women and children in Pakistan, and there wasn’t a mention of it on the news. So, their behavior is creating so much anger. So the notion that these wars are going to stop people hating or racking the United States is just nonsense. It’s the exact opposite that’s going on.

Indeed, the US military apparently had other priorities as the water level of the rivers rose in late August:

It has been reported earlier that the US Air Force has denied the relief agencies use of the Shahbaz airbase for the distribution of aid and assistance. Soldiers of the Pakistan army, a federal minister and the administration of Sindh province are blamed for the incident involving Shahbaz Airbase at Jacobabad district in Sindh province in which it has been reported that flood waters were diverted in order to save the airbase. The diversion of the floodwaters is blamed for inundating hundreds of houses and the displacement of 800,000 people. According to the media reports, the Federal Minister of Sports along with soldiers from the army and a contingent of officials from the Sindh provincial government breached the Jamali Bypass in Jafferabad district of Balochistan province during the night between August 13 and 14 to divert the water entering the airbase which has remained in US Air Force hands since the war on terror started in 2001.

Mr. Ejaz Jakhrani, the Minister of Sports, while explaining the situation to the media said that if the water was not diverted the Shahbaz Airbase would have been inundated. Mr. Jakhrani himself was present along with the district coordination officer of the Jacobabad district, district police officer and other officials when the breach was made. It is reported in the media that Mr. Jakhrani was assigned to protect the air base by officials at the Pakistan army’s headquarter as he was elected from Jacobabad district.

A former prime minister, Mr. Mir Zafar Ullah Khan Jamali said that in order to save Shahbaz Air Base, Jamali bypass was demolished and the town of Dera Allahyar was drowned. Mr. Jamali said that if the airbase was so important, then what priority might be given to the citizens. He blamed minister Jakhrani, DPO and DCO Jacobabad for deliberately diverting the course of the floodwaters towards Balochistan.

Similarly, there are rumors within Pakistan that the Pakistani military and other members of the Pakistani elite have manipulated the breaching of the levees to protect their own properties.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and World Bank President Robert Zoellick have found the right emphasis:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Zoellick, saying that Pakistan must lead by instituting the reforms that will pave the way to self-sufficiency.

The international community will support Pakistan's efforts at reform and reconstruction, she said.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi responded by saying that every dollar it receives will be utilized in the most efficient manner ... and in the most transparent manner.

Under the terms of $11 billion in loans the International Monetary Fund has made to Pakistan in recent years, Islamabad had agreed to implement a number of reforms, such as improving the energy sector, boosting tax revenues and fiscal improvements. But it has been slow to implement those reforms.

Translation: the floods in Pakistan represent an unprecedented opportunity to impose an even more rigorous structural adjustment program upon the country. Markets are, after all, more important the needs of millions of people in distress, impoverished people who increasingly have no place within a global economy centered around low cost production and consumption fueled by the use of credit.

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