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Vol. 74/No. 39      October 18, 2010

Washington accelerates
drone strikes in Pakistan
(front page)
In recent weeks the U.S. military has stepped up drone strikes in Pakistan to an unprecedented pace alongside a series of other incursions by U.S.-led NATO forces.

The military operations are fomenting anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan and mounting pressure on the country’s unstable government, a shaky U.S. ally whose troubles include a spiraling economic crisis, Islamist insurgency, and popular resentment exacerbated by recent failures to deal with massive flooding.

In September Washington carried out 22 drone strikes into Pakistan, nearly double the previous monthly record of 12 last January. The vast majority have targeted a Taliban-allied group led by Jalaluddin Haqqani in North Waziristan.

Three more strikes were launched in the first four days of October, the most recent of which reportedly killed several German nationals in North Waziristan.

Washington declares these increased aerial assaults are in response to its belief that al-Qaeda is plotting terrorist attacks in Europe.

The State Department issued an alert for U.S. citizens traveling there. German interior minister Thomas de Maizière downplayed this alleged threat, saying there is no “concrete evidence” that such an attack is imminent.

“The Pentagon and CIA have ramped up their purchase of drones, but they aren’t being built fast enough to meet the rapid rise in demand,” reported the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. military is also “secretly diverting aerial drones and weaponry from the Afghan battlefront” for expanded attacks in Pakistan, the paper noted.

In the latest helicopter incursion in Pakistan, NATO gunships traded fire with Pakistani border troops September 30 in Kurram, a tribal agency in northwest Pakistan. While the exact sequence of events is unclear, the outcome was not: three Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers were killed and three wounded by NATO missiles.

The attack comes several days after U.S. military helicopters launched three air strikes into Pakistan, killing more than 50 people. The attacks were aimed at Haqqani forces, which represent a major component of the military forces waging war in Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government publicly condemned the helicopter gunship attacks as violations of the country’s sovereignty. “We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies,” said Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik.

Several hours after the latest U.S. helicopter strike that killed the soldiers, Pakistani authorities closed the Khyber Pass route at Torkham in northwest Pakistan. This pass is the main entry point for U.S. and NATO supplies traveling through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

According to the American Forces Press Service, about 50 percent of nonlethal supplies, including water, food, and fuel, reach Afghanistan through this border crossing. Another major crossing in southern Pakistan remains open.

The day after the border closing, some three dozen NATO fuel tankers were set on fire as they were waiting to enter Afghanistan, reported Reuters.  
Factionalism among Pakistani rulers
Meanwhile, there are signs of growing factionalism within the Pakistani ruling class, and between the military leadership and the civilian government. The Pakistani military has directly ruled the country for much of its history and remains the strongest pillar of bourgeois rule.

A top Pakistani official described to the Washington Post a September 27 meeting between Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. General Kayani “conveyed a plain message to the civilian leadership … that it must put its house in order,” the Post reported.

Three days later, CIA director Leon Panetta met with all three in Islamabad, in an effort to pressure the Pakistani government to conduct military operations in North Waziristan. “Pakistani leaders were stunned by Mr. Panetta’s menacing tone,” reported the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, “and assured him of intensifying the military offensive against militants in the tribal areas.”

The Pakistani military has been embroiled in its own war against Taliban factions in Pakistan that oppose the government. But a major aspect of Washington’s strategy has been to press Islamabad to go after other groups that focus on fighting in Afghanistan, including Haqqani, a longtime military asset of the Pakistani rulers.

Offensives have been carried out by the Pakistani military against Taliban forces in Swat District and a number of tribal agencies over the last couple years, which have caused many civilian casualties and imposed great hardship on millions of people. Despite Washington’s demands, however, the Pakistani government has held off launching such attacks in North Waziristan where Haqqani’s group is based.

The Pakistani military has maintained tight control in Swat with harsh conditions imposed on its population. A recent video posted on the Internet in early October shows Pakistani soldiers executing six men bound and blindfolded in civilian clothing.
Related articles:
Oppose U.S. strikes in Pakistan  
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