USA And Pakistan: Still Friends?

Wednesday 19 November 2008, by Feroz Mehdi

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

In times of conflict it is said that the enemy of an enemy
is a friend and the friend of an enemy is an enemy.
While the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan seem
to follow this age-old dictum, the USA obviously does
not - and for obvious reasons.

While the Bush administration continues to claim that
Pakistan is an ally in its war on terror, its recent actions
tell a different story. Its unilateral strikes in Pakistani
territory bordering Afghanistan have cost hundreds of
civilian lives and have put its supposed friend in a very
hot seat. An attack by two
US missiles from unmanned
airplanes on a school in
the North West Province in
Pakistan killed at least eight
students on October 23,

Earlier the US Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates had
affirmed that the USA has a
right to act against terrorist
targets in Pakistan, and that
the new civilian government
in Islamabad has to be a
willing partner. Why this

Both Pakistan’s government
under former dictator
General Musharraf as
well as the newly elected
government are claiming
to advance in their war on
terror, especially in the tribal
areas of western Pakistan,
which is the alleged base of
the Taliban.

Despite these claims, there has been a dramatic
increase in unilateral US military attacks within the
Pakistani territory bordering Afghanistan. With the rise
of civilian casualties due to these attacks there has
been such an uproar within the Pakistani public that the
government leaders and senior military commanders,
including the Chief of the Army General Kayani,
had to speak out against such attacks. The military
spokesman recently claimed to have fired warning
shots at intruding US helicopters, though President
Zardari quickly camouflaged them as warning “flares.”
But then all these statements necessarily come
out as public appeasement measures for internal
consumption. Both the USA and Pakistan claim to
have a common enemy in the Taliban. Nearly everyday
the newspapers in Pakistan report on the casualties
inflicted upon the Taliban by the Pakistani army. Nearly
everyday, the newspapers report on civilian casualties
by the US attacks within Pakistani territory.

So what has this friend of Washington, the newly
elected President of Pakistan, to say on the rise in
civilian deaths due to the attacks by the friendly US
military? “The US incursions were counter-productive
and did not help to win
over the hearts and minds
of the people. We all make
mistakes in this war and we
are also always ready to
correct them.”

Why doesn’t the USA let
Pakistan fight their own
war against the Islamic
insurgency? Zaffar Abbas,
the Resident Editor of
DAWN, a respected Pak-
istani English Daily, wrote
in July this year “There has
been a significant shift in the
US military’s strategy vis-à-
vis Pakistan in dealing with
counter-terror measures in
the Federally-Administered
Tribal Areas as, contrary to
the past practice, they have
stopped informing Pakistan
or its security establishment
of any military strikes on
suspected Al Qaeda or
Taliban targets in the

According to Abbas, some senior security analysts
describe it as a serious development which they say
may have serious consequences in the long run “for
the collective effort to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda in
the tribal areas and even inside Afghanistan.”

Direct US military attacks in Pakistan are on the rise.
And so are the counter-attacks by the Taliban. Following
the massive bomb explosion at the Marriot Hotel in the
political capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, on September
20, 2008, reports in leading Pakistani newspapers,
Dawn and Daily News gave a couple of reasons for this
Islamic extremist attack. One reason given was that the

bomb was aimed to kill the President of Pakistan and
other senior military commanders who were supposed
to meet in the hotel at that time but, fortuitously,
cancelled their rendezvous at the last minute.

Other reports say that some clandestine activities
involving US intelligence were taking place at the same
time and that US marines were
the intended targets.

It may not be either. For the
Taliban, the US is their enemy
and a friend of an enemy is
an enemy too. Regardless of
the intended target(s), civilian
casualties are on the rise and
so is public anger.

While killings such as those in the Marriott hotel
bombing attract a lot of media attention across the
globe, civilian deaths caused by US cross-border raids
go largely unnoticed.

Prominent British-Pakistani political campaigner and
commentator Tariq Ali writes, “While there is much
grieving for the Marriott hotel casualties, some ask why
the lives of those killed by Predator drones or missile
attacks are considered to be of less value. In recent
weeks almost 100 innocent people have died in this
fashion. No outrage and global media coverage for

So, is this a recent change in the US strategy vis-à-vis

Or is there no real change in the US strategy vis-à-vis
Pakistan but simply an extension of its global war, thus
an expansion of its war in Afghanistan?

Tariq Ali feels it is the latter, “the expansion of the war
relates far more to the Bush administration’s disastrous
occupation in Afghanistan. It is hardly a secret that
President Karzai’s regime is
becoming more isolated each
passing day as Taliban guerrillas
move ever closer to Kabul.

When in doubt, escalate the
war, is an old imperial motto.
The strikes against Pakistan
represent - like the decisions
of President Richard Nixon and
Henry Kissinger, to bomb and
then invade Cambodia - a desperate bid to salvage
a war that was never good, but has now gone badly

On the present state of an unending preemptive war
on terror waged by the US, Michel Warschawsky of
the Alternative Information Centre writes, “From an
ethical point of view, history never stands in the same
place: if it doesn’t move towards less oppression and
more justice, it moves towards less rights and more
barbarism… It seems, however, that in the first decade
of the third millennium, the law of jungle is taking the

Feroz Mehdi is the general secretary of Alternatives

À propos de Feroz Mehdi

General Secretary, Alternatives International *

Feroz Mehdi is one of the founder member of Alternatives. He has been working on projects related to the countries in South Asia. He has also been working in education programs in Quebec and Canada organizing conferences and contributing to publication of newsletters and other documents of analysis and information.

Since 2007 he has taken the job as General Secretary of Alternatives International. The federation of AlterInter has 9 member organizations from Canada, France, Brazil, Israel, Palestine, South Africa, Niger, India and Morocco and its Secretariat is in Montreal.

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