Belfast Telegraph

Pakistan’s civilians paying ultimate price in a dirty war

By Robert Fisk

A few days ago, I was driving around Lahore, its population still shattered by the suicide bombers who blew themselves up next to two army trucks, killing 18 Pakistani soldiers and 48 civilians.

The civilians, of course, were the usual “collateral damage” and they paid the price for Pakistan's continuing war against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan on behalf of America's “war on terror”.

Yet far more outrageous was Richard Holbrooke's cocky, overconfident performance on CNN just three days later. Things are getting better on the “Af-Pak” scene, he told the world, and al-Qa'ida is “under great pressure after losing key members of its leadership”. 10 to 12 al-Qa'ida leaders had been “eliminated” over the past year — mostly in pilotless drone attacks on Pakistani territory, it should be added, which cost 667 lives in 2009 alone . Pakistan's civilians have paid the price in revenge attacks that usually target the Pakistani army: 322 Pakistanis killed and more than 500 wounded in 15 suicide bombings in the first 70 days of this year. The Pakistani army now has two divisions in Swat and several more in south Waziristan and Mr Holbrooke would like to see them move into north Waziristan as well, although – he generously agrees – that will be up to the commander of the Pakistani army.

So that's it, folks. Just like Bushy and Blair of Kut-al-Amara on Iraq, it's the same old story. The worse things get, the greater the optimism. If it's bad, it's getting better. By last year, Pakistan's dead since 2001 — from suicide bombers, Pakistani army operations, inter-tribe battles and drone attacks — reached a total of 12,632 (with 12,815 wounded). Not bad, huh?

The overall political situation in Pakistan is “much better now”, according to Dickie Holbrooke. After all, the Pakistani military is no longer in Pakistan's “complicated” politics. We shall see.

I can recall sitting on the lawn one evening this week with Imran Khan, as he raged: “My God, these people in Waziristan... wonderful, beautiful people and what are we doing to them? This has to stop.” But there's not much point in thinking that Obama and his dotty secretary of state care a damn. They are lost.

Why, only a few months ago, |la Clinton was bitching about |Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to stop building settlements, following Obama's “reach-out” to Muslims. She meant all settlements, she said. Illegal settlements, “legal” settlements, outposts, whatever the Israelis liked to call them. And when Netanyahu offered his ridiculous “freeze” on just West Bank Jewish colonies for a mere six months — not in Jerusalem, mark you — off la Clinton trotted to the Arab League to publicise this extraordinary and “unprecedented” offer by the land-grabbers of Netanyahu’s government.

Now she is huffing and puffing again after Joe Biden turns up in the land to which the US has donated nearly £200bn over the past decade — in the hope of getting the Israelis and Palestinians |to talk to each other again — |and Netanyahu's government |announces another 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem.

But what does la Clinton do? Not appreciating that Biden and she and Obama have been treated by the Israelis with the contempt they deserve, she rants on the phone to Netanyahu about the “affront” and the “insult” of the timing of the announcement. But this is preposterous.

The affront and the insult were not caused to la Clinton or Obama. She could not grasp that the real affront and insult were being endured by the Palestinians, who are again being driven from their homes and dispossessed.

My guess is that it's only a matter of time before Obama's pitiful envoy, George Mitchell, will be replaced by a tougher man — and who better than Dickie Holbrooke, the tough guy who knows how to handle “Af-Pak” and will know how to handle Netanyahu? It's not so long ago that he produced “peace” in Bosnia, at Dayton, Ohio — one S Milosevic being an honoured guest — while telling a pleading delegation of Kosovo Muslims to get lost.

But who cares? Things are getting better in Pakistan. It's only the Americans who are upset about Netanyahu. One thing at a time. That's what Holbrooke told the Kosovo Muslims. Al-Qa'ida are on the run. And they expect us to believe all this guff.

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