June is never a good month on the plains. It was 46ºC in Fortress Islamabad a fortnight ago. The hundreds of security guards manning roadblocks and barriers were wilting, sweat pouring down their faces as they waved cars and motorbikes through. The evening breeze brought no respite. It, too, was unpleasantly warm, and it was difficult not to sympathise with those who, defying the law, jumped into the Rawal Lake, the city’s main reservoir, in an attempt to cool down. Further south in Lahore it was even hotter, and there were demonstrations when the generator at Mangla that sporadically supplies the city with electricity collapsed completely.
As far as the political temperature goes there is never a good month in Pakistan. This is a country whose fate is no longer in its own hands. I have never known things so bad. The chief problems are the United States and its requirements, the religious extremists, the military high command, and corruption, not just on the part of President Zardari and his main rivals, but spreading well beyond them.
This is now Obama’s war. He campaigned to send more troops into Afghanistan and to extend the war, if necessary, into Pakistan. These pledges are now being fulfilled. On the day he publicly expressed his sadness at the death of a young Iranian woman caught up in the repression in Tehran, US drones killed 60 people in Pakistan. The dead included women and children, whom even the BBC would find it difficult to describe as ‘militants’. Their names mean nothing to the world; their images will not be seen on TV networks. Their deaths are in a ‘good cause’. [continued…]
The war in Afghanistan will move into its ninth year in under three months’ time, with the anniversary of the start of the United States bombing on 7 October 2001. This war is now beginning to approach the duration of the Soviet occupation. That started with the invasion by the Red Army on 24 December 1979 and ended with the United Nations-brokered ceasefire of 15 May 1988 and the final withdrawal of Soviet troops a year later.
That earlier conflict, which killed over a million Afghans and caused millions more refugees, was devastating. It was followed by a bitter and complex civil war in the early 1990s that led to a Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996 and of most of the country by the end of the decade. For sheer civilian suffering, the Soviet occupation far exceeds the conflict of 2001-09 – but this ongoing war may still be in its early stages. Most military analysts believe that if present-day levels of western military involvement are maintained, then – whoever is in the White House – the war has at least a decade to go. [continued…]