The myth of Talibanistan

Pepe Escobar’s analysis is interesting as always — though one note of warning: In writing about Baitullah Mehsud I think Escobar is actually referring to Hakimullah Mehsud. Reports that Baitullah was killed last August, have, as far as I’m aware, not been disputed. It was Hakimullah who reemerged this week after he was reported to have been killed in January.

What is never mentioned by US corporate media is the tremendous social problems Pakistan has to deal with because of the mess in the tribal areas. Islamabad believes that between the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and NWFP, at least 1 million people are now displaced (not to mention badly in need of food aid). FATA’s population is around 3.5 million – overwhelmingly poor Pashtun peasants. And obviously war in FATA translates into insecurity and paranoia in the fabled capital of NWFP, Peshawar.

The myth of Talibanistan anyway is just a diversion, a cog in the slow-moving regional big wheel – which in itself is part of the new great game in Eurasia.

During a first stage – let’s call it the branding of evil – Washington think-tanks and corporate media hammered non-stop on the “threat of al-Qaeda” to Pakistan and the US. FATA was branded as terrorist central – the most dangerous place in the world where “the terrorists” and an army of suicide bombers were trained and unleashed into Afghanistan to kill the “liberators” of US/NATO.

In the second stage, the new Obama administration accelerated the Predator “hell from above” drone war over Pashtun peasants. Now comes the stage where the soon over 100,000-strong US/NATO troops are depicted as the true liberators of the poor in Af-Pak (and not the “evil” Taliban) – an essential ploy in the new narrative to legitimize Obama’s Af-Pak surge.

For all pieces to fall into place, a new uber-bogeyman is needed. And he is TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud, who, curiously, had never been hit by even a fake US drone until, in early March, he made official his allegiance to historic Taliban leader Mullah Omar, “The Shadow” himself, who is said to live undisturbed somewhere around Quetta, in Pakistani Balochistan.

Now there’s a US$5 million price on Baitullah’s head. The Predators have duly hit the Mehsud family’s South Waziristan bases. But – curioser and curioser – not once but twice, the ISI forwarded a detailed dossier of Baitullah’s location directly to its cousin, the Central Intelligence Agency. But there was no drone hit.

And maybe there won’t be – especially now that a bewildered Zardari government is starting to consider that the previous uber-bogeyman, a certain Osama bin Laden, is no more than a ghost. Drones can incinerate any single Pashtun wedding in sight. But international bogeymen of mystery – Osama, Baitullah, Mullah Omar – star players in the new OCO (overseas contingency operations), formerly GWOT (“global war on terror”), of course deserve star treatment.

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