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Diplomacy by Drone

WASHINGTON–I was visiting Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States when the phone on his desk rang.

“The hot line,” he said. “Sorry I have to take this call.”

As he listened, his face grew darker and darker. Finally, he banged down the phone and exploded: “Another U.S. drone attack that killed a score of our people. We were never warned the attack was coming. We are supposed to be U.S. allies!”

This strongly pro-American ambassador was wrong. While the U.S. hails Pakistan as a key non-NATO ally, the U.S. treats it like a militarily occupied country. The government in Islamabad is left to observe increasing drone attacks and CIA ground operation with deepening embarrassment and helplessness.

Average Pakistanis have no doubt about what’s happening. Most believe their nation was more or less occupied by the U.S. after the 2001 attacks on the U.S.

The Pakistani leader who allowed this to happen, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has admitted that the U.S. put a gun to his head and demanded he allow the U.S. to use Pakistan’s army, air bases, ports, intelligence service, logistics, and air space–or face war. Musharraf quickly caved in to the U.S. ultimatum, something a tough predecessor, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, would have surely rejected.

As U.S. drone attacks intensify in Pakistan’s tribal belt and inside Afghanistan, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, which was engineered into power by Washington and sustained by U.S. dollars, keeps imploring the U.S. to halt the attacks that are enraging Pakistanis. Senior Pakistani diplomats have been warning that the drone strikes that have so far killed 2,500-3,000, mostly civilians, are fueling extremist groups in Pakistan and humiliating its armed forces.

No one in Washington is listening. Islamabad attempted to show some independence by halting U.S.-NATO truck convoys from Karachi to Afghanistan for seven months after a deadly U.S. air attack last November that killed 25 Pakistani soldiers.

But the blockade was recently lifted after $1 billion of American aid to Islamabad was unfrozen. The dollars are flowing again–many of them right back out into Swiss, Dubai, or Singapore bank accounts.

Anti-American feelings in Pakistan have been soaring. Some polls show over 90 percent of respondents expressing hatred or anger against the U.S. These public sentiments have been worsened by more loose talk by Republicans in Washington about seizing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, making Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan a separate state, or putting Pakistan on America’s terrorist list.

There are even rumbles from the far right and pro-Israel neocons about attacking Pakistan. America’s failing war in Afghanistan is being blamed on the Pakistan-backed Haqqani group which is also ironical since during my days in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Haqqani was a favorite of CIA.

Washington’s not-so-discreet threats of punishment have abated for the moment thanks to the mess in Syria and rising threat of war against Iran. But Pakistan remains a potent generator for anti-American jihadist sentiment, and for rising anti-Muslim sentiment in America.

Ironically, the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan to supposedly punish anti-American groups, yet now ends up creating ten times more enemies in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the truck craziness has reared its head again. Supply trucks for U.S. and NATO forces are backed up at Pakistani border crossing points supposedly because of security threats.

Trucking supplies into northern Afghanistan via the Black Sea, Russia, and Central Asia has been costing the U.S. $100 million monthly at a time when 44 million Americans live below the poverty level. Flying supplies and munitions from the U.S. to Afghanistan costs ten times more than ground transport.

On top of this, Taliban and its allies are annoyed that the truck convoys have stopped. Why? Because they were being paid off millions more in baksheesh by the U.S. to let the convoys pass.

Talks this past week in Washington between CIA chief David Petraeus and Pakistan’s new intelligence director, Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, were said to be cordial but not discernibly productive. Nor were talks between top Pakistani and U.S. generals. Diplomats seem to have dropped out of the picture.

Eric Margolis is the author of War at the Top of the World and American Raj: Domination or Liberation. Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2012

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