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    South Asia
     May 8, 2009
Page 2 of 2
REBRANDING THE LONG WAR, Part 1
Obama does his Bush impression
By Pepe Escobar

So what happened in Swat is that it moved beyond a - corrupt - state, and neo-colonial control. Washington's enemy suddenly swelled to part of the 1.3 million people in the area whose only means of protection are armed militias - what the West bundles up as "Taliban".

It's always crucial to remember that the "Taliban" have all sorts of agendas, from armed resistance to US occupation in Afghanistan to armed resistance to Pakistani army incursions. What they all want is basically the end of Washington's drone war, the end of Pakistan's support for the "war on terror" in AfPak, or at least for

 

the inept, corrupt Pakistani state to leave them alone.

It's true that over the past few weeks Pakistani public opinion as a whole shot up to around 95% against the Taliban because Sufi Muhammad said democracy is an infidel thing; and because videos of Taliban floggings for the fist time were all over Pakistani media.

But the solution is obviously not a war in Swat. It would be, for instance, a concerted, long-term government policy to defuse the network of at least 45,000 madrassas (seminaries) with nearly 2 million students all over the country. And to defuse anti-democratic, sectarian outfits like Lashkar-e Toiba and Sipah-e Sahaba.

It won't happen. And Washington does not care. What matters for the Pentagon is that the minute any sectarian outfit or bandit gang decides to collude with the Pentagon, it's not "Taliban" anymore; it magically morphs into a "Concerned Local Citizens" outfit. By the same token any form of resistance to foreign interference or Predator hell from above bombing is inevitably branded "Taliban".

Left to its own devices, the Pentagon solution for Swat would probably be some form of ethnic cleansing. Predictably, what Obama and the Pentagon are in fact doing - part of their cozying up with the Pakistani army - is to side with the feudal landlords and force a return to the classic Pakistani status quo of immense social inequality. Thus virtually every local who has not become a refugee (as many as 5000,000 already did, leading to a huge humanitarian crisis) has been duly branded a "terrorist". Locals are caught between a rock (the Taliban) and a hard place (the US-supported Pakistani military).

The Pentagon does not do "collateral damage". The only consideration is the US Army becoming partially exposed in neighboring Afghanistan. After all, the key AfPak equation for the Pentagon is how to re-supply US troops involved in OCO ("overseas contingency operations").

The Swat tragedy is bound to get bloodier. As Steve Clemons from The Washington Note blog has learned in a conference in Doha, Obama and Petraeus are forcing the Pakistani army to crush Swat. Once again the imperial "fire on your own people" logic. Predictably, Zardari and the Pakistani army are still against it. But if they accept - that would be a tangible result from the Washington photo-op on Wednesday - the prize will be a lot of money and loads of precious helicopter gun ships.

Madmen on the loose
The Obama administration not only has rebranded the Bush "global war on terror" (GWOT) as the subtly Orwellian "overseas contingency operations" (OCO). The key component of OCO - the AfPak front - is now being actively rebranded, and sold, not as an American war but a Pakistani war.

Zardari plays his pitiful bit part; alongside Obama, the Pentagon and the State Department, he has been convincing Pakistani public opinion to fight Washington's OCO, defending the Predator bombing of Pashtun civilians in Pakistani land. It ain't easy: at least 20% of Pakistani army soldiers are Pashtun - now forced to fight their own Pashtun cousins.

As for the "Af" element of AfPak, the war against occupation in Afghanistan has "disappeared" from the narrative to the benefit of this Pakistani "holy war" against Talibanization. What has not disappeared, of course, is US bombing of Afghan peasants (with attached Hillary "regrets") plus the Predator war in FATA.

The question is: How far will the Obama, the Pentagon and Zardari collusion go in terms of wiping out any form of resistance to the US occupation of Afghanistan and the drone war against Pashtun peasants in FATA?

The relentless warnings on the collapse of Pakistan may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Were it to happen, the balkanization of Pakistan would do wonders for the Pentagon's long-term strategy in the "arc of instability".

From a Pentagon dream scenario point of view, the balkanization of Pakistan would mean dismantling a "Terrorist Central" capable of contaminating other parts of the Muslim world, from Indian Kashmir to the Central Asian "stans". It would "free" India from its enemy Pakistan so India can work very closely with Washington as an effective counter power to the relentless rise of China.

And most of all, this still has to do with the greatest prize - Balochistan, as we'll see in part 2 of this report on Friday. Desert Balochistan, in southwest Pakistan, is where Washington and Islamabad clash head on. From a Washington perspective, Balochistan has to be thrown into chaos. That's about the only way to stop the construction of the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline, also known as the "peace pipeline", which would traverses Balochistan.

In a dream Washington scenario of balkanization of Pakistan, the US could swiftly take over Balochistan's immense natural wealth, and promote the strategic port of Gwadar in Balochistan not to the benefit of the IPI pipeline, but the perennially troubled Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline - Caspian gas wealth flowing under US, and not Russian or Iranian, control.

As for the Taliban, whether in FATA or Swat or anywhere else, they are no threat to the US. Usman Khalid, secretary general of the Rifah party in Pakistan, has nailed it, "The population dread the Taliban-style rule but they dread being split into four countries and to go under Indian suzerainty even more. The Taliban appear to be the lesser evil just as they were in Afghanistan."

History once again does repeat itself as farce: in fact the only sticking point between the Taliban and Washington is still the same as in August 2001 - pipeline transit fees. Washington wouldn't give a damn about sharia law as long as the US could control pipelines crossing Afghanistan and Balochistan.

Yes, Pipelineistan rules. What's a few ragged Pashtun or Balochis in Washington's way when the New Great Game in Eurasia can offer so many opportunities?

Part 2: Balochistan - the ultimate prize

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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