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Vietnam, Iraq -- is Pakistan Next?

Author Tariq Ali Pushes Development over Bombs

New America Media, News Report, Ketaki Gokhale Posted: Sep 30, 2008

NEWARK, Calif. As tensions rise between U.S. and Pakistani military forces in the mountainous Pashtun tribal region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, outspoken author and political commentator Tariq Ali addressed a gathering of Pakistani immigrants in the Bay Area, condemning the U.S. strikes and urging attendees to lobby the government to aid development in the region.

The U.S. needs to think of a Marshall Plan for that part of the worldnot war and bombs, Ali said. Such a plan, in his view, would include the construction of teachers training universities to improve public education, and free health clinics in all cities and large villages.

Reports surfaced this month that President Bush signed an order in July for the first time allowing unilateral ground attacks by American Special Operations forces inside Pakistan. According to Ali, this escalation fits into a historical pattern of U.S. occupation and aggression. Its an old, old excuse, he said. Every time the U.S. occupies a country, they try and blame the neighboring country. It was the same in Vietnam-Cambodia. Now the same argument is being used for the missions and bombing raids in Pakistan, the killing of civilians in Pakistan. The real crisis for the United States to turn its attention to, he said, is the war in Afghanistan.

Ali ridiculed the idea that Pakistans nuclear power poses a threat. The main problems are poverty, illiteracy, lack of health care, but from watching the news here in the U.S. you would think it was a bunch of bearded jihadis, he said. The impression is created of jihadis taking over the nuclear weapons. The notion that any tiny group could do this is totally unbelievableand the military wouldnt even want that.

Religious fundamentalism does exist in Pakistan, Ali conceded. It took root under the watch of General Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, and grew because poverty and illiteracy left many Pakistanis with nowhere to turn but religion, Ali said.

One of the biggest scandals in our country is that our elites havent come up with a system to educate our lower classes, he said. Ali placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the nations ruling elite in a blistering critique of its values and motives. The people are ruled by an extremely cold and callous elite. Human life is cheap to them, and theyve done little to help the people.

The same wealthy elites run the nations government and military, and use their positions of power to fill their personal coffers, while recurring military coups add political instability to the equation, Ali said. This has been our tragedy for the past 30 years, he said. Different political leaders and parties loot the country. Billions have been creamed off over the years by the politicians.

Both Pakistans current president, Asif Ali Zardari, and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif have used their previous positions to get rich, so if a program to aid development in Pakistan were to be conceived, now might not be the best time to execute it, Ali said. I wouldnt give my money to them, he said.

An escalation of the border conflict between U.S. and Pakistani troops could have dire consequences for the war in Afghanistan, Ali warned. The Pashtun region lies on either side of the border, he explained. Theyre calling it Neo-Talibanism, but another way of looking at it is the rise of Pashtun nationalism against foreign powers. Its a response to a military occupation.

VIDEO: Tariq Ali on the modern history of U.S./Pakistan relations.

Even U.S. allies in the region are starting to worry about the impact of U.S. aggression, Ali said. Hamid Karzai, a total puppet, has appealed to the U.S., saying, Please stop killing so many civilians, because its making it difficult for me. Its a crazy policy.

Presidential candidate Barack Obamas hawkish comments on Pakistan during last weeks presidential debate drew the ire of Ali, who said Obama had turned out to be a disappointment for Pakistanis. Hes more extreme than McCain, Ali said, as people applauded.

He told his Pakistani-American audience to learn from the U.S. Israeli lobby group AIPAC, and to support policies that would help Pakistani civilians, because these policies would also ultimately benefit the United States. According to Ali, Pakistan is coming under attack because of misguided American unilateralism and a wave of Islamophobia that is sweeping the West. The people of Pakistan, he said, dont deserve it.

Ketaki Gokhale is a writer for New America Media

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