It’s hard to imagine how the United States could heap more abuse on Pakistan. We are approaching the one year anniversary since Jeremy Scahill disclosed the extensive JSOC-Blackwater secret war effort within Pakistan and yet there is no indication that either Barack Obama or David Petraeus sees a need to shut down the rogue operators there. Despite the occasional attempt to portray the US military as providing crucial relief efforts in the massive floods in Pakistan (such as in the accompanying photo), the reality is that US military relief to Pakistan has been derided as but a tiny fraction of the military relief provided in other recent world catastrophes. Last week’s sentencing of Aafia Siddiqui to eighty-six years in jail provoked massive protests across Pakistan. And now we are learning that NATO (which really means US) helicopters have killed over 50 people in air raids on the Pakistan side of the border with Afghanistan over the weekend.
For a refresher, here is Jeremy Scahill last November on the secret war in Pakistan:
At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.
Despite this tying of Blackwater, with its horrible reputation for abuses, especially in Iraq, to drone operations in Pakistan, no response from Barack Obama or David Petraeus has been seen. News stories routinely cite the animosity created by the drone attacks, as seen, for example, in the BBC story on the helicopter raids:
The raids, however, will do nothing to improve anti-American sentiment which is being fuelled by escalating numbers of drone attacks on targets in Pakistan, our correspondent adds.
Despite a chance to show that the US cares about the Pakistani people by rushing to their aid during the massive floods, the meager effort that ISAF is trying to portray in a good light by sending out photos like the one above is far short of how the US military responded other recent disasters:
But the $76 million is dwarfed by the massive humanitarian assistance — hundreds of millions — the U.S. military brought directly to victims of the 2005 earthquake and the 2004 tsunami — delivered via aircraft carriers, hospital ships and thousands of American troops. U.S. military helicopters flew some 6,000 relief operations to Pakistani earthquake victims alone. For both the 2005 earthquake and the tsunami, the U.S. military worked closely with local governments, but did not leave it primarily up to them to deliver the aid.
Just as US action was too little when it came to flood relief, action in sentencing Aafia Siddiqui was excessive, as pointed out by ondelette:
Judge Richard Berman rewrote verdicts, applied enhancements and came up with 86 years, and after insisting that the defendant was sane, remanded her to Carswell Federal Prison for the Criminally Insane. For her part, Aafia Siddiqui told her supporters not to be angry but to forgive.
The New York Law Journal has a good article on how you can get 86 years out of an attempted murder verdict. They said Judge Berman applied all the enhancements possible. For instance, he made it a hate crime. And he apparently added years because he said she lied on the stand. Presumably that’s because she said she didn’t shoot the gun? The prosecution never proved she did, but never mind. The one that really got me was when he "ruled", on the insistence of Christopher LaVigne, that the shooting was "premeditated". That one overruled the jury, as Carolyn Weaver of Voice of America rightly pointed out, they had thrown out the verdict of premeditation last Spring.
This excessive sentence was not met well in Pakistan:
Pakistani activists poured into the streets on Friday shouting “Death to America” and burning effigies of President Barack Obama after a US court jailed a woman scientist for 86 years.
The protestors shouted “Death to America,” “Allahu akbar” (God is greater), “Free Aafia Siddiqui” and “Down with the US system of justice”.
Hundreds of anti-riot police deployed on the main Shahra-e-Faisal road to stop protesters from marching towards the US mission.
But it is not just activists who are upset at the sentencing. Dawn reports that the Pakistani government also is responding:
The government decided on Friday to use legal, political and diplomatic means for repatriation of Dr Aafia Siddiqui who was sentenced to 86 years imprisonment by a US court on Thursday.
The prime minister said in a statement that the government would use all options to get Dr Siddiqui repatriated and would ask US authorities to consider her a prisoner of war.
The decision was taken in the wake of countrywide demonstrations organised by a number of political and religious parties calling for release of Dr Siddiqui and condemning the US government and its judicial system.
The article also notes that the government of Pakistan has approved $2 million for use in the case.
So, in the same week that has seen Obama burned in effigy and protesters stopped by riot police as they headed for the US mission, NATO forces cross the border into Pakistan by helicopter to kill over 50 people. I shudder to think what the response will be if the targeting of these attacks proves to be as faulty as some previous attacks. If it turns out that a large number of women and children are among the dead in these air strikes, this could be the final straw for Pakistan. In that regard, it is worth noting what appears to be a warning to the US in the Dawn article about the protests, where it is stated in just the second paragraph that Pakistan is a "nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 167 million". That is a warning that Obama and Petraeus should consider very carefully as they monitor investigations into the helicopter raids and other developments within Pakistan.
Update: According to the Washington Post, Pakistan is already protesting the air strikes:
The Pakistani government on Monday strongly condemned a pair of NATO airstrikes on Pakistani soil that NATO officials said killed about 55 suspected insurgents over the weekend.
"These incidents are a clear violation and breach of the U.N. mandate" that governs the conduct of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
ISAFMedia photo on Flickr of Pakistanis unloading relief supplies from US helicopter on September 20.