Last week, Cuban special forces, in pursuit of anti-Castro terrorists responsible for a campaign of bombings and assassinations, launched an attack on a Miami housing complex, killing several American civilians.

You didn’t hear about it? That’s because it never happened. If it had, Havana would, one imagines, now resemble a parking lot.

But rules governing barbarians don’t inhibit the Empire, and so George Bush has casually authorized ground forces to launch attacks on Pakistani soil — without the permission of the Pakistani government.

At a recent news conference, Pakistani journalists drew the logical conclusion. “Isn’t America a terrorist, will you declare America a terrorist?”they asked President Zardari.

A fair question, one would have thought, given that the US President had just openly and explicitly declared his willingness to flout international law in ways that will almost certainly kill innocent Pakistanis.

Consider events taking place just across the border.

On the evening of 21 August, US special forces attacked the Afghan village of Azizabad, where the locals were holding a memorial for a tribal leader. Claiming they were under attack, the Americans called on air support. According to a New York Times journalist, the bombing killed ninety civilians, including as many as 60 children. The presumed target, a man called Reza Khan, not only had no connection with the Taliban, but actually co-ordinated construction work for a nearby US base.

Bombing campaigns exert an irresistible fascination for US commanders, since they flaunt the technological superiority of the West, in an updated version of the old boast:

“Whatever happens we have got The Maxim Gun, and they have not”.

Bombs from the sky rather than boots on the ground also reduces, at least in the short term, American casualties. Afghan casualties, not so much. Over the last three years, the US has increased its bombing tenfold — and civilian deaths have tripled.

Most of the time, that’s not a problem since, with very few journalists in attendance, the army can usually cover up its collateral damage.

As Tom Engelhardt notes, in his survey of what he calls the “blur of civilian deaths”in Iraq and Afghanistan, the original newspaper accounts of what later became known as the My Lai massacre read like this: “American troops caught a North Vietnamese force in a pincer movement on the central coastal plain yesterday, killing 128 enemy soldiers in day-long fighting”.

The army wrote its initial dispatch from Azizabad according to the same formula. The raid was, it was said, a “successful operation against the Taliban”, in which thirty militants were killed.

As conflicting accounts grew, the official version shifted. Eventually, in response to a cell phone video showing scores of dead children, the army played a trump card: there was a US journalist embedded with the troops, they said, and he confirmed the military’s version.

In a bizarre twist, it now seems that the obliging newshound in question was none other than Lt Col Ollie North of Iran-Contra fame. North, you will recall, came to prominence for lying under oath on behalf of the Reagan administration during the Iran-Contra scandal. He now works (of course!) for Fox News.

The reassurances provided by Oliver North have not, one would think, provided much comfort for the people of Pakistan, as they brace for fresh US attacks. Remarkably, Pakistan’s army chief and Prime Minister have both now declared, in response to Bush’s announcement, that their country will defend its sovereignty and integrity: an implicit threat of force against their supposed ally.

Bush still has a few months to go. It’s not too late to top the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a fresh catastrophe in Pakistan.

Peter Fray

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