Gordon Campbell on the Pakistan schoolchildren killings

The slaughter of the children in Pakistan is incomprehensibly awful. On the side, it has thrown a spotlight onto something that’s become a pop cultural meme. Fans of the Homeland TV series will be well aware of the collusion between sections of the Pakistan military/security establishment on one hand and sections of the Taliban of the other. That relationship has been the plot engine for the fourth season of the Homeland show, and this essay makes a good case for Carrie Mathison being the embodiment of actual US policy in the region, and for Saul Berenson being what America thinks it doing in the region.

Reportedly, it was the breakdown of the relationship between the Pakistan Taliban and the Pakistan military – which for the first time, began bombing Taliban enclaves in the Tribal Federated Areas earlier this year – that led to this revenge attack on the school, which is attended by the children of the military. In other words, there is a political dimension to the attack in Pakistan that was wholly lacking in the Sydney hostage incident, which seems to have been driven by a sole, pathetically deranged individual who ‘converted’ to the Sunni Islam of Islamic State only weeks beforehand.

For well over a decade, the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Agency ISI has been working hand in glove with the Afghan Taliban – and with the al Qaeda linked Haqqani family network, which is active on both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan border, from its bases in Pakistan’s Waziristan region. The logic of the relationship – as Homeland has indicated – is that the US/NATO occupation forces are on the way out. Therefore, Pakistan has an obvious longer term interest in maintaining a positive relationship with the Afghan Taliban and with the Haqqanis who are very likely to prevail over the corrupt regime in Kabul.

So what’s changed of late? Well, under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan has become more willing to take serious military action against the Pakistan Taliban, who – as Juan Cole has recently reported are a far less disciplined organisation than their Afghan counterparts:

It is amazing that the US has finally got what it wanted, a Pakistani government willing to send fighter jets to bomb the Pakistani Taliban. But that there has been almost no television coverage of this sea change.

North Waziristan had always been protected by military intelligence and so had become a haven for al-Qaeda offshoots. But in the past 6 months Pakistani army troops have killed nearly 2000 fighters and deeply disrupted what is left of the Pakistani Taliban. The group that took over the school complains of the perfidy of the government’s bombing.

To the Pakistan Taliban, the attack on the children is a tit for tat response to the bombing of their own homes and families. Some details of that Pakistan military offensive – which has displaced some 1.5 million people from their homes – can be found here. To Cole, the revenge attack on a’ soft’ target such as the schoolchildren is a sign of the weakness of the Pakistan Taliban, and not a sign of strength. Regardless, it seems unlikely the long term forecasts of the ISI have changed all that much. There is no newly found optimism about the survival prospects of the puppet regime in Kabul. Pakistan may be merely acting pre-emptively against a nihilistic Pakistan Taliban which almost certainly killed Benazir Bhutto, and which would be likely to be equally hostile to any Pakistan government in future. As the Pakistan Taliban struck back against the military, the children became the unwitting victims.

Posturings about Sydney
The pantomine of concern by Aussie PM Tony Abbott about the ‘security’ lapses with regard to Man Haron Monis has been pretty loathsome to behold. Abbott has been willing to play on every known prejudice – against refugees (how, Abbott asks, did Monis get permanent residency?) against welfare bludgers (how come, Abbott asks, he was on welfare for so long?) etc etc. Note: Abbott has not been calling for an investigation into whether the funding of mental health services is adequate for the task of detecting and treating people such as Monis.

What the security “failings” in this case should be telling us is that – for good reason – Monis wasn’t regarded as a political threat, but as a lone, mentally ill person with criminal tendencies. Despite the vast beat-up about terrorism by the politico-media complex, this was a media stunt by a sad loner using terrorist props to get attention. (And if we’re still talking about cultural parallels, this makes the Sydney café attack look like the hostage situation portrayed in the film Dog Day Afternoon.)

Ultimately, the Monis ‘lapses’ are a sign that security services don’t really use their expanded surveillance powers all that much to detect terrorists. That’s only a sideline activity, as security analyst Paul Buchanan of the 36th Parallel intelligence consultancy told me in a recent interview. “Quite frankly, the anti-terrorism stuff is only 5% of what these intel agencies do,” Buchanan says. “It’s not the mainstay of what they do. Far from it. The bulk of it is political, diplomatic and commercial cyber-espionage between states…Russia, right now, is a big concern. But we do it to our friends as well.”

In the wake of the Sydney attack, lip service will inevitably be paid to the need for greater co-ordination between the Police, the security services and yes, the mental health services. At base though, the public – in New Zealand and Australia – are being whipped into a froth of fear and concern about the terrorist threat, in order to justify surveillance powers that never have, and never will be, primarily used for that purpose.

12 year old geniuses
Christmas is for kids…so, this morning I thought I’d feature two tracks by two freakishly talented 12 year olds kids who go to prove that genius is born, not made. You’ve probably beard the track Lorde did for RNZ a few years ago. Here she was at 12, doing a really good cover of the “Use Somebody” song by Kings of Leon.

Conceivably, you may not have heard this other track – also a live performance – even though it was a US number one hit in 1963 for 12 year old Little Stevie Wonder. At the time, Motown didn’t really have a clue how to present Wonder to a wider audience. After several misfires with him at age 11, they finally released a live track called “Fingertips” – which was considered to be so hellishly LOUD it never got played on New Zealand radio at the time. Wonder’s singing is really astonishing on this track. And yes, after the fake ending at about 2:10 and just before Wonder returns to the stage for the storming finale, you can indeed hear the bass player from the next act due onstage, calling out desperately “What key? What key?” after he finds himself trapped onstage with Wonder. Try the key of life, man.