A few days ago, I was driving around Lahore, its population still shattered by the suicide bombers who blew themselves up next to two army trucks, killing 18 Pakistani soldiers and 48 civilians. The civilians, of course, were the usual "collateral damage" – the bad guys have even adopted our own obscene expression for unintended casualties – and they paid the price for Pakistan's continuing war against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan on behalf of America's "war on terror". Indeed, the conflict here is primarily between the army and the Taliban. I couldn't help noticing that the street where the bombs exploded is in the RA Barracks area of Lahore – and it took a time before I discovered that RA stands for Royal Artillery. Yes, our imperial ghosts continue to stalk this place while America's more recent empire ensures that its people suffer as they did under the Raj. Will freedom at midnight never come?
Yet far more outrageous was Richard Holbrooke's cocky, overconfident performance on CNN just three days later. Things are getting better on the "Af-Pak" scene, he told the world – how I hate these infantile expressions ("Af-Pak", "strategic depth", "spikes" and "surges") and al-Qa'ida is "under great pressure after losing key members of its leadership". Ten to 12 al-Qa'ida leaders had been "eliminated" over the past year – mostly in pilotless drone attacks on Pakistani territory, it should be added, which cost 667 lives in 2009 alone . Pakistan's civilians have paid the price in revenge attacks that usually target the Pakistani army: 322 Pakistanis killed and more than 500 wounded in 15 suicide bombings in the first 70 days of this year. The Pakistani army now has two divisions in Swat and several more in south Waziristan and Mr Holbrooke would like to see them move into north Waziristan as well, although – he generously agrees – that will be up to the commander of the Pakistani army.
So that's it, folks. Just like Bushy and Blair of Kut-al-Amara on Iraq, it's the same old story. The worse things get, the greater the optimism. If it's bad, it's getting better. By last year, Pakistan's dead since 2001 – from suicide bombers, Pakistani army operations, inter-tribal battles and Nato drone attacks – reached a total of 12,632 (with 12,815 wounded). Not bad, huh? And the overall political situation in Pakistan – where the Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif has just appealed to the Taliban to stop bombing Lahore on the grounds that residents hate the Americans (and ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf) just as much as they do – is "much better now", according to Dickie Holbrooke. After all, the Pakistani military is no longer in Pakistan's "complicated" politics. We shall see.
I can recall sitting on the lawn one evening this week with Imran Khan – among the most honest of Pakistan's politicians (there aren't many, I promise you) – as dusk fell over the Margalla mountains. And Imran was raging. "My God, these people in Waziristan, they are wonderful, beautiful people and what are we doing to them? The army fire their artillery 20km from their target, and they're told they are shooting at 11 Taliban people and then they fire and the army announce that 11 Taliban have been killed. We are killing our own people. This has to stop." But there's not much point in thinking that Obama and his dotty secretary of state care a damn. They are lost.
Why, only a few months ago, la Clinton was bitching about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to stop building settlements following Obama's "reach-out" – another of those bloody phrases – to Muslims. She meant all settlements, she said. Illegal settlements, "legal" settlements, outposts, whatever the Israelis liked to call it. And when Netanyahu offered his ridiculous "freeze" on just West Bank Jewish colonies for a mere six months – not in Jerusalem, mark you – off la Clinton trotted to the Arab League to publicise this extraordinary and "unprecedented" offer by the land-grabbers of the Netanyahu government.
Now she is huffing and puffing again. Joe Biden turns up in the land to which the United States has donated almost £200bn over the past decade in the hope of getting the Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other again – and Netanyahu's government announces another 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. Biden, of course, should have jumped back on his plane and flown back to America. Hasn't the US, after all, registered 39 vetoes to protect its little Middle Eastern Prussia in the UN? No way. The timing of the statement – the timing, mark you – was "unhelpful". Netanyahu said he didn't know about the announcement in advance – which, if true, suggests we should all believe in Father Christmas and fairies at the bottom of the garden.
But what does la Clinton do? Not appreciating that Biden and she and Obama have been treated by the Israelis with the contempt they deserve, she rants on the phone to Netanyahu about the "affront" and the "insult" of the timing of the announcement. But this is preposterous.
The affront and the insult were not caused to la Clinton or Obama. So self-regarding is this wretched woman that she could not grasp that the real affront and insult were being endured by the Palestinians – who are again being driven from their homes and dispossessed so that Netanyahu's Israeli colonists can move further into east Jerusalem. La Clinton should have asked Netanyahu how he could inflict such punishment on innocent Palestinians – but she thought that she and Obama were the victims.
My guess is that it's only a matter of time before Obama's pitiful envoy George Mitchell will be replaced by a tougher man – and who better than Dickie Holbrooke, the tough guy who knows how to handle "Af-Pak" and will know how to handle Netanyahu? Why, it's not so long ago that he produced "peace" in Bosnia at Dayton, Ohio – one S Milosevic being an honoured guest – while telling a pleading delegation of Kosovo Muslims to get lost. Nothing should get in the way of peace in Bosnia. So the Kosovars departed to endure their own ethnic cleansing when Nato went to war with Serbia. You may remember that we were fighting this war to get the Kosovo Albanians back into their homes – even though most of them were in their homes when our USAF and RAF warriors started their bombing campaign against Serbia.
But who cares? Things are getting better in Pakistan. It's only the Americans who are upset about Netanyahu. One thing at a time. That's what Holbrooke told the Kosovo Muslims. Al-Qa'ida are on the run. And they expect us to believe all this guff.
Published in The Independent Saturday, 20 March 2010