On 9 January, Pakistani police announced that they had arrested a number of individuals connected with the shooting of seven people in Karachi on 1 January. Those detained are accused of being members of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, more generally referred to as the Pakistani Taliban), and were all caught and detained in Ittihad Town, a sprawling slum of over 1 million inhabitants located on the outskirts of Karachi.
The people who the Taliban are alleged to have killed have been described in the western press as “school teachers and health workers”, but it must be admitted that teachers and health workers are a pretty bizarre target for the Pakistani Taliban in a society crawling with hated military and police officers, CIA operatives and secularist progressives.
A cursory look at the victims’ backgrounds is instructive, however: the picture that emerges is of guns being turned against a very specific type of teacher or health worker – namely, those working for foreign and domestic ‘aid agencies’. Such organisations include Support with Working Solution, a ‘local’ aid agency which, according to its website, likes to do a bit of its banking in New York and which employed the seven people killed on 1 January.
Perhaps these killings really are the result of a random, obscurantist hit on teachers and nurses, but it seems rather more likely that this was a carefully-targeted attack aimed at disrupting the activity of one of the many foreign-financed aid agencies that litter Pakistan; and there can be little doubt that it is imperialism that is ultimately responsible.
An overwhelming climate of mistrust looms over the entire aid and charity sector, particularly in Pakistan, but also throughout the developing world and oppressed nations – and we’ll return to the exact reasons for this in more detail later on.
Aid, charity and NGOs
An array of ostensibly ‘independent’, ‘charitable’, ‘non-governmental’ organisations (NGOs) operate throughout the world. Some claim to be driven by religious conviction – the spreading of Christianity or Islam – while others are supposedly motivated by purely altruistic, humanitarian concerns, but all historically have been a phenomenon and product of imperialism – an integral part of the invisible web that binds the world’s poor to their oppressors.
Despite their claims to benevolent motivations, it is clear that any NGO that was seriously attempting to rectify the injustices of imperialism or to challenge private-property relations would not last very long and would receive little financial support from the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ‘philanthropists’ on whom the non-state sector relies. Unbeknownst to some of their more credulous supporters, many organisations such as development agencies and the like are, in fact, quite openly used by finance capitalism for the purpose of bribing, and of controlling the supply of ‘funding’ and ‘aid’ (that is, of food, water, medicine and other essentials) into countries whose economies have been ravaged and stunted by the domination of the World Bank and the IMF (ie, by imperialist looting) with the connivance of a local parasitic comprador-bourgeois class who have lost all sense of patriotism, independence or dignity.
For decades, NGOs, charities and aid agencies all over the world have abused their position –manipulating (or instigating) activities that have directly benefited imperialism, diverting and suppressing people’s anti-imperialist struggles. By spying and subverting in return for dollars, they have helped imperialism obtain favourable contracts and access to some of the remotest and most lucrative corners of the world.
In extreme cases, these organisations have been utilised as centres for directing insurgency (as, for example, various ‘democracy’ foundations were used during the counter-revolutions in eastern Europe), while others merely serve as supply routes for intelligence and analysis.
Generally, in times of ‘peace’, this set-up is operated by imperialism as just another mechanism to control the market of any particular country – to dominate its resources and raw materials, and to ensure an automatic vote at some ‘international’ forum in order to condemn a Saddam, a Gaddafi, an Assad or a Mugabe.
In times of ‘war’, or in countries where imperialism finds itself challenged by any resistance, the myriad NGOs, charities and aid agencies provide a very useful source of seemingly ‘harmless’ intelligence. Sometimes, information will be gathered by intelligence operatives dropped into these organisations for that sole purpose. At other times, innocent, perhaps even well-meaning dupes will be used to collect information and intelligence in the field which will be collated and fed back (without their even knowing it) to the Special Operations, Counter-Insurgency or Secret Intelligence teams.
To approach even a basic understanding of the complexity of this question, it is instructive to spend a few days with General Sir Frank Kitson and his celebrated book Low Intensity Operations; Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping. Kitson, a monstrous creation of the British bourgeois-parasitic class, served in Malaya and Kenya in his youth, where he gained a reputation for murdering communists and resistance fighters with exceptional diligence.
In recent times, his decrepit corpse performed at the Bloody Sunday inquiry, where he insisted that British paratroopers were both “professional and compassionate” as they shot and murdered the nationalists who had turned out to march for their civil rights. But whilst such senile buffoonery may embarrass the ruling class in the 21st century, Kitson’s real legacy is his counter-insurgency handbook, which spells out in no uncertain terms the underhand and deceptive tools kept in the armoury of the imperialist nations, ready to be used by the bourgeois class against any and all opposition to their rule.
In his murderous masterpiece, Kitson points out the exceptional value of information that is provided to imperialist forces by what may appear, at first look, to be rather innocuous, routine, sources:
“A lot of low-grade information is more use tactically than a small amount of high-grade material … this means that from the army’s point of view an intelligence organisation which relies on a large number of low-grade sources is more valuable than one which concentrates on a few high-grade ones …”
The flow of such information is set up not in times of war, but rather needs to be carefully groomed in times of peace. Indeed, the scale of such operations is far greater than most of us care to imagine. In a rather amusing aside, Kitson deals with the morality of such heavy-handed and all-encompassing surveillance when he philosophises thus:
“In general, it seems to be extremely difficult to get countries to maintain effective domestic intelligence organisations in time of peace, not only because of the expense, but also because of the feeling that such establishments run counter to the concept of the freedom of the individual. There is of course an element of truth in the idea … but the danger posed by subversion unchecked by good intelligence is far greater.”
In later chapters, Kitson returns to the value of having organised in advance such effective intelligence supply lines once war breaks out:
“The problem of destroying enemy armed groups and their supporters therefore consists very largely of finding them … [therefore] it is easy to recognise the paramount importance of good intelligence.”
A distinction is made by Kitson between the gathering of ‘background information’ and ‘contact information’. Kitson explains that it is this latter ‘contact information’ which is crucial to enabling imperialism to put its forces into action against an uprising, a group or an individual.
The kind of operational intelligence Kitson is referring to is exactly the sort of stuff which aid agencies are so useful at providing – and recent history provides us with a neat example.
In March 2012, a number of aid agencies wrote to the head of the CIA to complain about the agency’s subversive use of their organisations to gather intelligence on the whereabouts of Bin Laden. An exposé by the Guardian newspaper in July 2011 had uncovered the story:
“An alliance of 200 US aid groups has written to the head of the CIA to protest against its use of a doctor to help track Osama bin Laden, linking the agency’s ploy to the polio crisis in Pakistan.
“The country recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world last year, a health catastrophe that threatens to spiral out of control.
“In the weeks before the 3 May operation to kill Bin Laden, Afridi was instructed to set up a fake vaccination scheme in the town of Abbottabad, in order to gain entry to the house where it was suspected that the al-Qaeda chief was living, and extract DNA samples from his family members …
“‘The CIA’s use of the cover of humanitarian activity for this purpose casts doubt on the intentions and integrity of all humanitarian actors in Pakistan, thereby undermining the international humanitarian community’s efforts to eradicate polio, provide critical health services, and extend life-saving assistance during times of crisis like the floods seen in Pakistan over the last two years,’ the InterAction coalition wrote to the CIA director, David Petraeus.
“The group, which includes the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps and Care, said that as well as damaging the drive against polio and other health problems in Pakistan, the CIA’s tactics had endangered the lives of foreign aid workers. In recent months, at least five international NGO workers, including a British doctor, have been kidnapped by presumed islamic extremists.
“‘The CIA-led immunisation campaign compromises the perception of US NGOs as independent actors focused on a common good, and casts suspicion on their humanitarian workers. The CIA’s actions may also jeopardise the lives of humanitarian aid workers in Pakistan,’ the letter said…
“The CIA was unsure whether the al-Qaeda chief was really living in Abbottabad. Afridi used nurses to go house to house to offer vaccinations for hepatitis, managing to gain entry to the house where bin Laden was suspected of living.” (‘CIA tactics to trap bin Laden linked with polio crisis, say aid groups’ by Saeed Shah, 2 March 2012)
Imperialism and war
Whatever clamour is made in the West against the recent shooting of teachers, healthcare workers and other ‘aid workers’, it must be seen in the context of the ongoing imperialist war against the world’s poor and oppressed.
In countries like Pakistan, this war is not merely manifested in the ‘peaceful’ slaughter of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children each day by means of starvation, disease and thirst (the ‘acceptable’ side-effects of capitalist exploitation), but includes also the open occupation of a neighbouring country, the subjugation of the entire country to the interests of US imperialism, and the daily terror and psychological horror of drone attacks and assassinations in the villages, towns and foothills of Pakistan’s Pakhtunkhwa province and other Afghan border regions.
If we really wish to prevent polio, treat malaria, and provide other essential medical care, we can do no better than follow the example set by Cuban doctors, who travel the world free from the threat of assassination or injury. These doctors are not protected by fighter jets, drones or M16s, but rather by the love and affection that is instinctively felt by the oppressed of the world towards the Cuban people– a love of their resilient and courageous stand against US imperialism and their crusading health work for the poor and needy, which are motivated by the noblest of human intentions and afforded by the most advanced social system yet created by humanity – the socialist state.
If our people genuinely want to help those suffering the daily effects of hunger, thirst, disease and poverty, they need to tackle the cause of these problems – the private ownership of the means and products of production.
We live in a world abundant with food, shelter, medicine and clean drinking water, and yet everywhere we find human beings suffering from a want of these basic things. Science is every day revealing more about the workings of the human brain, and yet we live in a world where millions of children have no access to education at all, while the majority get only the most rudimentary training – a world away from a real education that is aimed at unlocking that incredible potential.
Only socialism points to a bright and prosperous future for all, free from the evils of marauding finance capital and all its lackeys, agents and hangers-on.