Friday, November 16, 2007

Pakistani Double Whammy

I’ve frequently asserted that the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the U.S.—Pakistan relationship—and the one that militates against U.S. efforts to guide Pakistani politics—is that the U.S. wants Pakistan to make battling extremists on the borders its number one priority, while the main interest of the military is in heartland security and the India/Kashmir issue.

If I were to go a step further, I’d say that U.S. policy toward Pakistan is driven by the worsening situation in Afghanistan—an area in which Pakistan is even less eager to support our goals and would rather see nature take its course and the replacement of Karzai’s pro-American government with a quasi-tribal outfit more reliant on and friendly toward Islamabad.

So we’re dealing with a double whammy on our Pakistan policy.

It’s nice to see someone agree with me, at least on the first point.

So I’ll link to him!

Here’s something from a Brookings Institute piece by Moeed Yusuf back in September.

He wrote:

At the moment, there is virtually no support for a massive operation against Taliban sympathizers in the FATA region. The Pushtuns- an overwhelming majority in the NWFP- view any military action against their ethnic kin as solely a function of American influence rather than an internal need. This does not imply that they necessarily support extremist causes in FATA. It simply suggests that any such move is understood as part of a battle that is not Pakistan's, and if continued, may cause tremendous collateral damage, which mainstream Pakistanis are unwilling to tolerate.

Interestingly, the same Pushtuns, as well as a powerful majority of the urban and rural society in the hinterland, are highly supportive of taking those who threaten Pakistan per se, to task. The more than 85 percent approval rating for the raid on the Red Mosque and overwhelming opposition to suicide attacks among average Pakistanis revealed by the recent PEW global attitudes poll is indicative of such sentiments. Yet, Pakistanis continue to believe that imposing a military solution on the problem would create severe fissures within the society and perhaps even the armed forces, the results of which could be catastrophic.

But how does the government then reconcile serious opposition to a wholehearted military operation in FATA with the sense of urgency among the military top brass and the urban elite to act against those threatening the Pakistani heartland? The answer: do 'more of the same', but with much greater sincerity to neutralize the threat. Once the ongoing spat of extremist violence subsides (for which the military has ratcheted up its operations), the military and intelligence agencies will be tasked to reopen communication channels through interlocutors to find new means to forge sustainable peace deals with the militants. [emph. added]

FATA, by the way, is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a sliver of land bordering Pakistan that is basically run by the central government. NWFP is the North-West Frontier Province, one of the four provinces that make up Pakistan. Combined, these areas account for 22 million of Pakistan’s population and most of its militancy.

In other words, the Pashtun areas of Pakistan are about as big as Iraq, and Musharraf--who has been presiding over a fractious multi-ethnic state for the last decade--doesn't need the example of our trainwreck in Iraq to know he can't solve the problem militarily with less than 500,000 troops, tens of billions of dollars, and emergency powers that would make the current restrictions look trivial.

And that's completely out of reach.

Nevertheless, that's the line Bhutto is pushing, at least for the purpose of attracting U.S. support.

Using Bhutto to destabilitize Pakistan in order to try and save Afghanistan is probably not the most viable or responsible course for America to pursue.

And if part of the plan includes undercutting Pakistan’s efforts to achieve a separate peace with its border militants at the expense of our interests in Afghanistan, it looks like we’ll not only have trouble with the Pakistani military, but also with the Pakistani popular opinion we are currently cultivating with our pro-democracy talk.

That’s a double whammy the beleaguered Bush foreign policy team could probably do without.

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