Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Senator Barack Obama has accused Pakistan of misusing U.S. military aid meant to help it fight al Qaeda and the Taliban to prepare for war against India. In an interview with Fox News he also says the United States must put more pressure on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants, hold it accountable for increased military support, and be prepared to act aggressively against al Qaeda; “if we have bin Laden in our sights, we target him and we knock him out,” he says. However he adds that “nobody talked about some full-blown invasion of Pakistan.”
The latter part of his comments is not that new, nor indeed that different from the policies of the current U.S. administration. But it is his comment about India that has been seized upon by the media in South Asia. ”We are providing them military aid without having enough strings attached. So they’re using the military aid that we use, to Pakistan, they’re preparing for war against India,” he says.
It will be interesting to see if Obama expands on those comments next week, either in the Fox News interview (so far only the early part has been released) or elsewhere. The main question is how the United States would try to convince the Pakistan Army to turn its full force against al Qaeda and the Taliban on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, while easing up on its traditional preoccupation of defending its border with India. Holding Pakistan accountable for U.S. military aid is one thing; changing the psychology of the Pakistan Army is quite another.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Obama has said the U.S. war in Afghanistan would be made easier if the United States worked to improve trust between India and Pakistan. “A lot of what drives, it appears, motivations on the Pakistan side of the border, still has to do with their concerns and suspicions about India,” he told a news conference in Amman back in July.
The rows of bombed-out and upturned Soviet era-planes that littered the ground at Kabul airport are gone. Gone also is the confusion that used to reign in the small immigration control office or over at the baggage belt in a dark corner of the damp building. You are quickly waved through, the bags have arrived and you are whisked off in Kabul’s crisp early morning air.
Returning to the Afghan capital after five years is both reassuring and a little bit disconcerting. Traffic clogs the dusty streets, people crane their necks out of cars hollering at each other to give way, smiling school girls in twos or threes wait by the roadside for a ride home in the crowded cabs. Mobile phone shops have sprung up everywhere, and everyone uses the phones. You even have shalwar-clad men standing at street corners selling Afghanis for dollars in one hand and pre-paid calling cards for your phone on the other.
Pakistani officials say U.S.-led helicopter-borne troops launched a ground assault on a Pakistani village near the Afghan border on Wednesday, killing 20 people. The raid, in the South Waziristan tribal area, was the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S.-led troops since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to London and a former advisor to the late Benazir Bhutto.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
The way Nisar Ahmad sees it, the war in Afghanistan has been pretty good to him. The 19-year-old runs a shop stall on a British military base in Helmand selling knock-off cigarettes, sunglasses, carpets and other assorted trinkets to young soldiers eager to spend their cash. On a good day, he takes in anywhere between $300 and $400 as the nicotine-hungry snap up 10-packs of Chinese-made, fake Marlboro cigarettes for just $5 a pop, or a pair of fake designer shades for $15. Sometimes he’s feeling generous and knocks them down to $10. Even with the cost of buying the merchandise in Kabul and driving it down to the far south of the country, into Taliban country and frequently through militant checkpoints, he still reckons he takes anywhere between $80 and $100 a day in profit.
“It’s good money, very good money,” he says with a broad grin, showing off a gappy, yellowing smile. “I didn’t go to school but everybody he go to school he not make money same as me,” he explains in his faltering English, learnt during six years of working on British and American bases.
In fact, Ahmad is a case-study in how market economics can take hold even in a war zone, and how mergers and acquisitions are a part of life wherever you happen to be, even in Afghanistan’s volatile southern deserts.
So successful was Ahmad that he effectively got taken over by Abdallah, 30, and his business partner Ismailah who run similar shops on five other bases and decided to ‘acquire’ Ahmad’s stall. He now works for a wage of $500 a month while he reckons Abdallah makes “$2,000 or $3,000, I don’t know, good money.” He’s not unhappy about the takeover, he says, because he’d rather have a regular wage and he’s only 19, so there’s time for other businesses. But in order to give himself a sense of rising up the ladder, he’s taken on a side-kick called Jasnour who doesn’t speak much English and does the dirty work of packing and unpacking the goods and handling the money. Ahmad just sits back.
On any military base in Afghanistan there are signs of business and globalisation at work. Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway all run concessions on major bases, feeding troops hungry for food from home. The Pizza Hut on the British base is run by an Indian. The military supplies shop — which sells 10 packs of name-brand cigarettes for the regular price of $30 — is run by a Bosnian. Filipinos help with the laundry. Everybody wants a sliver of the fat economic pie that the British, Americans, Canadians and other nations serving in Afghanistan have thrown on the table. The problem is the entrepreneurial, money-making impulse is mostly taking root only on secure camps where foreign troops are based. It’s not happening outside the wire, where 24 million Afghans are longing for business investment and a better life.