The sound and fury of the Pakistan-Afghanistan debate
According to this McClatchy report, a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate — reflecting the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies — has described Pakistan as being “on the edge”.
“A growing al Qaeda-backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army’s reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America’s key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence,” it quotes the soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment as saying. It also quotes a U.S. official as summarising the NIE’s conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: “no money, no energy, no government.”
Meanwhile, diplomats quoted in this Reuters story, say that Saudi Arabia is trying to mediate a peace deal between the Taliban and Afghan officials in neighbouring Afghanistan to prevent Pakistan from sliding into Islamist violence. “They want to help because Pakistan is frightening. They fear what could happen in Pakistan. This (mediation) is to stabilise Pakistan,” said one diplomat.
And the Australian writes that the reported tone of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate was matched during a secret emergency session of Pakistan’s parliament when one of the country’s most senior leaders “conceded for the first time that a grouping of al Qaeda, the Taliban and local jihadi militants was seeking not just to launch terrorist attacks but to take over the country”. It said the gloomy assessment was provided behind closed doors by Information Minister Sherry Rehman.
The situation is clearly bad. But perhaps it’s time to hit the pause button and establish the facts before leaping to conclusions? And all the more so given that so many critics are now saying with hindsight that the United States rushed into action after 9/11 without fully understanding the countries it was invading, or the consequences of its policies?
Here are a few issues that have been raised.
In Informed Comment, Juan Cole writes that “I’m suspicious that all the talk about instability and ‘no government’ is really a way of saying that US intelligence agencies liked having a military dictatorship there much better than they like having an elected parliamentary regime.” He adds, “The idea that the 3.5 million Pushtuns of the tribal areas could take over a country of 165 million with one of the most professional armies in Asia is just silly.”
In the Asia Times, retired Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar questions what he calls “a mad scramble over Afghanistan”. He argues that the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are in a “murky game” together to seek reconciliation with the Taliban that overlooks the interests, and the influence, of the other players in the region, including Russia, Iran and India.
And as for the idea that some of the Islamist militant groups operating in Pakistan are trying to take over the country, that is not new. It was true before 9/11, when Indian intelligence reports documented the difference between Kashmiri separatist groups based in Pakistan and those who had no respect for the nation state, preferring instead to seek the restoration of an Islamic caliphate.
There will be plenty more issues raised as the days and weeks go by. But in the glare of a presidential election and amid a high-speed financial crisis that has left little scope for reflection, will the world’s policymakers have the patience for the painstaking research and analysis required to master the complexities of Pakistan and Afghanistan? Or will we see a repeat of the sound and fury that followed 9/11?