Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Reading the latest spate of news reports about U.S. policies in Afghanistan, one thing strikes me as troubling — the failure to distinguish between tactics and strategy. Military boffins argue about the exact meaning of those two words, but for the purposes of argument, let’s say that tactics are a means to an end, while strategy contains within it an understanding of the end to be attained.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave us an idea of the end earlier this week when he talked of reconciliation with the Taliban, while excluding anyone belonging to al Qaeda. ”There has to be ultimately, and I’ll underscore ultimately, reconciliation as part of a political outcome to this,” Gates said. ”That’s ultimately the exit strategy for all of us.”
Now let’s look at tactics.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the United States is considering training up Afghanistan’s tribal militias to fight the Taliban. “The plan is controversial because it could extend the influence of warlords while undermining the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul,” the newspaper says. It adds that, “by focusing on tribal militias and local security, the approach resembles the U.S. campaign in Iraq, where former Sunni insurgents are paid to guard their neighborhoods.”
The New York Times picks up the same theme in its own story about the forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate – a report by American intelligence agencies due to be finished after the November presidential election — which it says concludes that Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban.
Time was when every time militants set off a bomb in Pakistan, India’s strategic establishment would turn around and say “we told you so”. This is what happens when you play with fire … jihad is a double-edged sword, they would say, pointing to Pakistan’s support for militants operating in Kashmir and elsewhere.
Not any more. When India’s opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party – which has consistently advocated a tougher policy toward Pakistan – tells the government to be watchful of the fallout of the security and economic situation in Pakistan, then you know the ground is starting to shift.
Pakistan’s economy has survived three wars with India and a long history of tension with its much bigger neighbour. But this time its own domestic economic and political problems, combined with tension on the border with Afghanistan, are running smack into a global financial crisis that will make it harder for its traditional allies to bail it out.
So is it time to break the taboos and ask: Does Pakistan’s best hope of economic recovery lie in making peace with India?
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Joshua Foust is a defence analyst who also writes an Afghanistan blog for Global Voices and is a contributing editor to Registan.net, a blog devoted to Central Asia and the Caucasus.
The view from the heartland
U.S. government and military leaders worry that the next attack on the homeland will emanate from western Pakistan, believing al Qaeda to have reconstituted there.
But Pakistanis worry too for their security and their fear is the U.S. military itself.
The recipient of this year’s prize will be announced in Oslo on Oct. 10 from among 197 nominees, with those fighting for human rights among those tipped to win in the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardari is starting to challenge quite a few long-held positions.
India, he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published over the weekend, ”has never been a threat to Pakistan.” For a country that has fought three wars with India, including one in 1971 that ended in humiliation and the birth of Bangladesh from what was East Pakistan, these are remarkable words.
Britain’s commander in Afghanistan has said the war against the Taliban cannot be won and suggested talks with the group might be a way of making progress.
“We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army,” Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said in an interview with the Sunday Times.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be in New Delhi this weekend to celebrate a hard-fought nuclear deal that to its critics strikes at the heart of the global non-proliferation regime by allowing India access to nuclear technology despite its refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) and give up a weapons programme.
China and Pakistan are not amused although both stepped aside as they watched an unstoppable Bush administration push the deal through the International Atomic Energy Agency and then the Nuclear Suppliers Group in one of its few foreign policy successes.
Among the more daring recommendations in a new report by the Pakistan Policy Working Group, a bipartisan group of American experts on U.S.-Pakistan relations, is that the United States should eventually reconsider its opposition to a proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project.
The suggestion, aimed at building peace between India and Pakistan, is well hedged. The report says it does not expect the long-delayed project to happen any time soon because of instability in Pakistan and U.S. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. But it is one that could ultimately be very significant not just for Pakistan, but also for Iran and India. As this Reuters story says, Iran sees energy-hungry India as one of the most promising markets for its huge natural gas reserves.