Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
When the history of the Afghan war is written, the protests over the burning of copies of the Koran will certainly be defined as a watershed. What remains to be seen is whether they become the moment the United States lost the war, or rather, when America lost patience.
Less evident, but perceptible and equally important, however, is the American response. “2014 cannot come fast enough,” was one comment on Twitter about the date when the United States and its allies are meant to hand over control of security to Afghan forces.
“It’s reasonable to wonder what we have gotten out of more than a decade of investment-including 1901 US and 2901 total NATO Coalition deaths-in an effort to forge, as President Obama put it in his speech at West Point, a “partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect – to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron,” wrote James Joyner at the Atlantic Council. “Aside from hastening the day when our troops leave, none of those goals seem any closer than they were in 2001.”
U.S. President Barack Obama has apologised for the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a military base in Afghanistan and the top general in the country has ordered all coalition troops to undergo training in the proper handling of religious materials by March 3.
Quite apart from the question of how can you “inadvertently” burn books, the bigger issue is can soldiers be so blindly ignorant of the consequences of their action ? Is it because these were soldiers in the rear, insulated in a huge base that sometimes feels like a little America with its gymns, snack joints and the easy conviviality between men and women, a setting far removed from the hard-scrabble country outside ?
It is an adage that everything is already known; it just has to be rediscovered. But it applies particularly well to the rise of the Difa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) Council (DPC). The new alliance of Islamist groups, campaigning for a break in ties with the United States and an end to warming relations with India, is giving clear shape for the first time in many years to an underworld of hyper-nationalism, militancy, sectarianism and faith-based politics whose influence in Pakistan has until now operated largely beneath the surface.
And many Pakistanis are not liking what they are seeing. Columnist Ejaz Haider described the very public rallies of the DPC - which includes the Jamaat-e-Islami political organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the humanitarian wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group), the anti-Shi’ite Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and former spy chief Hamid Gul among others – as “a Whisky Tango Foxtrot moment for the entire nation and, yes, the military and its various intelligence agencies”.
By Dan Magnowski
For many in the West, Afghanistan and Iraq have much in common.
Both are Islamic countries whose nasty regimes were kicked out by
the U.S. after September 11 2001; in both places, the Americans,
British and others stayed and spent huge amounts of money on nobody’s
quite sure what; and both were examples of ‘evil’, back when that was
a cornerstone of foreign policy thinking.