Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
I’ve been resisting diving into the WikiLeaks controversy, in part because the information contained in the documents – including allegations of Pakistani complicity with the Taliban - is not new. Yet at the same time you can’t entirely dismiss as old news something which has generated such a media feeding frenzy. So here are a few pointers to add to the discussion.
U.S. POLICY TOWARDS PAKISTAN
On the likely implications (or non-implications) for U.S. policy towards Pakistan, go back to 2009, and this piece in the National Interest by Bruce Riedel who conducted the first review of Afghan strategy for President Barack Obama. Having assessed all the evidence, including well-known American misgivings about the role of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, he concluded that Washington had no option but to stay the course in trying to build a long-term partnership with Pakistan.
American policy for the last 60 years, wrote Riedel, had oscillated wildly between love and hate. “What the U.S.-Pakistan relationship needs is constancy and consistency. We need to recognize that change in Pakistan will come when we engage reliably with the Pakistani people, support the democratic process and address Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns. Candor needs to be the hallmark of an enduring commitment to civilian rule in Pakistan.
“U.S.-aid levels should not be the product of temper tantrums on Capitol Hill … Our goal should be to convince Pakistanis that the existential threat to their liberty comes not from the CIA or India, but from al Qaeda.
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.
In a new book launched this week about the ill-fated attempt by British imperialists in the mid 19th century to occupy Afghanistan, I came across an interesting detail: the Afghans refused to play cricket. During the occupation of Kabul by British troops from India, “the Afghans looked on with astonishment at the bowling, batting and fagging out of the English players”, writes former Reuters journalist Jules Stewart in ”Crimson Snow: Britain’s First Disaster in Afghanistan“.
With NATO reaffirming its commitment to Afghanistan in a “strategic vision” statement issued at a summit in Bucharest this week, I wondered if there was a bigger lesson in this refusal to engage in cricket, just as the Afghans have never submitted to foreign occupation — seeing off the British Raj in the 19th century and defeating Soviet occupiers in the 20th century. ”The Afghans will always win,” writes Stewart in the conclusion to his book.
With NATO saying it is nearing a deal to use Russian land and airspace to supply its security forces in Afghanistan, I’ve been trying to work out what this could mean for Pakistan.
In the Asia Times Online, former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar quotes U.S. military spokesmen as saying that about three quarters of all supplies are currently sent to Afghanistan via Pakistan. ”On the face of it, Washington should jump at the Russian offer of support to the NATO mission in Afghanistan,” he writes. “Pakistan has proved to be an unreliable partner in the ‘war on terror’. The growing political uncertainties in Pakistan put question marks on the wisdom of the US continuing to depend so heavily on Pakistan for ferrying supplies for its troops in Afghanistan.”