Afghan errors spill into Pakistan
It is by now widely recognized that there’s no military solution in Afghanistan. Thus the talks with the Taliban, albeit tentative, backed even by Stephen Harper.
It is only slowly being recognized that there’s no solution to Afghanistan without Pakistan. But there are divisions within Barack Obama’s administration and among NATO allies on how to deal with Pakistan.
In this impasse, however, Pakistan has the upper hand as NATO looks to wind down its failed Afghan enterprise.
That’s because of NATO’s ignorant, arrogant and unrealistic demands on Pakistan:
• Shut down its (porous, mountainous) border with Afghanistan.
• Deny sanctuaries to those Al Qaeda and Taliban who have (easily) crossed it. Better still, kill them all.
• Kill also Pakistan’s own Taliban (whose rise coincided with the religious extremism and radicalization of Pakistanis mostly because of the Afghan war).
Since 2001, the U.S. has given Pakistan $10 billion, almost all of it for military purposes, and to a dictator for seven of those years.
Its belated support for democracy came only when Gen. Pervez Musharraf faced a popular rebellion. It came in the form of a backroom deal, done through Washington lobbyists, with the discredited Benazir Bhutto. When she was assassinated upon her return home from exile, the crown passed to her husband, the corrupt Asif Zardari.
Given this sordid record, and also because the Afghan war has caused Pakistan untold collateral damage, an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis have turned anti-American.
Six in 10 consider the U.S. to be an enemy, while only five in 10 name the Taliban, according to the latest http://pewglobal.org/Pew Global Attitudes ProjectEND. (American media reaction has been typical: misguided Pakistani attitudes are the result of anti-U.S. propaganda and have nothing to do with anything that America may have done).
Worse for Obama, Pakistanis have the least confidence in him among the 22 nations surveyed. Last year, he proposed a $7.5 billion, five-year plan for schools and development projects in troubled northern Pakistan. But the money has yet to fully flow because of congressional caveats and state department bureaucracy.
Obama is also paying the price for dramatically increasing pilotless drone attacks in Pakistan (with the quiet assent of Zardari). The bombings violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and end up killing civilians (ironically, at a time when the Americans are trying to avoid that in Afghanistan).
Obama also has had to cope with Pakistani anger over George W. Bush’s nuclear deal with India. Setting aside past American fury over India’s nuclear bomb as well as its refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Bush agreed to supply India civilian nuclear reactors. Energy-starved Pakistan wants a similar deal. But it’s unlikely to get it because of the proliferation record of black marketeer A.Q. Khan.
Pakistan is also getting squeezed as part of America’s campaign to stifle Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It’s being told to abandon a gas pipeline deal with its neighbour, a potential lifeline for energy shortages.
There are other irritants. Obama has failed to convince Congress to ease imports of Pakistani textiles and other goods. And Pakistanis are routinely denied visas to the U.S. and, if given, hassled at airports.
All this is at odds with the bilateral goal of cooperating over Afghanistan. And it has convinced Pakistan to look after its interests in post-NATO Afghanistan.
It is thus pushing its own “Taliban” — two warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani. The names are familiar because they were part of the seven pro-American, CIA-backed mujahideen groups that overturned the 1980-88 Soviet occupation.
Both these Pakistani “assets” live in North Waziristan under Pakistani protection. That Haqqani’s son, Sirajuddin, is on America’s most wanted list is a matter of minor inconvenience. Thus this response from Obama to Pakistan’s overtures: “I think we have to view these efforts with skepticism but also with openness.”
Afghanistan’s war is being lost in Pakistan, says Shuja Nawaz of the Washington-based Atlantic Council, who has just released a thoughtful analysis of the American-Pakistani relationship. He argues for attending to all the above irritants.
Nawaz also notes that America’s NATO allies “have been missing in action in Pakistan.”
Canada could have a carved out a special diplomatic role for itself, leading to our departure from Afghanistan next year. But Harper has taken a pass.