Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Is Pakistan America's Biggest Problem?

With President Barack Obama's new regional strategy in Afghanistan, the US is attempting to involve Afghan neighbors, particularly Pakistan, to help the US aims in Afghanistan. In his OpEd published in Financial Times, Professor Anatol Lieven of London's King's College argues that the United States faces tremendous risks by trying to bend Pakistan to its will over the Afghan war. Professor Lieven goes on to say that "the stabilization and development of this country (Pakistan) is not merely an aspect of the war in Afghanistan, but a vital US interest in itself. Indeed, Pakistan in the long term is far more important than Afghanistan. The second is that changing Pakistani opinions will mean changing Pakistani society, and that is a project that will require massive, sustained and consistent aid over a generation."

The professor concludes his comments by saying that "if ... Washington thinks that it can play Pakistani governments like a fish on an aid hook in order to extract much greater help in the Afghan war, then it will undermine and finally destroy those governments, as it did that of Pervez Musharraf. Even more importantly, if it does succeed in forcing the Pakistani army to do things that its soldiers detest, it may destroy the army. This would be a catastrophe for the US that would dwarf even defeat in Afghanistan."

Here is the full version of Professor Lieven's opinion:

We will need to remind ourselves often in the next few years that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not the Obama administration’s fault. It inherited from George W. Bush a crisis so deep and so horribly complex that dealing with it would tax the powers of St Peter, let alone a US government with many other things on its mind and on its grossly overstrained budget. Improving the situation is the best that we can hope for. Finding a “solution” to the Afghan war and its repercussions in Pakistan is not even a possibility.

On Afghanistan itself, the administration’s new strategy, set out last week, strikes most of the right notes. In particular, it is correct to emphasize the critical importance of building up the Afghan National Army, without which nothing can be achieved in Afghanistan in the long term; and on the need for the US to work towards an exit strategy rather than engage in empty rhetoric about “staying the course”. Talk of creating a modern, western-style democracy in Afghanistan has been drastically scaled back.

The administration has also done something that should have been obvious from the very beginning and reached out to Afghanistan’s northern and western neighbors. When the US eventually leaves Afghanistan, regional powers – perhaps grouped in the Shanghai Co-operation Council – will have to try to manage Afghanistan’s ongoing conflict.

As the administration seems to have understood, Iran is critical in this regard. Iranian support saved the opponents of the Taliban from complete defeat before 9/11 and will be essential to preserving whatever regime the US leaves behind in Kabul when it eventually withdraws. Trade with Iran is vital to the Afghan economy, and aid from Iran could be vital to Afghan development. Finally, because the US and Iran share the same basic agenda in Afghanistan, the US administration is quite rightly using talks on Afghanistan as an avenue towards improving the wider relationship with Tehran.

So as far as Afghanistan is concerned, so far so good. The problem is Pakistan. As the new strategy recognizes, the two countries are now hopelessly interlinked, with a Taliban insurgency rooted in the Pashtun populations of each raging on both sides of the border. Putting greatly increased US pressure on the Afghan Taliban will indeed be immensely difficult if this is not accompanied by real help from the Pakistani state and military against Taliban support on their soil.

Yet the US may well have no choice but to proceed without Pakistan. Here, it seems to me, the Obama administration still does not fully recognize the depths of the problem it is facing, or the tremendous risks it will run by trying to bend Pakistan to its will over the Afghan war. For as both opinion polls and my own research on the ground have made abundantly clear, the truth is that a large majority of ordinary Pakistanis are bitterly opposed to Pakistan helping the US, especially if this involves the Pakistani army fighting the Taliban.

It is true that calculations by the Pakistani security establishment and intelligence services also play a part in limiting Pakistani actions against the Taliban; but the basic problem is a democratic one. A democratically elected government cannot afford simply to defy a public opinion this strong. Nor indeed can an army that has to recruit its soldiers from Pakistani villages – not from Mars or Pluto – and ask them to risk their lives. As a Pakistani general put it to me last year: “We can survive without American money and arms if we have to, though of course we don’t want to. But we cannot survive without the loyalty of our jawans [men].”

If the Obama administration wants to have any hopes of transforming such public attitudes in Pakistan then it will need to fund Pakistan to a vastly greater degree than is envisaged in its new strategy, in ways that will visibly transform the lives of many ordinary Pakistanis. This requires above all massive investment in infrastructure – especially relating to water – in ways that will also generate many jobs. At $1.5bn (€1.1bn, £1bn) a year, the new US aid that is promised sounds like a lot – until you remember that Pakistan now has about 170m people. Eight dollars per head is not going to transform anything much in the country. More-over, the US statement emphasizes that the aid will be made conditional on Pakistan’s help to the US against the Taliban. This is a recipe for constant hold-ups, congressional blockages and the wrecking of any consistent, long-term programs.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the new administration has not recognized two critical facts about Pakistan. The first is that the stabilization and development of this country is not merely an aspect of the war in Afghanistan, but a vital US interest in itself. Indeed, Pakistan in the long term is far more important than Afghanistan. The second is that changing Pakistani opinions will mean changing Pakistani society, and that is a project that will require massive, sustained and consistent aid over a generation.

If on the other hand Washington thinks that it can play Pakistani governments like a fish on an aid hook in order to extract much greater help in the Afghan war, then it will undermine and finally destroy those governments, as it did that of Pervez Musharraf. Even more importantly, if it does succeed in forcing the Pakistani army to do things that its soldiers detest, it may destroy the army. This would be a catastrophe for the US that would dwarf even defeat in Afghanistan.

The writer is a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington DC. He is currently researching a book on Pakistan

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Related Link:

Pakistan's Choice: Globalization or Talibanization

Obama's Afghan Exit strategy

Valuing Life in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Pakistan Pursues Hydroelectric Development


Riaz Haq said...

In a BBC report on the the total ineffectiveness of reward money in the capture of most wanted men such as bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Baitullah Mehsud, etc. , there are several interesting aspects such as the pushtunwali code protecting guests and fellow pushtuns, the probabilities of which side is going eventually win, and the importance of religious beliefs trumping money. Here are a few excerpts:

Terry Pattar, a counter-terrorism expert at Jane's Strategic Advisory Services, thinks the key difference is that in Iraq it was clear that eventually the US would win whereas that is not the case in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"I think these kinds of rewards perhaps draw out the people who are more likely to give information where it's clear they'll be giving it to the side that is going to eventually win," he says.

"There's less fear of reprisals. They've got more chance of claiming the money and safely using it."

Mike Scheuer believes this explains why after all these years Osama Bin Laden is still a free man.

"It's very unlikely that any Muslim is going to turn him in to the Americans for money," says the former CIA officer, making reference to al-Qaeda's attacks on the US in 2001.

"He's been in Afghanistan since 9/11. It's the third poorest place on the planet. We have $200m of reward money outstanding, including $50m for Osama and no-one has come forward to take a cent.

"I think we need in the West to grow up a little bit, everything doesn't pivot on money."

"In the Islamic world, at least when it comes to Osama Bin Laden, it pivots off of religion," Mike Scheuer says.

Rashid said...

We are seeing a reverse "bring 'em on" attitude in Pakistan.
Most people have not forgotten the $700 million held up by the Congress over the jets.
No political party is going to go out and embrace the US for $8 - which is only a promise. Even this $8 will be withdrawn on the slightest lobbying from a particular group here in the US.
By definition the only people with a backbone are extremists. At this time they are riding on the popular sentiment. Moderates and US stooges have very little traction in the populace. The old game plan is to create factions. We have so many ways to create factions. Sectarianism - ethnicity - class system - take your pick. Any or All of these will be used to solve "America's Biggest Problem" - for just a 'fistful of dollars'.

Riaz Haq said...


I did see some signs of "backbone" in Qureshi and Kayani during the last visit Holbrook/Mullen visit to Islamabad. In fact the ISI Chief Gen Pasha refused a meeting with Mullen and Holbrook.

But I do agree with Prof Lieven's that "If ... Washington thinks that it can play Pakistani governments like a fish on an aid hook in order to extract much greater help in the Afghan war, then it will undermine and finally destroy those governments, as it did that of Pervez Musharraf. Even more importantly, if it does succeed in forcing the Pakistani army to do things that its soldiers detest, it may destroy the army. This would be a catastrophe for the US that would dwarf even defeat in Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

I agree a country for such a big country 1.5 billion usd is a peanuts. As rashid say most would be wiped off by the moderate corrupt politican and buraucrats. So the people will look upon the taliban for the quick justice. So american will loose this war also. But pakistan will be pushed into medeival age by the barbaric taliban and the bombing by the flying manless drones of america

Anonymous said...

Anonymous-who said "Taliban and America will push Pakistan to stone age"-sorry dear friend-I think pakistan leaders and its self poking ISI are real trouble.Did you ever ask why Pakistan in the first place became training ground for terrorists?? If not you are doing more damage to Pakistan than any terorist.Unless we understand the real trouble-we will not come out of this.And drone attacks are compeltely supported as there is no other way the world can trust the army or ISI complex!Make no mistake-if there is one country the world will not hesitate to invade-that will be pakistan because of nuclear weapons.Pakistan leaders and its nuclear weapon scientists have not been responsible citizens of the world.The rules are same for any country.Irrespective of your nationality and religion or god-IF any nation does not play by the rules of world-it will pay-no questions asked.

Jadev said...

I dun know why chaos in Pakistan is blamed on US. If anybody care to remember the spate of terror bombings and starting of Pak Taliban began with callous Lal masjid storming and killing of 300 young pastun SSG.(arm twisted by Chinese)

That is in 2007..war on terror started in 2001. So do the math. The fact is that until Lal Masjid ..Pak Army was fully supporting Afghan Taliban by all means and arresting off-the-shelf Al-Qaeda leaders when pressure is too high or some important aid is around the corner.
The corollary is the blowback of supporting international islamic terrorism was inevitable..some events just seems catalyzed the whole blowback effect..
I think its a point of no return for Pak..when most of the CI specialists predicts within 6months to 5 years..Pak is going down..down town.. US should concentrate on reviving Afghanistan rather than wasting resources on resuscitating a clinically dead Pak
The drone attack causing resentment in tribal areas is also bogus..recent surveys tells that locals hate Taliban and their barbarism..55% approval rating for US drone attacks and 70% approval if it was done by Pak Army(which is unwilling than unable)..

Anonymous said...

@jadev who said "I think its a point of no return for Pak..when most of the CI specialists predicts within 6months to 5 years..Pak is going down..down town.. US should concentrate on reviving Afghanistan rather than wasting resources on resuscitating a clinically dead Pak."

and then Jadev finally woke up from his dream, baby if that happens god forbid, India is right there to feel the terrible effects, you guys could not handle kargil, think about that fantasy scenario.Pakistan is not build on toothpicks to predict all that dumb hatefull predication originating from your congested filthy slum in Mumbai or whereever rat hole you belong, go enjoy your indian blogs and your pretty gorgeous FERTILE women, please fix your people too with your wise comments on ur indian blogs, you antipakistani hate monger.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan's president has finally realized and stated that US presence in Afghanistan is destabilizing Pakistan in an interview with the the Guardian newspaper:

"Just as the Mexican drug war on US borders makes a difference to Texas and American society, we are talking about a war on our border which is obviously having a huge effect. Only today a suicide bomber has attacked a police compound in Baluchistan. I think it [the Afghan war] has an effect on the entire region, and specially our country," Zardari said.

Asked about harsh criticism of Pakistan's co-operation in the "war on terror" published in a White House report last week, Zardari said Pakistan always listened to Washington's views. But he suggested some members of Congress and the US media did not know what they were talking about when it came to Pakistan.

"The United States has been an ally of Pakistan for the last 60 years. We respect and appreciate their political system. So every time a new parliament comes in, new boys come in, new representatives come in, it takes them time to understand the international situation. Not Obama, but the Congress, interest groups and the media get affected by 'deadline-itis' [over ending the Afghan war]," Zardari said.

"I think it is maybe 12 years since America has become engaged in Afghanistan and obviously everybody's patience is on edge, especially the American public, which is looking for answers. There are no short-term answers and it is very difficult to make the American taxpayer understand."
"Our emphasis has been on security rather than our commerce and we need commerce for our survival.

"We have all the gas in the world waiting to go through to markets in India and the Red Sea but it cannot be brought in until Afghanistan is settled. So Afghanistan is a growth issue for us. I think most of the time, the quantification of the effect of the war is not calculated [by the US].
According to senior intelligence officials, the "war on terror" has cost the Pakistani economy approximately $68bn (£42bn) since 2001.

More than 33,300 Pakistani civilians and military personnel have been killed or seriously injured. Last year's record-breaking floods added to the strain on the economy.

Zardari said the security situation was also undercutting efforts to strengthen democratic institutions bypassed or overturned during the military rule of his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf. "Democracy is evolving. It's a new democracy. It takes time to bring institutions back. Destroying institutions during a decade of dictatorial regime is easy ... So there is a political impact as well as an economic impact."

Pakistani officials say relations with the US reached a "low ebb" following the recent row over Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis; a CIA drone attack in Pakistan's tribal areas last month that accidentally killed dozens of civilian elders meeting in a jirga (council), and Pakistan's suspicions that it is being excluded from discussions about an Afghan peace deal.

Zardari, who is expected to visit Washington next month, said he would ask Obama to share drone technology with Pakistan so future attacks could be planned and directed under a "Pakistani flag". Although this request had been turned down in the past, he said he was hopeful the Americans would be more receptive this time, given the huge anger and rising anti-American feeling that the drone attacks were causing.

Zardari and other senior government officials said all parties felt a sense of growing urgency about forging an inclusive peace settlement in Afghanistan, but the process must be "Afghan-led". Pakistan was ready to play its part, consistent with its national interest, they said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Op Ed by a retired Indian diplomat KH Bhadrakumar published in The Hindu:

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. has been holding direct talks with the Taliban. It has been able to do this largely because of the extensive intelligence network it has created in Pakistan — which became possible because Islamabad allowed it to happen. That, ironically, enables Washington to dispense with the good offices of the Pakistani military and the ISI, and opt for direct interaction with the insurgent groups. The U.S. intelligence network within Pakistan has penetrated the range of insurgent groups — the Afghan Taliban, the “Pakistan Taliban,” and non-Taliban (Afghan and Pakistani) militant groups. Evidently, if the drone attacks are becoming more “result-oriented,” it is due to real-time intelligence inputs. During the six weeks of gruelling interrogation of U.S. intelligence operative Raymond Davis, the Pakistani military caught on to a host of home truths. By now, the Pakistani military would have a fair idea of the extent of the American intelligence network and its potential to play merry havoc by splintering insurgent groups, pitting one group against another, manipulating factionalism within groups, monitoring the terror network and, conceivably, even turning some of the insurgent groups into instruments of U.S. regional policies. (Tehran insists that the U.S. is indulging in covert operations in Pakistan and Iran.)

Suffice it to say the Pakistani military leadership wishes to draw a redline for the U.S.' covert operations so that Washington will be compelled to deal with militant Afghan groups through the single window of the ISI — within the parameters set by what old-timers call the “[Ronald] Reagan rules” during the Afghan jihad of the 1980s. There is hardly any leeway for Pakistan to compromise on this demand, which aims at revising the ground rules of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic partnership in the conduct of the Afghan war (based hitherto on unspoken, unwritten, ever-deniable and flexible templates of collaboration).
Of course, Pakistan is justified in wondering what is there for it in this scenario. This wasn't how the war was supposed to end. Obviously, Washington's priorities will change once the intensity of the fighting declines. For one thing, the U.S. aid flow will decline. Once the U.S. strengthens its direct line to the insurgents, its dependence on the Pakistani military can only decline. But Pakistan's objective of gaining “strategic depth” in Afghanistan remains elusive. Equally, Pakistan will be left grappling with an assortment of militant groups along its long, disputed border with Afghanistan that have been highly radicalised by the U.S.-led war. These include some groups which have been alienated one way or the other by Pakistan's role as the U.S.' “key non-NATO ally.”

Pakistan faces an existential crisis in its Pashtun tribal tract that has borne the brunt of the U.S.-led war. As last Saturday's London Times report shows, there will be all sorts of attempts to muddy the waters. It suits the U.S. strategy to give the Afghan endgame the exaggerated overtones of an India-Pakistan turf war. The Indian establishment acted wisely to open dialogue with Pakistan in Mohali.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Wall Street Journal report saying Pakistan wants Karzai to dump US:

Pakistan is lobbying Afghanistan's president against building a long-term strategic partnership with the U.S., urging him instead to look to Pakistan—and its Chinese ally—for help in striking a peace deal with the Taliban and rebuilding the economy, Afghan officials say.
Pakistan enjoys particular leverage in Afghanistan because of its historic role in fostering the Taliban movement and its continuing support for the Afghan Taliban insurgency. Washington's relations with Pakistan, ostensibly an ally, have reached their lowest point in years following a series of missteps on both sides.

Pakistani officials say they no longer have an incentive to follow the American lead in their own backyard. "Pakistan is sole guarantor of its own interest," said a senior Pakistani official. "We're not looking for anyone else to protect us, especially the U.S. If they're leaving, they're leaving and they should go."
The leaks about what went on at the April 16 meeting officials appear to be part of that effort. Afghans in the pro-U.S. camp who shared details of the meeting with The Wall Street Journal said they did so to prompt the U.S. to move faster toward securing the strategic partnership agreement, which is intended to spell out the relationship between the two countries after 2014. "The longer they wait…the more time Pakistan has to secure its interests," said one of the pro-U.S. Afghan officials.

Yet in a reflection of U.S. concerns about Pakistan's overtures, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Gen. David Petraeus, has met Mr. Karzai three times since April 16, in part to reassure the Afghan leader that he has America's support, and to nudge forward progress on the partnership deal, said Afghan and U.S. officials.
Formal negotiations on the so-called Strategic Partnership Declaration began in March. Details of talks between U.S. and Afghan negotiators so far remain sketchy. The most hotly contested issue is the possibility of long-term U.S. military bases remaining in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to buttress and continue training Afghan forces and carry on the fight against al Qaeda.
The opening of talks in March was enough to raise alarms among Afghanistan's neighbors. Senior Iranian and Russian officials quickly made treks to Kabul to express their displeasure at the possibility of a U.S. military presence after 2014, Afghan officials said. The Taliban have always said they wouldn't sign on to any peace process as long as foreign forces remain.
Mr. Gilani repeatedly referred to America's "imperial designs," playing to a theme that Mr. Karzai has himself often embraced in speeches. He also said that, to end the war, Afghanistan and Pakistan needed to take "ownership" of the peace process, according to Afghans familiar with what was said at the meeting. Mr. Gilani added that America's economic problems meant it couldn't be expected to support long-term regional development. A better partner would be China, which Pakistanis call their "all-weather" friend, he said, according to participants in the meeting. He said the strategic partnership deal was ultimately an Afghan decision. But, he added, neither Pakistan nor other neighbors were likely to accept such a pact.
Although a U.S. ally, Pakistan has its own interests in Afghanistan, believing it needs a pliant government in Kabul to protect its rear flank from India. Pakistani officials regularly complain of how India's influence over Afghanistan has grown in the past decade. Some Pakistani officials say the presence of U.S. and allied forces is the true problem in the region, not the Taliban.

Riaz Haq said...

I think those who advocate using aid as leverage should remember what US Ambassador Anne Patterson wrote back on Sept 23, 2009 in a cable from Islamabad later leaked by Wikileaks. She said, "The Pakistani establishment, as we saw in 1998 with nuclear test, does not view assistance-even sizable assistance to their entities-as trade-off for national security".

Riaz Haq said...

Zalmay Khalilzad: "#US fell far short of its aspirations in #Afghanistan, #Iraq—a reality that weighs deeply on me"

In his postings to Kabul and Baghdad, Mr. Khalilzad served on the diplomatic front lines of U.S. efforts to replace terror-spawning Islamic tyrannies with benign, democratic governments. In both countries, he wrestled hands-on with some of the toughest foreign-policy questions of our time. What follows regime change? How can a functional and free polity be built out of the ruins of an overthrown tyranny? What part should America play?

These are the main themes of Mr. Khalilzad’s memoir, “The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World.” In practice, Mr. Khalilzad was more than an envoy. He was a kind of backroom power broker who was trying to help engender the new governments to which he was the ambassador. It was a complex business, and out of it Mr. Khalilzad provides a richly argued case for such lessons as: “Do not assume that local politics will take care of themselves in the aftermath of regime change.”

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Khalilzad midwifed constitutions—each controversial for enshrining Islam as the state religion but each leaving room, he hoped, for liberally enlightened interpretation. In both countries, he made countless rounds as a local go-between, trying to reconcile leaders of contending factions. He describes how he cajoled, bargained, strong-armed and, at one point—while dickering with an Afghan official over the role of the Kabul defense ministry—“tried a Socratic dialogue of sorts.”

For anyone desiring a detailed chronicle of America’s nation-building efforts after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Khalilzad’s book should be required reading—though without such a yearning it may be difficult for the general reader to get through it. Mr. Khalilzad brings to the table a wealth of anecdotes, opinions and prescriptions, but he embeds many of them in the mannerisms of a bureaucratic memo, arriving at such pithy but unreadable summaries as: “To succeed, the United States must retain its capacities as a reactive mobilizer but also develop a greater ability to serve as a proactive shaper of regional political order.”

Jargon aside, there are plenty of instructive stories here. In Afghanistan, Mr. Khalilzad felt that he had helped assemble the foundations of decent rule and tried to follow Mr. Bush’s instructions to turn the country’s first elected president, Hamid Karzai, “into a great politician.” But he found Pakistan to be a huge spoiler, harboring Taliban insurgents (and, as it later turned out, al Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden). He writes: “I wanted additional pressure on Pakistan—but was unsuccessful in convincing the president and the principals.”

In Iraq, there was also a spoiler: Iran. With money and bombs, Tehran’s Shia Muslim regime was fueling frictions between Iraq’s Shia majority and its Sunni minority, pushing the country into civil war. Mr. Khalilzad reports that the Quds Force, the elite overseas arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, “had an enormous number of Iraqis on its payroll, sometimes at low levels and other times at much higher levels.”

He writes that in his efforts to thwart Iran’s pernicious reach, “I sometimes told Shia Islamist leaders, who were close to Iran, that I believed Tehran wanted to turn Iraq into a smoldering ruin that the Iranians could then control with ease.” Some Shia leaders quietly agreed, including, on at least one occasion, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who told Mr. Khalilzad that he believed Iran had been behind the 2006 terrorist bombing of a major Shia shrine in Iraq, the Golden Mosque.

Mr. Khalilzad concludes on the grim note that “the United States fell far short of its aspirations in Afghanistan and Iraq—a reality that weighs deeply on me.” He assigns some blame to his own missteps and more to what he saw as the broader mistakes of the Bush administration, especially the failure to devise an effective strategy for “the Iran problem.”