U.S. STRATEGY toward Pakistan is focused on trying to get Islamabad to give serious help to Washington’s campaign against the Afghan Taliban. There are two rather large problems with this approach. The first is that it is never going to happen. As U.S. diplomats in Pakistan themselves recognize (and as was made ever so clear by the WikiLeaks dispatches), both Pakistani strategic calculations and the feelings of the country’s population make it impossible for Islamabad to take such a step, except in return for U.S. help against India—which Washington also cannot deliver.Much more at the link.
The second problem is that it gets America’s real priorities in the region back to front. The war in Afghanistan is a temporary U.S. interest, in which the chief concern is not the reality of victory or defeat as such (if only because neither can be clearly defined) but preserving some appearance of success in order to avoid the damage to American military prestige that would result from obvious failure. By contrast, preserving the Pakistani state and containing the terrorist threat to the West from Pakistan is a permanent vital interest not only of the U.S. military and political establishments but of every American citizen...
If Pakistan is to be broken as a state, it will be on the streets of Lahore and other great Punjabi cities, not in the Pashtun mountains. By the same token, the greatest potential terrorist threat to the United States and its Western allies from the region stems not from the illiterate and isolated Pashtuns but from Islamist groups based in urban Punjab, with their far-higher levels of sophistication and their international links, above all to the Pakistani diaspora in the West...
But there comes a time in many wars when victory itself becomes so elusive, and the costs of pursuing it so great, that a broader and more detached view of national interests sees that these are best served by some form of compromise. This seems to me to be becoming the case in Afghanistan; not because of the costs of the Afghan war itself, which are bearable, but because of the way in which that conflict is destabilizing and radicalizing Pakistan, risking a geopolitical catastrophe for the United States—and the world—which would dwarf anything that could possibly occur in Afghanistan...
A central fact tends to be missed, in part because it is a deeply uncomfortable one for Americans, with their instinctive faith in democracy and their inborn desire to be liked and respected by other nations: that (and with deep regret I can attest to this from my own numerous interviews in Pakistan) the Afghan Taliban enjoy the sympathy of the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis at every level of society. And so the U.S. war there—and America’s demands of Pakistani assistance—are weakening the state. The support for the Taliban is not based in their religious ideology, which is alien to most Pakistanis. It is so prevalent because, as with the anti-Soviet mujahideen of the 1980s (who were also not admired for their extremist ideals), the Taliban are seen as a legitimate force of resistance against an alien occupation of the country...
The greatest potential catalyst for a collapse of the Pakistani state is not the Islamist militants themselves, who are in my view far too weak and divided to achieve this (a capacity for murderous terrorism should not be confused with a capacity for successful revolution); it is that actions by the United States will provoke a mutiny of parts of the military. Should that happen, the Pakistani state would collapse very quickly indeed, with all the disasters that this would entail...
THE OVERTHROW of the regime can never happen in peripheral areas like Waziristan, Baluchistan or even Karachi. It would have to happen in Punjab... It is the possible collapse of Pakistan, not the outcome of the present war in Afghanistan, which is the really terrible threat to America and its allies from this part of the Muslim world.
28 February 2011
Balancing Afghanistan and the Punjab
The National Interest is a conservative magazine founded by Irving Kristol and published by the Nixon Center. I was therefore somewhat startled when an article in the magazine was emailed to me by a Pakistani friend who described the article as "spot on" in assessing the situation in the Punjab. This friend is highly knowledgeable about affairs in that part of the world, so when he assessed the article as having a "clear assessment" of the situation, I paid attention. Here are some excerpts from "A Mutiny Grows in Punjab":
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Isn't it kind of ironic, that this article was published by the Nixon center...ReplyDelete
Nixon Doctrine and Vietnamization
Absolutely. My correspondent was surprised that it came from that source as well.ReplyDelete