[In response to comments: Warning! Title and text may contain irony. Read at your own risk. In case of outrage, read links and think it over.] Ten days ago the new Chief Minister of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province (soon to be renamed Pakhtunkhwa) gave his inaugural speech to the Provincial Legislative Assembly. He promised that "in the next session of the provincial assembly we shall present a comprehensive peace plan for our province." He promised to look for "a negotiated settlement to the problem of militancy" despite "many rejectionists at local, regional and international levels with various agendas and positions who might jeopardize the process."
At least somebody is working on a plan. The U.S Government's General Accountability Office (which, unaccountably, has continued to operate through the current administration) has issued a report entitled "Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas." Unlike, say, the "Patriot Act" or the "Protect America Act," in this case the title provides an accurate summary of the contents.
The report provides a lot of evidence to back up the title, but in case you would like a simple summary of what the GAO means by lack of a "comprehensive" plan, take a look at this breakdown of U.S. expenditures in the border regions of Pakistan:
This might be what Chief Minister Hoti had in mind by "rejectionist," but a more accurate term might be "oblivionist." Note the amount spent to support political reform: 0%.
Some U.S. commanders are now pressing for more attacks by the U.S. inside FATA. For now, the administration has decided not to jeopardize relations with Pakistan's new democratic government by undermining its policy before it can even formulate it. There is indeed a serious question of how to balance the time required for a political solution that will isolate al-Qaida and eliminate its safe area permanently, and the potentially urgent threat posed by militants who are undermining the international effort in Afghanistan (not just a US effort) and may strike in Europe or even the U.S. again. For a balanced assessment of this problem, we turn to Peshawar, Pakistan, where Khalid Aziz, former chief secretary of NWFP, is responsible for much of the strategic thinking going into the government's peace plan.
Aziz recently outlined his ideas in a conference paper and discussed the obstacles to implementing them in an article published today in Pakistan's The News. He notes the somber background: apparently the situation is even worse than in Pennsylvania small towns:
If a "class" and regional analysis of the insurgency is made, it will show that it is based on support of conservatives, who inhabit the poverty stricken and under-developed regions of the NWFP and tribal areas. In the NWFP, more than 33% and in FATA more than 45% of the population lives on or below the poverty line composed of those who earn $1 or less per day.Aziz describes the combination of hope and fear aroused by the Chief Minister's promise to find a peaceful solution:
The liberal economic development model followed in Pakistan since the late 1980s and based on diminishing public expenditure on education and health has forced a sizeable population to seek the services of madressahs and Islamic charities for their basic needs. A large majority of such persons are committed followers of the Islamist. This is the flip side of the liberal model of economic development and globalisation.
Another significant social transformation of the 1980s was our involvement in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. It was the emergence of "Jihadism" as the preferred Pakistani state policy. This ballooned with help from international Islamic charities, many of which focused on NWFP and FATA. This was a shift from state responsibility to private actors.
The war in Afghanistan brought an immense amount of money and weaponry to this lightly policed and institutionally weak region. According to a reputable estimate, from 1979 to 1992, the Afghan-Pakistan duo received $66 billion worth of weapons from various countries!
Thus a conservative Pakhtun society living in poverty was financially enriched and weaponised.
To those who listened it sounded too good to be true! People wished to know basis of the optimism behind these stirring words. They wondered whether the hard non-state fighters, who were involved in war, could be swayed by rhetoric alone. They were also aware that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan [Taliban Movement of Pakistan] has laid down impractical pre-conditions before participation. These include the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, withdrawal of the Pakistani military from FATA, and non-interference in the jihad against US forces in Afghanistan. At the same time the US has said that it has no intention of withdrawing from Afghanistan in the near future. Therefore, can any peace plan succeed in the face of such rigidities?Compare what Aziz has written to General Musharraf's speech on September 19, 2001, when he told Pakistan that his aim was to "save Afghanistan and Taliban." What Musharraf said in that speech was that supporting the war against the Taliban was the "lesser of two difficulties," compared to driving the U.S. into the arms of India. All negotiations with militants pursued by Musharraf's government had as their aim to balance the imperative of acting against al-Qaida with that of saving the Taliban as a strategic asset for Pakistan.
On the other hand the Feb 18 election has clearly indicated that the people of Pakistan voted against militarism and violence. The Taliban recognise that resort to force alone will not lead to the achievement of their main political objective which is the creation of an Islamist Caliphate.
However, while everyone waits for good sense to prevail, there may be forces amongst the non-state fighters planning another strike in the West. If that happens, one may be certain of an air war in FATA and this could lead to incalculable harm to Pakistan. This in a nutshell is the danger surrounding the process of talks. . . .
Many conservative Pakhtuns believe that the fighting in Swat, Kohat and Waziristan is a war of liberation against US occupation of Afghanistan; they fight the Pakistani state because of its alliance with the US. However, it does not make it a US war alone. Whatever may be the case at the start, this is now Pakistan's war, since the objective of the insurgents is to change the nature of the Pakistani state. To fellow Pakistanis I would say that it is our war, whether we like it or not.
Aziz says the opposite: the Taliban and other militants are fighting "to change the nature of the Pakistani state," and that therefore "It is our war, whether we like it or not." Negotiations in support of the expansion of democracy and federalism in Pakistan are not the same as negotiations in support of balancing military action against al-Qaida with preservation of the Afghan Taliban. The program of the new government in Pakistan and NWFP, unlike that of Musharraf, corresponds to the aspirations of the majority of people in the NWFP and FATA, including many conservatives, and it can win their support. If negotiations do not suffice to disarm the militants, the required military action, in support of an elected government trying to extend democracy and social services, will gain far more domestic support in Pakistan than Musharraf's balancing act ever could have. This government of Pakistan has articulated goals consistent with international objectives in the region and believes in pursuing negotiations in support of those goals without abandoning its own vision of a stable democratic Pakistan at peace with its neighbors.
Khalid Aziz and others like him are developing the "comprehensive plan" to uproot terrorism from the border regions of Pakistan. As part of our assistance, we should follow the advice of Lt.-General David Barno:
In Congressional testimony this month, a former top American commander in Afghanistan said the need for more action was urgent. “A senior member of the administration needs to go to Pakistan and take the intelligence we have on Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani network inside of Pakistan and lay it out for their most senior leadership,” said the retired commander, Lt. Gen. David W. Barno.
He said the American envoy should “show them exactly what we know about, what they don’t know about what’s going on in their tribal areas and say, this is not a tolerable situation for you nor for us.”
“And,” he added, “we need to sit down and think through what we can collectively do about this.”
I'm not sure what the new government supposedly does not know about; in my experience the Pashtun nationalists had better intelligence than what I heard from the US government. But we now have a full partner in Pakistan, elected, ironically enough, by Pakistani voters angry at what the GAO calls the "lack of a comprehensive plan," rather than just a military approach. It is indeed time to "sit down and think through what we can collectively do" with these partners.