Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rubin -- The Dilemma of anti-Extremist Pakistanis

Yesterday the New York Times ran a front-page article on the growth of al-Qaida in Pakistan and the failure of the Bush administration to devise any strategy to confront it.

(Instead they are apparently thinking again about attacking Iran. At an international meeting on Afghanistan a few months ago, an Iranian diplomat pulled me aside at a reception, his hair more or less on fire, and asked, "Does your government have any idea what is going on along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border?" He has since been sidelined, as his bosses, like the Bush administration, think that the U.S.-Iran confrontation is more important than the threat from al-Qaida.)

Not that this is really news. As I noted in April:
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.
As usual, the Times article presented the alternatives as do nothing, Predator missile strikes, or invasion by U.S. Special Forces, without any discussion of competing Pakistani and Pashtun political agendas for the tribal agencies. A successful and sustainable strategy has to be carried out together with allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, within a political framework that they support. Pakistani physicist and public intellectual Pervez Hoodbhoy provides some thoughts on this today in Dawn, where he writes about "Anti-Americanism and Taliban" in Pakistan:
The recent killing of eleven Pakistani soldiers at Gora Prai by American and Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan unleashed an amazing storm.

Prime Minister Gilani declared, “We will take a stand for sovereignty, integrity and self-respect.” The military announced defiantly, “We reserve the right to protect our citizens and soldiers against aggression,” while Army chief, Gen Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, called the attack ‘cowardly’. The dead became ‘shaheeds’ [martyrs] and large numbers of people turned up to pray at their funerals.

But had the killers been the Taliban, this would have been a non-event. The storm we saw was more about cause than consequence. Protecting the sovereignty of the state, self-respect, citizens and soldiers against aggression, and the lives of Pakistani soldiers, suddenly all acquired value because the killers were American and Nato troops.

Compare the response to Gora Prai with the near silence about the recent kidnapping and slaughter by Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters of 28 men near Tank, some of whom were shot and others had their throats cut. Even this pales before the hundred or more attacks by suicide bombers over the last year that made bloody carnage of soldiers and officers, devastated peace jirgas and public rallies, and killed hundreds praying in mosques and at funerals.

These murders were largely ignored or, when noted, simply shrugged off. The very different reactions to the casualties of American and Nato violence, compared to those inflicted by the Taliban, reflect a desperate confusion about what is happening in Pakistan and how to respond.Unfortunately, as Hoodbhoy notes, U.S. behavior has reinforced such attitudes: There is, of course, reason for people in Pakistan and across the world to feel negatively about America. In pursuit of its self-interest, wealth and security, the United States has for decades waged illegal wars, bribed, bullied and overthrown governments, supported tyrants, undermined movements for progressive change, and now feels free to kidnap, torture, imprison, and kill anywhere in the world with impunity. All this, while talking about supporting democracy and human rights.

Even Americans — or at least the fair-minded ones among them — admit that there is a genuine problem. A June 2008 report of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled The Decline in America’s Reputation: Why? concluded that contemporary anti-Americanism stemmed from “the perception that the proclaimed American values of democracy, human rights, tolerance, and the rule of law have been selectively ignored by successive administrations when American security or economic considerations are in play”.

American hypocrisy has played into the hands of Islamic militants. They have been vigorously promoting the notion that this is a bipolar conflict of Islam, which they claim to represent, versus imperialism. Many Pakistanis, who desperately want someone to stand up to the Americans, buy into this.
While it is understandable that U.S. journalists and politicians resort to shorthand like "Pakistan," "the Pakistanis," or "the Pakistan government," such simplifications are no basis for analysis. The tribal agencies are "federally administered" through the governor of NWFP, who is appointed by the President. In the Pakistani system of government, the president is the balancer between the military and the civilian government -- now he is the former Army Chief of Staff and military coup-maker. The current offensive against Mangal Bagh in the area around Peshawar and in Khyber Agency is being carried out by the Frontier Corps, which is under the command of the Ministry of the Interior, which is part of the civilian government, not by the Ministry of Defense, which answers to the Army Chief of Staff and the President and which has a very different agenda.

The New York Times concluded another recent article, on the offensive against Mangal Bagh, with this throwaway line, which many readers might have ignored:
Afrasiab Khattak, a leader of the Awami National Party, which now governs the North-West Frontier Province, of which Peshawar is the capital, has said he believed that Mr. Mangal Bagh and his men were a creation of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Khattak is in fact the provincial head of the Pashtun nationalist party that now governs the Northwest Frontier Province. The government of NWFP has recently appointed him "Pashtun Peace Envoy" for the province, FATA, and Afghanistan, and he is negotiating with the presidency and governor of NWFP (indirectly with the military) over his involvement in policy toward the tribal areas, over which the civilian political leaders have so far had no authority. According to Khattak, one part of the "government of Pakistan" is at war with groups created by another part of the "government of Pakistan." A policy toward "Pakistan" cannot address this problem.

I realize this poses more questions than it answers about what to do. More to come.


Anonymous said...

It is interesting to read about the perceptions about the importance who did the killing.

Across the world, insurgent propaganda focuses upon the foreigners in the country. Sometimes, that’s the only message their propaganda delivers. Most often the U.S. perceives something different as being most important such as road projects or “rule of law”. Guess which side offers a more attractive message to the locals.

Bob Spencer

Anonymous said...

“The current offensive against Mangal Bagh in the area around Peshawar and in Khyber Agency is being carried out by the Frontier Corps, which is under the command of the Ministry of the Interior, which is part of the civilian government, not by the Ministry of Defense, which answers to the Army Chief of Staff and the President and which has a very different agenda.”
Frontier Corps under civilian control, and perhaps somewhat alienated from the military’s dual agenda, can make one feel a bit optimistic. But the Corps’ murky history should raise hairs—think General Babur and the institutionalized use of the force in trainings and fighting along the Taliban even after Babur’s time. The ANP in NWFP and Rehman Malik in Islamabad might have all the needed motivations to crash Mangal Bagh and the like, but their use of the Frontier Corps as their policy instrument is just not promising enough. Yes, true that they do not have many other tools in their arsenal, and you can rightly ask what else they can do? Frankly, I don’t know.

Anonymous said...

Protecting the sovereignty of the state, self-respect, citizens and soldiers against aggression, and the lives of Pakistani soldiers, suddenly all acquired value because the killers were American and Nato troops.

Predictable crap from the pampered urban elite who seem not to have noticed the Pakistani military laying waste to whole villages in the FATA area over the past four years. Tactics have included Israeli style collective punishment , home demolitions, disappearances and targeted assassinations. The liberal elites cheered on the dictator when not lambasting him for being too 'soft' on the 'taliban'.

I notice that this analysis does not allow such inconvenient factors as history, sovereignty, the fierce nationalism of the region, the class element to intervene.

As I had pointed our earlier, Western commentators have a penchant for seeking out native informers in their own image, even if it means having to compromise on quality. This analysis is pretty poor.

Anonymous said...

Why not focus at the heart of the problem? Karzai is a eunuch mayor of Kabul. His benefactors are foreigners. Afghans never have and never will support a sustained foreign presence in the country. Fix that and don't burn Pakistan in the process!

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