Don't 'Diss' Pakistan Again

Winning the war in Afghanistan requires Islamabad’s cooperation.  However, the Pakistanis feel that they have been ‘dissed’ by the Americans who seemingly are distrustful of the Pakistan military by tying badly needed aid to a series of unacceptable, overly intrusive certifications.

This is but one of many challenges President Obama must address in his new regional strategy if he intends to win the Afghan war.  Otherwise, he risks losing Afghanistan to jihadists who will once again use that country to launch global operations and then overrun nuclear-armed Pakistan.  The growing violence in Pakistan such as the weekend assault on the Pakistani Army headquarters in Rawalpindi demonstrates that time for action is short.

Consider past mistakes that contributed to the Afghanistan mess and what we can do with ally Pakistan to help resolve the brewing crisis.

In the 1980s, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with America’s Central Intelligence Agency created the Taliban in Afghanistan to fight the occupying Soviets.  After Russia abandoned Afghanistan we failed to go into that country to rehabilitate the Taliban to prevent radicals like the al Qaida from taking root.   

We had another chance in the mid-1990s to change the course of that country.  President Clinton knew al Qaeda was nesting with the Taliban in Afghanistan.  But Clinton refused to plant humanitarian missions in that country to keep it from deteriorating into a radical Islamic state that threatened global peace.

After al-Qaida attacked America in September 2001, the U.S. defeated the Taliban with the help of the Northern Alliance, ethnic Tajiks.  At the time we mistakenly assumed that all Pashtuns – the ethnic group that makes up half the Afghan population – were radical Taliban.  This naiveté and our follow-up actions alienated many non-Taliban Pashtun while our real enemy, al-Qaeda, slipped into the Pakistani mountains where they remain today.

Obama’s forthcoming Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy must learn from these past mistakes and partner with the Pakistanis to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, stop the Talibanization of Pakistan and destroy al Qaida.  This will require President Obama to address a number of significant challenges.

First, the U.S. should not “diss” its war ally.  Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress just sent an aid bill to President Obama for signature that Pakistani politicians described as “insulting and unacceptable” and reflects lack of trust.  A U.S. State Department spokesman admitted “…we need to perhaps communicate better about what this bill entails.”

Pakistani chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani expressed “serious concerns” over the legislation because it links aid to increased monitoring of its anti-terror efforts and Pakistan’s nuclear program.  Kiyani’s objections send a message about the limits of civilian control in a country with a history of military rule.

The bill, named after its chief sponsors, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), triples the amount of U.S. economic assistance to Pakistan.  But it alienates the Pakistanis by mandating regular administration certification that Pakistan is adhering to a wide range of sovereignty-related requirements.  Dr. Nasim Ashraf, a former member of Pakistani President Muscharaf’s cabinet and now with a Washington, DC-think tank, says the bill singles out the military as “the bad people in Pakistan.”

Second, the U.S. must conduct a comprehensive counterinsurgency in the Pashtun area of Afghanistan along the Pakistan border.  This will likely require more troops and close cooperation with the Pakistanis who are poised for a campaign in Waziristan, a border region.  

We should “provide security for the people” in large populated areas and “hit [the enemy] hard” inflicting “major losses,” said Dr. Ashraf.  He believes “major defeats” of the Taliban will turn the tide in Afghanistan.

Third, we need to grow the Afghan National Army (ANA) with Pashtun recruits.   The Pashtuns must become a significant part of the ANA if it is to be credible.   Even though the Pashtun make-up half of all Afghans they account for less than a third of the ANA.

“We need an ethnic balance in the ANA,” said Dr. Ashraf.   He argues that Pashtuns have been excluded from the army which hurts the effort to re-integrate them and defeat the Taliban.

Fourth, the Afghan refugee camps near Quetta, Pakistan, should be relocated inside Afghanistan.  These camps, which hold up to 2 million Afghan refugees, have become Taliban recruiting grounds and the base of operations for Mullah Mohammed Omar, who was the former head of the Taliban government in Afghanistan.  

The Quetta camps and others that dot the Durand Line – the 1,610 mile Afghanistan- Pakistan border fixed by the British in 1893 – have populations that rival many large European cities.  It’s time Afghanistan formulates a roadmap to repatriate these people to remove a huge burden on Pakistan and to help mitigate the associated security problems.

Fifth, the U.S. must help equip Pakistan with the resources to sustain the fight.  Foreign minister Qureshi told the Washington Times that Pakistani forces are poised to move into South Waziristan – the heart of Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) resistance – once they receive promised military resources from the U.S.  This planned offensive is the most ambitious thus far and is intended to integrate the impoverished tribal population into mainstream society.  But American help cannot come too soon.

The TTP isn’t waiting for the Pakistani army to strike South Waziristan.  On Oct. 10, the TTP assaulted the Pakistani Army headquarters, which demonstrates the extent of militant penetration into the Pakistani military and is indicative of the type of attacks that will continue.  Since last week, there have been four grisly TTP attacks which are allegedly part of the Tailban’s effort to recruit militants across Pakistan.

Sixth, tensions between arch rivals Pakistan and India must be addressed.  Last week’s suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul exposed this front in the regional war.  The Afghan foreign ministry said the attack “… was planned and implemented from outside of Afghan borders” by the same group responsible for the July 2008 suicide bombing.  That bombing was blamed on Pakistan’s ISI.  

But the Obama administration excludes India from the security issues between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  There is no doubt both India and Pakistan leverage the disaffection.  “The U.S. should have been more engaged in a comprehensive policy,” said Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S. and currently at the Woodrow Wilson Center.  She argues the region’s security issues are interconnected and “We need a process to discuss” the differences otherwise the problems are compounded.  Talks between the two rivals are stalled because of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai by Pakistani militants.

Seventh, Afghanistan needs an indigenous process to form a stable, representative government.  The West should never have imposed an alien form of government on the Afghans but should encourage the creation of a National Compact that has a proven history of stability in that country.  

Dr. Lodhi suggests the Afghans need to embrace “a political process of national reconciliation,” perhaps a National Compact.  This indigenous process should integrate the non-ideological Taliban that disavow al Qaeda.  She recommends the Taliban form a political party that gives them an engagement avenue other than fighting.

Eighth, the Pakistanis should have unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for counter-terrorist operations.  But the U.S. doesn’t want to transfer drones to Pakistan because of the technology loss.  

U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have killed innocent civilians and thus lose “the hearts and minds of the tribes” and using them can give “the enemy the means to get pity,” said Dr. Lodhi.  She favors giving the Pakistanis drones that will serve a “broader strategy” that includes police, intelligence, and economic development.  Also, the Pakistani public would be more tolerant of civilian casualties caused by drones operated by the country’s own forces.

Finally, the U.S. must make a long-term commitment.   Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said “The people in the region have to be reassured that the U.S. has a long-term vision not just for Afghanistan and Pakistan but the entire region.”  He called on Washington to learn from “the mistakes of the past.”

Partnering with Pakistan will be the most important part of the president’s emerging strategy.  He must avoid past mistakes and make needed adjustments if we have any hope of stabilizing that region before withdrawing our troops.