Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A cornucopia of articles about the complexity of Pakistan

by Salman Hameed

Pakistan is again in the news - this time for the NATO strike that killed 24 soldiers inside Pakistani territory. I have written couple of times before that the US policy towards South Asia is short-sighted and is going to bite-back in the long run. For example, the drone attacks may be effective in gaining an upper hand over the militants, but a combination of collateral damage, violation of Pakistan's airspace and the nature of technology itself - and all on dubious ethical grounds - has stoked anti-American sentiments even in the segments of Pakistan that have traditionally been pro-American. The Raymond Davis case and the Bin Laden raid exacerbated the situation. If after a decade of military involvement, US ends up exchanging a troubled Afghanistan (population - 34 million) with an anti-US Pakistan (population 170 million), would that be considered a success?

But the public opinion in the US has also become quite anti-Pakistan. For example, 55% of Americans consider Pakistan to be an enemy of the US compared to only 7% that consider it to be a friend. Part of the reason is the newspaper coverage that fails to convey the complexity on the ground (On this particular matter, see my post for The Scoop: Popular Science as a Guide for Popular Geo-politics).To balance it out, here are a couple of articles about Pakistan and Pakistan-US relations that take a more nuanced approach to the topic.

First of all, check out this fantastic 2 hour radio show: Pakistan Aslant. The first hour deals with the living history and the dynamic past of Pakistan, and the second looks at the resilience of the people that live there. I know this is long - but it provides a fascinating look in what makes Pakistan - Pakistan.

Then if you are interested in US and its policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan, then you should check out Reading Shakespeare in Kandahar (tip Tariq Hameed). In this article, Nick Shifrin find US foreign policy parallels (and a cautionary tale) in Titus Andronicus.
A U.S. official once admitted to me that, for years, "U.S. policy in Pakistan came from Langley rather than Foggy Bottom," implying that the CIA (and the Pentagon) ran the show and that drones and counterterrorism tactics were more important than the diplomats and development experts.
In Titus Andronicus, Titus gets halfway through the play before he realizes that not only do his historic enemies -- the Goths -- seek revenge; his fellow Romans may as well. "Rome is but a wilderness of tigers," Titus says. "Tigers must prey."
Elsewhere in Pakistan, where the United States sought not to avenge but to assist, the population doesn't blame its ills on Americans. A few months before the Peshawar attack, I visited the Government Centennial Model High School in Dadar, a school destroyed by the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. One student was killed and more than a dozen injured when the buildings crumbled on top of them. By 2009, the school was filled with shiny new classrooms, one of which displays a large plaque from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The principal, Mohammad Irfan, said he was proud to have received U.S. help.
"We were destroyed. We were ruined at that time," he told me. "Now, we feel very, very happy with America. We now feel, 'Long live America, long live USA, long live Pakistan!'"
ut these vignettes are sadly rare. In most areas of Pakistan -- where people perceive their lives as less secure and less developed since 9/11 -- there is still a strong anti-American narrative, from the streets of slums to elite drawing rooms.
That feeling extends even to Islamabad, the capital. In September 2008, I arrived at the swank Marriott hotel on a Ramadan evening. Rubble was piled 10 feet high, electric wires sparked against pools of water and gas, and mangled iron gates poked out of the mud. I saw at least eight bodies. As one police officer walked outside, he threw up into his own hand, sick with the stench of death. Inside the lobby, the reception desk had been crushed, a piano was thrown against a wall, and a fish flopped against the marble, its glass aquarium lying shattered nearby. Twenty minutes earlier, militants had exploded 2,200 pounds of military-grade explosive at the outside gate.
Even then, some of my fellow Islamabad residents -- who opposed the Taliban and their suicide attacks -- blamed America. "It's not a good thing what they are doing, but they're doing it out of compulsion," said one Islamabad resident of the Taliban, asking me not to print his name. "If my home was bombed," he continued, "and my parents and brothers were killed, wouldn't I become a suicide bomber?"
For Pakistanis, the war launched to avenge the 9/11 attacks had created a vicious cycle of revenge. 
Then reflecting on the past few days, Simon Tisdall accurately gauges the anger in Pakistan, and rightly points to the long-term effects:

Since 2001, when the Bush administration bluntly told Islamabad it must take sides, be either "for us or agin us" in the newly declared "war on terror", Pakistan has struggled under a plethora of imperious American demands, démarches and impositions that are at once politically indefensible and contrary to the perceived national interest.
The last year has been another humiliating one at the hands of the country's principal ally. Pakistanis have looked on impotently as US special forces flouted its sovereignty and killed Osama bin Laden under the army's nose; as the US stepped up drone terror attacks in Pakistani territory despite repeated protests; and as people-pleasing US senators and Republican presidential candidates have taken to picking on Pakistan and its aid bill in uninformed foreign policy rants.
The belief that weak, impoverished, divided Pakistan has no alternative but to slavishly obey its master's voice could turn out to be one of the seminal strategic miscalculations of the 21st century. Alternative alliances with China or Russia aside, Muslim Pakistan, if bullied and scorned for long enough by its western mentors, could yet morph through external trauma and internal collapse into quite a different animal. The future paradigm here is not another well-trained Indonesia or Malaysia. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This may be a bit too far - but I think he is correct in the overall spirit of the argument. 

And here is another article that at Pakistan's policy decisions beyond total irrationality: Pakistan's Alternate Universe. In fact, this article is on the money in saying that much of the root of Pakistan-Afghnistan issue lies in relations with India: 

This is an opportunity for Washington. Unless it is prepared to risk the disastrous consequences that could flow from armed confrontation with Pakistan, a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan may be the best outcome it can reasonably hope to achieve. To accomplish this, it will almost certainly need to collaborate with the Pakistanis, who are the only party with any real influence over the Afghan Taliban. But recent U.S. efforts to demonize the Haqqani network work directly against this objective because the Haqqanis are the Afghan Taliban group most favored by Islamabad and over whom it has the most control.
It would be a bitter pill to swallow if the United States were forced to abandon Afghanistan without destroying the group that gave bin Laden sanctuary in the years before 9/11, but there are worse outcomes. Bin Laden is now dead, and even Washington admits that the primary al Qaeda threat to U.S. interests has moved elsewhere. The United States should begin shifting its priorities in the region to promoting a sustainable peace between Pakistan and India. Their decades-old dispute over Kashmir is the reason that the Pakistanis began supporting jihadi groups in the first place, and they are unlikely to sever their final links with them until it is resolved.
We may like simple problems that require simple solutions. But the world is messy, and sometimes the solutions are messy as well. But if we don't understand the problem, we cannot even hope for a solution. The articles above are not perfect, but at least they do make an effort to appreciate the complexity of the situation. Well, that's a start.


Don said...

A start, indeed. I have not even been able to believe the tone of headlines about the recent deaths in Pakistan, let alone that of articles in the mass media.

Powered by Blogger.