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Terror Ties: Pakistan’s Costs Run Deep

August 29, 2009

News on the Mumbai Atrocities is largely focused on the perpetrators and their links to Pakistan. The media is buzzing with startling information on Lashkar-e-Taibba, the group with which the perpetrators were tied. A recent headline on this story from the New York Times reads: “Terror Ties Run Deep in Pakistan, Mumbai Case Shows”. A Reuters piece goes so far as to exclaim that the group is a “potential threat to the west given its strong base and global reach”. Without evidence to support this other than an also unsubstantiated supposition that “Al Qaeda does not command” those kinds of resources any more”, the piece implies that Al Qaeda is now a secondary threat to Lashkar-e-Taibba and has usurped a supposed terrorist power vacuum that now exists. It is an idea that does not come across as entirely sound, but is shocking and well timed nonetheless. Because with South Asia and China at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy at the moment, Pakistan is geopolitically poised as a strategic ally in the War on Terror and our future interests in Asia.

What is interesting, and perhaps underreported though, is how our interests run parallel to Pakistani interests against these groups. Which is what makes these headlines problematic: they can be misleading. If one takes a closer, more comprehensive look at both the history and current events in Pakistan, there is little reason to speculate on Islamabad’s interest in ensuring these groups are uprooted and immediately contained from executing terrorist activity, within, and beyond its borders.

Post 9/11, Pakistan officially severed ties with Lashkar-E-Taibba, who were initially founded to fight against the Soviets during the Cold War. Like Al Qaeda, they exploited religion by way of branding a fundamental, extremist distortion of Islam to achieve political ends that were suitable to their own and ironically, our interests at the time in driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan. However, Pakistan and the U.S. unfortunately, are now paying an immeasurable price for that victory. Not having a viable (or, perhaps any) long term, adequate exit and reconstruction strategy for employing these tactics is proving dangerously expensive.

History aside however, fact is, these groups exist, are a threat to the region and need to be dealt with. As Pakistan suffers the brunt of terrorist activity and bears the moral, military, economic and social costs of rooting out these factions and remain committed to the War on Terror for the long haul, they demonstrate a strong dedication to uprooting these groups. In fact, Interior minister, Rehman Malik, explained that the Lashkar-e-Taibba’s infrastructure is “no more intact”. And According to the New York Times piece, current experts in the Obama administration see three possibilities with Lashkar-e-Taibba:

• They remain a lever of the Pakistani state;

• The group has realigned themselves behind the interests of Pakistan and could be used covertly;

• The group has broken away from the official security apparatus and are running independently

The article cites a senior Pakistani official as reinforcing the third view and how a “lack of control of these groups could have devastating consequences” for Pakistan. It further cites a “senior American official as stating:

“My guess is, the army did not have command knowledge” of the Mumbai attacks”

But the article continues and concludes with the implication that the Pakistani army maintains ties with the group for not the third explanation, but possibly the former two. I am skeptical of this though given reality of what it would entail for Pakistan: nothing but more costs as Pakistani’s suffer firsthand the dangers of these groups. Whether in the form of a radically distorted Islamic ideology that stifles society into regression, military and economic expenditures that could in a more stable climate otherwise be devoted to social development or the very real, global condemnation and dishonor that comes when these groups engage in illegal activity, Pakistani’s suffer.

So I maintain that Islamabad is committed to uprooting groups like Lashkar-e-Taibba  and if anything, their own interests in securing Pakistan motivates the unprecedented offensive we’re seeing in cooperation with the United States. And although relations with Pakistan are not perfect, this upswing is worthy of note. The L.A. Times reports, a “high ranking U.S. Government official” as finding that cooperation is the best he has ever seen. And Army Col. Kevin Fagedes similarly sees:

“great progress coming in the next six months. The spirit of cooperation is out there. The Pakistanis have had very good success at what they are doing”

So this month we have diplomats and military officials in vociferous agreement on progress with Pakistan. But, this is an alliance that has spanned 60 years with many instances of diplomatic and military cooperation and we are currently engaged in a costly war in the region there. So to ensure that this cooperation spurs lasting results, we should employ long-term assistance with Islamabad in the costs of uprooting these groups. That means continued social, economic, military and intelligence support with particular emphasis on diplomatic backing. Unfortunately, headlines like today’s run counterproductive to this support by overlooking the fact that progress in the War on Terror in Pakistan comes gradually given the aforementioned history and current economic circumstances. So without a balance that disseminates ample information on positive steps for change at difficult instances like today’s news on Lashkar-Taibba, overtime we might miss a range of opportunities to solidify our alliance with Pakistan.

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