Posts Tagged ‘af-pak terrorism’

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If We Leave Now ….

December 14, 2009

Friday morning a CNN headline informed us that the stock market is inching forward, but America is “still in the red”, simply reminding us that we’re spending more than we’re making.

Ouch. With an expanding war and expanding government (Af-Pak war and healthcare reform respectively), expenses seem excessive. But, thinking about the Af-Pak quagmire within this perspective made me realize the costly necessity of our engagement. Because even though it may seem cost effective and immediately convenient to bring troops home , our absence in the Af-Pak region entails risks that are perhaps higher than the costs of Obama’s troop surge, even in our downward economy.

Let’s run a counterfactual to demonstrate. If we begin troop withdrawal, ultimately winding down NATO forces as well, in the absence of a U.S. presence, Af-Pak becomes fully accessible to regional powers, including China, Russia, and India to step in. Security and development will be led by other foreign powers who emerge with powerful influence in this strategic area. Because in addition to our foremost interest in obliterating Al Qaeda, Afghanistan is strategically poised to access Central Asian energy interests as is Pakistan. Pakistan is not landlocked so the Karachi port becomes key to transporting Central Asian energy to international markets. In our absence, Russia or China emerges as forerunners in supporting Af-Pak in their route to development meaning major energy projects that we stand to benefit from, such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan pipeline might take a backseat to projects led by Russia. Similarly, energy projects like the Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline which the Heritage Organization has already called “unacceptable” for U.S. interests make further headway in our absence with the support China. So withdrawing troops runs the risk of our losing access to potential energy resources and could further threaten Europe by allowing the former USSR to gain a “stranglehold over European energy security”.

Similarly, there are critical security risks that come along with our withdrawal. In our absence, regional powers that are historically not geopolitically neutral in the can create a climate of further conflict.

– Current Afghanistan-India alliance (rapidly increasing)

– Historic Pakistan – Afghanistan alliance (rapidly decreasing)

– Russia-Pakistan enmity (as per India Russia alliance)

– Russia-Afghanistan enmity (Soviet Afghan War)

– India-Russia alliance (An expanding, long term alliance began during the Cold War)

– India-China enmity (Sino Indian War)

– Pakistan-China alliance (Long term alliance began during the Sino Indian War)

– India-Pakistan enmity (Deep mistrust dating back to Partition in 1947 with 3 wars fought since)

This complex mix of regional relations in tandem with competing interests for Afghanistan and Pakistan creates weighty risks that are too big to take. For instance, there’s a widespread notion that Pakistan sought to wield control over Afghanistan to use it as a buffer against India and currently, the Pakistani government says the same is true for India as relations warm between Delhi and Kabul. By removing the United States from the picture, the risk of leaving two nuclear armed, historic adversaries vying for geopolitically strategic and energy rich Afghanistan becomes a weighty concern.

So two weeks ago when Fareed Zakaria questioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on whether or not India believes Pakistan is doing it all it can to uproot terrorism, and Mr. Singh gently responded that America has given him all the assurance he needs, one realizes the magnanimity of our mitigating tensions in the region. Leaving the Af-Pak region now runs great potential for further insecurity and could run directly counter to our energy interests. Let’s hope our policies in uprooting terror are accompanied by development strategies for long term stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that our presence is not perpetually required.

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Identifying Demons in Pakistan

December 9, 2009

NYTIMES does a good job of publishing weekly articles on the Af-Pak situation. And a recent piece had a very enticing title: “The Demons that Haunt Pakistan” . It conjured deep curiosity and I delved into it anticipating the “demons” referred to how terrorists have paralyzed the country since 9/11.

Instead, the writer interviews one oddball Psychiatrist who says the “Gucci suit” wearing Americans are the real terrorists and Blackwater is luring his hired help to engage in a grand U.S. conspiracy to destroy Pakistan. Based on this sole, very erratic viewpoint, she presumes that like a “teenager” Pakistan is “self-conscious, emotional, quick to blame others for its troubles” and is where conspiracy theories are “pervasive”. But the presumption that Anti-Americanism supersedes resentment of actual terrorists who have is not well founded. In fact, only at the end of the article does she acknowledge the moderate Pakistani viewpoint:

“Islam treats foreigners according to their wishes,” It’s not what these people (terrorists) say — killing them or asking others to terrorize them,” he said contemptuously of the militants. “We must treat everybody equally. Christians, Jews, Muslims”

The author refers to this as the “unlikely exception”, but on the contrary, this perspective is more likely to be found in Pakistan. The gentleman expressing this view is working class and the masses are working class. They’re not doctors or professionals whom the author erroneously cites as the norm. Further, it’s the working classes who struggle most with terrorism, not the sliver of Pakistan’s elite population who maintain comforts despite political upheaval. So the  implication that demon-esque Anti Americanism is rooted in spectacular conspiracy theories is unlikely:

The majority masses are far more skeptical of Pakistani policymakers and domestic corruption than of Blackwater and the American, or Indian government for that matter.

More accurately on India, the author cites counter productive policies in Pakistan that maintained, rather than obliterated the feudal system and attributes the profound struggles of Partition to subsequent skepticism that has been harbored by both countries for one another since. Plus, having fought three wars in just 62 years, she explains it’s “natural that Pakistan’s security concerns focus more on its eastern border with India” and “not irrational” for Pakistan to resent American calls for change in this strategy.

The piece goes on to explain resentment of American policymaking viewed  as “U.S. single-mindedly pursues it’s own interests as it did in the 80’s when it was confronting the Soviets”. And therein lies skepticism for the United States in Pakistan: it’s rooted in abandoning ship post the Soviet-Afghan war. Leaving Pakistan with one of the worlds largest refugee problems well ISI/CIA trained extremist Islamist militants in a developing country hasn’t boded well 20 years later. As a partial result, Pakistan hasn’t developed, it’s deteriorated. Cooperation in our Afghan operation in the 80’s isn’t perceived as productive. Thus,

Current skepticism of U.S. expansion in the Af-Pak war is not a matter of irrational, conspiracy theories or bitterness for all things American, it comes after prolonged, and now daily struggle against extremist Islam, and terrorists who massacre Pakistanis almost daily since 9/11.

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Musharraf’s Solution – An Af-Pak Political Surge

December 7, 2009

As President Obama announced a troop surge in the Af-Pak war, former leader of Pakistan General Musharraff weighed in with specifics a solution would require.

In the Wall Street Journal this week, he explainedquitting is not an option”, and “time limits” should not drive our exit strategy. Rather, in tandem with additional troops, a “political” surge is key. With firsthand military and political experience in the Af-Pak region and War on Terror, Musharraf gives us substance with which to understand the situation. He explains that when the United States “liberated Afghanistan from the tyranny of Al Qaeda and Taliban, they had unequivocal support of the majority of Afghans.” What we didn’t do though, is establish a “truly representative national government” giving proportional representation to Pashtun’s who are the ethnic majority. He says:

The political instability and ethnic imbalance in Afghanistan after 9/11 marginalized the majority Pashtuns and pushed them into the Taliban fold, even though they were not ideological supporters of the Taliban.

As a result, despite Pakistani efforts during Musharraf’s tenure where “600 Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders, some of them of very high value” were captured in tandem with the establishment of “1000 border check posts”, the Afghan government never gained legitimacy, and ultimately, sufficient authority. He further attributes insufficient NATO forces and the distraction of invading Iraq as leading causes to the Taliban’s capacity to gain ground, and reassert its center of gravity toward northern Pakistan.

With a grand strategy to destabilize the whole region, the Taliban and al Qaeda established links with extremists in Pakistani society on the one hand and with Muslim fundamentalists in India on the other.

It’s a complex situation, but Musharraff’s recommendations are rooted in a wealth of experience and offer details on a practical solution.

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Where’s the Improved Af-Pak Strategy?

December 3, 2009

President Obama stayed true to his word. During the presidential campaign last year, he vowed to hunt down Al Qaeda in Pakistan and after months of deliberation with Congress, his focus on deepening military involvement in the region has come to fruition. 30,000 more troops are promised to the Af-Pak war and in his speech yesterday, Obama focused squarely on the “inextricable” link Afghanistan and Pakistani security share. He insisted the “NWFP” is where terrorist leadership including 9/11 masterminds Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zwahiri find  “safe haven” and reiterated an urgency to pass the Kerry Lugar bill. But overall,

No new strategy was laid out. We’re sending more troops without any information that an improved plan is in place. With an increased focus on Pakistan knowing it has deteriorated since the War on Terror began, it is critical to see details of a more effective Af-Pak strategy.

Politicians, pundits, scholars, journalists and even bloggers like myself have called for increased intelligence sharing and military training from our end to Pakistani forces to uproot terrorists. And President Obama briefly, but finally acknowledged this would take place. However, it was said almost in passing relative to 9/11 rhetoric reminding us that we must stand in solidarity with our allies and expand our efforts in the war on terror. Which is important, however, after 8 long years of conflict and heavy taxpayer dollars allocated to this war in a downward economy, I expected at least some details of a revamped approach. Otherwise there’s a fear that more of the same will lead to more of the same: an escalation of our engagement and simultaneous worsening in the region.

There’s a very good piece in the Los Angeles Times explaining this troop surge is a replay of our approach in Iraq. The idea is that a temporary troop surge with predetermined date of withdrawal allows domestic security forces time to develop so that when our troops leave, they manage security to a large extent on their own. However, experts in the article point out that Afghanistan is vastly different from Iraq and a troop surge might not yield similar success in this case. Also, there’s little mention of Pakistan because a

troop surge would not apply to Pakistan where established military and paramilitary security forces already exist. Thus Obama’s square focus on Pakistan in tandem with a troop surge is incomplete without additional details on a revamped strategy.

And the Kerry Lugar bill is not sufficient. The fact that President Obama at the beginning of his speech still urges us to support the legislation despite widespread skepticism at home and in Pakistan, is testimony to how much a new plan is needed. Let’s hope we hear one soon.

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Who Wears the Taj (crown)? : South Asia After 26/11

November 26, 2009
Remembering 26/11: outside the Taj Mumbai: Courtesey Bhavik Vasa

Remembering 26/11: outside the Taj Mumbai

At the heels of 26/11, Pakistan charged seven people involved in the Mumbai atrocities today. The Virginia Quarterly Review has a four part article revealing the ordeal in harrowing detail and after reading it, I’m still stunned. On 26/11 last year I got a call from a friend born and raised in Mumbai who was flying out there that afternoon, he said his parents were fine but his voice was wrought by a despair I hadn’t heard from him before. He didn’t specifically say he was distraught or describe how he felt in detail, but i recognized the frustration instantly because I’d heard that voice before: from friends in Karachi who witness countless threats and acts of terrorism since 9/11. I identified immediately with my friends frustration and despair on a humanitarian level, and even further because although the perpetrators in Mumbai were allegedly trained in Pakistan, I knew they’d ultimately hurt Pakistani’s the most.

As India forges ahead economically and internationally, Pakistan is deteriorating. Terrorism has brought vanishing security that has perpetually halted foreign investment, stagnating the economy leaving no trickle down for the lower and middle class majority population who simultaneously realize a widening gap in their position vis a vis the wealthy. Terrorism has rendered governance in survival mode since 9/11 making leeway for decreased oversight and increased corruption, which was rampant to begin with.

A year after the Mumbai atrocities, we see Manmohan Singh hosted at the White House in elaborate fanfare with progressive talks on bilateral trade rooted in liberalism that is fitting for a country with roughly 8% growth in GDP and a middle class that’s now larger than our entire population in the United States.

In attendance at the State Dinner was, Secretary Clinton, House Speaker Pelosi and Ohio governor Strickland whose state was picked by Indian conglomerate the Tata Group for its “North American Delivery Center in Milford. Ohio offered $19 million in tax credits and other incentives to get Tata’s project that is expected to create 1,000 positions within the first three years“. Deepending economic interdependence signals a rosy picture for US relations in Indian South Asia.

Conversely, relations with Pakistani South Asia in light of that progress are a valid point of comparison because we have a strategic interest in both countries. More than ever, it’s apparent we have economically strategic interests with India, and security based interests in Pakistan. And like previous presidencies the Obama administration quickly realized the delicate art of balancing both interests given that either country feels progressive relations with the United States inherently comes as a direct expense of one another. Engaging India as it expands economically and Pakistan geopolitically for security’s sake (i.e. in the War on Terror and in the face of an ascending China) pose an opportunity for us to strike a creative balance in South Asia.

It’s not about who wears the crown, (“Taj”) in South Asian U.S. relations, it’s about engaging both sides for the long haul.

In Pakistan that means cooperating today for security’s sake and uprooting terrorism and fundamentalism for tomorrow. Key from there is not abandoning ship, but remaining engaged so that Pakistan too has a route to economic expansion in the future. Without security, viable development won’t take place. And so long as we are engaged in an Af-Pak war, our policymakers have a responsibility to establish a roadmap that is rooted in long term success. This is our chance to get it right in South Asia, and that begins with an intention for a permanent solution. Assisting Pakistan to navigate the rising tide of development in our globalized world could be the key to ensuring they remain a strategic, long standing ally.

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Fareed Zakaria Interviews Musharraff

November 9, 2009

Pervez Musharraf was on Fareed Zakaria GPS this morning discussing the Af-Pak situation in two segments. The second segment focused on Pakistan where Zakaria prefaced Q&A by reminding viewers that General Musharraf is an “authentic representation of Pakistan’s military” and that his comments will reveal that the situation in Afghanistan is rooted in a 60 year geopolitical rivalry that we just walked in to, and its between between India and Pakistan“. Sounded like grand stuff.

And Zakaria jumped right in. He began with questions on whether the Pakistan military is as committed to eliminating terrorists in the north who launch cross border attacks as they are to obliterating terrorists in the South who are responsible for domestic assaults. He said the military “never seems to get around to attacking North Waziristan who attacks India or Afghanistan because they were supported in the past”. Musharraff made clear that during his tenure, he insisted on drone technology needed to obliterate terrorists from both regions, especially given Baitullah Mehsud who assassinated Bhutto and that terrorists were never supported by the military or any government policy. He mentioned that ISI “ingress” in terrorist groups is standard procedure practiced by all Intelligence operations, clarifying that “ingress” is not be equated to “support”, rather it’s standard maintenance of contacts with such groups for the states advantage.

When questioned about the widespread notion that Al Qaeda leader Mullah Umar is in Pakistan, Musharraf said it’s “200% wrong” explaining Umar would have no interest in leaving a safe haven in the northern areas where Taliban has de-facto control for Quetta where US and Pakistani intelligence/ military roam rampant. It was a reasonable response and Zakaria’s questions sounded increasingly implicative.

Zakaria probed the notion saying that the “Afghanistan government and intelligence say he’s in Pakistan” to which Musharraff firmly explained “don’t talk about the Afghan government and intelligence. By design, they mislead the world, they talk against Pakistan because they are entirely under the influence of Indian intelligence”.

Wow, he just said it. It’s often documented in Pakistani media that Indian intelligence is widely responsible for insurgencies in northern areas of Pakistan and the province of Balochistan by way of material support, but rarely is that view expressed in mainstream U.S. media. Former Foreign Minister Sharifuddin Pirzada recently explained to me that warming of relations between Delhi and Kabul come at a direct expense of Pakistan because of such subversive, Indian led dealings with Afghanistan. Similarly, Musharraf explained he has provided “documented evidence” of this activity in the past.

From the first question on Pakistan’s commitment to uprooting cross border terrorism, to the question on Mullah Umar, Zakaria elicited Musharraf into discussion of a supposed “geopolitical rivalry” between India and Pakistan wherein Afghanistan is used as a “client state” by either nation as a buffer against, if not to subvert one another. And although I can’t say that is entirely untrue, Zakaria approached today’s interview with this preconceived notion, and overstepped neutrality by implicating Pakistan in the process.

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Every Crisis is an Opportunity

October 21, 2009

Speaking to my grandmother whose in Karachi yesterday morning, she explained my cousins stayed home from elementary school as most schools had shut down this week. Karachi is the the largest, most bustling city in Pakistan, and despite being situated in the south, far removed from the hotbed of militants in northern Waziristan, terrorism has gradually spilled over from Afghanistan, crept into Pakistan and paralyzed the country. My grandmother described a city laden with tension where people live in a constant climate of uncertainty and increasing fear.

It was pressing to hear her tired voice describe the situation with a kind of detachment. Her tone was passive: an indication of hopelessness. And that hopelessness is not in reference to obliterating terrorists, because there’s little speculation on a military capacity to wipe out at most, 10 thousand terrorists. Rather, her passive tone is a worn out sound echoing 62 years of statehood rooted in insecurity.  She’s seen Pakistan through three wars fought with India, including a civil war in the 70’s resulting in a cession of East Pakistan, one of the worlds largest refugee problems in the 1980’s and now the War on Terror fought on home soil. Her passivity is an exhausted acceptance of perpetual political insecurity.

The aforementioned video shows a younger generation, not yet exhausted. They’re shocked, frustrated by what’s happening in their country as they passionately raise their voices in protest against extremist Islamic groups who oppress the country.

Most ironic is that extremist groups bombed the Islamic University in Islamabad where these young men study. Testimony to how grossly extremists propagate an inaccurate view of Islam that terrorizes Muslims everyday.

Which brings me back to how imperative it is that Pakistani and US forces focus on uprooting and not just obliterating terrorists. Pakistan is home to the worlds 6th largest population, and the second largest Muslim country. That’s a strategic demographic in the War on Terror and for future international security. Ensuring terrorism is uprooted in the long term will require a sustained, multifaceted, military and non military approach. Few will argue against the necessity of economic development, the question really is how to pay for it. I’ve mentioned before that the Kerry Lugar bill is a fair, but insufficient attempt at doing this, and ultimately, Pakistan itself must uproot terrorism.

This critical time is an opportunity for Pakistani politicians to take responsibility and bring forth a detailed agenda that rallies current masses. A specific, well publicized plan of action, accepting but not relying on outside assistance is Pakistan’s best hope at engaging its citizens to wipe out terrorism for the long haul. Hopelessness, frustration and desire for Pakistani’s to develop economically and free themselves from terror poses a widespread opportunity to supplement the military offensive with civil support. That support is the capital with which to begin an agenda to uproot terrorism.

Grassroots organizations, women’s and educational groups whose ideologies run counter to extremist groups should be actively highlighted by the media and politicians.

A more proactive approach that is clearly visible works on two levels. One, it aggregates support in the country against extremism setting a future stage for more moderate masses. Secondly, it alleviates international fears of Pakistan becoming a failed state. Because not only do citizens like my grandma need hope, but the international community also watches in concern for Pakistan to define itself in unity and diametrically against extremism.

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