Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan US cooperation’

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Welcoming the War – Drones in Pakistan — Part 3

February 11, 2010
Are the Drones Worth the Cost of Compromising Cooperation ?

Are the Drones Worth the Cost of Cooperation ?

Read Part 1 – Reconciling CIA Drones In Pakistan

Read Part 2  – Concessions & Collateral Damage

The most provocative piece I’ve seen on drones in Pakistan was published last week. Not the most detailed, well researched article (the New Yorker takes the cake so far) but certainly the most confrontational. Farhat Taj writes in the Daily Times that International media, including American and Pakistani reports critical of drone use are totally unfounded. Vehemently, Taj writes:

The people of Waziristan are suffering a brutal kind of occupation under the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is in this context that they would welcome anyone, Americans, Israelis, Indians or even the devil, to rid them of the Taliban and al Qaeda”

It’s a grand, almost inconceivable statement given that Anti Americanism is on a rapid rise and India / Pakistan are widely considered notorious Arch Nemesis in international relations today.  Taj says inhabitants of Waziristan actually “welcome” drone attacks and dismisses all accusations of civilian casualties as Taliban propaganda. Basing this on the idea that almost no media are allowed in the area, she concludes there is no verifiable evidence, and therefore no reason for concern of civilian casualties. But mere logic would indicate otherwise. Although surgical, drones are not so precise to as to obliterate one individual at a time. When they strike, the range of damage inflicted by any drone is bound to cause peripheral damage, destroying more than just a singular terrorist.

Taj also too vehemently dismisses the concern that drones infringe on Pakistan’s sovereignty. She says greater Pakistan is oblivious to the more pressing priority of wiping out Taliban. And while I agree the Taliban is inflicting profound, perpetual and grave damage on Waziristan, greater Pakistan’s perceptions are important and not to be overlooked so easily.

Waziristan is but a fraction of Pakistan. If the majority of Pakistani’s see drones as an infringement of sovereignty, future cooperation with strategically poised Pakistan can become difficult. The alliance is already waning and one of politics’ golden rules is: perceptions matter. Whether or not there are exact numbers of civilian casualties, Pakistani’s are strongly against unmanned aircraft dropping bombs in their territory. Regardless of circumstances, the perception of an alliance with America, and our War on Terror is endangered by the drones. Hence arguments that drones are counter productive.

At what cost are we using drones to wipe out a few key leaders from militant and extremist groups? Might we accomplish the same success in hunting down terrorists by employing Pakistani forces to take these guys out themeslves using close cooperation with our counter terrorism, intelligence and military operations?

Some already argue that Islamabad tacitly works with the United States on drones in the north, however, the official and public stance of the Pakistani government is of staunch disapproval of drones. It’s a fair argument because without Islamabad’s approval, the United States would be in violation of international law, and protocol in using drones in Waziristan minus Pakistsan’s approval. So I buy the argument that Islamabad works closely in using drones in the north. But the fact that the government goes to the extent of constantly assuring its public that they disapprove of drones on record, is testimony to how offensive the use of unmanned aircrafts are in Pakistan.

So while our heightened use of drones might be effective in obliterating key leaders from the Taliban ranks for success in the immediate term, the consequences of drones entail potentially riling further anti Americanism which could compromise our interests in the future.

Cooperation is key, and I’m not convinced increased use of drones will help us engage Pakistan in the future.

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The Hawk Some Didn’t See Coming : Obama’s Pakistan Policy

January 26, 2010

Bush & Obama : Identical Policies to Pakistan?

Bush & Obama : Identical Policies to Pakistan?

Similar to his ratings drop at home, abroad President Obama is being accused of not living up to expectations. In DAWN news this week there’s an article entitled: “Obama’s Changing Tone” suggesting our President is reverting to foreign policy reminiscent of the Bush administration on Pakistan, and to an extent, the greater Muslim World. The idea is that Obama’s planned troop surge in tandem with ever toughening rhetoric post the Fort Hood Massacre and the Christmas Bomber, reflects leadership that’s not much different than former President Bush’s.

But on the contrary, our escalating presence in Pakistan is exactly what Obama promised. During the campaign trail, he made clear that his main focus was Al Qaeda and  destroying terrorists in Pakistan (militants having spilled over from Afghanistan into Pakistan). The rhetoric was so hawkish, it actually became a sticking point before the primaries that Republicans and Democrats like Hillary criticized. Also, the media publicized his staunch rhetoric at length, so

Obama really has not changed tone on Pakistan: an intensified war matches his rhetoric from the start.

Plus is it fair to expect something radically different than the previous administration in the first place? Let’s not forget that it is often the political system and circumstances that drive leadership, and not vice versa. The fact is, America was already deeply engaged in two very problematic wars at the inception of Obama’s Presidency. He inherited an intensely worsening situation in Afghanistan that rapidly spilled across the border into Pakistan. President Obama anticipated this and is thus living up to campaign promises: a more hawkish foreign policy to Pakistan.

Which of course then raises the question: is hawkishness the right approach to Pakistan at this time? Pakistani’s certainly don’t think so.  CIA drones have the entire country in an uproar, while Islamabad isn’t taking well to DC’s tacit encouragement of rapidly increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan, and even billions in aid from America is frowned upon with unprecedented magnitude. And it’s not that the Obama administration isn’t aware of skepticism. Rather, toughening policies are a matter of practicality.

My guess is that the President is thinking: we’re already in Afghanistan, the war is deteriorating into Pakistan, what’s the best way to mitigate the situation, secure the region just enough to exit in the next couple years while leaving behind more cooperative players in the region so as to ensure our energy and geopolitical interests in South/Central Asia.

Phew. Now there’s a dilemma. And when looked at from his possible perspective, the Pakistan quagmire is revealed as tremendously complex. It’s such a multifaceted, sweeping, consequential and changing situation that involves so many players who work within the confines of political systems that only history should be the best judge of whether Obama’s stance on Pakistan is constructive or progressive. And that itself is relative. So let’s not be surprised at his hawkishness. It was naive of anyone to expect otherwise in the case of Pakistan.

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Who “Meddles” in Pakistan ?

December 28, 2009

“Before we begin to upbraid the world for “meddling in our internal affairs,” it is vital for us to put our own house in order.”

Says a writer for Dawn News (Pakistan’s premier Newspaper). It’s an increasingly heard argument as cooperation between the United States and Pakistan deepens. In fact, it seems many Pakistani’s either fall into the category of calling for less meddling if not suggesting a total end to the alliance.

But shouldn’t we clarify what exactly “meddling” is? Does the author mean to encompass everything from drones, the Kerry Lugar Bill, Obama’s Troop Surge, and Secretary Clinton’s Pakistani media rounds / policy recommendations are equivalent to meddling?

Because the inherent problem with referring to any of those issues as “meddling” is that they all require the compliance of Pakistans government. Without the concession of Pakistani politicians, American interventions, assistance or policies could not be implemented.

Of course one might suggest realist theories on international relations wherein leaders, and ultimately states are subject to an international system actually dictate policymaking. In the case of current U.S. Pakistani relations some say cooperation, at any cost, is inevitable given American hegemony. It’s an argument echoing former President Musharraff’s description of why Pakistan didn’t remain neutral post 9/11:

‘Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age’,” is the threat Musharraf said Pakistan received if it didn’t cooperate in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001’s invasion of Afghanistan.

So why wasn’t neutrality an option? One might look back in history and cite an unremitting reliance on international assistance as the main cause of why Pakistani politics might seem inevitably subject to foreign interference.

During the Cold War, while countries like India declared themselves Non Aligned, Pakistan bandwagoned with the United States forming an alliance in desire to expand militarily. I won’t argue whether that military expansion was necessary or not, because there are fair arguments on either side. But military cooperation during the Cold War, and then the Soviet Afghan War set the stage for inevitable cooperation in today’s War on Terror.

Never forming viable democratic social and political infrastructure from the ground up may have fated Pakistan to rely on foreign assistance, or what some consider “meddling” for the sake of basic security and development.

The author is then correct to some extent: before whining about foreign interferences, Pakistan might consider constructing it’s own security first.

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Transactional Ties: U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan

December 22, 2009
U.S. Pakistan Cooperation

U.S. Pakistan Cooperation

One difference between valuable information and balderdash is that the balderdash is sometimes louder than the valuable information. Case in point are two articles criticizing our dealings with Pakistan. The first article offers valuable insight on why it’s imperative we revamp foreign policy to the country since it’s likely becoming the “most dangerous place in the world”. The article outlines offers 5 well- founded reasons for this and is authored by Dr. Larry Goodson of the U.S. Army World college and published by the Strategic Studies Institute. The other article is written in the online magazine Slate.com by Chris Hitchens author of God is not Great: how Religion Poisons Everything. His piece entitled “Why does Pakistan hate the United States” like Dr. Goodman’s, criticizes our foreign policy but inaccurately attributes Anti-Americanism to a sliver of Pakistani elites who irrationally and diametrically oppose the United States. Let’s compare both assessments:

Hitchens says the:

“Pakistani elite hates the United States because “it is dependent on it and is still being bought by it. It is a dislike that is also a form of self-hatred of the sort that often develops between client states and their paymasters. (You can often sense the same resentment in the Egyptian establishment, and sometimes among Israeli right-wingers, as well.) By way of overcompensation for their abject status as recipients of the American dole, such groups often make a big deal of flourishing their few remaining rags of pride. The safest outlet for this in the Pakistani case is an official culture that makes pious noises about Islamic solidarity while keeping the other hand extended for the next subsidy.This is, and always was, a sick relationship, and it is now becoming dangerously diseased. It’s not possible to found a working, trusting, fighting alliance”

Conversely, Dr. Goodson explains:

“The United States is Pakistan’s far away, fair weather friend, locked in a decades long transactional relationship that satisfied neither partners desires. Pakistan is the dark side of the moon to the average American who cannot tell you one salient fact about the country, its people, their customs or history. So we use Pakistan as a bulwark against whatever goes boo in the night in that part of the world, paying their price of the moment and then walking away when the crisis is resolved”

Both authors describe what former Pakistan to United States Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi called a “transactional” relationship between the countries, but differ in their assessment of that situation. Hitchens concludes U.S. Foreign Policy is doomed for failure, ultimately insisting a complete severing of cooperation is imperative. It’s a wild recommendation that assumes various security, and economic interests can just be overlooked. His suggestions are simplistic and recommendations reckless. Severing ties with a long-standing, highly strategic ally like Pakistan is absurd. Balancing relations in South Asia is in our interest and requires maintaining an alliance with both Inda and Pakistan, not one for the other. In fact, Hitchen’s doesn’t even address the crux of the issue :U.S. Foreign Policy is problematic in that it’s viewed as merely “transactional”. Instead, he jumps to an implausible conclusion that cooperation is doomed for failure.

To contrast, Goodman suggests understanding Pakistan’s complex demographic, history and then engaging them for the long haul, especially with the Chinese sitting in Pakistan’s backyard eager to replace an American absence. His piece addresses such ground realities and offers a plausible prescription for change in what’s increasingly seen as “transactional ties”.

So although Hitchens is loud and published mainstream, he’s unfortunately inaccurate. Dr. Goodson’s work is more obscure, but it’s pragmatic with a well spelled out assessment and recommendation. his article concludes with detailed recommendations for long term engagement for development in Pakistan while Hitchens outlook puts a damper on an already dire Af-Pak situation.

Presenting problems isn’t enough. Elucidating complex situations, offering accurate insights and practical solutions separate valuable information, from journalistic balderdash. Kudos to Dr. Goodson for a well written assessment of U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan.

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The Power of Restraint : American Neutrality in Pakistan

December 21, 2009

American Neutrality is Boston Globe’s recommendation for U.S. policymakers as political uncertainty looms over Pakistan with last weeks repeal of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, effectively revoking Amnesty from corruption charges on thousands of government officials. Although political transition appears imminent in 2010 and comes as President Obama commits to an Af-Pak troop surge, effectively stepping up our engagement with Islamabad, the Boston Globe’s call for neutrality is wise given the current pool of potential leaders to choose from:

  • Nawaaz Sharif:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Quite simply:After two terms as prime minister, he’s remembered for rampant corruption, nuclear proliferation, and his penchant for cozying up to Islamist militants
  • Pervez Musharraf or Asif Zardari:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Well: “at the behest of Washington, General Pervez Musharraf, who was president at the time, arranged the amnesty that allowed Zardari and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, to return from exile so she could lead her Pakistan Peoples Party in elections. Bhutto was assassinated, and her husband became prime minister. Not without reason, many Pakistanis who are angry about Zardari’s corruption and ineffectiveness hold the United States responsible for imposing him on their country”
  • Pakistan Military:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Perpetuating rampant blame that one too many American backed military dictators have prevented democracy from ever taking root in Pakistan can’t help growing weariness of cooperation with our government.
      • Noteworthy example – Backing General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980’s with his leadership key to training the Mujahideen (now known as Al Qaeda) to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. Not coincidentally, Zia’s regime is remembered as the time Pakistan shifted from being a socially progressive, and moderate Islamic state, to imposing severe, fundamentalist religious policy reforms.
  • Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral: Under a sugar-coated banner of “democracy”, the Chief Justice is too blatantly partisan for us to support. His recent decision to repeal the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which set wheels in motion for regime change is widely understood as nothing short of a ploy for power and done in the politics of retribution.

This leaves neutrality as not only our most wise option, but also perhaps our most ethical route. Restraint in supporting any particular regime could mean history points one less finger in our direction should anything go less than perfect as we deepen involvement in Af-Pak. Simultaneously, neutrality assures Pakistani masses who are increasingly skeptical of cooperation with the United States that they have 100% autonomy in political processes.

Well publicized neutrality on a looming regime change could be a valuable opportunity to demonstrate a genuine interest in Pakistan as they transform politically and we require their support in the War on Terror.

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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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