Posts Tagged ‘war on terror’


Aisam Qureshi’s Country

September 12, 2010

It’s my first week in Denver where I’ll be attending graduate school for the next two years and I’m soaking in how kind this city is. It is the most laid back, genuine U.S. City I’ve experienced. The sincerity with which people prod “No, where are you really from?” when I initially respond “California”, is priceless. I feel like a novelty here. At an Eid Celebration last night, even a local of Pakistani descent pointed out “Wow, the guys are going to flip over you. There are no ethnic girls in Denver”.

Ethnic”? I’ll take it; I realize I’m getting a pass for being a Californian female. Because in light of increasingly disheartening news from Pakistan, be it about floods, match fixing in cricket, and mostly terrorism plaguing the country since 9/11, Pakistani’s have captured the American state of mind in a less than appealing way. Once indecipherable on a world map for most Americans, Pakistan emerged as our stalwart ally in victory after 40+ years of Cold War. Yet as we turn to Islamabad again to fight a War on Terror, we possess a deep skepticism of Pakistani intentions.

Pakistan is rampantly associated with concepts of Terrorism, Extremism, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Corruption and disaster as D.C. and Islamabad are ever more understood as reluctant partners. Plus post thwarting the Faisal Shahzad situation , expert indications that homegrown terrorism poses the biggest threat to the United States, stabbing of a cab driver of Pakistani descent and Amnesty International’s recent report that hate crimes against Muslims is on an alarming rise, being Pakistani seems like an uphill battle in America. So on an individual level, Pakistani’s and Americans may be feeling the same skepticism that governments harbor for one another in bilateral relations. But this week the world was abuzz when Pakistani tennis player Asiam-ul-Haq Qureshi with irresistible sincerity exclaimed:

Since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries I feel people have the wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation. I just wanted to declare that we are very friendly, loving and caring people, and we want peace in this world as much as Americans and the rest of the world wants.

There are extremists in every religion, but just because of them you cannot judge the whole country as a terrorist nation. I just wanted to get this message across as a Pakistani

In plain terms Qureshi clarified that his country is a mostly moderate nation where people expect the same peace and security desired by all people. He reminded us of Pakistan’s humanity, directly countering the “transactional” ties that progressively complicate our understanding of Pakistan. Fareed Zakaria might agree. In a recent piece, he eloquently concurred:

Across the Muslim world, militant Islam’s appeal has plunged. In the half of the Muslim world that holds elections, parties that are in any way associated with Islamic jihad tend to fare miserably, even in Pakistan.

In his article “We’re Safer Than We Think” Zakaria points out that Muslims in Pakistan and beyond are if anything, less safe from terrorism than we are as they suffer the brunt of radical Islam’s consequences.

Over the last few years, imams and Muslim leaders across the world have been denouncing suicide bombings, terrorism, and Al Qaeda with regularity….The fatal problem with these kinds of attacks is that they kill ordinary civilians—not U.S. soldiers or diplomats—and turn the local population against Islamic radicals.

With more thorough detail, Zakaria’s is saying exactly what Qureshi did; Pakistan is not a country of terrorists. So next time I get asked where I am “really” from, I might just say “I’m from Asiam Qureshi.’s country”.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @ The Foreign Policy Association


The Cleanup

July 29, 2010
Zainab Jeewanjee with Ambassador Hussain Haqqani

Zainab Jeewanjee with Ambassador Hussain Haqqani

“30 years of this whole business that started with the jihad against the Soviet Union is what we are trying to deal with the aftermath of. Its 30 years of these groups, supporting them, funding them, the opening of radical madrassahs in various parts of the country. Now I think we’ve done a decent job in the last two years of beginning the cleanup”

Pakistan is serious about cleaning up terrorism, but the mess runs deep. And If you want to share in an insightful discussion on the Wikileaks reports, I recommend watching Charlie Rose from last night. Because Pakistan pulled out the big guns in responding to the reports that suggested their Interservices Intelligence Agency is “aiding” the enemies in Afghanistan. Ambassador Hussain Haqqani was Rose’s guest and spoke directly to American anxieties that Pakistan is not entirely interested in ousting terrorists from the region. Specifically responding to the question of ISI links to the Taliban, Haqqani said:

It goes back to the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The CIA and ISI both worked with the Mujahedeen who morphed into Taliban. But now the Pakistani military and ISI are conducting successful military operations in SWAT and South Waziristan.

He elaborated:

We’ve Taken out extremists and 74 ISI personnel have been killed in the past two years. With as many as 233 injured. That alone should be sufficient to convince people that was then and now is now and Pakistan is standing firmly on the side of those who want to eliminate the Taliban and extremists”

The statistics were particularly hard hitting. They brought a human element to our somewhat sterilized discussion about Pakistan here in the states. Being geographically removed, and with a vastly distinct culture, we are mostly informed of how the government in Islamabad deals with our administration in D.C., resorting to diplomatic sound bites and news for our information. But Haqqanis statistics provoke us to realize that just as we have struggled in Afghanistan, Pakistan too has sacrificed greatly as an ally in our war and continues to be deeply invested in combating terror.

Haqqani reminds us that the Wikileaks story is just that; a whistleblower. Without subtracting from the value of revealing what governments might otherwise keep classified, the Ambassador offered facts that quell sensationalized reception of the reports.

Rose asked weighty questions in trademark straightforwardness allowing us a chance to get answers to that the Wikileaks story leaves us lingering with. For instance, “what keeps Pakistan from doing more”; a question even those with ample knowledge and understanding of history and ground realities who can put the Wikileaks story into context sometimes wonder. Rose speculated it was a concern with India, and a fear of U.S. withdrawal. The Ambassador responded:

“There is a concern that India is not yet reconciled to our nationhood and statehood. Those are concerns reflected in public opinion and government has to deal with view that the US has not been a consistent friend of Pakistan and if we do too much at the behest of US they could leave us in the lurch and walk away again. The Biggest concern is the US can actually leave projects incomplete it has happened in the past US assistance and economic aid suspended arbitrarily and at short notice. Things have been left incomplete. They have had a very difficult relationship in the past 6 decades. We are trying tot address the totality of these issues”

It is no secret that India Pakistan relations are a primary driver of action in South Asian politics so the real nugget in the Ambassador’s above response is the talk of Pakistani Public opinion.

One of the first rules we learn in politics is that perceptions matter and what our pundits and political speechwriters have left out of the conversation is how Pakistani opinions factor into Islamabad’s policymaking.

The Obama administration made clear by way of allocating funding in the Kerry Lugar bill that America would no longer support military regimes at the expense of democracy in Pakistan, yet we still tend to leave consideration of Pakistani public opinion out of our own expectations. Apprehensions of U.S. foreign policy are increasingly common as Pakistan deteriorated economically, politically in overall security post 9/11.

Ambassador Haqqani did an eloquent job of explaining this tremendous sensitivity with which Islamabad must balance its interest in continuing bilateral cooperation with D.C. while alleviating a rampant fear amongst Pakistani citizens that the United States might not be trustworthy, or as the Ambassador put it “ungrateful” for all their country does.

And although Ambassador Haqqani concluded on a positive note , citing increased military cooperation in fighting terrorism and tripartite agreements on trade, he gave viewers a clear view of the “totality” and complexity of issues from the Pakistan side.

To tally Islamabad’s task list thus far: in addition to 30 years of deep cleaning, speedy recovery from loss of life, toil, treasure and time, one must add mending 60 years of mistrust with the worlds superpower to Pakistan’s list of things everyone wants done yesterday.

So let’s think twice, maybe even thrice before sponging the Wikileaks reports without an understanding of context and implicating Pakistan for not doing enough.  Prime Minister Cameron, that’ means you.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @ the Foreign Policy Association


With Hegemony Comes Great Responsibility : America & The Muslim World

November 30, 2009

According to Thomas Friedman in today’s NY Times, a “narrative” of Anti-Americanism thrives as terrorist organizations proactively convince the Islamic world that our intent is to oppress Muslims everywhere. He explains the narrative is a:

“cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11 and posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down”

There’s truth to this. Fear of the United States is on the rise in certain Muslim countries like Pakistan. A Brookings poll shows that America is more feared than India by Pakistani’s and as Bruce Riedel puts it:anytime you outpoll India as the bad guy in Pakistan, you are in deep trouble”But there are flaws in Friedmans idea. He says Anti-American narrative comes despite the fact that:

“U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan.”

Well, U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to far more than this selection of achievements. Post earthquake Pakistan takes us back only 4 years and fear of U.S. policies does not come despite assistance. It comes as a direct consequence of our orchestrating the Soviet Afghan war, outsourcing that battle to Pakistan, and leaving them with the mess of radicalized Islamic militants and one of the worlds largest refugee problems. In the same way, Friedman fails to mention American foreign policy has consistently sidestepped mediation on the Kashmir issue. And Former secretary general to the Organization of Islamic Conference, in an exclusive interview recently explained to me that both Kashmir and the Israeli-Palestinian issue are of top priority to member states.

So though it’s correct for us to refrain from direct involvement on issues beyond our interests, it’s important that our projected image is one that mitigates rather than inflames anti-Americanism. But Friedman says it’s foreign media that proactively riles Anti-Americanism amongst Muslims, not U.S. policy:

“Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world”

True, but there’s no homogenous “Muslim world”, not even in terms of Anti-Americanism. Pakistan is vastly distinct from the Middle East and within the Middle East itself there are enormous societal, cultural and even deep religious variations from Iran to Egypt to Indonesia.There’s no consolidated agreement on U.S. policies in Muslim countries because policies have been different in each country!

So in the same way there isn’t a homogenous notion of  Christians across the globe, there isn’t one on the United States from Muslims, and there shouldn’t be one from America to a supposed “Muslim world”.

Friedman makes an error with such a sweeping generalization. Also, he uses post 9/11 as a starting point of reference for Anti American narrative. Despite countless micro instances of good will and progress that American soldiers have brought to Iraq an Afghanistan, the macro fact is, we invaded two nations in the span of 9 years, one of which was done pre-emptively.

And with no weapons of mass destruction in sight, two very large Islamic populations are skeptical of U.S. foreign policy that may have been intended to bring a better life for Muslims, but since invasion, have seen decreased security.

In fact, since our invasion of Afghanistan, not only has the targeted state deteriorated, so has neighboring Pakistan. But Friedman maintains incomplete rationale for war:

“Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — the Taliban and the Baathists — and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics”

And it’s that tangible “punch” that people remember, not a promise for political change. Plus this kind of rhetoric leaves Muslims skeptical because there’s no mention of practical American interests that drive our policies.

With even a fair number of Americans skeptical of Bush’s reasoning to invade Iraq, Muslims who suffer the tangible consequences of our wars aren’t going to buy the idea that we invaded for solely benevolent purposes, and it’s naive for Friedman to assert that expectation.

By leaving voids in our political narrative to Muslim countries, we open a gap that dangerous Islamist groups fill with Anti-Americanism. Our intention to the Muslim world must be clear and supplanted by security in the countries we invade. With hegemony comes great responsibility. The problem of Anti-American narratives in some Muslim countries might begin with a gap in ours. We have yet to convince Muslims that our war policies, from the Soviet Afghan war, to Iraq, or Afghanistan aren’t Anti-Islamic. It’s an uphill, but necessary battle, after all, the globe is round.



On Jinnah, Democracy, Leadership & Current Affairs in Pakistan

November 1, 2009

Zainab Interviews the Honorary Sharifuddin Pirzada



  1. 2:39 – 3:17 – Former BJP Parliamentarian Jaswant Singh authored a book on Jinnah that is receiving a lot of controversy, having actually worked with Jinnah, can you share your thoughts on the book ?
  2. 3:20 – 4:42 –  In recent interviews, Singh has said Muslims in India are “robbed of their psychological security” and basically downtrodden. He says what Jinnah should have done is left some advice for Indian Muslims who stayed back and didn’t migrate to Pakistan after partition, what do you think Jinnah might have said?
  3. 4:44-6:01 – He also refers to Jinnah as a “nationalist” not at all Anti-Indian, please expand
  4. 6:01-7:34 – Referring to politics, when Jinnah split from the Congress party eventually formulating a two state idea later in his career, were there any politics referring to Nehru or Gandhi that had an impact on decision making? Jaswant Singh makes a mention to some, what does your experience tell us?
  5. 7:35: – 8:15 –  You’ve mentioned previously that Jinnah was a self made man, more details?
  6. 8:15 –  8:55 : Tell us about your experience with Jinnah, its a rare treat for us to have your insight
  7. 8: 55 – 9:22 – Further details, conclusion on Jinnah.

“Jinnah had the Charm of Churchill, Dignity of de Gaulle, Magnetism of Mandela, and Objectivity of Obama”


  1. 9:23 – 10:47 – Shifting to current leaders now, lets talk about Musharraf. You’ve got great experience, tell us about your work with the former General and Leader of Pakistan.
  2. 10:48 – 11:55 – How did your work with Musharraf expand during his tenure?
  3. 12:56 – 13:45 – You served on the national security council &  as senior advisor to Gen. Musharraf, tell us howthe context of national security in Pakistan changed after 9/11. Specifically what came on the agenda, what were the immediate concerns and interests and what drove the decision to behave the way Pakistan did at the time?
  4. 13:45 – 15:48 – Recent polls indicate a majority of pakistanis think Musharraf should be punished for treason as per laws under article 6 of the Constitution, how do you feel about that?
  5. 15:48 – 14:55 – Do you think it’s a valid case that Musharraf be tried for treason?
  6. 14:54 – 15:38 – Regarding an increasingly free media in Pakistan, please offer further insight
  7. 15:38 – 16:16 – There’s a contention that the currently free media be attributed to Benazir Bhutto’s regime wherein sateilite technology allowing expanded media was put in place, while others assign credit to Musharraf. Can you clarify this?
  8. 16:16 – 18:39 –   Do you think it was the state of emergency and sacking of the judiciary that caused Musharraf to lose elections?
  9. 18:42 – 19:35 – Final question on Musharraf, what do you think his legacy would be?

“The Media is very free in Pakistan, and Musharraf is to be given a great deal of credit for that”


  1. 19:48 – 20:55 – Recent military achievements in SWAT and international trade deals penned by Zardari paint a somewhat rosy picture for the future, what are your thoughts on him so far?


  1. 20:57 – 23:14 – There’s a US special envoy in the region, drone attacks continue, the west is pushing for rapid democratization and are heavily investing in counterterrorism through cooperation with Pakistan while Islamabad hopes to secure itself and expand economically in this engagement. But there’s a long history of cooperation but still a lot of skepticism on both sides, do you think current engagement with a new administration who promises more diplomacy will yield different results than we’ve seen in this alliance?
  2. 23:14 – 24:52 – What advice might you offer President Obama or the State department in terms of engaging Pakistan?

“Pakistan was member of SEATO and CENTO but certain conditions were not fulfilled and there is a strong section of Pakistan who has reservations with a cordial relationship with the United States”


  1. 24:55 – 25:11 – Your position at the Organization of Islamic Conference?
  2. 25:13 – 25:57 – On the Israeli Palestinian issue, how do you assess the current two state solution that Obama has put forward? How viable is it?
  3. 25:57 – 26:25 – What is Pakistan’s diplomatic/official stance on the Israeli Palestinian Issue?e Islamic Conference
  4. 12:25 – 26:35 – What are the main priorities of the Organization of the Islamic Conference?

“The Palestinian Issue followed by Kashmir are of top priority to the Organization of Islamic Conference”


  1. 26:35 – 27:42 – Manmohan Singh & Prime Minister Gilani at the NAAM summit this summer agreed to bracket issues of Terrorism and move forward on peace talks and trade issues. Such rhetoric is not new, and might not reach fruition, so do you see anything being resolved in Kashmir anytime soon, without the help of the US?
  2. 27:44 – 28:44 – Elections in Afghanistan are being contested between Abdullah Abdullah and incumbent Karzai. Pakistan doesn’t seem keen on either because both signal a warming of relations between Kabul & New Delhi which is believed to come at a direct expense to Islamabad. How do you feel about that?

America can facilitate peace talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, but on the whole, people of Kashmir are still suffering and struggling.  The approach of prime ministers has been positive, but an extremist element in India exists which doesn’t want this. To stop suffering in Kashmir, a solution must be reached.


  1. 28:44 – How do you see geopolitics playing out in the next decade for Pakistan, given amplified US presence, including super embassies being constructed in Pakistan/Afghanistan, perpetually stalled relations with India, a very likely nuclear neighbor in Iran, and increasingly influential China and polarized Russia, what does Pakistan look like ten years from now?

“Pakistan in the next ten years must concentrate on democratic set up, economic development & maintaining cordial relatoins with Islamic countries. There are two great friends of Pakistan: Saudi Arabia, the other is China. That’s a good starting point”


Tolerating the Taliban

October 9, 2009

After months of consideration on how to deal with our escalating engagement in the AF-Pak region, Obama’s administration has decided:

“the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement”

An article in the Washington Post today cites the administrations re-vamped goal of mitigating a Taliban capacity to interfere in the establishment of a stable Afghan government while assuring us that Al Qaeda is the primary threat, and our strategy will focus squarely on eradicating them.

It seemed news on Pakistan in the past year revolved around Islamabad not doing enough to eradicate the Taliban; equating the group to Al Qaeda in terms of importance in the War on Terror. But today marks a clear departure from such criticism. Distinguishing Al Qaeda from the Taliban is a huge step forward for the United States. Because connecting our goals to eliminate both immediate security threats and major elements of Afghan society that are unpalatable to our values, has proven counter productive. Having lived in Pakistan to experience the ill effects of hyper conservative religious factions, I know we mean well in trying to uproot extremism, but it just hasn’t worked in tandem with our military offensive. And I’ve mentioned the importance of a distinction between these groups previously:

The Taliban is historically distinct from militant groups like Al Qaeda. Unlike the Taliban, Al Qaeda is directly responsible for 9/11. Simply put, the Taliban was an ideologically fundamental group, while Al Qaeda is a militant, terrorist group. Both are dangerous as such, but the Taliban has national interests in controlling Afghanistan under strict ideological rules while Al Qaeda is a militant organization with international ambitions.

It’s not a novel contention, but only just being reflected in policy, and I think it has potential for success. As an ideological force, the Taliban foster an ultra conservative brand of Islam, but are not necessarily a threat to our security interests. Plus, if General McChrystal’s goal is defined as establishing a sustainable, democratic Afghan government, in order for it to be considered legitimate, it must be rooted in Afghan values and according to Afghan preferences. Such preferences might seem backward, or entirely unpleasant to us, but so long as our interests are being protected, impressing our brand of democratic values should take a back seat for the time being. I think the Obama administration has taken a wise step in revamping the Af-Pak strategy and hope it yields lasting success.



Defeating Terrorism with Development

September 25, 2009

kerry lugar

Senate unanimously passed a bill authorizingappropriations to promote an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan”. The legislation is likely to receive similar support in the House later this week before being sent to President Obama for final approval. Initial versions of legislation were presented as the Biden-Lugar bill last year led by democrats Joe Biden and Senator Kerry, and supported by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Currently, the bill is coauthored by Republican Senator Dick Lugar making it widely bipartisan which reflects our growing desire to engage Pakistan ensuring stability and ultimately our interests in the region.

The Legislation triples foreign aid to our major non NATO ally” allowing up to $1,500,000,000 for their cooperation in “counterterrorism/counterinsurgency describing Pakistan’s ongoing struggles and successes against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It cites assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Islamabad and Mumbai hotel attacks last fall among other suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some of which involved deaths of US citizens to underscore an immediate need to assist Pakistan at this critical time. As we face mounting deaths in the War on Terror, send additional troops to Afghanistan and President Obama works closely with generals to revamp our strategy there, the bill is meant to forge a new relationship with Pakistan.

It extends diplomatic rhetoric directly to the people of Pakistan by describing the daily plight of citizens who are “especially hard hit by rising food and commodity prices and severe energy shortages” with 2/3rds of the population living on less than 2.25 and 1/5 of the population living below the poverty line”.  It further mentions “Compatible goals of combating terrorism, radicalism and promoting economic development through building of infrastructure and promoting social and material well being for Pakistani citizens through development of public services”. And most interestingly, the bill cites Pew opinion polls finding:

Pakistan has historically viewed the relationship between the United States and Pakistan as a transactional one characterized by a heavy emphasis on security issues with little attention to other matters of great interest to citizens of Pakistan”.

Then referring to the current civilian government as an “opportunity to place relations on a new and more stable foundation”. The bill’s ‘statement of policy‘  identifies the following objectives:

  1. Support the consolidation of democracy, good governance & rule of law in Pakistan
  2. Support economic growth & development to promote stability/security
  3. To build a sustained, long term, multifaceted relationship with Pakistan
  4. Expanding bilateral engagement with Pakistan
  5. To work with Pakistan and bordering countries to facilitate peace (a possible reference to mediating the Kashmir issue. President Obama mentioned doing so during his campaign run for President)
  6. Expand people to people engagement between US and Pakistan through increased educational, technical and cultural exchanges (possibly in the form of more student/professional visas. Envoy Holbrooke mentioned this in visits to Karachi in July)
  7. Work with government of Pakistan to:
    • prevent Pakistani territory from being used as a base/conduit for terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or elsewhere
    • Coordinate military, paramilitary & police action against terrorist terrorism
    • Help bring peace, stability and development
      • (this might entail counterinsurgency/counterterrorism assistance and cooperation through intelligence sharing, arms development/trade and training of Pakistani forces)

Pakistan is aptly described as a major non-NATO, long-standing ally. But cooperation has been dominated by security issues generally in the form of military dictators supported by the States in exchange for Pakistan’s military assistance throughout the Cold War and current War on Terror resulting in the Pakistani mindset of solely “transactional” relations. This bill is a fair attempt to shift that context to a more positive tone with the aforementioned objectives and diplomatic rhetoric.

However, certain specificities such as timetables and solid oversight must be transparently accessible to the Pakistani and American public to ensure more positive relations are achieved. Already experts are weighing in with concerns. Despite the commitment to development in addressing the plight of daily Pakistani’s, Foreign Policy Magazine mentions that the bill doesn’t say exactly how much of these funds are to be allocated toward military assistances. And although senator Kerry insists “Clear, tough minded accountability standards and metrics” are contained in the bill, Dawn News cites Rand Corporation expert Dr. Christine Fair raising the issue of “greater transparency” and wanting to ensure international accounting standards are applied in allocating these funds. Such concerns are equally felt in Pakistan, where past commitments of economic development have not always found their way to alleviating the plight of daily citizens for whom funding is supposedly intended.

For this reason a concerted conviction to improving the daily lives of Pakistani’s is required by Pakistani politicians who have ultimate control over how these funds are applied. I hope that President Asif Zardari along with Parliament works closely to ensure monies are responsibly allocated to a “sustainable” development the bill calls for.



Considering the ISI

September 23, 2009

In a recent report, General McChrystal explains Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are aided by international intelligence agencies, referring specifically to Iran’s Quds Force and Pakistan’s ISI. This is perhaps the first time a top ranking official cites a current, and direct link between the state run ISI and Taliban. McChrystal says the insurgency in Afghanistan is supported by way of aid given through “some elements of Pakistan’s ISI”. That is alarming, and definitely runs against our interests. However, most reporting on this news leaves out details that elucidate the situation and might help maintain productive, progressive work with Pakistan during this critical period.

Most importantly, the Taliban is historically distinct from militant groups like Al Qaeda. Unlike the Taliban, Al Qaeda is directly responsible for 9/11 and the reason President Obama refers to our engagement in Afghanistan as a “war of necessity”. Before, our invasion the Taliban were not as violently inclined against international targets. Simply put, the Taliban was an ideologically fundamental group, while Al Qaeda is a militant, terrorist group. Both are dangerous as such, but

distinctions between Taliban and Al Qaeda are increasingly blurred and both spilled over into Pakistan in a security vacuum created since our invasion. A security vacuum allowed both groups to find safe haven in an economically and politically volatile Pakistan, while we simultaneously face mounting casualties in Afghanistan and send more troops there now.

Effectively addressing the security vacuum and ISI links involves a look at history. In a nutshell, during the 1980’s in cooperation with the United States, Pakistan’s ISI was funded to train ideological extremists and militant groups who could defeat the Soviets in a long, costly engagement, ultimately ushering a fall of the USSR. Once this was achieved, redevelopment efforts for Afghanistan were missing, and neighboring Pakistan became home to one of the worlds largest refugee problems. What happened to the battle hardened extremist and militant groups who fought the Soviets? Some found there way into Pakistan, along with their Klashinkovs, others stayed in war torn, perpetually unstable Afghanistan. Eventually one extremist, well armed group, the  Taliban garnered control:

“The Taliban emerged as a force in Afghan politics in 1994. They gained an initial territorial foothold in the southern city of Kandahar, and expanded their influence through a mixture of force, negotiation, and payoffs. In 1996, they captured the capital, and took control of the national government”

Taliban thus had national interests in controlling Afghanistan under strict ideological rules while Al Qaeda is a militant organization with international ambitions. Both however developed in opposition to Soviet invasion:

In 80s, the Services Office, a clearinghouse for the international Muslim brigade opposed to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—run by bin Laden—recruited, trained, and financed thousands of foreign “holy warriors”, from more than fifty countries. Bin Laden wanted these fighters to continue “holy war” beyond Afghanistan and formed al-Qaeda around 1988″

Pakistan’s ISI has no present, or past link with this group, explains Steve Coll of the New Yorker in a PBS interview:  there was not a strategic partnership between ISI and Al Qaeda, certainly not prior to 9/11. There were also sources of tension between ISI and Al Qaeda”. The Taliban on the other hand, with de-facto control of Afghanistan and limited by only national aims, bound Islamabad to dealing with their neighbors as best they could. Plus given training Pakistan offered in the 1980’s, some ISI inevitably have associations with the Taliban until today. But that does not necessarily mean those associations are defined by cooperation.

The ISI is a vast institution with over “25,000 active men on staff, not including informants and assets”.

I speculate the latter group of “informants and assets” is the “aid” Genearl McChystal refers to in speaking of links to the Taliban. Plus Pakistan’s amplified offensive in the War on Terror, especially this year is yielding far too many blows to the Taliban in capturing top level leaders. And in Pakistan without full ISI support such successes are not achievable.

So, General McChrystal’s analysis is useful in drawing out history which can help craft more pin-pointed strategies in dealing with the Af-Pak quagmire . To avoid mistakes from the Soviet Afghan war to our current War on Terror wherein extremism has not subsided, but increasingly inflamed this region, considering historical realities is key. Because pin-pointed, more effective policies require a comprehensive understanding of recent history and beckon amplified social and developmental efforts in addition to our troop increase.


%d bloggers like this: