But there are major caveats. Successful counterinsurgency in Pakistan needs US equipment and trainers, development dollars and a steady flow of popular support. Without a transparent US-Pakistan partnership the last, and most important, requirement will remain unattainable. Second, the Pakistani military now needs help in developing its provincial and district reconstruction teams so that they can effectively stabilize the areas they’ve recently cleared. On the domestic side, Islamabad has to step up its political reconciliation program to draw the people in by matching more development projects with civil liberties.
The most perplexing–and arguably the most important–problem is that of providing the Pakistanis a credible alternative to their current hedging policy in Afghanistan against Indian influence in Kabul that they perceive as hostile to Pakistan’s national security. American military and development aid can only go so far; Washington, London, Riyadh and Beijing must collectively promote an influence-sharing formula between the Afghans, Indians and Pakistanis.
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Through vicious nationwide terrorist attacks the Pakistani Taliban have practically done the job for the Pakistani government. This year, they’ve executed one attack after another irrespective of place, ethnicity, religion, sect or status, fueling anti-Taliban sentiment. For example, they beheaded four Pakistani Special Forces soldiers in downtown Swat valley, killed 500 shoppers in Peshawar, and hundreds of police and mosque-goers in Rawalpindi and Lahore and counting–the list goes on. The images of victims are beaming nonstop to millions of homes through more than 120 24/7 news channels.
The problem, however, is not that most Pakistanis now disapprove of the Pakistani Taliban’s means and targets, but that they’re still perplexed by the force behind such terrorism. Conspiracy theories are rampant about Indian, Israeli and American support to the Pakistani Taliban creating a dangerous paradox–most Pakistanis are equally anti-Taliban and anti-American. This must be changed.
Looking across the border at Afghanistan, what do you make of the recent US announcement to send 30,000 more troops. Was President Barack Obama right to set out a timeline for withdrawal?
I believe the timeline is flexible and I hope Obama’s limited strategy to disrupt and dismantle al-Qaeda will be augmented in the next three to five years to achieve its end goal–defeating al-Qaeda will require high doses of armed-nation building. The 30,000 troops will suppress Taliban activity in the south of the country, but such gains will only be sustainable through robust Pakistani cooperation. At present the two militaries–Pakistani and ISAF–are on opposite lanes of a highway communicating but not integrating efforts sufficiently. The Pakistani military is pushing the Pakistani Taliban across the border into Afghanistan’s Nuristan, Kunar, Paktia and Nangarhar provinces and ISAF will push the Afghan Taliban into Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Instead of building upon Pakistan’s momentum against the Taliban, ISAF may unintentionally do what the insurgents want: open multiple fronts, stretch troops thin and lose popular support.
Are you optimistic about the prospects for long-term stability in Afghanistan?
I’m optimistic because I believe given the right regional circumstances Afghans will step up as they always have: through complex organic political pacts between tribes. Over time these pacts will begin to resemble a modern day federation free of terrorists and at peace with its neighbors.
That said, Washington will have to realize that deterring another 9/11 doesn’t depend solely on destroying terrorist sanctuary and networks but eradicating the socio-economic, cultural, political and geopolitical conditions that harnesses terrorism. The cost benefit analysis hinges on the question: does America want to stop al-Qaeda-types for the next 5 or 50 years? If the latter, then a credible long-term commitment–balanced with American domestic needs–is required toward Afghanistan and similarly vulnerable states.