Features | Security | South Asia

US Must Grow Up On Pakistan

Pakistan has done more than was in its own interests in the war on terror. Its support for the US has left it with a civil war.

Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Islamabad last week demonstrated how far the US government has slipped into senility and how desperately it’s seeking an easy—some might say miraculous—way out of the Afghan war by getting others to do its fighting.

Clinton carried a Santa’s bag of $500 million in US taxpayer funds for Pakistan’s leaders and pledged that Washington will be a long-term ally in Pakistan’s economic and democratic development. Her hosts were gracious and naturally accepted the funds, but they know the money is a bribe and the only thing Clinton, the Obama administration and US generals want is for Pakistan’s army to keep shedding blood against America’s Islamist foes.

And Pakistan’s leaders know two other things: (a) their ability to do more of Washington’s dirty work is marginal because the destabilizing civil war caused by being a US ally is entering the Punjab region; and (b) the Islamists can only be beaten if the US military does its own killing and bleeding.

The Pakistanis also must have had quite a laugh when Clinton said she is aware that ‘some Pakistani official’ knows the location of Osama bin Laden and hoped that data would be given to Washington. Even if true, the Pakistanis must have wondered why they would give bin Laden to the Americans now, after Obama and NATO have said they’re leaving, and earn hatred from tens of millions of Muslims when they’re already faced with cleaning up the mess Western military failure will leave in Afghanistan.

How did Pakistan get into this state? Well the disaster is based on a mistaken judgment: former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf believed the US government was serious about destroying the Islamists who attacked it on 9/11. As a career military officer, Musharraf surely thought US political leaders and generals would react as he and his peers would have reacted; that is, by destroying the attackers. Based on this expectation and under intense US pressure, Musharraf provided more aid for the US war effort than any other US ally, NATO or otherwise.

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After 9/11, Musharraf allowed US military and intelligence services to expand their presence in Pakistan, and provided much needed military airspace. His security services worked with US counterparts to seize multiple, senior al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s cities. He helped destroy the Taliban regime, even though Islamabad couldn’t have had an Afghan regime more compatible with Pakistan’s national interests. He also allowed part of Karachi harbor to become a naval and resupply base for US and NATO forces.

Most damagingly, though, Musharraf sent Pakistan’s conventional army into the Pashtun tribal lands along the border with Afghanistan for the first time since Pakistan was formed. Until Musharraf’s action, the tribes had tolerated the Islamabad regime only because the latter didn’t interfere in their affairs and provided various economic subsidies.

To date, the Army’s offensives in the tribal area have killed more than 3000 soldiers; killed and wounded several times that number of tribal fighters; displaced more than 500,000 people; and destroyed myriad villages and buildings. Even more disastrously, the Army’s operations have sparked a civil war between Islamabad and the tribesman. For several years this struggle was confined to the tribal lands, but since 2008 it has spread into Pakistan proper, bringing repeated bombings, ambushes, assassinations and commando-style raids to military and intelligence facilities, as well as to major cities like Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.

The results of Musharraf’s understandable, if potentially fatal decision are wrecking Pakistan. And yet Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani—whose term was just extended three years—and President Zidari heard Clinton ask (order?) them to do more US dirty work, apparently not realizing (or caring?) that Pakistan’s aid caused the civil war now threatening the country’s viability. Kayani and Zidari, as noted, accepted US aid and vowed to help. But both men—especially Kayani—know Pakistan’s string is played out.

With President Obama’s pledge to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan (the target date of 2011 is less important than his publicly pledged intent) Pakistan’s leaders know the United States isn’t serious about Afghanistan, that the Taliban-led insurgency will ultimately triumph and that they must look out for Pakistan’s interests, which can’t include the continued existence of the Karzai regime in Kabul.

Related Article: Why West Lost Afghan War

As Afghan president, Hamid Karzai’s actions have created what can only be seen by Pakistan’s general officers as an existential threat to their country. With NATO’s acquiescence, Karzai has built strong ties to Iran and Russia—long Pakistan’s foes—and, more troubling, has been encouraged by Washington to permit an enormous expansion of India’s physical presence in Afghanistan.

The latter negates what Pakistan’s generals have always prized as their ‘strategic depth’ in case of war with India by putting an Indian presence on Pakistan’s western border that in essence puts the country in a vise that can be squeezed at New Delhi’s pleasure. (Nothing better shows the intellectual bankruptcy of US diplomacy than demanding Pakistan help against the Taliban while pushing the expansion of India’s presence in Afghanistan. Islamabad believes that Afghanistan-based Indians already are funding Baloch insurgents.)

While Kayani and his military and intelligence subordinates will keep providing data to facilitate U.S. drone strikes—which hurt but can’t beat the Taliban and al-Qaeda—they will act aggressively to begin re-stabilizing Pakistan. Among their actions will be:

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—Major efforts to slow the growth of Islamist radicalism and violence in the country’s economic, agricultural and industrial heartland in the Sindh and Punjab. This will require a modus Vivendi with the tribes on the western border that encourages them—with subventions of (probably US) money, weaponry and other support—to stop attacking in Pakistan proper and begin aiding their Afghan brethren against Karzai.

—Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) will try to mend fences with Pashtuns on both sides of the border, and influence them to attack Karzai’s regime, NATO forces, and Indian targets, all in an effort to hurry NATO’s defeat and help the Islamists to retake power in Kabul. This is the only long-term result that meets Pakistan’s national security needs.

—The Army will reduce the lethality of its tribal-area operations as its contribution to ending the civil war Musharraf ignited. No doubt Kayani will keep the Army active in the tribal lands, but only with Potemkin operations meant to keep US aid flowing while not further alienating the Pashtuns. This tack also will start to ease the deep discontent in the Army over being tasked to kill Muslims for US infidels.

—Zidari and Kayani will seek promises from Riyadh to financially assist Pakistan if Washington cuts aid to Pakistan. Since Islamabad’s goal of replacing Karzai with a Taliban-like regime is compatible with Saudi and Gulf state foreign-policy goals—indeed, much of the Taliban’s funding is from the Gulf—such a pledge from Riyadh is likely. As a sweetener, the Pakistanis will help insert young Gulf jihadis returning from Iraq or graduating from so-called reeducation camps into Afghanistan to fight US-NATO forces.  

For Kayani and Zidari, the time clearly has come to stop being a US proxy and to focus on halting Pakistan’s drift toward becoming a failed state. Because Washington has no clue that the services rendered it by Musharraf and Zidari caused the civil war now raging in Pakistan, Kayani and Zidari can expect nothing from Obama’s administration except demands for actions that would ultimately destroy Pakistan’s stability, with unforeseeable consequences for its nuclear arsenal. To do less than this—at least for Kayani and the Army—would breech not only their oath of allegiance, but of their self-interest.

Such Pakistani action might also have a bracing, reality-inducing impact on the US government. It might start to see what was obvious on 9/11—that is, annihilating al-Qaeda is Washington’s responsibility. To have help from NATO, Pakistan and others is nice, but not a substitute for depending on US military forces to extirpate as much of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their supporters as possible and then withdraw immediately. Since 9/11, this has been Washington’s only achievable Afghan task. By not accepting this reality, Bush and now Obama have fought a war that today leaves the United States farther from victory than in 2001 and which will require far more US money and blood to win than has been so far expended.

In one of the quirky opportunities history sometimes yields, there’s a chance the still- young Pakistani state, by looking to its own security, might breathe a fresh breath of adulthood into the now toothless, irresolute and increasingly adolescent 234-year-old US government and push it to the commonsense conclusion that—in the words of the Prophet Muhammad and Theodore Roosevelt—God helps only those who fear Him and take their own part.

Sadly, however, there’s little solid reason for anyone to bet on this godsend occurring. 

 Michael Scheuer is the author of ‘Imperial Hubris’ and former chief of the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station. He writes regularly for Non-intervention.com