USA - A Friend or Foe of Pakistan?
The US should reassure a thoroughly rattled and hostile population, by cutting back on drone strikes.
Recent weeks have worsened still further the grotesquely complex and tragic situation in which Pakistan finds itself. On the one hand much of the US media and political elite damn Pakistan for sheltering Osama Bin Laden and the Afghan Taliban leadership — with President Barack Obama threatening further capture or kill raids. On the other, as the attacks following Bin Laden's death show, Pakistan itself still suffers from one of the world's worst terrorism problems.
More than 30,000 innocent people have been killed in terrorist attacks and fighting, including more than 3,600 soldiers and police since September 11. Even Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), blamed for its connections to militants, has suffered, losing more than 80 of its officers. The latest attack, on a naval base in Karachi on May 23, was so daring it only increased fears that Pakistan itself may be collapsing.
This is still a long way from being the case, unless the US takes a hand in Pakistan's destruction. Recent events have brought criticism of Pakistani military incompetence and infiltration by militants. Yet in other ways the military is fighting back successfully. In March, I visited the northern district of Swat, which until spring 2009 was largely controlled by the Pakistani Taliban, until it was recaptured by a military counter-offensive. The army's reconstruction efforts are striking, all the more so given the damage done by last year's floods. True, its campaign was also ruthless, including numerous extra-judicial executions. But I did visit an impressive programme to rehabilitate lower-level Taliban fighters, while the military has had success driving back insurgents in the tribal areas. To understand this apparently contradictory picture of Pakistani military behaviour, it is necessary to understand that the great majority of soldiers will fight hard to defend Pakistan against attack from within or without, but that they absolutely detest being seen as doing so for the sake of the US. Pakistani soldiers see themselves as a superior caste, but they are drawn from the population, and share its hostility to the US and the US alliance with India.
In the years before 2009, these feelings caused serious problems of morale in the fight against militancy. Soldiers home on leave would be asked by their neighbours why they were taking American money to kill Muslims — an appalling blow to their self-respect. A number of officers resigned rather than fight fellow Pakistanis, and there were instances of units refusing to fight or surrendering en masse.
Once the Pakistani Taliban emerged as a real threat to the Pakistani state, however, the mood changed considerably. Atrocities by the Taliban against civilians and troops helped, as has military propaganda that India is helping the Pakistani Taliban in order to destroy Pakistan. There is not a shred of evidence for this but it has done wonders for morale. [Indian involvement is evident]
This willingness to fight applies only to the Pakistani Taliban, not the Afghan Taliban. The shelter given to the latter reflects not only the strategic calculations of the high command about Afghanistan, but also the conviction of Pakistanis that the Afghan Taliban are engaged in a legitimate struggle against an alien occupation. This does not mean that most Pakistani soldiers wish to see the Taliban ruling Pakistan — if only because they know that this would mean the disintegration of the country and the triumph of India.
By the same token, however, Pakistani soldiers will feel bound to resist further American incursions. A single raid to capture the man responsible for September 11 was justified, despite the risk [?]. But a retired Pakistani general sketched for me what would happen if this became a pattern. He said that drone attacks on Pakistani territory are not critical because ordinary soldiers cannot do much about them, but: "US ground forces inside Pakistan are a different matter, because the soldiers can do something about them. They can fight ... And if the generals told them not to fight, many would mutiny."
Washington must not get carried away by killing Bin Laden. The only figure worth the risks of another raid would be Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri. Killing the Afghan Taliban leadership is madness, given that Washington must talk to them about a settlement.
Instead, the US should reassure a thoroughly rattled and hostile Pakistani population, in part by cutting back on drone strikes. The danger is that a future US raid leads to a US-Pakistani fight, or a Pakistani mutiny. Then Washington, grotesquely, might contribute to the destruction of the Pakistani state it is trying to save, and a historic triumph for extremism. Pakistan's tragedy would then become one for the entire world.
— Financial Times, Anatol Lieven's book Pakistan: A Hard Country was published this month in the US and UK. http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/pakistan-takes-battle-to-militants-1.813298
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