October 2011, Week 4


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Wed, 26 Oct 2011 22:50:48 -0400
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Dispatches From The Edge

Pakistan: Reversing The Lens

By Conn Hallinan

October 26, 2011

    "Terrorism is not a statistic for us."
    Asif Ali Zardari, president of Pakistan

This is a Pakistani truism that few Americans
understand. Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in
October 2001, Pakistan has lost more than 35,000
people, the vast bulk of them civilians. While the U.S.
has had slightly over 1800 soldiers killed in the past
10 years, Pakistan has lost over 5,000 soldiers and
police. The number of suicide bombings in Pakistan has
gone from one before 2001, to more than 335 since.

For most Americans, Pakistan is a two-faced "ally"
playing a double game in Central Asia, all while
siphoning off tens of billions of dollars in aid. For
Pakistanis, the spillover from the Afghan war has cost
Islamabad approximately of $100 billion. And this is in
a country with a yearly GDP of around $175 billion, and
whose resources have been deeply strained by two years
of catastrophic flooding.

Washington complains that its $20.7 billion in aid over
the past nine years has bought it very little in the
way of loyalty from Islamabad, while Pakistan points
out that U.S. aid makes up less than 0.3 percent of
Pakistan's yearly GDP, what Zahid Hussain, author of a
book on Islamic militants, says comes out to "the price
of a six-inch personal-size pizza with no extra
toppings from Pizza Hut" for each Pakistani. In any
case, much of the civilian aid-the bulk, $14.2 billion,
goes to the military-has yet to be disbursed.

Both countries' opinions of one another are almost
mirror images: According to a U.S. poll, 74 percent of
Americans do not consider Pakistan to be an ally, while
the Pew Research Center found that six in 10 Pakistanis
consider the Americans an "enemy," and only 12 Percent
have a favorable view of the U.S.

How did this happen? In part the answer is mistakes and
misjudgments by both countries that date back to the
1979-89 Russian occupation. But at its heart is an
American strategy that not only runs counter to
Pakistan's interests, but will make ending the war in
Afghanistan a far more painful procedure than it need

If Pakistan is a victim in the long running war, it is
not entirely an innocent one. Pakistan, along with the
U.S., was an ally of the anti-Communist, right wing
Mujahideen during the 1980s Afghan war.

Pakistan's interest in Afghanistan has always been
multi-faceted. Islamabad is deeply worried that its
traditional enemy, India, will gain a foothold in
Afghanistan, thus essentially surrounding Pakistan.
This is not exactly paranoid, as Pakistan has
fought-and lost-three wars with India, and tensions
between the two still remain high.

Over the past six years, India has conducted 10 major
military exercises along the Pakistani border, the
latest-Viajyee Bhava (Be Victorious)-involved 20,000
troops and what New Delhi military spokesman S.D.
Goswaim called "sustained massed mechanized maneuvers."
Pakistan is the only potential enemy in the region that
"massed" armored formations could be aimed at. India
has the world's fourth largest army, Pakistan's the

By aligning itself with Washington during its Cold War
competition with the Soviets in Afghanistan, Islamabad
had the inside track to buy high performance American
military hardware to help it offset India's numerical
superiority. Indeed, it did manage to purchase some
F-16s fighter-bombers.

But in Central Asia, what is sauce for the goose is
sauce for the gander. When Pakistan allied itself with
the Taliban, India aligned itself with the Northern
Alliance composed of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras, who
opposed the Pashtun-dominated Taliban. Pashtuns are a
plurality in Afghanistan's complex mix of ethnicities,
and traditionally they dominated the Kabul government.

Islamabad has always been deeply concerned about the
Pashtuns, because the ethnic group makes up some 15
percent of Pakistan's population, and Pashtuns do not
recognize the colonial period border-the so-called
Durand Line-that forms the current boundary between the
two countries.  A long-time fear of Islamabad is that
Pakistani Pashtuns could ally themselves to Afghani
Pashtuns and form a breakaway country that would
fragment Pakistan.

From Islamabad's point of view, the American demand
that it corral the Taliban and the Haqqani Group that
operate from mountainous Northwest Frontier and
Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan might
stir up Pashtun nationalism, one of those things that
goes bump in the night for most Pakistanis. In any
case, the task would be beyond the capabilities of the
Pakistan military. In 2009, the Pakistani Army used two
full divisions just to reclaim the Swat Valley from
local militants, a battle that cost billions of
dollars, generated two million refugees, and inflicted
heavy casualties.

Current U.S. strategy has exacerbated Pakistan's
problem by putting the Northern Alliance in power,
excluding the Pashtuns from any meaningful
participation, and targeting the ethnic group's
heartland in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan.
According to Hussain, this has turned the war into a
"Pashtun war," and meant, "The Pashtuns in Pakistan
would become.strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the

The U.S has also remained silent while India moved
aggressively into Afghanistan. On Oct. 4, Kabul and New
Delhi inked a "strategic partnership" which, according
to the New York Times, "paves the way for India to
train and equip Afghan security forces." The idea of
India training Afghan troops is the equivalent of
waving a red flag to see if the Pakistani bull will

One pretext for the agreement was the recent
assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the
Afghan High Peace Council, whom the Karzai government
claims was killed by the Taliban under the direction of
the Pakistani secret service, the ISI. But evidence
linking the Taliban or Pakistan to the hit is not
persuasive, and the Taliban and Haqqani Group-never shy
about taking the credit for killing people-say they had
nothing to do with it.

Pakistan's ISI certainly maintains a relationship with
the Afghan-based Taliban and the Haqqani Group, but
former Joint Chiefs of Staff head, Admiral Mike
Mullen's charge that the latter are a "veritable arm"
of Pakistan's ISI is simply false. The Haqqanis come
from the powerful Zadran Gaum Pushtun tribe based in
Paktia and Khost provinces in Afghanistan, and North
Wazirstan in Pakistan's Tribal Area. It was one of the
most effective military groupings in the war with the
Russians, and is certainly the most dangerous group of
fighters in the current war.

When their interests coincide the Haqqanis find common
ground with Islamabad, but the idea that Pakistan can
get anyone in that region to jump to attention reflects
a fundamental misunderstanding of the deeply engrained
cultural and ethnic currents that have successfully
rebuffed outsiders for thousands of years. And in the
border region, the Pakistan Army is as much an outsider
as is NATO.

There a way out of this morass, but it will require a
very different strategy than the one the U.S. is
currently following, and one far more attuned to the
lens through which most Pakistanis view the war in

First, the U.S. and its allies must stand down their
military offensive-including the drone attacks-against
the Taliban and Haqqani Group, and negotiate a

Second, the U.S. must open immediate talks with the
various insurgency groups and declare a plan for the
withdrawal of all foreign troops. The Taliban-the
Haqqanis say they will follow the organization's
lead-has indicated they will no longer insist on a
withdrawal of troops before opening talks, but they do
want a timetable.

Third, recognition that any government in Kabul must
reflect the ethnic make-up of the country.

Fourth, Pakistan's concerns over Indian influence need
to be addressed, including the dangerous issue of
Kashmir. President Obama ran on a platform that called
for dealing with Kashmir, but subsequently dropped it
at the insistence of New Delhi. The issue needs to be
put back on the table. The next dust-up between
Pakistan and India could go nuclear, which would be a
catastrophe of immeasurable proportions.

Pakistan and the U.S. may have profoundly different
views of one another, but at least one issue they
agree: slightly over 90 percent of Pakistanis would
like U.S. troops to go home, and 62 percent of
Americans want an immediate cut in U.S. forces. Common
ground in this case seems to be based on a strong dose
of common sense.

Read Conn Hallinan at
dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and


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