Slash and Burn

Posted on April 5, 2009. Filed under: Public Square | Tags: , , , , , |

If the Twin Towers had been attacked today, the Afghanistan invasion would not have stopped at Pakistan’s border. It would have gone deep into the mountains of Pakistan’s North Western Frontier Province, also known today as the fount of global terrorism.

The Afghanistan war – Operation Enduring Freedom – had America cutting down the branches and trunk of the Al Qaeda-Taliban syndicate, and allowed them to see the immediate fruits fall to the ground, except the most prized Bin Laden fruit that disappeared into the mountains. But  America left the roots of the syndicate under the earth, and then got distracted by another shiny, scary tree – this one had leaves that looked a lot like WMD, but turned out to be an optical illusion (or just shoddy botanical intelligence.)

So now, eight years later, with a new set of lumberjacks in office, America is getting ready to do its deforestation right. Obama’s new Af-Pak plan is supposed to deal with those left-over roots and address some of the horrifying after-effects of leaving them there.

A large portion of the new plan is simply repackaged Bush administration blueprints, with the luxury of a few more soldiers and funds thanks to the imminent troop draw-down  from Iraq. But there are some important differences.

In a surprising turn of events, Obama’s adminstration has discovered a faction of the Taliban that are ‘moderate’ and ‘good,’ a group that has surprisingly managed to stay under the radar for the past 8 years. And the new plan involves talking to them.

In reality, this is simply deft rhetoric that might go a long way to improving the American image in the region, or, it could simply backfire on America. Even if they do find some actual members of the Taliban to negotiate with, the Americans will have to be doubly careful that these moderates don’t just turn on them when it’s convenient, like some of the members in the Iraqi ‘Awakening’ are doing now.

The new plan also involves an increased focus on the actual governance of Afghanistan, and involves attempting to deal with the ubiquitous corruption that is doing its part to hold back development. This will be a tremendously important portion of the plan, at least for South Asians, because it involves the long term prosperity of the Afghan people themselves, not just the short term security of Americans.

But here’s where Obama will have to listen to his own special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.

“The exit strategy, includes governance, corruption, but above all, and this is the single most difficult aspect of what we are talking about today,” Holbrooke said, “it requires dealing with Western Pakistan.”

But so far, “dealing with Western Pakistan” involves only taking out terrorists with unmanned drones. That’s a good start, undoubtedly, but if the last decade has taught America nothing else, it’s that force alone doesn’t work. Why do they assume that Afghanistan’s government needs direct propping up, but Pakistan just needs to be given billions of dollars to take care of itself?

Recent, often horrific, events have shown that the new, democratic government led by President Zardari cannot ensure the safety of his citizens, and that Zardari is as busy attempting to solidify his position as he is improving the state of affairs in the country.

So the $1.5 billion promised to Pakistan if they begin dismantling Al Qaeda and Taliban outfits in the country will go nowhere because, no matter how much oversight is called for, some of that money is undoubtedly ending up in the hands of politicians who will use it to beef up the military against India – a very popular move for the public, and an easy way to shirk American demands – or simply line their own mattresses.

Why not attempt to improve governance and reduce corruption in western Pakistan as well? The counter argument is often that they’re not yet a failed or American occupied state, and doing so would violate the sovereignty of the country.

But, as many experts and the American administration have themselves pointed out, the bigwigs in Islamabad have little real control over large portions of western Pakistan. What else can explain the deals they have had to cut with tribals, most prominently in Swat, to enforce governance in the region?

Even if they don’t actually invade western Pakistan, America will have to change the way the Bush administration’s cavalier attitude towards Pakistan, and ensure a tremendous amount of sustained scrutiny is placed on Zardari and his government’s activity especially in the North West Frontier Province.

It’s time for the plan to really become equal parts ‘Af’ and ‘Pak.’ Only then will the Americans effectively eradicate that abomination of a living creature that is the South Asian Jihadist Tree.

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3 Responses to “Slash and Burn”

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Does the Pakistani government even want our help? I would think that the next step from here would be speak with the leaders of the country and find out what they envision for the future of Pakistan and how our two countries can work together to eradicate the jihadists and give Pakistan a chance for a stable and propserous future. I hope that Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t become another example of American Exceptionalism and that for once we actually listen to the countries and try to understand the problem from hteir side.

I don’t understand why any money, let alone $1.5 billion, of tax-payer dollars would be directed to another nation. Additionally, what assurance do we have that Pakistani officials won’t, say ‘cook-the-books’ or make up false allocations much the same way Enron and Worldcom did. Except in Enron’s case, there existed obviating repercussions, such as bankruptcy. No such indicators exist in this case.
In essence, I’d have to agree with you. The $1.5 billion is a bad allocation on the part of our government.

Normally I would be against deforestation, but in this case I completely agree. However, I think that the key to any “contingency” plan in the Middle East will rely on the effectiveness of the exit strategy and the ability to arrive at the right time to implement the exit strategy. Bush’s plan lacked direction and never came close to any type of resolution. Additionally, no one ever addressed the fact that if the US is ever to successfully able to reorganize one of these Middle Eastern nations, terrorists will relocate their organization to another. Something needs to change in the Middle East where the majority realizes that they too can take a stand against terrorism. I mean the US isn’t the only one affected. Suicide bombings and attacks occur in the Middle East all the time and affect thousands of innocent citizens, so we all have the same vested interest in eradicating these terrorist organizations. But, if Americans wear out our welcome as we have already done in Iraq then the citizens of countries like Pakistan will reject our assistance. Which is why a good plan with a viable exit strategy that engages the citizenry to act.


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