The problem of Pakistan
FOR NEARLY A decade, Washington has paid billions of dollars to buy the illusion of stability in Pakistan and then sent thousands of soldiers to face the reality of its instability in neighboring Afghanistan. Rather than break from this failed policy, President Obama’s revised strategy for Afghanistan affirmed it. The US will intensify its ongoing effort to cauterize the cancer of terrorism in Afghanistan without confronting the source of the disease: Pakistan.
Washington’s critics in Pakistan trace the origins of today’s crisis to America’s abrupt abandonment of Afghanistan in the late ’80s. Writing in the New York Times earlier this month, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari claimed that this is what caused the “current horror.’’ The only trouble with this version of history is that the 1990s are curiously absent from it: it is as if Afghanistan went straight from 1989 to 2001. In reality, however, it was during the 1990s that the Taliban - actively backed by Pakistan - flourished and seized control of Kabul. Benazir Bhutto had sought to build Pakistan’s “strategic depth’’ against India from the detritus of the anti-Soviet jihad; her assassination a decade-and-a-half later revealed the extent to which the Islamism she encouraged in Afghanistan penetrated her own country.
But Pakistan’s ongoing battle with breakaway forces at home has not deterred the nation’s ruling elite from continuing with their policy of patronizing the Taliban. According to the CIA, the 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul - the deadliest since the Taliban’s fall in 2001 - was planned and executed in concert with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Afghanistan’s foreign minister, Rangin Spanta, confirmed that the “same sources’’ were behind the repeated attack on the Indian embassy in July this year.
Siraj Haqqani, the Taliban leader believed to be the operational mastermind behind both these attacks, is also considered the single biggest threat to American troops in Afghanistan. Yet Washington’s requests to dismantle his sanctuary in North Waziristan in Pakistan have yielded nothing more than silence from Islamabad. Pakistan’s refusal to dismantle the Taliban’s sanctuaries within its territory - coupled with Washington’s reluctance to do anything about it - means that militants in Helmand province have merely to cross the porous border into Baluchistan to evade capture; there, they will hibernate and regroup, poised to return as America begins to withdraw. The United States thus finds itself in the absurd position of fighting the Taliban with a partner that is an active patron and guardian of the Taliban.
By aggravating the crisis and refusing to cooperate, Pakistan aims to make the US mission in Afghanistan desperately reliant upon its support. In return for its indispensable cooperation, Islamabad seeks to extract a price from Washington: Kashmir. Pakistan’s quest for Kashmir, which is at the core of the problem, is tied up with the identity crisis that has paralyzed the country since its birth.
Partitioned from India as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims in 1947, the rationale behind Pakistan’s foundation - that Muslims and Hindus could not coexist in one nation - was immediately impeached when India refused to become a Hindu state and embraced a secular constitution. As long as Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state, remains part of secular India, Islamic Pakistan’s sense of itself as the authentic home of India’s Muslims can not not be vindicated.
Pakistan has waged three wars to wrest Kashmir from India, but the experience of defeat led Islamabad to adopt a policy of training terrorist organizations. Since 1993, Afghanistan has been a training camp and launching pad for anti-India terrorism. But the ambitions of the terrorist groups that Pakistan created to bleed India have broadened: their operations now stretch to Europe and the United States and their leaders have openly stated the desire to take up the “struggle with the Jews’’ once Kashmir is secured.
Far from buying peace, Kashmir’s acquisition by Pakistan will be seen as a major victory by the Islamists. As events in Swat proved, concessions to Islamists do not result in the recession of terrorism: they embolden them to embark upon even more audacious campaigns. Yielding to Pakistan’s blackmail would pit the United States against India in order to appease forces both these secular democracies ought to be collectively confronting.
If Obama’s objective is a quick exit, then Afghanistan will rapidly return to its pre-2001 condition. But if his objective is to defeat the thinking that produced 9/11, then he must confront - rather than bribe - Pakistan’s establishment. Instead of hailing Pakistan as a “partner’’ in the fight against the Taliban - which, apart from everything else, is a gross insult to the coalition forces which are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and to the Afghan people upon whom Pakistan foisted the Taliban - Obama should authorize American forces to dismantle Taliban safe havens in Baluchistan and Pakistan’s northwestern regions.
Obama has made civilian aid to Pakistan contingent on Islamabad’s suspension of support to terrorist groups. But Washington must go a step further and declare the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which has repeatedly colluded in terror campaigns with the Taliban, a terrorist organization. Finally, the United States should push Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist organizations that operate out of Punjab. The road to peace in Afghanistan - and much of the rest of the world - goes through Islamabad.
Kapil Komireddi is a writer based in India.