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Aligning regional security policies

What was projected to occur within the next few weeks in my last article has come to pass already; the drones for the first time attacked a target inside the district of Bannu and there are reports of more flights now over Kohat. Soon Robocop (as I call the drones) will be seen over Jamrud in Khyber Agency and Peshawar. The war is entering the Pakistani mainland with bewildering speed. The Pakistani leadership has been so deluged with constant bad news that it has become somnolent, instead of dealing with the situation with alertness.

Both Ahmed Rashid and Barnett R Rubin think that the US is trying to pressure Pakistan to change its policies. Is the new pattern of drone attacks yet another move to shift Pakistan’s policy into some other direction? Secondly, experts on counter-insurgency claim that without legitimacy the war against the militancy cannot be won. In this context the drone attacks by the US challenge Pakistan’s authority to deal with its own people and thus damages its image. Thirdly, and more seriously, the drone attacks shift the tactical centre of gravity of security operations into the districts. Once this happens it will attract the insurgents into the districts and open new fronts; the military will have to be pulled back from FATA to deal with the problem. In a very Dr Strangelove sense it will lead to the withdrawal of troops from the tribal areas, confirming the statement by Ahmed Rashid and Rubin that “Many in Pakistan believe that (Washington) has deceived (Islamabad) into conniving with it to bring about (Pakistan’s) own destruction” However, to my mind this is not the case; there is a simpler explanation.

The Bush administration has never reviewed its goals in Pakistan and Afghanistan since the November 2001 operations in Afghanistan. Thus, it has been following separate policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there is a lack of policy convergence. Furthermore, I think that the US policy as seen in Pakistan shows that it is based more on anti-terrorism than a counter-insurgency approach. Anti-terrorism places reliance upon military action and depends on force, while counter-insurgency provides a larger framework and is aimed at winning the population though different means. The drones are the foremost weapon in the arsenal of anti-terrorism and thus cannot help win an insurgency war.

However, as pointed out earlier, the US wants a shift in Pakistan’s policy which is to stop it from helping the Taliban in Balochistan, an accusation which appears with frequent regularity in the literature printed by US think tanks. This is a difficult shift and one which is linked to finding a regional solution for addressing Pakistan’s security concerns with India. As long as Pakistan continues to fear an Indian encirclement through Afghanistan, it will continue to maintain some form of links to the Taliban. In a manner, Pakistan is buying insurance. Thus, it will not be possible to achieve peace and stabilisation in Afghanistan unless the Pakistan-India dispute on Kashmir is out of the way. Furthermore, the growing friendship between the US and India creates further suspicion against the real US design in Pakistan.

Every four years the Asia Foundation, an independent international think tank, publishes a set of recommendations for the incoming US administration. In its 2008 publication regarding “America’s Role in Asia,” it has offered some thoughtful recommendations, many of which deserve consideration by policymakers in the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I discuss here one of these.

According to it, if the US wishes to solve the problems facing it, it must engage the Pushtun people who number about 42 million. There are about 27 million living in Pakistan and about 15 million in Afghanistan. Without cooperation of the Pushtun tribes, it concludes, the US will not have peace. Secondly, most US anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan are in Pushtun areas. The drone attacks create more Pushtun enemies because of the collateral deaths. Unless the US wins the friendship of these people there will never be complete peace. Furthermore, the Pushtuns have integrated into the trans-national Al Qaeda network and have thus become a formidable mass of warriors who follow a religious flag of convenience.

Many Pushtun intellectuals believe, wrongly, I think, that the Pushtun has been a peaceful rustic who has been transformed into a fighting machine by the Afghan jihad. They fail to understand the basic cultural and religious drivers within Pushtun society. The US has no problems with the Tajik or Uzbek or other ethnic groups inside Afghanistan. However, with the Pushtuns the US faces a unique cultural difficulty. The problem is that the Pushtun is prone to religious extremism and readily accepts membership into millenarian movements to resist reform of a centralising state which externalises Pushtun governance and politics; he cannot live with the transfer of his management to a larger entity like a modernising state. This is because he fears that his social conduct, “Pushtunwali,” will be endangered and he will lose his identity. For a Pushtun, whether he is supporting Mulla Umar in Afghanistan, Fazalullah in Swat, Maulvi Faqir in Bajaur or Baithullah in Waziristan  he is fighting a war to preserve his identity.

On the other hand, the US believes deeply in civic values of freedom and democracy almost like religion; to the US, Pushtun resistance doesn’t make sense! However, this Gordian knot of social misunderstanding between America and the Pushtun cannot be cut by drone attacks or “kinetic operations” alone. A fundamental shift of approach is needed which is based on befriending the Pushtun. The killing of Pashtuns must stop. If one examines history there have been many Pushtun revolts in the past and they have arisen when the Pushtun felt that his identity was under attack  and whenever that happened he has looked for a religious leader to lead him because his own social setup is so affected by jealousies that he would not follow a secular leader who might rule him tomorrow.

Therefore, the US must forge a policy which focuses on strengthening the Pushtun social structure. However, while doing so the US must realise how deeply the Pushtun issue divides both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In an effort to prevent Pushtun ethnic nationalism from undermining the Pakistani state, US leaders have promoted religious radicalism in the tribal areas. On the other hand, US interest lies in reducing the support of the Pushtuns for religious extremism reflected in the presence of Al Qaeda safe havens in FATA. It is thus clear that the interests of the US and Pakistan will not converge without a solution of the Durand Line issue with Afghanistan.

Three recommendations arise out of this discussion. Firstly, the US must adopt a counter-insurgency approach based on winning the friendship of the Pushtuns. Secondly, it must assist in the solution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan and, thirdly, it should help in resolving the Durand Line dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

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