The US-Pakistani relationship is an enigma. Experts argue both ways on whether we should hold them close or distance ourselves from the Pakistanis.
On the one hand, Pakistan has showed interest in being in a partnership with the US since it gained its independence from the British Indian Empire in 1948, and they have continued to be one of the United States’ strongest allies in the region; but on the other hand, the Pakistani government has yet to prove itself capable of effectively suppressing the terrorism that plagues its part of the world, and there is even speculation that there could be collusion between some terrorist organizations and the Pakistani government and its intelligence agency, the ISI.
The biggest problem that the United States faces in terms of how to treat Pakistan, in an age where terrorism is always on the minds of American citizens, is whether the pros outweigh the cons, or vice versa, and the possible implications of both sides. Unfortunately, while having Pakistan as an ally in the war on terror would certainly be a huge help, they are just too untrustworthy to be considered a legitimate partner going forward. Following its independence from Great Britain in 1948, the United States has been desperately trying to recruit Pakistan to its cause.
Whether regarding the strategic advantage that a CIA base in Pakistan would provide, including its “volunteer army of 3,000,000”(Hussain) in the Cold War, or today in the war on terrorism, the US wants the help of the Pakistanis. Unfortunately, the relationship has been rocky to say the least. What with economic sanctions, trade embargos and the burning of the American Embassy in Islamabad, many people who have been familiar with Pakistan for a long time are nervous to trust the Pakistanis with being a legitimate force against terrorism in a part of the world where terrorism’s roots reach deeper into the arid soil more than democracy.
Therein lies the issue. Dating back to the days of Sayyid Qutb and his doctrine of “a complete rejection of rationalism and western values” in order to save Islam from the “precipice” on which it precariously stood in the mid-20th century, to Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against the United States in 1998, there exists in the Middle East an innate hatred for the United States and for western values (Wright 35), and Pakistan is no exception.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs) in western Pakistan along the Durand line that borders Afghanistan are in no way under control of the government and as a result, the region provides excellent asylum for members of the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network of Pakistan. The biggest problem with trusting Pakistan is that their border with Afghanistan, which is frequently traveled by all sorts of terrorists, is hardly a border at all. It is more of a “border of aspiration” in that while the line exists on the map, there is no real Pakistan side and Afghanistan side.
The mountains just continue. When the British drew up the Durand line, they did not even consider the tribal structure or the topography of the region. The people living there “don’t identify as Afghan or Pakistani” rather as Pashtun or Punjabi or any of the other ethnic groups that make up the region. Pakistanis spill over into Afghanistan, and Afghans spill over into Pakistan, without a legitimate, redrawn border, it will be impossible for either government to have any control in the region, which will lead to the “border area being run by warlords” and eventually becoming “beyond pacification”(Shanker).
The other major issue with Pakistan is the suspicion that the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, is secretly working with organizations such as the Haqqani Network, a Taliban affiliate in Pakistan. The Haqqani Network is the biggest roadblock on the Pakistani side of the equation that is preventing US-Pakistan relations from getting to where they need to be. It’s a delicate situation, though, because if the United States starts to do more drone strikes in the FATAs to take out Haqqani members, then there’s no telling what Pakistan’s nuclear-armed military might do in response to the breach of sovereignty.
It is for the same reason that the US is also hesitant to designate the Haqqani as a terrorist organization, although the Pakistani reaction to such a designation would certainly clarify the relationship between the government and the terrorists. Many other nations don’t even consider the Haqqani the most dangerous group that is headquartered in Pakistan. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai also calls Pakistan home. While relations with any country are a two way street, in this case, Pakistan is the entire problem.
The United States and Pakistan are in a difficult relationship, mostly because the US is not at all sure if Pakistan can be trusted, due to the aforementioned circumstances. As it stands right now, the situation with Pakistan is basically a perpetual cycle of mistrust. Pakistan continues to not assert itself in the FATAs and most of its own state, and as a result, the US steps in to kill the people that attack and kill soldiers and innocent people. This is best exemplified in the US’ campaign to assassinate Osama bin Laden.
After decades of hunting him down, when the United States was fairly certain he was residing in the Abbottabad compound, Secretary of State Clinton “made it clear that preserving the relationship was not the priority”(Bergen 172). The US carried out its attack without alerting the Pakistanis beforehand, and they even had no idea that it had happened until much later, despite the bin Laden compound being within a mile of a military academy. The Pakistanis even thought that the attack was India “trying to make a preemptive strike against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities,”(235) which just goes to show how distrustful the Pakistanis are anyway.
In terms of interpersonal relationships, it’s impossible to trust somebody who’s not trusting, and the US’ relationship with Pakistan is no different. It’s even harder to trust that person if they were unknowingly harboring public enemy number one of the earth for five years. Since it’s clear that Pakistan cannot yet handle itself, it’s safe to also infer that it cannot handle the war on terrorism. The problem is that the United States needs Pakistan to suppress the insurgents that breed in its mountains. There are a few solutions for this problem.
It’s easy to say that President Obama and Asif Ali Zardari need to improve their communication so that they might see eye to eye on how best to deal with terrorism, but unfortunately, reforming the FATAs is a nearly impossible endeavor. The United States has spent years trying to do the same thing in Afghanistan with no success; the terrain is just too rough. An alternative is to completely forego ground operations and increase the use of drone strikes in the mountains, but like most countries, Pakistan does not take kindly to having its sovereignty completely ignored.
There are a number of possible solutions, but it is important to note that the war on terrorism is not a war in the traditional sense in any way. The enemy is not a country, the reason of the fighting is not over land or independence, and the fighting does not take place on a battlefield. In the case of the war on terrorism, the enemy is a group of people, the reason behind the fighting is a clash of ideology, and the fighting is guerrilla warfare. Terrorists are a genre of enemy that the United States has never faced before.
As a result, the battle must be fought in a completely new way. On the United States side, we have to work on capturing the “hearts and minds” of the people there, and not the sloppy capture and kill that was implemented after 9/11. Killing terrorists doesn’t really accomplish anything as organizations like al Qaeda are like the Hydra: if you cut off one head, three more grow in its place. With terrorist organizations, you kill a senior member, three new young guys step in and everyone moves up a rung on the ladder.
The best way to end the war on terrorism is to stop this line of fresh recruits by convincing them and their parents that terrorism is not the right path to take, that way when drone strikes kill the older guys, they aren’t being immediately replaced. Another solution that needs to be considered is fixing the economic situation. With so much poverty in that part of the world, paying somebody five dollars to hide some rockets in their house is a totally plausible and extremely common situation.
Unless living conditions improve, terrorism will continue to prevail in the Middle East. The best solution to this is a piece of legislation similar to the New Deal or the Marshall Plan that ends the strife in the form of US aid, and possibly some from NATO allies. The United States would need to give billions in aid to Pakistan and other unstable Middle Eastern nations in order to prevent the further proliferation of terrorism, just like President Harry Truman sought to do with communism in Europe following World War 2.
The problem though, is that the US can hardly afford to do such a thing. With the domestic and global economies in the state that they are, the United States does not just have billions of dollars to give away to Pakistan. Plus, the American people will likely not sign on for giving so much aid to the country that accidentally provided Osama Bin Laden asylum for five years, and who knows what Pakistan would even do with the money? The war on terrorism is a war of ideology fought in treacherous mountains and behind joysticks in Tampa.
If the world truly wants to be rid of terrorism, it is absolutely necessary for Pakistan to be capable of contributing positively to the fight. The problem is that they are not quite at that point yet. It’s not that they don’t want to be rid of terrorism, as “three thousand Pakistani troops have been killed (more than all NATO losses in Afghanistan combined). Add to that 2,000 police cut down, the tragedy of 35,000 civilian casualties and the assassination by terrorists of […] Benazir Bhutto”(Ispahani).
Pakistan is no doubt a victim of terrorism in terms of lives lost and how terrorism has chosen to attach itself to Pakistan and suck the life out of it like a leech. The end of the war on terror has to start in Pakistan, and it has to come as a result of the government there getting a grip on its people. Then they have to prove that they can be trusted and that they are responsible so that the United States will provide them with aid to further end terrorism. The war on terror will not end in an armistice or a treaty or any of the typical endings to war because the war on terror is not a typical war.
It needs to be carefully and methodically put to an end. It won’t be instantaneous, and it will take a while, but the ends will be well worth the means. Nations of the world will not have to live in constant fear of an attack every time they go to an airport or get on the subway. In addition, Pakistan will assert itself as a legitimate force in the world and will become more successful. In conclusion, the end of the war on terror means a clean slate for Pakistan and a return to an era of peace. Works Cited Bergen, Peter L. Manhunt:
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