Dealing With Pakistan

By H.D.S. Greenway   

’Tis the season to bash Pakistan. That’s the message that leapt from the Obama administration’s Afghan strategy review last week. It’s Pakistan fault that we Americans are not winning the war, so we better get tough with Pakistan.

We “will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorists safe havens within their borders must be dealt with,” said President Obama. Others, such as retired Gen. Jack Keane, put it more bluntly: “Don’t just put a finger in their chest, put a fist in their chest.” But the message is the same — “U.S. Will Widen War On Militants Inside Pakistan,” headlined the New York Times. “Pentagon Planning More Attacks With Drones And Commandos.”

There can be no doubt of what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, called — in Pentagon-speak — “the criticality of Pakistan in terms of overall success.” But is putting a fist in Pakistan’s chest really going to solve the “criticality” issue?

Pakistan is already permitting drone attacks on its territory — attacks that kill as many or more civilians than militants. It has also allowed limited U.S. special operations within Pakistan. Eighty percent of U.S. war material passes through Pakistan. Put a fist in Pakistan’s chest, as we did in September when a cross-border operation killed three Pakistani soldiers, and you may see some of this support dry up.

I recently drove past the hulks of burned out oil tankers by the side of the Grand Trunk Road headed to the Khyber Pass, torched by militants when Pakistan temporarily halted the convoys in retaliation for our incursion.

One might ask General Keane: What is it you don’t understand about closing the Khyber Pass? What chance would you give either the short-term or long-term sustainability of our Afghan effort without Pakistani cooperation? One hundred dollars worth of gasoline passing through Pakistan costs one thousand to ship though Central Asia.

So let’s stop all this talk of cleaning out the sanctuaries ourselves if the Pakistanis won’t. The United States doesn’t need to get involved militarily in another Muslim country.

The U.S. is extremely unpopular as it is with the Pakistani public. Do we really think we could prevail in the mountains of the Northwest Frontier with the whole countryside up in arms against us? If you really want to destabilize a nuclear-armed Pakistan, that would be the best way to do it.

Pakistanis feel, with some justification, that they are being scapegoated. “I’m not saying we are entirely innocent,” a member of Pakistan’s intelligence service told me, but after nine years of failing in Afghanistan it is easy to “put all the blame on someone else.”

Or as Lt. Gen. Asif Malik, commander of the Pakistani Army 11th Corps responsible for the tribal territories, told me: Organizations such as the Haqqani group are not completely dependent on Pakistani territory. They, and the rest of the Taliban, can operate quite well in Afghanistan without sanctuaries — to which the deterioration of security in northern Afghanistan attests.

And from Pakistan’s point of view, there are Taliban attacking Pakistani soldiers from safe havens in Afghanistan that NATO cannot stop. The frontier with Pakistan will always be porous. The mountainous border cannot be sealed completely.

Yes, Pakistan wants to keep some Pashtun guerilla groups close as a hedge against the future. General Keane says that once we show Pakistan that the Taliban cannot come back to power in Kabul, Pakistan will abandon these groups and get on the team.

But Pakistan’s Afghan policy is consistent. It does not want a hostile neighbor on its western border. Pakistan fears the present Kabul government, dominated by the India-backed Northern Alliance of Tajiks and Uzbeks, unless more pro-Pakistan Pashtuns are better represented.

How can Pakistan be confident that the United States will be able to turn security over to an Afghan Army by 2014? Afghan soldiers regularly loot the properties of the very citizens they are tasked with defending, and the Karzai government is unloved. Although there has been much progress in training the Afghan Army, serious training began only last year. My tennis game can show a lot of improvement in one year, but it doesn’t mean I will be ready to play Roger Federer by 2014.

Pakistanis know that, whether it be 2014 or 2024, Americans will go home, and Pakistan will still be left with Afghanistan next door.

The Obama administration understands the need to work closely with Pakistan, and yes, Pakistan can be endlessly frustrating — even to Pakistanis. But more emphasis on trying to understand Pakistan’s vital national interests — some “strategic patience,” as Admiral Mullen put it, and a little less bullying — might be more productive. Too often, the American attitude is master to servant: We give you money now do what we say, and do it right now.

(H.D.S. Greenway is an American journalist. Greenway served in the U.S. Navy from 1958-1960. From 1962 to 1972, he worked for Time Life in London, Washington, Saigon, Bangkok, the United Nations, and Hong Kong. After Time Life, Greenway worked for the Washington Post in Washington, Saigon, Hong Kong, and Jerusalem from 1972-1978. From 1978 to 2000, he served as the Foreign Editor, National Editor, and Editorial Page Editor at “The Boston Globe”. Since 2000, Greenway has been a Foreign Affairs columnist).

Note:This is a cross post

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  • Naveed Akbar  On December 25, 2010 at 2:01 am

    The Americans haven’t learned the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan yet ? History will never forget and the Law of Nature will soon take its course …

    • Archie Haase  On December 25, 2010 at 11:44 am

      Naveed Akbar — I too in the past offered the law of nature (as a base of understanding) concerning this mess us Americans embedded into this region of the world.

      The problem many Americans have is we do not think we are better and smarter. We know we are better and smarter. We, by god giving us our manifest destiny mission know what is best for the world.

      This flies against the laws of nature as I interpret them. We can be a self righteous arrogant lot. Thus I apologize.

      To read obituaries of Ambassador Holebrooke you would think he was the one and only one man band of middle east and central Asian knowledge. A super hero.

      Not all of us are so arrogant to believe we are super people. Many of us who lived, worked and traveled abroad this arrogance angers us.

      I use the word all Americans because we allowed our legal justice and political leaders to lead us into the dark side. Bush policy or Obama policy in many ways the same. That is if we do not hold our policy makers feet to the fire this will continue.

  • Pagal  On December 25, 2010 at 2:38 am

    Haqqanis son is arrested in pakistan i wonder if tht has anything to do with american bullying

  • Parvez Amin  On December 25, 2010 at 2:59 am

    There is no way that the Americans can ‘win’ in Pakistan, basically because what constitutes a win has not been defined.

    Another reason is that if the Americans want the energy resources of the Central Asian Republics, there are better ways of getting them than war. Pakistan is an energy corridor and the Americans should ask us to negotiate a right of way for them. It will be a lot cheaper and a lot more constructive.

    • Archie Haase  On December 25, 2010 at 11:23 am

      Parvez Amin good insight. Sometimes the obvious escapes the reality of those in charge of setting US policy.

  • Syed Ataur Rahman  On December 25, 2010 at 5:09 am

    This is a balanced and pragmatic article. Why should Pakistan do what USA wants receiving little or no credit for its sacrifices which most unpopular in the country. We receive measly sums as payment and that too transferred grudgingly? USA supports India which does nothing but instigates problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They can continue to pressurize us but Pakistan Army is doing what is good for the country and that must continue. US and its allies will leave tomorrow or day after and Pakistan will have to look after the mess they leave behind.
    Why in the first case did they come here? Did they have a hidden agenda which they see is not succeeding? Al-Qaeda and Usama bin Laden was as poor an excuse as was the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Now they prop and look towards India and others to take care of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for them Pakistan’s strategic location forces them to talk to Pakistan too. They have no heart to talk to Pakistan but find no choice or we would have been dumped a long time back. So let them stop threatening us and get down to the realities. They better look after our strategic interests and we will look after what best we can do in Afghanistan keeping our compulsions in mind.

  • Abdulqayum Akbani  On December 25, 2010 at 8:27 am

    This is the problem when we do not take any initiative by ourselves we says Allah will help us and after saying, we go and sleep. Allah clearly mention that HE HELPS THOSE WHO HELPS THEMSELVES.

  • Abdulqayum Akbani  On December 25, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is selective governments and not elected government.The people should know this. But, as things are, there are other millions of problem, and most of the people are not educated in Pakistan. The literacy rates… are very low plus the day to day living has become very difficult for the common man over here. They have no other tension other than to look after their families and feed them at least three times a day which is also very problematic now. How to solve? Who will hold hand to hand. Upper people are busy making money. Very grave.

  • Pagal  On December 25, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Feeding ur family is no excuse for not proving it with justice.

    • Abdulqayum Akbani  On December 25, 2010 at 8:29 am

      Pagal Sa, may be you did not read properly what I meant above.
      May be you did not read properly what I meant above.

      • Pagal  On December 25, 2010 at 8:30 am

        I read it and i agree with the whole of it except the part about ppl working to feed there children but nt Working to provide them with justice

  • Iqbaluddin Ahmad  On December 25, 2010 at 9:43 am

    A very objective view of the issues involved and a farsighted strategy adoptd by the Paks. To survive and thrive Pakistan and Afghanistan need each other.

  • A  On December 25, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Hello Yasmeen

    The real terrorists are the Americans, of course. What other nation sends unmanned drones to murder people thousands of miles distant, steered from comfortable, air-conditioned rooms far away from the smell of death.

    Despicable, cowardly terrorists.

    Take care,


  • Sylvitans  On January 3, 2011 at 4:39 am

    Hello ! I’m new on this forum, hope to talk to you soon 🙂
    I love carsn seotons and tuning, and you ?

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