Much as we would like to believe that the long-drawn West Asian wars will end soon, the fact is that the U.S. now has a third front to its war on terror: Pakistan. And the Pakistan front is likely to be open for a long time. As a Taliban spokesperson reportedly said: "We are prepared for a long war."
We have been tracking Pakistan's war for a while on BlogHer (links below). They have been battling (and negotiating) with an increasingly militant northwest and a growing Taliban stronghold in the heartland of Punjab. In recent months the conflict has claimed hundreds of Pakistani military and civilian lives, and displaced millions. Militants have targeted every place: from armed strongholds like the army headquarters, to civilian institutions like plush hotels, university, mosques and markets. We got a glimpse of the audacity of such groups when they decided to strike in a crowded bazaar of the northwestern city of Peshawar, the day that U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan for talks, killing over a 100 people. This was the 10th attack in October alone, with the toll touching 400, even as the Pakistani army began its big push against the enemy within.
A look a this map by the Council on Foreign Relations is eye-popping: a majority of Pakistan's west (from the Northwest Frontier Province in the north to Baluchistan in the south) is "troubled". That's nearly half of the country.
This cannot be an easy time for any country, especially one that is barely holding on to dear democracy. This needed to be nation-building time, not war time.
The circle of mistrust: A good dose of mistrust is doing the rounds in the region: Pakistan sees India on its eastern border as an "existential threat" and refuses to pull out troops from there, even as they resent any Indian presence in Afghanistan; India sees Pakistan as a hotbed of terrorism that allows its soil to be used for planning attacks on Indians; China and India have a love-hate, now-I-trust you-now-I-don't relationship and long-term border disputes to resolve, with India cautious of China's investments in Pakistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan, of course, don't trust each other.
To top it off, the U.S. in general has a healthy skepticism about everybody and nobody in the region trusts the Western power's motives completely. With American taxpayers pushing for an account of their dollars spent in the region, the latest signs of mistrust between the two "allies" comes in the form of the controversial Kerry-Lugar Bill.
Kerry-Lugar Bill or the Enhanced Partnership With Pakistan Act of 2009 (authors Democrat John Kerry and Republican Richard Lugar): This five-year $7.5 billion non-military aid package attempts to cover everything from building an independent media to civilian control over the military, to keeping Pakistan clean of terror bases plotting against neighboring countries to controlling madrasaas to women's education to immunizations. In return, it seeks close monitoring and progress reports for all such projects. Some Pakistanis are furious. The country's army found the bill hugely intrusive. Others saw it as a direct challenge to the country's sovereignty and resented the micromanagement. The Bill passed nevertheless, amid much debate and anger in Pakistan. (Link: NYT blog by Salman Masood.)
In an opinion piece in Dawn.com, Ilhan Niaz of Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad attempts to separate patriotic rhetoric from the actual problems he sees in the content of the Bill:
Moving right along to the authorisation of assistance for democracy and development, the president of the United States is empowered to help Pakistan democratise, capacity-build, spread economic freedom and take care of internally displaced persons. Somewhat amusingly, given the present Pakistani government’s reputation, the US will support Pakistan to establish “frameworks that promote government transparency.” Support is also to be provided for “police professionalisation”, a free media, “strengthening civil society and non-governmental organisations” and facilitating an independent judiciary. Such ‘pious’ talk is rubbish. Pakistan now has a remarkably independent judiciary in spite of the support given by the United States to the former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan’s media, which Musharraf tried to muzzle during the November 2007 Emergency, is mostly anti-American. On the other hand, Musharraf’s successor, Asif Ali Zardari is widely perceived to be pro-American.
It is the monitoring and reporting aspect of the Kerry-Lugar Bill that merits serious attention. The list of reporting areas for which non-military assistance is to be provided literally goes from A to Q and includes civil liberties, political rights, accountability, rule of law, control of corruption, immunisation rates, etc. The resources committed are grossly inadequate given the scope of the programme. It would have been better for the US if the resources were used to improve administration and accountability or building physical infrastructure.
Whether anybody likes the Bill or not, Pakistanis have no choice but to fight the good fight. Unless, of course, they want to gift their country to the Taliban. That is an unlikely option at this moment.
[Former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, much liked by the former Bush administration, fell afoul of the people of Pakistan. It doesn't appear his opinions have much currency in Pakistan these days. However, he's a glib talker and his recent interview on CNN with Anderson Cooper can help understand the complexity of the war, the tribal egos in the region, and the Pakistani point of view.]
Londonstani's post at Abu Muqawama (via Center For a New American Society) about what the common Pakistani feels about the violence
Wajiha's call for help for internally displaced refugees, at Pass the Roti
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