Missed this last week – worth a watch if you’re monitoring the mess that is Af-Pak.
(Source: NBC’s Meet the Press)
MR. DAVID GREGORY (HOST): … But first, the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I sat down with both leaders earlier this week after their White House meetings. Pakistan’s President Zardari, in office for the last eight months, is the widower of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. I began by asking about the Taliban and whether he agrees with the Obama administration that the group represents an existential threat to his country.
MR. ASIF ALI ZARDARI: No, I consider the philosophy of Taliban as threat to the world, not just to Pakistan and your country, but I feel it’s a larger threat.
Could a storyline leaked to the New York Times’ front page on Monday signal an end to America’s codependence on an untrustworthy Pakistan?
Despite the erratic behavior of the Pervez Musharraf government for most of George W. Bush’s presidency, of the Big Worry — Pakistan’s nukes — we were always told, no problem. I can remember Pentagon and Bush Administration officials speaking cryptically of fail-safe mechanisms which would keep the weapons or nuclear material from ever falling into the wrong hands.
The world is reminded tonight, by a column written by I.A. Rehman for Dawn, that Pakistan is a large moslem country with a divergence of opinion on what Shari’a law means and what the Taliban really have to offer. So often in the U.S. media we see images of three things in Pakistan:
- Islamic extremists (Taliban, Terrorists, Etc)
- Poor people depicted as simple and helpless or violent and lawless
- The corrupt Pakistani military and polity.
Just like in our own coverage of ourselves, we see the extremes.
This video was shot in Pakistan, a country we’ve paid around $10 billion since 9/11. Not another unaccounted for dime to the Pakistani government who can’t control immense areas within its own borders.
Hopefully today’s remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tell more about the state of mind in the Obama Administration regarding Pakistan than the President’s earlier hints that the U.S. may negotiate with elements of the Taliban.
From the New York Times coverage Clinton’s appearance before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs:
… “I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists,” Mrs. Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee as she responded to questions on an array of topics. …
… Moreover, Mrs. Clinton said, the deterioration of security in nuclear-armed Pakistan “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”
After accusing the Pakistani government of caving in to the Taliban, Mrs. Clinton went on in more scathing detail. “If you talk to people in Pakistan, especially in the ungoverned territories, which are increasing in number, they don’t believe the state has a judiciary system that works,” she said.
“It’s corrupt, it doesn’t extend its power into the countryside. So the government of Pakistan, however it is constituted, which is of course their business, not ours, must begin to deliver government services.”
Otherwise Ms. Clinton warned, “they are going to lose out to those who show up and claim that they can solve people’s problems, and then they will impose this harsh form of oppression on women and others.”
Secretary Clinton is hitting the nail squarely on the head. A Frontline World documentary last week told a gripping tale of the Taliban’s growing influence outside Pakistan’s Northwest Territories and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Earlier this month, Pakistani President Asaf Zardari essentially ceded control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban in order to get the Islamic extremists to cease violent raids in the area. Radical clerics in Pakistan are already exhorting their followers that Swat is only the beginning.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I know negotiating with the Taliban – a la Zardari – is not the answer. Going from backwater Afghanistan under Taliban control to nuclear Pakistan under their thumb is not progress.
From the moment I heard that President Barack Obama is thinking he may be able to treat the Taliban like the U.S. handled Sunni shaikhs and tribal elders in Iraq, I didn’t like it.
Many Sunnis in Iraq were not long-time sympathizers with the likes of al-Qaeda and its twisted view of Islam and nihilistic world view. Sure, many of them threw in their lot with al-Qaeda in Iraq, but at the time I believe that was perhaps an action rooted in self preservation. The U.S. took out the despotic Saddam Hussein regime and in the process created a vacuum where the Shia majority began having its way with the Sunni minority. It was retribution in large part for the Sunni’s own political subjugation of the Shia and Kurds for decades. By the time of the “Surge” and General David Petraeus’ more effective counter-insurgency tactics, the Iraqi Sunni flirtation with al-Qaeda was already losing steam. Many of the tribal elders were ready to work with U.S. military and civilian leaders to rid themselves of the terrorists. Again, these Sunnis could perhaps be described as more passionate about their tribal affiliations and regionalism than to the specific Islamic theology which al-Qaeda bases its terror campaigns on.
The Taliban are altogether different. The Taliban actually ran their own state for a time according to a fundamentalist view of Islam and Shari’a laws which forbid the participation of women and girls in society, outlawed cultural expression, and turned education into the madrasa system where boys learn little more than rote memorization of the Koran and are programmed for violent jihad. There were public executions for those who did not conform and rape and pillage tactics used to spread their “government” throughout Afghanistan.
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
… “We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now,” said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House. …
… “In Afghanistan, it’s easy to understand, difficult to execute. But in Pakistan, it is very difficult to understand and it’s extremely difficult for us to generate any leverage, because Pakistan does not want our help.
“In a sense there is no Pakistan – no single set of opinion. Pakistan has a military and intelligence establishment that refuses to follow the directions of its civilian leadership. They have a tradition of using regional extremist groups as unconventional counterweights against India’s regional influence.” …
I’m reading David Sanger’s book, The Inheritance. It’s a great read that outlines some of the thorniest foreign policy issues facing the new Obama Administration. It tracks the Bush Administration’s policies or policy vacuums regarding places like North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Sanger discusses the approximately $10 billion in funds that the U.S. has funneled into Pakistan since 9/11 and the high probability that some of it has probably been used against us, while still more of it has been simply wasted through corruption or in building up Pakistan’s Indian-facing military forces. Over and over during the Bush years, Presidents Pervez Musharaf and Bush publicly proclaimed their mutual admiration. On Bush’s end it was wishful thinking – we need the Pakistanis to help fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As for Mr. Musharaf it was all about making and closing every sale, that is, ensuring the steady flow of greenbacks to prop up his ailing government and economy.
Sanger also recounts a steady procession of U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic officials streaming in and out of Islamabad, sometimes there to deliver strong messages akin to, “We know you can do better with the nutjobs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas” (also known as the “in” destination for Taliban and terrorists). Musharaf or his generals or ISI spooks would shrug and smile. Sometimes there would be genuine surprise at some intel being brought to them by their American Sugar Daddies. Shortly thereafter there might be a few radical teenagers plucked from a Madrassa and held for a time.
On Friday, David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post from Islamabad chronicling yet another U.S. administration and yet still another military/diplomatic delegation who are now speaking to Musharaf’s successor, Asif Ali Zardari. From Ignatius’ column, it sounds like things haven’t changed much in Pakistan:
Later that day, Zardari met us at his office overlooking the city. He was convincing when he discussed the legacy of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in December 2007 by what he called the “cancer” of Muslim terrorism. But on some major security and intelligence issues, he claimed no knowledge or sought to shift blame to others, and the overall impression was of an accidental president who still has an uncertain grasp on power.
Sanger’s tale of Bush and Musharaf is still fresh in my mind. It sounds like the faces have changed on both sides of this relationship but the reality hasn’t.
Somehow I don’t think this is very likely, but here goes from the Times of London:
Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taleban, threatened yesterday to launch an attack on Washington that would “amaze everyone in the world” as he claimed responsibility for the raid on a police academy in Lahore and boasted of a new regional militant alliance.
Mr Mehsud, for whom the United States offered a $5 million reward last week, said that Monday’s raid, which killed seven police officers, was retaliation for US drone attacks on Pakistan’s northern tribal areas, now the main hub of Taleban and al-Qaeda activity.
The 35-year-old leader of Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan (Movement of Taleban Pakistan), made the claims after taking the highly unusual step of telephoning Western news organisations from an undisclosed location.
“We wholeheartedly take responsibility for this attack and will carry out more such attacks in future,” he said.
“Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world … The maximum they can do is martyr me. But we will exact our revenge on them from inside America.”
This article on the NYT website just adds to the volumes of publicly available information about the ties between Islamic radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Pakistani military intelligence service, ISI.
It’s really quite incredible that President Barack Obama believes that the Taliban or any other tribal, fundamentalist Islamist can be negotiated with in good faith in this part of the world. These people have been playing one end against the other since the 1980s. The United States is going to be punkd if we do anything other than meet barbarism with force in this region.