Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

“I am not opposed to all wars; I’m opposed to dumb wars.”
then-candidate Barack Obama, March 26, 2008
ObamaAfghanistan is a war which we didn’t start but which we will end. We have twenty months (more or less) to do so. Before we end it, we will provide a surge to counter the insurgency. This will be done in full view of absolutely everybody. This is not done lightly but with the security of the United States in mind. We will secure key areas (not deeply rural areas because we can’t; no one can) against the Taliban as we  train and grow the Afghan Army. Yes, we are forced to count on support from a deeply corrupt government, but we will hold that government accountable. We will not send them money directly but instead will fund local leaders, build up local miltia and convert former insurgents. We cannot send troops uninvited into Pakistan, where we know Al Qaeda is most active and where the nuclear arsenal is less than secure, but we will be close by. We will try to cut off any nascent partnership between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and prevent new alliances from growing. Most importantly, we will convince ordinary Afghans that we are there to help them take their country back and then move it forward. This is at the heart of any lasting success.
War is hell. It’s also either strategic, unavoidable, inevitable, unwinnable, manageable, practical, essential — or dumb. What have we here?

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20ambusha6002 The photo on the front page of Monday’s New York Times of a soldier caught in a firefight in a remote region of Afghanistan came in the midst of a news cycle filled with depressing stories out of the region: Taliban takeovers of towns and villages close to Pakistan’s capitol city, new bombings in Baghdad and the story out of Afghanistan.

The day after the story about the ambush, the paper ran an op-ed piece by two young Afghan women who begged America not to turn its back on give up on the brave women who took to the streets to protest the latest government law caving in to fundamentalist demands. “[Westerners assume] Afghans are a ‘tribal people’ who probably do not want a say in choosing their leaders,” they wrote. “Others claim that because Afghanistan is a traditional Islamic society, any promotion of democracy and women’s rights will be resented as an imposition of Western values… These assumptions are wrong.”15afghan2-600

That’s good to know. There are people in Afghanistan and in Pakistan who fervently support women’s rights, human rights and democracy. Possibly even more of the population simply wants to live in peace under whatever form of government is presented to them. In any event, we should support their efforts to live a life free from terror and intimidation.

And it’s not quite fair to say we’ve turned our backs on Afghan human rights, regardless of which country our politicians may discuss from one day to the next. We’ve got boots on the ground there who will soon be joined by new troops our experts are moving from what we and they hope is a more stabilized Iraq.  Although we have no troops in nuclear neighbor Pakistan, we have planes overhead and an Executive Branch proposal for nearly 3 billion in investments to support a military I worry seems far more focused on India than the Taliban militants. Decisions have to be made about how and where to place finite resources – our resources. Maybe that’s why it seems as if Uncle Sam is playing in  high-stakes chess game all by himself.

It’s no fun to be a superpower soloist.

The authors of the piece about Afghan’s marching women note that “Democracy and progress are not products to be packaged and exported to Afghanistan. Afghans have to fight for them.” Absolutely true, as I think our government is beginning to figure out.  Democracy promotion isn’t something that can be done strictly from the outside in. We should assist, support, speak out in no uncertain terms  concerning anything relating to human rights. But as far as translating words into actions, we can always use a little inside help.


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Benazir Bhutto‘s assassination is, as everyone has figured out, bad news. Bad for Pakistan. Bad for its enormously unpopular leader Pervez Musharaff. Bad for the population, which, having experienced everything from a devastating earthquake to a recent outbreak of bird flu, finds itself once again hopelessly trapped between a weakened dictator and the press of Al Qaeda extremists without a moderate in sight. Bad for the United States, which continues to funnel money to a shaky regime with nuclear capabilities as part of its “war on terror” strategy.

I’m watching CNN and the analysts are suggesting foreign policy will once again assert itself as a major issue in our Presidential race. Well and good. Unfortunately, this incident gives candidates an opportunity to bring up the war on terror in a way neither helpful nor substantive, only inflammatory. See Rudolph Giuliani’s statement on the Bhutto assassination, particularly his reference to the “terrorists’ war on us.” I suppose by “us” he means “democracy supporters everywhere” but I’m not sure I want to put Pakistan’s current President in that category.

Frankly, I’m sick of the concept of a “war on terror.” It’s become an easy slogan. It’s vague and meaningless. It reduces everything to “us” versus “them.” It precludes any nuanced discussion of cultural, political, economic realities. It shoves potential friends to the margins and into a vaguely defined “them” category and puts us in bed with military dictators and unpopular leaders. It conflates facts and ignores details. It’s a dangerously simplistic way of looking at the world. It can also be fatal.

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A friend of mine was reviewing his work week, which he felt had gone very well. A high school history teacher and varsity coach, he was pleased because his cross country team had swept its division and his Comparative Government students, involved in a model UN exercise, had been named best large delegation. “And to top it all off,” he announced, “it looks as if we won’t be dealing with World War III.”

Ah yes, WWIII. That was what we were promised last fall as a consequence of Iran’s push to develop nuclear weapons, a push that is apparently not taking place, according the latest National Intelligence Estimate. The report indicates that Iran had actually halted a covert nuclear weapons program back in 2002, contradicting a 2005 intel report that Iran was developing said weapons. Got that, or do you need a scorecard?

The problem, as I see it, is not whether Iran would or would not like to have nuclear weapons.  It’s safe to assume they would. Anyone who aspires to be a player on the world stage wants the same “toys” the big boys (and girls) have. It’s also logical that more “mature” superpowers want to make certain less stable regimes don’t have access to items that, in the hands of a fanatic few, would reduce the globe to rubble. It’s fair to say Iran is almost as volitile and unpredictable as, say, Pakistan, a country that already has nuclear capabilities.  Oops, back to the scorecard.

The real problem, as I see it, is the stream of exaggerated, inflammatory and downright careless pronouncements that eminate from this country’s leadership. From WMDs to WWIII, such proclamations don’t inspire confidence in our ability to arrive at practical approaches or solutions to problems in the world. And if they’re designed to inspired fear, they’re less effective than they used to be.  Mostly they just make us look thuggish or foolish – not at all like a mature superpower.

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The ancient proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has long been considered of Arab provinance, although there is some evidence that it is also a Chinese maxim. Regardless, it has been a foreign policy staple for as long as there has been foreign policy or war or, for that matter, entities arguing over who gets to own a particular piece of land. Maybe it made sense once in the days when you found yourself swinging sabers alongside your enemy, both of you battling for survival against a larger invading army. If your comrade in arms then turned around and swung the sword in your direction, you could respond in kind or hightail it out of there. On the other hand, if you found that working together produced satisfactory results, you might decide to forgo your petty quarrels, forge an alliance, prepare a feast and call it a day.

Nowadays, it feels like a perilous and naive way to conduct foreign affairs. Yet the United States appears to have been picking its allies based on a sort of “lesser of two evils” rationale since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, as is pointed out in “Thank God, They’re On Our Side” by David Schmitz. Actually, his book tracks the relationships between the U.S. and dictatorships between 1921 and 1965. After that you’re on your own but here’s a partial list: Pinochet, Suharto, Noriega and yes, Saddam Hussein.

We need to improve our taste in BFFs. Are these really the guys we want to have our backs when the chips are down? These enemies of democracy and liberty – these are our friends?

As we are all hyper-aware, our current “frienemy” is supposed to be Pervez Musharraf, whose latest forays into democracy involve declaring a state of emergency in Pakistan, a nation that actually has weapons of mass destruction. The hard-line Islamists hate him, and U.S. support just adds to that tinderbox. The lawyers, teachers and other advocates of democracy also oppose him. It is the second group he has moved to jail, which should terrify us, but since his promise to fight terrorism is what binds him to us, all we seem to be able to do is warn, scold, and continue to send money.

History is full of shifting alliances and sometimes you just have to throw your lot in with the least bad and hope that was your best choice. However, as the world gets more complicated, we might want to rethink the impetus behind a century of foreign policy decisions. For starters, we need new friends.

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