Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The trouble with Pakistan is ... Pakistan.

Tony Karon writes that Pakistan can't be bought, because its interests diverge too much from ours:
The reality is that while the war against the TTP is backed by a firm national consensus against those who would seek to impose Taliban rule at gunpoint in Pakistan, there is very little Pakistani support for the US war in Afghanistan.

Even as it pursues the Pakistan Taliban, the military continues to make non-aggression pacts with those jihadists who confine themselves to attacks on western forces across the border in Afghanistan. If, instead, the Army went after the Afghan Taliban as well, they risk igniting a generalised rebellion among the Pashtun population that could fatally undermine its counterinsurgency efforts against the TTP.

Then there’s the matter that the Haqqani network – which controls the key Afghan border provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost – as well as Hekmatyar and the Taliban leadership under Mullah Omar are all longtime clients of the Pakistani security forces. Many in the military have viewed these groups as an important strategic asset in what they see as an ongoing regional struggle for influence in Afghanistan, which Pakistan’s generals expect will intensify when the US inevitably departs in the next couple of years.

American officials like to console themselves that this is simply a case of Pakistani fear of abandonment by the US, to which they respond by professing long-term commitment to Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s generals have a good enough sense of what’s going on the ground, with Nato’s supply lines, and with the US economy, to know that Obama’s surge can’t be sustained.

Moreover, while the US objective is to prop up the government in Kabul, Pakistan’s military leaders see that government as a Tajik-dominated regime that serves as a cat’s paw for India. The Afghan Taliban insurgency is viewed as a Pashtun backlash against a government from which the country’s largest ethnic group is alienated – a government that Pakistan has little interest in propping up. While not favouring a rerun of the 1996 Taliban march on Kabul, Pakistani military chiefs are said to favour a negotiated outcome in which many Afghan Taliban elements, and especially Haqqani and Hekmatyar, agree to a power sharing formula that strengthens Pashtun representation – and Pakistani influence – in Kabul, and devolves power to the regions, which would put its allies in charge of the south and east. Far from going after the insurgent groups against whom the US is demanding action, such a scenario requires that Pakistan position itself to broker terms with them that would allow for a US withdrawal.
One wonders if it's even possible to persuade Pakistan's military to at least favor the less antagonistic Taliban-style factions as against those more likely to support al-Qaeda. But as long as we remain hostile to making such fine discriminations, it's even less likely that Pakistan will do so.

... Whereas Mike Crowley at TNR thinks that Pakistani anti-Americanism is the fault of ... the Pakistani media!
At the heart of this problem is the anti-Americanism and conspiracy-mongering of Pakistan's media, which I saw first-hand when I read through a large stack of local papers at the embassy. So I was glad to find on my return to Washington this week that the latest print issue of TNR features a really top-notch article by Nicholas Schmindle about Shireen Mazari, a Pakistani journalist who's been dubbed "the Anne [sic] Coulter of Pakistan," and who has been responsible for countless stories like the one that recently speculated about whether a Wall Street Journal reporter in the country is actually a CIA spy, potentially endangering his life. When I was in Islamabad, one newspaper (I believe it was Mazari's The Nation, which is generally the worst offender) ran a story which included the wacko claim, attributed to Seymour Hersh, that a "death squad" backed by Dick Cheney was behind the 2007 assassination of Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto as well as the 2005 murder of Lebanese prime minister Raffik Hariri.
The idea that the media is following public opinion, rather than leading it, does not seem to occur to Mr. Crowley -- that Pakistan's distrust of the U.S. creates an appetite for such stories.

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