Monday, February 11, 2013

US and Pakistan

Posted by Professor Vicki Hesli

Few Americans pay serious attention to Pakistan, though the number of military and civilian casualties is as high in Pakistan as in Afghanistan. In 1947, the main region of South Asia under British colonial administration was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Since then, Pakistan has grown to be the sixth most populous country in the world, with ninety-six percent of the people being Muslim. The 1947 partition was traumatic, involving mass migrations of people, violence and death, leaving bitter feelings between India and Pakistan along with continued disputes over territory, most notably Kashmir.

 Since independence the government of Pakistan has oscillated between military dictatorships and civilian rule. The most recent period of military rule began when General Musharraf overthrew a government elected in 1997. Following the September 11, 2001 attack on New York and Washington, DC, the United States turned to Musharraf as an ally needed to provide bases and logistical support for American forces in Afghanistan. By allying with the United States, Musharref had to withdraw his government’s previous support from the Taliban, and this contributed to the continuing growth of Islamic fundamentalism in his own country. By 2008, Islamic militancy had expanded into a formidable force within Pakistan and Musharraf lost the backing of the United States. He resigned in August 2008 and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Asif Ali Zardari was elected as Pakistan’s new president.

Several Pakistani-based militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, that were originally organized to fight against India in Kashmir are now operating on the Pakistani border and in Afghanistan against U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces. One of the largest militant groups, the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (oft referred to as the Pakistani Taliban or the TTP), grew up in partial response to U.S. drone strikes against suspected Al Qaeda affiliates as well as Pakistani military operations in FATA, a region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan. The TTP is arguably the most serious threat to Pakistan’s stability. The TTP is essentially a conglomeration of various local networks that simultaneously cooperate and compete with each other. The current leader is Hakimullah Mehsud. See also: The FBI’s list of its most wanted terrorists. 

TTP forces have mounted large-scale coordinated assaults against Pakistani military bases. Some militant leaders within the TTP, such as Gul Bahadur, prioritize fighting in Afghanistan, some focus their efforts within Pakistan, while other networks fight in both countries, with targets such as NATO supply convoys or local government officials. See this recent New York Times article.

Pakistan’s own military has been unsuccessful to date in its efforts to wage a sustained and effective counterinsurgency campaign, and these militant groups in Pakistan now pose a threat to the state, the region, and the international community more broadly. As revealed in the following link, the number of casualties continues to rise:  South Asia Terrorism Portal. Another valuable web-link for information on Pakistan’s security issues is: The Pak Institute for Peace Studies.

The upcoming withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will cause dramatic shifts in the balance of power not only in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan as well. The presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has kept groups such as the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) partially in check, but with the departure of U.S. troops, the TTP will have more freedom to use Afghan territory as a base of operations against Pakistani military and civilian administration targets. In the face of this increased militant threat, Pakistan is seeking a negotiated solution and has encouraged talks with both the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the militant group Hezb-i-Islami. Should a negotiated settlement not be forthcoming, the risks are tremendous. Pakistan is not likely be able to disarm the militants using its own military resources and personnel, in part because many of these groups were originally encouraged and funded by the Pakistani state itself.

In spite of these serious challenges to security and stability in region, a careful review of history reveals that U.S. efforts to dictate Pakistani policy or to fight wars in Afghanistan or Pakistan are fraught with negative repercussions and do not result in the realization of U.S. foreign policy goals. The U.S. would be better off letting Pakistan, India and Afghanistan negotiate their own solutions to the regional problems that they face. The U.S. needs to adopt a policy of treating these nations as self-governing entities and to respect the international norm of non-interference in the affairs of these sovereign countries. A necessary accompaniment to this proposal is assertion the U.S. does have a responsibility to help in reconstruction and in providing humanitarian and developmental assistance in regions such as Pakistan and Afghanistan where we ourselves contributed to toll of death and destruction. When our national security policies have contributed to the devastation, we do have an obligation to help with recovery efforts. We do not, however, have the right or the responsibility of controlling the destiny of these countries.  










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