Pakistan: Sliding into Chaos
The resignation of President Musharraf brings to an end an important yet turbulent chapter in US – Pakistan relations since 9/11. The United States faces today a Pakistan that lacks any form of consensus for the following reasons:
- *The Pakistan People’s Party under the leadership of Mr. Asif Zardari and the Pakistan Muslim League – N under the leadership of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif do not see eye to eye on most issues, more especially the direction the country should take in dealing with the rebellious tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The dispute over the Judges must be seen within that context in order to better understand the real motive behind the PML-N’s decision to quit the coalition government.
- *The tribal areas are becoming exceedingly ungovernable and security is deteriorating very fast creating a more secure environment for Al Qaeda and its terrorist infrastructure.
- *The army’s morale is sinking very fast due to what seem to be insurmountable difficulties the country is facing: a Pakistani insurgency in the tribal areas, a Taliban insurgency in Pakistan aimed at re-establishing Taliban power in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda.
- *The reigning in of elements of the ISI that the late Benazir Bhutto referred to as “the Core” and who have been collaborating with the Taliban has so far achieved very limited success.
- *Mr. Zaradari better known as “Mr. ten percent” does not enjoy the same level of support among the people of Pakistan as did his late wife, Benazir Bhutto.
Today, Pakistan is fractured. It may become the scene of a number of internal wars and become totally dysfunctional as a nation-state rendering it quite attractive to terrorists allover. What should the US do?
Kill the Guard or Eat the Grapes?
The Lebanese have a famous saying “do you want to kill the guard or eat the grapes” that fully illustrates today’s US dilemma. Let me explain. A group of young kids wanted to eat grapes from someone’s private vineyard but found them protected by a security guard. Instead of discussing ways to bypass the guard and get safely to the grapes, the kids started arguing over how to kill the guard!
The moral of the story for the United States in the context of Pakistan is quite simple. The tribal areas are “the guard” and Al Qaeda is “the grapes” in this analogy. Does the US want to fight the tribes or destroy Al Qaeda? The current US policy is turning poor populations of Pakistan that are culturally conservative, religiously devout, and tribally structured into anti-American militant insurgents. In addition to an insurgency led by the Taliban whose objective is to regain power in Afghanistan, there is now another growing and potentially much more dangerous insurgency that is Pakistani at its core. The main ingredient fueling this Pakistani insurgency is what the military refer to as “collateral damage” which can be understood even if not accepted by culturally sophisticated people but is always seen as “murder” by more primitive people living in a tribal context, driven by emotions, and governed by a complex set of values such as honor, pride, and revenge.
The increasingly deteriorating situation in Pakistan can quickly get out of hand and make Pakistan an ungovernable country with potent insurgencies spreading to the various regions of the country. What can the US do in this new fast developing context?
Option 1: Stay the Course
The US can continue the current policy of pressuring the Pakistani armed forces to fight more aggressively the insurgents and Al Qaeda. From a cultural intelligence perspective, the continuation of such policy will create more anti-American insurgencies that will gradually develop into Anti-American terror groups – a welcomed outcome by Al Qaeda and a disaster to the United States.
Option 2: The “Petraeus” Counterinsurgency
The US can take David Petraeus’s approach to counterinsurgency and adapt it to the Pakistani context. While doable in theory, current conditions on the ground in Pakistan are no longer favorable. The Pakistani military is ill equipped and badly trained to carry out such a mission and the current political environment lacks the consensus necessary for the adoption of such a policy. This option should have been in place in Pakistan in 2003 to coincide with the invasion of Iraq. It may be exercised at a future date under better political and military conditions in the country.
Option 3: Positive Engagement
This option is the most complex of the three but has the most chances for long term strategic success on the part of the United States. Currently, the US is seen by most Pakistanis as interfering in their internal affairs and attempting to sway the politics of the country in a direction that would enable it to continue its current military-focused policy course – something that Pakistanis are increasingly seeing as not being in the interest of their country and is fueling resentment towards the United States.
This third option requires the United States to do the following:
- *Help the Pakistanis build a “national unity” government in order to affect positively conditions on the ground in favor of the war on terror.
- *What US Ambassador Khalilzad is allegedly doing is very harmful to long term US interests in that country and region (incidentally, he did the same thing while he was Ambassador to Iraq. His attempts to meddle in and micromanage the internal affairs of the Iraqis brought about Shiite resentment towards the United States and directly contributed to Iran’s increased soft power in that country).
- *When viewed as an honest broker assisting the PPP and the PML-N in forming a national unity government, the US can gain extraordinary leverage against the real enemy in Pakistan, Al Qaeda. A more fractured Pakistan will undoubtedly provide a safer environment within which terrorists can thrive and prosper.
- *Help broker a political arrangement between the new national unity government and the tribes in the conflict areas. This will directly affect the locals’ perception of the United States and can almost overnight turn the tribes into allies. From a cultural intelligence perspective, it is imperative to remember that in that part of the world, emotional intelligence is much more dominant that cognitive intelligence. A newly brokered arrangement with the local tribes can be further supported by US economic and social assistance. Such an arrangement is necessary to neutralize the Pakistani insurgency, weaken the Taliban, and make it much more difficult for Al Qaeda to operate.
- *Build up and strengthen the Pakistani military’s counterinsurgency capabilities with a special focus on the Taliban. The Taliban must be neutralized in order to reverse the destabilization trend within parts of Pakistan and more especially Afghanistan. From a cultural intelligence perspective, it is imperative to remember that, in addition to being Islamist fundamentalists, more importantly, the Taliban are a Pashtun nationalist movement. The current policy is reinforcing the Taliban’s nationalist stance among the Pashtun tribes thus increasing their appeal and base of operations in that region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. The goal of the United States should be to render as obsolete as possible the nationalistic appeal the Taliban currently enjoy. Once reduced to being only an Islamist fundamentalist organization, their influence would be greatly diminished. Let us for a moment reflect on a difficult truth. Had the Taliban not given refuge to Al Qaeda, what national security threat would a fundamentalist Afghanistan have posed to the United States and its allies? Some may even argue that it was the imposition of total isolation on the Taliban in Afghanistan that presented the opportunity for Al Qaeda to move in and provide “aid and comfort” to the Taliban.
With Musharraf out of the way, it may be easier for the United States to turn the page and adopt a new approach to its bilateral relations with Pakistan. This window of opportunity is closing fast and, if missed, it will be replaced by creeping chaos with dire geostrategic consequences to US interests, nuclear proliferation, relations with India, Afghanistan stability, Iranian influence, and of course the war on terror.