Consulting Pakistan Dawn Editorial
Tuesday, 03 Nov, 2009
The US will have to find a way to work with local partners in addition to a weak, discredited central government and thatís precisely where Pakistanís help can be most valuable, helping the Americans and Afghans differentiate between the various players.
ĎBECAUSE we understand the area, we understand the tribes, we understand the local customs and traditions and our input might be useful for the Americansí they should consult Pakistan on their on-going review of the strategy for Afghanistan. Thus has spoken Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his advice makes much sense.
This is not to suggest that there has been no consultation at all; senior Pakistani government and army officials have met their American counterparts in Washington as well as Islamabad and Rawalpindi. However, there is a sense that the Americans have kept Pakistan at armís length during the whole process, probably because of doubts about Pakistanís real intentions. Three issues dominate the American concerns about Pakistan: one, the safe havens for Al Qaeda and affiliated groups in Fata and other parts of the country; two, cross-border movement of militants that keeps the American and Afghan troops under pressure; and three, the supply lines that run through Pakistan that cannot realistically be totally replaced by alternative routes through Central Asia or Iran.
But in addition to these issues, there is another important factor in the Pak-Afghan-US matrix: Pakistanís intimate knowledge of Afghanistan, especially of the Pakhtun population which will be at the centre of a hearts-and-minds campaign in any Ďprotect the populationí counter-insurgency strategy. If there is one thing that is clear about the American strategy towards Afghanistan it is that the US does not have the will to expend the blood or treasure necessary to turn Afghanistan into a semblance of a modern nation-state Ė if indeed that is possible for an outside power to achieve at all. So going forward, the US will have to find a way to work with local partners in addition to a weak, discredited central government and thatís precisely where Pakistanís help can be most valuable, helping the Americans and Afghans differentiate between the various players.
Having said that, Pakistanís approach to Afghanistan leaves much to be desired. Officially, the security establishment takes the line that Afghanistan should be a Ďneutralí place in terms of regional powers such as Russia, Iran and even India; however, there is a suspicion that Ďneutralí really means a predominant role for Pakistan. Similarly, the demand that the Pakhtun population should have its due share in any Afghan government is believed to mean virtual control of the country by the Pakhtuns, who comprise under 50 per cent of the population. Then there is the fact that, as yesterdayís bombing in Rawalpindi again highlighted, Pakistanís inability to put its own house in order makes it less of a credible interlocutor elsewhere.
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However, it is a not so feasible option when you consider the fact that the strip of Tribal land between the Afghan Pashtun and Pakistan, FATA, is on fire and largely out of government control. Pakistan cannot hope to integrate aditional Pashtun provinces, most with their own Taliban insurgency, criminals and corruption, when it cannot control the existing Tribal areas.
Beyond that we see in Afghanistan and FATA that Tribal dynamics play a very large role (as referenced by Parihaka as well), so any long term option of integrating the Afghan Pashtun provinces would require a far more decentralized adminstrative structure in Pakistan, which has historically been the demand of the existing provinces as well, and is yet to be delivered upon. FATA would have to be integrated into the political mainstream and turned into something resembling the 'settled areas'.
None of the above appears possible in the near term, given the current political, economic and insurgency dynamics in Pakistan, and shearing of the Pashtun provinces to merge into Pakistan would only add to the chaos on display and Pakistan has neither the economic nor military resources (assuming the lack of normalization with India continues) to control FATA and a large swathe of Afghan Pashtun territory.
The amount of time it would take Pakistan to controll existing challenges and ready itself to manage additional territory and the unique challenges that go with that might as well be used to pour investment and resources into Afghanistan to try and resolve its issues as a single State.
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