- Safe Democracy Foundation - http://english.safe-democracy.org -

Pakistan: the militancy threat and the USA’s uncertain regional strategy

sohailpakistan3Is Pakistan truly falling apart? Does the Zardari administration have credibility abroad? Is the Obama administration really serious about aiding the world’s only Islamic nuclear power? Does Pakistan trust the US? Read on for the answers.

(Islamabad) PAKISTAN IS FACING A SERIOUS internal threat, and has a poor image abroad. The country has been compared to Afghanistan or Somalia, and according to some observers is falling apart. Very recently, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton termed Pakistan a “mortal threat” to global security. It has been said that the militants continue to march on steadily in the country’s northern region. Some have even suggested that things are now spiraling out of control, and that the peril of the Taliban and Islamic militancy is now threatening Pakistan too. It is believed that a rapid “Talibanization” of the country is now taking place. According to an April 28 editorial in the News, one of the largest and most respected national dailies, it is time to “push back the tide” and “rescue” Pakistan.

“Despite its failures, Pakistan remains a dynamic and proud nation. Nevertheless, it is plagued by some serious and complex governance problems”

The gloom and doom of the specter of Islamic militancy notwithstanding, the Taliban threat has been exaggerated. Pakistan is not falling apart. It is a nation of 176 million with an increasingly aware public, a dynamic media, a nascent democracy that seems to be working, a restored judiciary, and a powerful army to guard its borders. Despite its failures, Pakistan remains a dynamic and proud nation. Nevertheless, it is plagued by some serious and complex governance problems.

PAKISTAN’S FAILURES

Let us examine Pakistan’s problems in detail. In the first place, Pakistan has a weak government, both thoroughly corrupt and also largely ineffective when it comes to delivering vital public services to the people.

“Pakistan’s government only has nominal control in the border region with Afghanistan”

President Asif Ali Zardari’s main qualification to hold public office is that he was the husband of Benazir Bhutto. While the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party remains a party deeply rooted in the masses, the increasing ineptitude, flaws and lack of direction exhibited by the country’s leadership is bringing the party great disrepute. More importantly, this downfall happened fairly quickly. President Zardari is increasingly unpopular in the country, and although Pakistan’s institutions continue to function, they are fundamentally weak. The only exception is the Army, and even it has suffered from corruption scandals and a lack of direction.

Furthermore, large parts of the northwestern and southwestern regions of Pakistan are not under the State’s control. In fact, Pakistan’s government only has nominal control in the border region with Afghanistan.

“The US is not even contemplating an exit strategy for Afghanistan like the one it has for Iraq, and this remains a major sore point in the relations between the two nations”

Moreover, an increasingly grave security situation is unfolding in Pakistan. Militant attacks and suicide bomber incidents have increased and led to the deaths of hundreds of citizens. Undoubtedly, the people are frightened and feeling increasingly insecure. Pakistanis are living on the edge, so to speak.

Besides, the economic crisis is getting worse, not better. The GDP has shrunk and the unemployment rate has soared. Inflation is a constant problem, and a great concern for the poor.

Lastly, Pakistan has lost credibility in the eyes of its few friends, who have promised too little in the way of timely economic assistance. Pakistanis believe that their nation’s allies are not doing enough to assist their country.

UNCERTAIN US STRATEGY FOR THE REGION

Recently, in a review of his Pakistan/Afghanistan strategy, President Obama placed a strong emphasis on Pakistan’s role in tackling the Islamic militancy threat. The US stated that it desired to increase its engagement with both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and recognized that Pakistan is now facing a growing Taliban insurgency of its very own. Yet the US has failed to put an end to Indian interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs, especially in Baluchistan. Without help, the Pakistani state has been unable to control the militants. And the US is not even contemplating an exit strategy for Afghanistan like the one it has for Iraq, and this remains a major sore point in the relations between the two nations.

“Pakistan may be at the center of the fight against Islamic militancy, but it will fail miserably if the US does not do more to stabilize it and neighboring Afghanistan”

A prolonged American presence in Afghanistan will not secure the region, but rather will destabilize it, and the US is increasingly unpopular in Pakistan as a result. American assistance has been meager, and has not matched the gravity of the crisis facing Pakistan.

The US should persuade India to withdraw its troops from the occupied Kashmir region so that Pakistan can focus on the militancy issue. Plus, it should be giving Pakistan at least ten times what it is currently giving as economic assistance. It is not enough to ask Pakistan to do more, knowing very well the Pakistani state’s limited ability to respond effectively to the militancy threat. The US should push for reform of Pakistani state agencies and better equip them, so as to do a good job in fighting militancy. The army is exhausted because of the growing insurgency and needs to be better trained and have better equipment in order to fight this new, unconventional war.

The Zardari administration must undergo serious and extensive reform measures in order to improve the appalling inability of the state to provide essential public services. Pakistan may be at the center of the fight against Islamic militancy, but it will fail miserably if the US does not do more to stabilize it and neighboring Afghanistan. This task is complicated, to say the least. Rather than ask Pakistan to do more, the US must show a greater commitment to the country.

INEVITABLE AMERICAN ABANDONMENT?

Unfortunately, a strong American resolve to increase help to Pakistan is simply not there. Maybe this is why some Pakistanis are hedging their bets, allowing the Taliban to serve as an insurance of sorts for the day when the US abandons the region once again, just like it did after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in 1989. The point is that Pakistan is a reluctant ally because it cannot trust the US; Pakistanis believe that the US will abandon them once again. Even though it is the only Islamic nuclear power, the US is not committed to supporting Pakistan in the long-term. This popular misconception may be far-fetched, but unfortunately the US isn’t doing much to dispel it, and its arrogance is not winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis.

“Perhaps some serious American introspection into its own image in the Muslim world is in order”

Perhaps some serious American introspection into its own image in the Muslim world is in order. Is the Obama administration willing to learn from past American mistakes? We sure hope so. America must show acceptance of Islam as a world religion. It should allow more space for Muslims to develop their societies within their own traditional religious framework. Despite their failings, Pakistanis are a proud people, and wish to be respected more by their American friends. A new partnership must be forged between the two nations, from which the whole world would benefit. It goes without saying that Pakistan must get its own act together. No outside help will matter if the Pakistanis fail themselves.