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Pakistan: More Sinned Against than Sinning

February 11, 2008 by  


By Haroon Siddiqui, The Toronto Star

Blaming Pakistan for the mess in Afghanistan is to get the equation backwards.

Pakistan has problems galore, and they are getting worse by the day. The jihadist insurgency there, with mounting attacks on the army and suicide bombings against civilians, is a spillover from Afghanistan, not the other way around.

The problems of Afghanistan thus have to be resolved mostly in Afghanistan – just as the problems of invaded Iraq have to be resolved mostly in Iraq, not in Iran or Syria.

John Manley’s panel on our Afghan mission seems to understand, offering some nuanced observations.

“The crisis in Pakistan, which shares a lawless border with Afghanistan, adds new danger and confusion to Afghanistan’s future.”

It does. In fact, “Pakistan’s own political disarray magnifies the destabilizing threat of the insurgency both to Pakistan and Afghanistan.” (Emphasis mine).

“The conflict in Afghanistan is a continuation of almost three decades of war involving many of the same players, not all of which are Taliban.” Correct.

During the 1980-88 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan provided a haven to the mujahideen, who used the same porous border to drive out the Soviets. Al Qaeda, including its foreign recruits, and the Taliban are by-products of that enterprise, which was paid for by the U.S. and its allies.

Manley: “The (current Afghan) insurgency benefits from easy resort to safe havens in Pakistan, where it is refinanced, rearmed and replenished with new recruits, including those from other countries.”

Equally, “the insurgency receives external support and financial assistance from a number of global actors, including private sources in the Gulf states, as well as support from alienated local tribes, opium producers and other criminal elements within Afghanistan.”

Here, then, is the big picture:

The Taliban are Pushtuns who live on both sides of the border. Pakistan, therefore, is home to Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers.

Pakistan does not deny that the inaccessible border areas may have Taliban/Al Qaeda sanctuaries, and also be the hiding places of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

That leaves two main arguments.

Is Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistan army’s super-secret agency, aiding and abetting the Taliban and Al Qaeda officially or at the behest of rogue elements within?

There is no proof of either but there are accusations galore.

Another argument is over what, exactly, President Pervez Musharraf can do to control the border.

He committed 90,000 soldiers and lost 900. That’s more than double the contributions and sacrifices of all NATO nations combined.

That death toll prompted him to strike peace deals with the tribal leaders. But the deals backfired. The jihadists used the lull to intensify the insurgency.

Their quarrel with him is not that he’s a dictator but rather that he is doing America’s bidding in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

At the other end of the Pakistani domestic political spectrum, Iftikhar Chaudhry, the fired chief justice, also excoriated him for, among other things, copying Bush’s tactics: holding terrorism suspects outside the purview of the law.

As for the notion of covert American action or open military intervention in Pakistani tribal areas – as hinted at by Stéphane Dion and clearly enunciated by Barack Obama – it’s a non-starter.

A poll by the U.S. Institute of Peace has found that 80 per cent of Pakistanis oppose the idea. And 84 per cent consider the U.S. military presence in the region a far greater threat to Pakistan than either Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

So Musharraf knows whereof he speaks when he says: “I challenge anybody coming into our mountains. They would regret that day.”

None of this is to give him a pass for his increasingly autocratic ways, leading up to the Feb. 18 election. Rather it is to point to the futility of scapegoating Pakistan for the West’s failures in Afghanistan.

Here’s Manley’s main point: “Canada, in concert with key allies, should adopt a coherent diplomatic strategy that addresses regional risks and engages all the region’s actors, in particular Pakistan.”

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star’s editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiq@thestar.ca.

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