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The Mistake of Afghanizing Pakistan

May 14, 2009 by  


We cannot expect Pakistan to do what America could not

By Abdul Malik Mujahid

As Pakistan begins an all-out air and land assault on its own people and its president asks America for drones, we must ask: Can Pakistan succeed in defeating the Taliban when America has not?

We must consider that if America, with its military might, satellites and well-equipped soldiers has not been able to stop the Taliban from crisscrossing the Afghan-Pakistan border in the last seven years, we cannot expect Pakistan to be able to accomplish that for us.

As a child living in southern Pakistan, hundreds of miles away from Afghanistan, I used to watch the camel caravans of Afghans as they descended on our town at the beginning of winter. One or two families with children would be riding on a few camels as the men walked along. The rest of the camels would be carrying firewood to sell to the locals. Although that was forty years ago, the cultural ties between the two people are still essentially the same.

There is literally no border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, or, for that matter, between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Yes, there are soldiers on a couple of roads entering each country, but overall, these are open borders.

People living on both sides of Afghanistan’s border are tribally and linguistically the same. They have crossed between the countries freely for centuries.

And America knows this.

America used this knowledge to its advantage when it trained, financed, equipped and guided Afghans to defeat the occupying Soviet Union in the 1980s. These Mujahideen -  then allies in America’s war against communism by proxy – were Afghan refugees trained in Pakistan by the CIA. That began thirty years ago, not after 9/11.

This is why we cannot plead ignorance. We knew the region well enough. However, that knowledge did not help us stop Osama bin Laden and his friends from getting away during the Battle of Tora Bora.

Tora Bora is a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan originally built with the assistance of the CIA during the Mujahideen’s resistance against Soviet occupation. Osama bin Laden and the CIA both being allies at one point, knew it well.

The U.S. believed that bin Laden and his allies were hiding in Tora Bora, but despite overrunning it, we failed to kill or capture him or his supporters. It is amazing that after seven years of using our cutting edge technology and spies, and a $50 million dollar bounty, we still don’t know where he is and whether he is even dead or alive.

So if knowledge of the area is not the problem, then why did we succeed in defeating the Soviets but not the Taliban?

The answer lies in the support of the region’s people and the advantage the terrain provides to them.

In the war against the Soviets, people on both sides of the Afghan border were in favor of it. This time they are not. Consider that in the 1980s, we did not have to enter the country to fight the Soviets. The local support meant we could “outsource” the actual fighting to those who shared our ideals and knew the territory best.

Fast forward to today: not only do we lack this acceptance for our goals in the region, but we are actually fighting in its rugged, high terrain that is ideal for guerrilla warfare, unlike the flat plains of Iraq.

If America cannot stop the Taliban from crossing the borders it controls, there is no chance Pakistan will be able to do the same.

We are making a deadly and costly mistake by trying to coerce Pakistan to achieve what we have failed to do. President Barack Obama has been reaching out to the Muslim world, seeking diplomacy over militarism. It must do the same in Afghanistan instead of Afganizing Pakistan.

Abdul Malik Mujahid is a Pak-American Imam in Chicago, President of Sound Vision, and serves as the vice chair for a Council for a Parliament of World Religions.

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