Friday, March 20, 2009

Foreign Policy – Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Center for American Progress writes about the need for America to support democracy in Pakistan.
Pakistan is unraveling. The only recipe is more democracy, not less, so that civilian support for, and ownership of, the war on terror can be manufactured and strengthened. Western efforts must be focused on strengthening the economy (there is no substitute for jobs, well-being and upward mobility in ensuring a political stake in the system rather than Long Marches and terrorism) and retraining and re-equipping the Pakistani military to cope with insurgency. Above all, greater intervention is needed in discreetly but firmly knocking political heads together in Pakistan. The last thing the United States should consider is a wink and a nod to another army general to seize power. The war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban will eventually be won in the hearts and minds of the people.

For this, empowerment of secular and liberal elements in the mainstream media is crucial. The present nature of the vernacular Urdu media, both print and electronic, is that although the owners are all stake-holders in the national economy, and have assets in the United Kingdom and the United States, they are pandering to the lowest common denominator (hatred of the United States, sympathy for the Taliban, emphasis on religiosity, hatred of India) for the Punjabi urban middle classes in pursuit of eyeball “ratings” for ad revenues purposes. The media barons of Pakistan must be persuaded to allow rational debate in their papers and on their channels and discouraged from pandering to the religious right, glorifying Al Qaeda and the Taliban and spreading hatred of India. The majority of Pakistanis are still interested in the objective truth, but this may be a short-lived phenomenon as they are steadily being poisoned by a diatribe of irrationality. In the final analysis, the battle for hearts and minds has to be won in the Pakistani media rather than in the tribal badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Patrick French takes on the argument that the Taliban can be reasoned and baragained with. On the handing over of the Swat Valley to Taliban insurgents, he writes:
When territory is surrendered in this way, it is very difficult for the state to recover it. The central premise behind the war on terrorism was that extremist groups should not be allowed sanctuaries from which to threaten the rest of the world. In that context, the loss of Swat offers the Taliban and other extremist groups a template for the future.

Pakistan's slide toward anarchy is similar to the conditions in Afghanistan in the 1990s: it was easier then for the Afghan elite to pretend that the political situation was likely to improve than to face the truth and do something about it. The bickering factions in Kabul allowed the Taliban to take control of large areas of southern Afghanistan, refusing to see that this would only embolden the Islamists to march on the capital.

Similarly, millenarian Islamists are now seeking to destroy Pakistan as a nation-state, and realize that they have won a strategic victory in Swat. President Obama's hope of weaning "moderate" elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan away from violence, as happened with Sunni militants in Iraq, is stymied by the fact the Pakistani Taliban know they are winning. Making a deal with them now is appeasement.

Terry Glavin on the many foolish statements made by Canada’s Jack Layton.
It's certainly not Layton's fault that the NDP's activist base, by 2006, had become so completely uprooted from its working-class traditions, and so addled by an antique (and curiously American) counterculture pseudo-analysis of Afghanistan's torments, that all the NDP could say on the subject was that it was all about oil or all about the Haliburton-Blackwater global corporate hegemony or something. Or more succinctly, it was all just "George Bush's war." Or as Layton himself was fond of saying, in those moments when he was caught up in flights of his own oratory, it was all just a "George Bush-style seek and kill mission."

If Layton was willing to overlook the fact that Canada was and remains one of 39 countries operating under a United Nations mandate with troops in Afghanistan, at the invitation of Afghanistan's democratically elected government, then the rest of us should be big enough to look the other way now that Layton is insinuating that it has been someone else who has been engaging in "name calling and overheated rhetoric" all this time.

I realize it doesn't help that ever since September, 2006, it's been all "NATO troops out, UN peacekeepers in," and Support The Troops, Bring Them Home, and then after our soldiers are gone we'll send Canadians back, only this time armed with Blackberries, to engage the Taliban in peace talks. It's also true that for nearly three years, the NDP has had no place in the critically important debates about what our soldiers should be doing in Afghanistan, anyway, because the NDP's official party policy has been that our soldiers shouldn't even be there at all. But still.

Max Boot on why the Soviet mission in Afghanistan does not correlate to the current US-UN operation.
The Russians did try to use a blunt-force strategy of killing civilians more or less indiscriminately to terrorize the population. They also failed to garrison much of the countryside, confining their troops to large bases in the cities from which they ventured in periodic search and destroy missions. Even so, they might have prevailed were it not for the Stingers and other weapons shipped to the mujaheddin -- a level of support that far exceeds what Pakistan, Iran, or any other country is giving to the Taliban today.

Luckily, NATO is not emulating Soviet tactics. Our troops use force sparingly and they are making an effort to win over the population. Far from trying to win by force alone, they are putting major resources into economic, political, and social development programs.

No comments: