In the aftermath of the Bin Laden operation, both the US and Pakistan could use a strong dose of humility and this should come from both sides. But since the fallout is happening on Pakistani soil, and since Pakistani sovereignty has been insulted, the US should take the lead on this matter.
The US engagement in Afghanistan represents human nature at its basest. You get hit, you hit back. So 9/11 happened, and the US entered Afghanistan. Musharraf received a mandate. He was with the US, or he was with the terrorists. And partnering with the US was more lucrative.
Following 9/11, the US should have encouraged Pakistan to close its borders in the interest of regional security. Instead, the US asked an already fragile state to make itself infinitely more vulnerable by engaging in a proxy war, further fracturing an imperfect, but functioning, Pakistani military. The US requested (essentially purchased) bases and access, asking Musharraf to risk the safety of Pakistani citizens by engaging in foreign policy that would, without doubt, increase violence on Pakistani soil. The Pakistani government was asked to disregard long-term strategic alliances already in place and to forgo its intuitive knowledge of its own neighbourhood, in what was arguably nothing more than the interest of a grudge, albeit the biggest grudge in American’s history — except that America termed this cause “homeland security”. But truly, whose homeland was in question? And why was Bin Laden discovered in Pakistan?
Because the US drove him there. Bin Laden would have happily stayed in Afghanistan, living it up among his cronies, but the US decided it had to rescue the Afghani people — a noble, if misguided cause. But the US ignored the obvious red flag: Historically Afghans consider all foreigners to be invaders, regardless of whether those foreigners perceive themselves as liberators.
It’s a basic principle of physics — two bodies cannot occupy the same space. So the US occupied Afghanistan and the overflow — Bin Laden et al. — spilled into Pakistan. And rather than apologising for the consequences of its own actions — increased militancy (both home-grown and imported), civilian deaths and violence in Pakistan, and eventually, the relocation of the head of al Qaeda to Abbottabad — the US swatted Pakistan’s hand saying ‘shame, shame for hiding Bin Laden.’
It is time for the US to publicly apologise to Pakistan for greatly aggravating an already dysfunctional situation. It’s time for the US and Pakistan to become honest allies. The US needs to stop all aggressive military action and help Pakistan obsessively guard its Afghan border — from the ground and on the Afghan side. Beyond that, US troops should watch their backs, and let the Afghans sort themselves out — historically, they always do. And maybe, if Pakistan has a reprieve from the influx of both refugees and militants, it will be able to do the same. The sooner America gets out of the region, the better for all three nations involved. Afghanistan is in shambles, and Pakistan is close at its heels. It’s time for the US to preserve what it can and go home.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2011.