How things have changed between the US and Pakistan? Only a year ago, if someone like David Ignatius, a reputed opinion-maker on the American strategic circuit, had admonished us, we would all have scrambled to the nearest bomb shelter. When he did so on the 17th of May, through the good offices of The Washington Post, no one here seems to have noticed. He argues, rather ingeniously, that Pakistan failed to exploit Nato’s presence in the region to clobber its tribal areas into the mainstream; and thus missed the chance of a lifetime. Since the thesis has failed to cause any rumpus in our country, prudence demands that it should be ignored. Some of us have the impudence not to let go.
Let’s assume that we could have tamed these wild tribesmen with help from our allies (we are still on the ‘Major Non-Nato’ list). With Pakistan’s writ in the frontier regions then becoming as good as it is in Karachi and Balochistan, an opportunity indeed seems to have been lost. But there still is room for a consolation prize, perhaps even more gratifying because of its sheer enormity. The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang-up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss. It may not be all for the good, but it feels good to think about it.
But before being carried away by some amorphous notions of victory, let’s take another look at Mr Ignatius’s thesis. He has obviously read all about the British failures to pacify these ‘badlands’ and, therefore, seems to understand that a soft approach is not going to work. With their kith and kin fighting an occupation across the borders, our tribesmen were not likely to respond kindly to our pleas not to join the battle, or abandon their obligations just because at that very time we thought of taking up the unfinished agenda of their special status.
Mr Ignatius, therefore, suggests a more kinetic, or ballistic, approach to bring them around.
He believes “modern communications and transportation” would have accomplished what the British could not. He knows, of course, that all this fancy stuff did not help “the most potent army in history” to alter the ways of the Afghans, but still believes that Pakistan could do it better; because it is such a “wonderful nation”. Right now I am only wondering, why he and the West are so obsessed with the status of our tribal areas!
If it is to establish the writ of the government, then let me remind them that even if it existed anywhere else in the country, like in Karachi, Rawalpindi or Abbottabad, it has only helped those seeking safe havens. The ‘lawlessness’ of these areas, considering that their laws are implemented more strictly and equitably than ours, I suspect, is more like giving the dog a bad name before it is hanged.
Failure in Afghanistan may be due to flawed American strategies, or because the Afghans resist till the bitter end, or possibly a consequence of Pakistani support for the Taliban; the desire to embroil Pakistan in a war with its tribesmen, and in due course also with the Afghans, is understandable. This deadly nexus that has made a habit of taking on superpowers, at times even getting away with pretensions of victory, must be busted.
Let me cast the first prick, though only to deflate the pretension part. Resistance by the Mujahideen may have precipitated the Soviet downfall; the implosion of the empire had long been underway. The Taliban might have received help from the Pakistani side of the Durand Line, but that was not decisive. America was defeated in Afghanistan by the American Army. More about that some other time.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.