Frankenstein’s monsters

Published: June 7, 2016
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The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal

The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal

A troublemaker that causes its neighbours harm, a country being attacked by monsters of its own creation: this is how the world sees Pakistan. Yes, there are moments of unreserved sympathy for the country and the suffering of its people — after the Army Public School attack in Peshawar, after the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park blast in Lahore — but these are more often than not overtaken by news that suggests that Pakistan is scheming and double-dealing, harbouring terrorists that attack its neighbours and endanger the Western world. The sympathy gives way to anger, bewilderment, and the sense that you reap what you sow.

Of course, Pakistan disagrees. It sees itself as a victim — of the jihadists created to fight America’s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, of American abandonment in the 1990s, of the jihadist blowback in allying with America post-2001, of its painful birth, of Indian aggression and connivance. It irks Pakistan that the world defines it in terms of terror. Why, Pakistanis ask, doesn’t the world notice any of Pakistan’s positives — the gleaming new buildings in its largest cities, its metrobuses and highways — the way it obsesses over shining India? To these folks, it seems that the only Pakistani heroes the world honours are the ones their country damages, like Malala.

Who’s right? We’ll get back to that. Let’s talk about Mullah Mansoor of the Afghan Taliban — responsible for the uptick in attacks in Afghanistan over the past year and for the deaths of many Afghans — targeted by that American drone strike while being driven along a road in Balochistan. Pakistan’s cries about sovereignty are moot. There is only one takeaway: that Pakistan’s repeated denials about housing the Afghan Taliban were lies. We knew that all along. Still, the confirmation is embarrassing. It’s Osama in Abbottabad, redux. It justifies what the world thinks about Pakistan.

Why does Pakistan do it? It defies rational comprehension. I know the official line, the strategic depth argument: Pakistan fears Indian influence in Afghanistan and encirclement by India, so it maintains connections to the Taliban in Afghanistan. But really, how much sense does that make? Is influence in Afghanistan worth more than Pakistan’s standing in the world? Is it worth more than the investment and tourism and thus income we forgo for being losers in the forum of world opinion? Is it worth more than Pakistan’s security (and the adverse economic effects of poor security)? Thinking this way is not naive, it is realistic.

Because the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban, while distinct groups, are connected. Terrorists of all stripes feed off each other, even those with different goals — but these two groups share the same ideologies. You cannot fight one while holding the other’s hand. The havoc the Afghan Taliban wreaks not only affects Kabul and Afghans, it emboldens the Pakistani Taliban to pursue the same at home. Seeing the Afghan Taliban gain power next door would surely boost the Taliban currently on their knees in Waziristan.

Who gave the thumbs-up to Pakistan to continue to cultivate ties with the Afghan Taliban? Not our public, which deeply dislikes the group. Only 12 per cent of respondents surveyed by Pew in 2013 had a favourable view of the Afghan Taliban; 47 per cent had an unfavourable view (42 per cent did not respond). But public opinion informs policy in the best democracies: it is not to be expected in Pakistan where historically defence and security policies have not been in the hands of its elected leaders.

Reading all this, some people will circle around, and protest anew about victimhood and betrayal and RAW and geopolitics and America, and say that that imbroglio justifies everything. But the 1980s are over. Pakistan can make a choice now, and it is a clear one: drop all militants. That goal from the National Action Plan, we now know for sure, is half untouched.

So cut ties with the Afghan Taliban. Not for blind idealism, but for pragmatism. These ties have enormous negative consequences that span both security and economics, and extend to world opinion. And when the world starts thinking a little more highly of Pakistan, the country may just start feeling a little less insecure about itself relative to India. It’s a win-win, if you ask me.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Sher
    Jun 8, 2016 - 4:01AM

    I partially agree with writer’s view. But question of completely abandoning Afghan Taliban is not that simple any more. There are many countries in this region and beyond which will happily take Afghan Taliban’s hands, the day Pakistan turns eyes away from Afghan Taliban. The end game has started now, so you will see more active proxies in the region.

    The best option for Pakistan is to distance its self from the peace negotiations and also from Afghan Taliban. Let US and Afghans deal with each other. But Pakistan should seal the border and extensive border management should be introduced.Recommend

  • Rarun
    Jun 8, 2016 - 4:17AM

    A voice of reason, a voice from an educated professional, a voice from a woman. It is time Pakistanis started comparing these voices against the voices of the establishment and started demanding answers. Dr Afzal, your article is perhaps the best I have read, please do not stopRecommend

  • Parvez
    Jun 8, 2016 - 4:40AM

    That was rather simplistic thinking……do you honestly think that if Pakistan cuts its ties with the Afghan Taliban ( ties that are exaggerated ) it’s troubles will disappear……it would be naive to think that. Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 8, 2016 - 5:53AM

    @Parvez:
    So you claim that Pakistan’s ties with the Afghan Taliban are exaggerated????
    Please tell us just WHO openly supported those Good Taliban assets like the Haqqani, LeT, and Afghan Taliban these past dozen or so years?Recommend

  • bilal
    Jun 8, 2016 - 6:14AM

    I don’t know if this gets posted by ET….
    “….But public opinion informs policy in the best democracies: it is not to be expected in Pakistan where historically defence and security policies have not been in the hands of its elected leaders.” Really ? No wonder we see American opinion on minorities, muslims, immigrants in Trump’s success. And UK’s anti-Iraq invasion protests and Tony Blair’s response to it.
    The article is rather naive in thought. Even a novice reader of the regional geopolitical situation would state that Afghanistan is being played out as part of the great game (I imagine an eagle,wounded lion & budding elephant on one side and a wounded bear and assertive panda on the other).
    Would you rather that Pakistan supports a puppet regime put in place by an imperial power through force of arms? The current afghan govt. is as representative of afghans as McArthur was of the Japanese.
    Fact of the matter remains that there’s war of liberation going on in Afghanistan (for more than a decade now) and Pakistan is being embroiled into it. The day the current Afghan dispensation stabilizes, Pakistan would have to double its armed forces/budget to defend our western border.
    Let start by reading our history. Recommend

  • Logical_conclusion
    Jun 8, 2016 - 7:53AM

    Fact:

    “Only 12 per cent of respondents surveyed by Pew in 2013 had a favourable view of the Afghan Taliban; 47 per cent had an unfavourable view (42 per cent did not respond)”

    12% + 42 % = 54%

    Those 42%, who did not respond are the silent supporters.

    Good luck, Pakistan.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Jun 8, 2016 - 9:17AM

    Madam, it was only hate against India and its overwhelming Hindu population, which was resulted in creation of Pakistan. Even today this is the only binding force (as perceived by its boys) for existence of Pakistan (whatever it is left).

    What you are proposing is only to forgo this hate? Aren’t you expecting too much and putting your axe on “Two Nation Theory” …. ???Recommend

  • Tyggar
    Jun 8, 2016 - 9:28AM

    @Parvez:
    Pakistan having the ability to choose the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mansoor, is not an exaggeration. Also the fact that Pakistan was able to keep the death of Mullah Omar a secret for two years for its benefit is also an indication of its control over the group.

    do you honestly think that if Pakistan cuts its ties with the Afghan Taliban ( ties that are exaggerated ) it’s troubles will disappear……it would be naive to think that.

    So, when you are in a hole, your strategy is to dig even deeper?Recommend

  • rk
    Jun 8, 2016 - 10:12AM

    Unbelievable clarity and maturity beyond your years. God bless you Dr ,in this holy month of Ramzan Mubarak.Recommend

  • Jun 8, 2016 - 11:31AM

    I have always wondered how the women of Pakistan accept this support of the Afghan taliban given their harsh actions towards women.

    Finally a woman has spoken up – we need more – the only persons gettting any strategic depth are the criminal misogynist groups that deploy religion for their advantage. Recommend

  • Lolz
    Jun 8, 2016 - 3:22PM

    It a well written piece but with a simplistic approach. The problem here is not the Taliban only, but the situation arose after several invasions by Soviets and Americans. Americans sought a military solution and also installed a puppet government to pull out at the end of their mission. Very few in this region see a future of this inorganic democracy as this territory has also been a battlefield for proxies during the great game before. Instead of political reforms and support, this country is constantly being injected with weaponry of US and Russian origin that burns the furnace of their economies. I think this is the 21st century great game between two bigger power blogs and Pakistan is merely playing its survival part. Recommend

  • whatever
    Jun 8, 2016 - 5:34PM

    Bravo Lady, you have given a tight slap to all fanatics..hope you will not be treated like Sabeena Mehmood by so called deep state.Recommend

  • curious2
    Jun 9, 2016 - 7:37PM

    @Parvez:

    That was rather simplistic
    thinking……do you honestly think that
    if Pakistan cuts its ties with the
    Afghan Taliban ( ties that are
    exaggerated ) it’s troubles will
    disappear……it would be naive to think
    that.

    Nobody has suggested that all troubles will go away – but you have to start somewhere so why not tackle the one that has ruined your relationship with Afghanistan, USA and the rest of the World?Recommend

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