Writing in this column on the situation in Afghanistan, I had expressed the opinion that the United States and Pakistan still needed to harmonise their ideas on the future of that country as well as Pakistan. The recently published report of the White House to Congress on Pakistan and Afghanistan, a requirement to be fulfilled at 180-day intervals, confirms this perception. The critical observations made on Pakistan, both in the domain of governance and counter-insurgency operations, have evoked a sharp reaction in the country with government officials and the media ‘rejecting’ the contents of the report in forceful terms.
Notwithstanding such emotive factors as the Raymond Davis affair, which could have affected the tone and tenor of the report and the reaction in Pakistan, the contents of this third attempt at measuring progress in terms of benchmarks — metrics — should be seen calmly, in its proper perspective. As this newspaper pointed out, the report is by no means a one-sided narrative. Far more important than angry protests is the need to draw the right lessons and formulate a response in the best interest of the nation.
First, the context has to be understood. The evaluation coincides with US President Barack Obama’s launching of the campaign for a second term. Wherever warranted, political expediency has trumped the facts of the situation. In the highly complex relationship between the White House and Congress, the facts have to be a spun into a narrative that strengthens the president’s hands; this task becomes particularly difficult in the case of America’s foreign wars which are not being won. The war in Afghanistan has lost much of the optimism of the early Obama years. The US bombing of Libya did not have Congressional approval and could still become an election issue. In the last week of February, Defence Secretary Robert Gates told a West Point audience that “any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined”. He has since tried to put a gloss on this candid comment but he had already implicitly underlined the challenge of extricating 100,000 American troops from Afghanistan without a clear victory. Regrettably, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s policy of playing the frontline state, followed blindly by the elected government, has made it virtually impossible to prevent a fallout on Pakistan as the United States struggles to perform this great feat. In fact, the present government has fewer options than Musharraf as the battle with our indigenous militancy has intensified. Washington knows Pakistan’s Achilles heel and will not hesitate to apply the ‘metrics’ to it to explain its own failures in Afghanistan.
Secondly, there is no gainsaying that the United States wants a stable and economically viable Pakistan conforming to Washington’s design for its state and society. Many elements of that design, such as purging extremism and violence from our body politic, are shared by a vast majority of our people. For years, the US just demanded greater use of force, though the Obama administration has generally taken a more holistic view of the situation. The US agenda includes transformation of Pakistan’s armed forces, their sense of mission and the means that they should have to fulfil it. Here, the two allies are not always on the same page. There is perpetual irritation in Washington that a government in the creation of which the United States had played a key role, has not been able to deliver. This frustration is writ large into the White House report.
The report is also an abbreviated chronicle of significant events in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The narration of Pakistan Army’s counter-insurgency operations acknowledges improved coordination across the border; it also notes the heavy casualties (2,575 killed in action and over 8,500 wounded since 2001) suffered by it. This is, however, subject to the following carping criticism: “What remains vexing is the lack of any indication of ‘hold’ and ‘build’ planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations.” And then comes a verdict out of the blue: “As such, there remains no clear path towards defeating the insurgency in Pakistan despite the deployment 147,000 troops.” Numerous colour-coded maps exist which vividly show how fragile the Nato-Isaf hold on Afghanistan is, after a decade of war. One cannot help feeling that the report reflects the pique caused by Pakistan’s resolve to undertake a major operation against North Waziristan only at a time of its own choosing.
The political government is assessed negatively; the areas flagged include underperformance by it during the great flood, a stagnant and fragile economic situation, a political gridlock in which the government is unable to develop consensus on difficult economic and fiscal reforms and tensions between the Supreme Court and President Asif Ali Zardari. We cannot protest too much as it is a report written to serve the national interest of the United States. Insofar as it generates pressure on Pakistan, we will have to simply put our own house in order. Washington criticises the government for its failure to achieve consensus on national strategies. Ironically, a major reason why it lacks mass support is that people think of it as an alien transplant that has a permanent disconnect with them. Pakistan is likely to have coalition governments for a long time to come. The manner in which the present coalition works baffles the nation; it cannot judge where political leadership ends and the entrenched mafiosi take over. The Americans complain that the Pakistani government has no coherent design that would serve their war objectives, the people of Pakistan lament that it has no blueprint for their survival and development. Many differences between the premier intelligence organisations of the two countries might, indeed, have been resolved during the recent visit to Washington of DG ISI, leading to better intelligence and operational coordination. But the path to national salvation will continue to be as uncertain as before. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s government has, as the report insinuates, simply run out of steam.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2011.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ