Sunday, August 4, 2013

War and Peace in Pakistan

Of all the countries in crisis across the broad arc of the Muslim world, Pakistan may be the most important. For one thing, while Iran is working feverishly to get nuclear weapons, Pakistan already has them. And Pakistan has nervous relations with its next-door neighbor, which also happens to armed with nukes. That alone qualifies it as an accident waiting to happen.

Pakistan also is the key to the future of Afghanistan, where a decade’s worth of American blood and treasure risks being spent in vain if the country reverts to a Taliban death camp or, more likely, merely slides into murderous anarchy.

So I was glad to see Secretary of State John Kerry making a rapid visit to Islamabad last week to sit down with Pakistani leaders. Meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz, Kerry discussed Pakistani grievances (drone strikes) and American irritations (jihadist sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas). He invited them to Washington to meet with President Obama and issued the usual platitudes about partnership in a press conference.

I think this was long overdue, about twelve years overdue in fact. Hindsight is a wonderful resource not available to crisis managers, but I have to say that if I had been at the helm in late 2001 or early 2002, looking at the wreckage and deciding which countries were most likely to promote further attacks on the U.S., Iraq would have been way down my list. I’d have sent the Special Forces into Afghanistan, and then I’d have devoted a whole lot of resources to engaging the ramshackle mess that is Pakistan.

Pakistan has never been a stable and healthy polity; cobbled together in the wake of the British exit from India in 1947, it grouped together a grab bag of ethnicities with little in common but the Muslim religion and incorporated a conflict between local communities and a massive influx of refugees fleeing Hindu-majority India. Consequently unstable from the start, Pakistan has been a military dictatorship, more or less overtly, for most of its history, and the main concern of the Pakistani military has always been the threat of a war with India. This is what has driven Pakistan’s alliance with China, its acquisition of nukes, and its support for Afghan jihadists as a counterweight to feared Indian encirclement.

An American president concerned with eliminating terrorist havens in South Asia has to look at the big picture. If Pakistan and India can be brought to resolve their differences and coexist as the peaceful neighbors their shared history says they ought to be, a number of favorable consequences could follow. Pakistan would become less focused on external threats and could reestablish the rule of law in its anarchic tribal areas, relieving pressure on Afghanistan. The military could lose clout, democratization could progress and the country could tackle its enormous problems of corruption and incompetent governance.

There’s a limit to what outsiders can do, of course, but the U.S. has leverage with both countries and could bring them to the table. The main source of conflict is Kashmir, the Muslim-majority region which became part of India in 1947 and has caused three wars between the two countries. Pakistani support for terrorists and brutal Indian repression have kept the region on the boil. We should be devoting as much effort to resolving this conflict as we are to the one between Israel and the Palestinians. We should press for concessions from both sides leading to a resolution of Kashmir’s status and a firm and lasting peace between Pakistan and India. When Pakistan feels secure it will be a more willing ally in the fight against jihadism.

Prime Minister Sharif has moved to revive Pakistan-India peace talks, and the U.S. should make clear its support for the peace process. Had an American president concentrated on this geostrategic problem in 2003 instead of launching a disastrous adventure in Iraq, it’s possible that the past decade would have been far less bloody and turbulent in the Middle East and South Asia.

Sam Reaves

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