By Samier Saeed
In the wake of Musharraf’s resignation, one major determinant of Pakistan’s future isn’t being given due thought: Pakistan’s relationship with NATO and the United States.
The media in the United States is worried that Musharraf’s departure would hamper the progress of the “War on Terror”. When asked, on Anderson Cooper 360 if Musharraf’s absence would change things on that front, analyst Peter Bergen responded in the negative. Kudos to him for not endorsing the silliness of some analysts by saying “yes”. But the question requires a more nuanced treatment than the producers of the program, who allotted Bergen about two minutes, realize.
Political power remains with Pakistan’s Army. Some say there’s a power vacuum in Islamabad right now. That’s hardly the case; Pakistan’s history has shown that civilian governments reign with the Army’s permission. The same is true of the situation Pakistan finds itself in now; General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has publicly declared the Army mustn’t interfere in politics and he has been proven a man of his word.
The fact that the Army, as Pakistan’s most organized and capable organization retains significant power explains why Musharraf’s resignation will do little to change the current scheme of Pakistan’s relations with NATO and the United States. The US has already built the beginnings of a relationship with the Army, and the latter is unlikely to rethink its strategy, given that it has been the chief beneficiary of the $10 billion in aid Pakistan has received during the past seven years. Afterall, the plans of Pakistan’s Armed Forces to modernize assume both American military aid and the availability of Chinese expertise.
But the fact that Pakistan’s place on the frontline is secure for now does not mean that the United States should remain focused on the military aspect of Pak-American relations. The “War on Terror” has been going on for nearly seven years now, and, tragically, it looks as though the US, with its characteristic myopia, has no intention of adopting a broader policy to combat terrorism.
To begin with, the United States and its NATO allies need to find a better way of garnering support for its efforts among not only the Pakistani masses, but among Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats as well. The Army may be willing to cooperate, to an extent, but the same cannot be said of the civilian leaders. The PPP has been rather ambiguous on the issue of militants, having chosen to negotiate with them early on. Recently, however, Zardari issued a strong statement, asserting that the Taliban have “the upper hand” in their war “against the world”. The PML-N is unequivocal in its desire to negotiate with the militants, as is the Awami National Party. These negotiations often take the form of tribal councils known as jirgas. Usually, the results of these meetings are empty words. American policymakers are not persuaded that negotiations with the militants are worthwhile endeavors, citing the failure of past treaties. It would be better for Pakistan and Afghanistan if the United States took the jirgas seriously.
Recently, the United States quietly offered to provide aid for civilians in the NWFP displaced by the fighting. "We stand ready to offer humanitarian assistance to the government of Pakistan, if requested, in regards to the situation in the tribal areas," was the bland statement the US Embassy gave to the Associated Press. Simply offering vague compensation is not enough. Aid is needed on a massive scale, with a focus on education and power supply. Another Marshall Plan is needed. And the aid mustn’t be limited to dollars; American expertise will prove just as valuable as American money in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.
Despite the dire need of a comprehensive plan to rebuild Pakistan and Afghanistan so that terrorism naturally dies away in those societies, the American government presses on with its military-oriented plans, apparently dismissing such suggestions as the banter of coffee-house intellectuals. Or perhaps, to be fairer to the US, the trillions spent in Iraq have deprived the government of the funds necessary to rebuild even Afghanistan alone, as would have been polite after NATO’s invasion of that country.
But fault for the Frontier problem is not America’s alone. The Pakistani government has not been doing its duty either. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas, like the Federally Administered Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir, is a particularly disadvantaged territory of Pakistan’s. It is, in a word, neglected. FATA is not a province in its own right and has been denied even what meager and low-quality development programs the Pakistani government does take. Only recently has attention been paid to its development, but it hasn’t been enough.
A major step forward in regards to FATA would be its merger with the NWFP, as the ANP calls for. It would be highly desirable for the ANP, perhaps Pakistan’s most agreeable and liberal party, to gain stewardship of these troubled areas.
Similar political empowerment must be given to the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir. Perhaps the logic in denying these two areas their rights is that officially incorporating them into Pakistan would somehow diminish Pakistan’s claim to the other areas formerly comprising the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. But such thinking is highly unfair to the Kashmiris and the myriad of groups who inhabit the Northern Areas. It is no coincidence that the extremists are most powerful in these outlying lands, which have been largely ignored by the Punjabi and Mohajir elite.
The ANP’s victory in the 2008 elections demonstrates that the masses find the will to cast off the shackles of obscurantism if they are empowered. Military operations must continue, lest the Taliban gain the power so many fear they already have. But the biggest lesson that the US policymakers and Pakistani politicians can learn from the past seven years is that extremists represent the people’s malaise, the cure for which is assistance and compassion, not isolation and neglect. Unfortunately, neither American policymakers nor Pakistani politicians have proven themselves to be very capable people. This article contains no suggestions that have not been emphatically put forth before and discussed by prominent academics at prominent think-tanks. Let us retain the hope that somebody with power will catch on to the truth.