Common Muslims and American Foreign Policy
By Nasim Hassan
As a first generation Pakistani American, I am always concerned about the American policy in South Asia and the Middle East. I try to place myself as an ordinary Pakistani and imagine how he or she views the American foreign policy. Based on past events, discussions with Pakistanis and reading the local print media, I sense a strong disapproval of American policies even among highly educated Pakistanis and Muslims from other parts of the world.
Common Pakistanis believe that America plans to destabilize or divide Pakistan with the help of India. This view may be the result of rumors or anti–American propaganda by a strain of religious elements. However, this belief is reinforced by America targeting one Muslim country after another. First it was Afghanistan, then Iraq, followed by persistent news of an impending attack on the nuclear facilities of Iran. Later, Pakistan became a hot topic of discussion during the election debate and president-elect Obama unhesitatingly declared his resolve of pursuing the insurgents in Pakistan without the least regard to the violation of international borders or infringing on the sovereignty of Pakistan.
The presence of India in Afghanistan is a matter of deep concern among Pakistanis who have fought three major wars with India. The last one split the country into two and saw the emergence of Bangladesh.
Looking back at history, I believe the current American policy in Afghanistan will fail and if the next administration escalates the conflict then not only will Pakistan get impacted but the whole South Asia might be destabilized.
Let us go back and review the history of Afghanistan that seems to be linked to the success or failure of the American policy. The British tried to control Afghanistan in 1839-1842 during the first Anglo-Afghan war by installing Shah Shuja as King. This effort failed and the occupation ended with the lone survival of Dr. William Brydon who was captured by the Afghans.
The second attempt by the British Empire to conquer Afghanistan took place in 1878-1880. This time around the British had learned from the past and signed an agreement with Amir Abdul Rehman and fixed the borders between British India and Afghanistan. This border, called the Durand Line, divided tribes and families all across the tribal areas.
The tribal areas in British India were divided in seven agencies (Khyber, Kurram, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, North and South Waziristan) supervised by the political agents. This border area, now in Pakistan, is called the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). The political agents respected the tribal customs and the British were fairly successful in their administration of the region.
FATA is now the hot bed of all activities against Pakistan and NATO/US occupation forces in Afghanistan. The American and NATO forces have to learn from the British colonial masters. Based on my first-hand knowledge of Pakistan and Afghanistan, I would like to broadly outline the policy for success of America in the region.
Respect for Religion
Any group or nation that wants to have successful relations with Pakistan and the Muslim World must respect Islam. Whenever the Western press condemns Islam or publishes cartoons in the name of freedom of the press, the common Muslim is instantaneously reminded of colonial oppression and thinks of the West as an enemy.
I am all for the freedom of the press. But the national leaders should not become involved in this war of ideas. This sends a negative signal that the Western nations are against Islam and the authors are simply extending the official point of view. This is of course not true as several authors in the USA and Europe write similar things about other religions.
People in the West may think that only illiterate people in Afghanistan or tribal areas are offended by the attacks on Islam. To the contrary, highly educated Muslims all over the world are incensed at the attack on their religion.
Understand the Culture and Traditions
Looking back in history, I am always amazed at the British rule in India. According to the Census of India 1881, the total strength of the British in undivided India and Burma was 89,015. How they were able to rule the combined territory of present day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma with so few people?
The answer lies in their deep understanding of the culture and traditions of the local population. The British administered India by keeping track of cultural, religious and ethnic motivations of people in all parts of India. They kept a gazette of different areas and recorded the population patterns, religious divisions, history of conflicts between local ethnic groups in this record. The local administrator kept in touch with community leaders and took steps in advance to control conflicts during religious or ethnic events. They never sided with one group or another except in cases where British national interests were involved.
In the FATA region the British political agents never interfered in local customs or traditions. They gave the tribal leaders complete freedom in settling their internal disputes. Tribal elders called Maliks, Sardars or Feudal Lords were honored for their allegiance to the British rule.
The Pashtuns (Pashtu-speaking people also called Pathans) living in the FATA region may not be educated but they are not stupid. Like other human beings they give respect for respect and lay down their lives to defend their honor.
It is very difficult to explain the Pashunwali to the people living in the Western countries. Pashtunwali is an ancient "code of honor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honour_code" that belongs to Pashtuns of Afghanistan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Pashtun communities around the world. It is a set of rules guiding both individual and communal conduct. Pashtunwali is socially practiced by the majority.
Flexible and dynamic, containing modern and ancient principles, Pashtunwali promotes self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, revenge and tolerance toward all, especially strangers or guests.
Based on this code we can begin to understand why the Afghans did not hand over Osama or other foreign fighters to the US. However, if the Pashtuns are treated with respect and shown the loss of human lives due to terrorist acts, I am sure they will take care of such elements themselves.
So I believe the US and NATO have to extend co-operation and help to common Pashtuns to enlist their support.
Attacks inside Pakistan
The policy of attacks within Pakistan must be evaluated for its long-term impact on the region. The popular belief that attacks in the FATA region do not impact other parts of Pakistan is deeply flawed. The tribes living all across the Durand Lines have relations going back to hundreds of years.
Now the Afghans have gone into all parts of Pakistan. Even in Karachi, which is about a thousand miles away from Peshawar, there is a sizeable population of Pashtuns. The Pashtun population in Pakistan and Afghanistan is over 40 million. Regardless of their internal tribal divisions, the Pashtuns have a natural empathy for their people.
When the drone attacks kill a few so-called Al-Qaida people, invariably many innocent people lose their lives too. The people killed have tribal, ethnic and religious ties. So each innocent person killed creates at least ten insurgents who are willing to lay down their lives. Based on this fact there is an unending supply of fighters for their cause.
The loss of human lives radicalizes a large segment of non-Pashtun population all across Pakistan. Religious preachers exhort other Muslims to stand up and fight the foreign occupation forces in the name of religion. Any Pakistani ruler who sides with the US is seen as a puppet. This is the reason that a Pashtun ruler Hamid Karzai is the most hated person among the Pashtuns.
America in my opinion should get the help of local leaders and Pakistan to get rid of these elements. The perception among the common people looking at America as an enemy must be changed. Instead of using force as a solution to every problem, the policy must be to rebuild infra-structure in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Civilian Aid instead of Military Ammunition
At this time about 70% of the American aid goes to the military for combating terrorism. The remaining 30% goes to the corrupt Pakistani elite who are not even faithful to their own country. This elite group owns houses in Dubai, the UK and the USA, drives expensive imported cars while the common man in Pakistan languishes and does not have access to even clean drinking water.
American aid must reach out to the civil society in Pakistan to establish institutions. A stable Pakistan will be able to handle the problem of terrorism within its territory. Currently, the political parties are family enterprises where an outsider cannot aspire for leadership. Pakistan People Party (PPP), Muslim Leagues, Awami National Parties are led by descendants of party founders.
The civil society in Pakistan is struggling to establish an independent judiciary and in fact started the current process of democratization. After the regime change, the movement simmered down. The aid must be controlled and monitored by international agencies, otherwise the common man will not gain anything and nothing will change.
Help Religious Schools in FATA Region
American and Pakistani think tanks will vehemently disagree with me on this point. A deeper look at the religious schools called madrassahs will bring out the truth. Majority of students in religious schools come from poor masses who cannot afford to send their children to any school. The parents however want their children to get some education. These children do not receive modern education or any technical skills that can get them jobs.
American aid should be directed to two areas in these religious schools. First should be to teach English and second to provide technical skills that can get them a job in the market place.
The learning of English will expose the students to a whole new area of thinking and ideas. They will learn how other nations progressed while the Muslim world lagged behind. With the current explosion of knowledge on the net, these people will be able to link with the outside world.
Technical education will enable these people to find jobs. I have seen the most religious people having a craving for a better life in this world. Ordinary people who have education and technical skills will not give this life away for the life hereafter. This aid will have great impact on a long-term basis. Americans may ask why we should spend the taxpayers' money to fund such schools. The answer lies in the presence of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. If America needs to stay there then spending money on these schools will be very cost-effective instead of endless fighting. Currently the young people in FATA region have two jobs. One is drug trafficking and the other is fighting for whosoever pays them. Vocational skills will lend them a job in other areas of Pakistan and steadily the terrorist activities will get reduced.
Involve Muslim World in Solutions
Currently there is no Muslim country directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan or engaged in a dialogue with Iran. This may be due to the current policies or the mindset of the past administration. Compare that with past co-operation in Afghanistan and the Gulf War. In those wars Muslim countries were directly involved.
The new administration should initiate new ideas and bring an end to the current era of mistrust. Even countries like Iran will welcome ideas for peace in the region. This will be a narrow window of opportunity to rebuild trust.
Americans and other Western countries should open a dialogue with the Muslim World either through the United Nations, OIC or the Gulf Co-operation Council to help in the troubled areas of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or any other region of the world.
Include Regional Countries
Regional countries have the most to gain from peace and stability in the area. For Afghanistan, regional countries such as Iran, India, China and all Central Asian republics should be included.
Although India and Pakistan have a trust deficit due to past wars and the Kashmir conflict, I know the ruling groups in both countries understand the ill-effects of the ongoing conflicts. I understand that India and Pakistan both have powerful ultra right wing forces that do not want peace in the region. They have sabotaged every effort that could lead to peace in the region. I believe the next generation will look for peace. It is for the current leadership to keep the focus on peace.
Peace cannot be established without the inclusion of regional actors. In the past, various factions of Afghan society have been helped by Iran, India, Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia. All of these countries have their own proxies fighting for their share of influence in Afghanistan.
This mindset need to be changed. The US and Europe must facilitate a dialogue between these countries to reduce tension in the region.
In this small world, no country can remain distant or isolated. The events taking place thousands of miles away impact the lives of common people living in the USA. Globalization has positive aspects as well. The diseases and natural disasters in faraway places are immediately known around the world. Concerned people come forward to help fight hunger, earthquakes and floods.
Common people now know and understand the policies followed by powerful nations. People like Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and Bill Gates are known for their efforts to make this world a better place to live.
If the new US administration initiates policies for peace and stability in Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions, even committed fundamentalists of all types will take note of its good intentions. Once they recognize Washington’s sincerity of purpose, people will take care of terrorists within their own countries.