Pakistan at a Crossroads

Published on political affairs pa, by Teresa Albano, June 4, 2009.

Pakistan stands at a crossroads, where past meets present and national identity meets regional influences. It does not seem to be at a crossroads, as some have described, between a nuclear-armed democratic state vs. a nuclear-armed failed state.

The Taliban’s emergence as an armed force in Pakistan has led the Obama administration to prioritize Pakistan along with its neighbor Afghanistan as a top foreign policy challenge. President Obama appointed as a special envoy to the two countries, Richard Holbrooke, and recently met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

The Obama administration is sending more troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to stop the Taliban’s growth, and has used drone attacks inside Pakistan against Taliban operatives. As a result of the military operations, the number of civilian deaths in both countries has risen, thereby fueling anger at the US and driving people to the Taliban’s side. 

Obama faces opposition to his unfolding military initiatives in the region. Antiwar Democrats insist there needs to be an “exit strategy” and much more aid for development – controlled by the Afghans and Pakistanis themselves – than for military hardware …

… There is overwhelming evidence that further militarization of the region will lead to more civilian deaths, property destruction, hated house searches, wrongful imprisonments, refugees and displaced people.

Militarization will also lead to more drug and arms dealing to pay for military hardware by either the Taliban or NATO/US forces. (After all who can forget Iran-Contra trading weapons with Iran to pay for anti-communist Contra paramilitaries in Central America, which included CIA drug smuggling.)

People in the region already mistrust American policies a great deal since many in Afghanistan and Pakistan have complained that they have been “forgotten.” Used in the Cold War and then tossed aside, they say. It’s not that far a leap to say both Pakistanis and Afghans could be “used” in the fight against the Taliban and then “tossed aside” and “forgotten” afterwards.

Plus militarization – whether coming from US coffers or Pakistan’s – means not enough money for “human capital” like health care and education.

Finally shedding the Cold War:

The United States has to be willing to work with such indigenous forces and once and for all shed the Cold War anti-communism, which has led to so many of these problems. In World War II the US refused to work with the Italian partisans because there were so many communists and left-wingers among them. Instead they chose to work with shadowy criminal gangs in Sicily and Naples which later on – with such US support – grew into the famed “Mafia.”

After the Soviet Union collapsed and US leaders declared triumphantly that the Cold War had been won, Americans expected a more peaceful world. Instead, a world with more dangerous regional conflicts has emerged.

Pakistan is at a crossroads, crowded with many pressures and voices. Yet, the optimists among us consider that when presented with history’s choices, Pakistanis (and others) will struggle and do the right things for democracy, peace and security. (full long text).

(Teresa Albano is editor of People’s Weekly World PWW).

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