The recent trip by Vice President-elect Joseph Biden to Pakistan and Afghanistan gave a glimpse into the type of engagement the incoming Obama Administration may take when dealing with the war fatigued region. It must be noted that this was a trip with fellow Senators on a trip to assess the progress, or lack there of, in the War on Terror. However, the treatment that VP-elect Biden received made certain of the fact that leadership in both Afghanistan and Pakistan understood that the future VP was no ordinary visitor from the US Senate. Moreover, the current situation in South and Southwest Asia presented the future VP with the realities that leadership in both Afghanistan and Pakistan face in the near future. Hopefully, VP-elect Biden was receptive to the concerns expressed by the neighboring states with regards to their internal security, and the challenges that they face with a growing insurgency that threatens their very existence.
There is no doubt that the ‘War on Terror’ must be initiated within the region of South and Southwest Asia. The reality remains that groups whose sole intent is to wage a campaign of international terrorism are found throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. The new administration appears on the surface to be initiating the proper approach in this regard. By discussing with both Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari of Pakistan, it must have been apparent that the challenges these two leaders face is daunting at best. Moreover, recognition that Pakistan has faced more problems from Islamic terrorist groups within there own territory will show the necessary support that the leadership needs in gaining confidence with the moderate majority population. However, the sacking of National Security Advisor Durrani by Prime Minister Gilani was possibly not the wisest decision, and hopefully the incoming VP expressed this view.
Mr. Durrani was only confirming the identity of one of the Mumbai terrorists as a Pakistani National, and trying to alleviate the strains with India caused by this malicious attack by a terrorist organization, which undisputedly is based in Pakistan. Even more baffling, the Gilani/Zardari Government continues to advocate that they are acting in the interest of all Pakistani’s, despite the appearance of a cover up regarding their own inability to control groups who have been state sponsored for the last twenty years. The realization must be full disclosure by this civilian government, no matter how painful or embarrassing that may be. The only way to aid in fostering greater relations with India and Afghanistan will be to admit to the wrongs of the past and that these elements in Pakistan will be dealt with once and for all. Both Durrani and Zardari have the benefit of placing the blame on the previous regime rather than take full responsibility. However, the sacking of Mr. Durrani hopefully was addressed by the future VP as a disappointment in just one of the many ways Pakistan has mishandled the fallout of the Mumbai tragedy.
Pakistan continues to pay the price of allegiance
The fact remains that Pakistan has paid the greatest price in the ‘War on Terror’ (of course this is excluding Iraq, which from this writers’ opinion was a mistake that took focus away from combating extremist activities in areas of the world that actually fund, aid and support international Islamic extremist activities). Suicide and car bombings are a regular occurrence in Pakistan, and unfortunately, many of these attackers have received state support from the Intelligence Services (ISI) and Pakistani Military who have viewed in the past their support as a way to combat Indian aggression. This support also has allowed rogue elements within the ISI and Pakistani Military to exploit the weaknesses or ‘soft targets’ most fragile inside Pakistan, such as luxury hotels and open markets frequented by moderates who have long benefited from greater access to government and education opportunities. The rogue elements within these two establishments view this as a way to keep a hold on power and instill fear in both the Prime Minister and President, preventing them from taking action against the terror camps, and opting once again for an appeasement strategy. Which raises even more questions as to why the Pakistani leadership does not go after these rogue elements which continue to threaten internal stability, diminishes their own power over the state and how the sacking of officials who are bringing to light individuals, or at least basic knowledge of the structure that remains in place? One would think that the choice of Mr. Durrani to acknowledge these problems would be a step in the right direction.
This type of corruption found within the ISI and military community must be rooted out if Pakistan can fully take its place as a partner in combating terrorism. Appeasement for the sake of historical ties of waging jihad against India, and political dealings within the conservative regions of the country, can only be viewed as backwards as Afghanistan’s denials of government involvement in the narco-terrorist dealings, or even India’s internal issues regarding non-Hindu minorities.
The first thing the new Obama Administration must do is stage a direct intervention in conjunction with the Pakistani Government both militarily and through domestic development programs in the areas necessitating the greatest support. Despite the so-called ‘unpopular’ view of the United States in the region, taking the necessary steps to aid Pakistan in combating rogue elements will bring forth a gradual yet significant change in public opinion. The current view of the United States is based on an idea that the US has waged a war on Islam. However, in the one region of Pakistan where the greatest threat remains, Azad Kashmir, the United States does have some support at the local level.
Following the earthquake in October of 2005, the US Military gained a robust amount of credibility on the ground due to the amount of humanitarian aid and support, most notably the use of Chinook helicopters in the higher elevation areas most affected by the devastating earthquake. The reason this fact remains the most significant is due to the proximity of the terrorist camps found in the Azad Kashmir region of Pakistan. Groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Muhammad are based in the region, and function without fear of being shutdown, cutoff or imprisoned by the Pakistani Authority. This reality has kept the so-called autonomous leadership of Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan basically held hostage by people such as Hizbul Mujahideen Commander and United Jihad Council Chairman Syed Salahudeen to function and operate with impunity. Moreover, it may or may not come as a surprise that a significant amount of the aid given to Pakistan by the US, mainly as aid packages earmarked for the military and ISI, find there way into the hands of these organizations, to be used in stirring up trouble, or guerilla type attacks both in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
If the US wants to assure the general public that it is committed to combating terrorism in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it will begin joint ventures, or at least logistical and military support in shutting down these camps, and bringing to justice these groups who are committing attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. This would bring a sense of stability to the people in the region, and show that the US supports stability in the region by implementing economic packages that goes directly to areas of development within Pakistan, rather than just the continued robust economic packages earmarked specifically for the military and ISI. When the main three Pakistani based terrorist organizations receive this funding, rest assured that any aid and comfort these groups receive does find its way into the hands of other extremist elements such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The “Clear-Hold-Build” strategy that General David Patreus has implemented in Iraq would work in Azad Kashmir, as well as the Northwest Frontier Province, mainly due to people just wanting an improvement on their daily lives, rather than the current choice of repression by either Islamic elements, or the Pakistani Government. Make no mistake, these groups are very determined in carrying out terrorist attacks within all three nation states in the region, and will continue until the Pakistani leadership decides to once and for all put an end to their campaign of terror.
Only the truth will set them free
It is with great hope that VP-elect Biden did voice his disappointment in the sacking of Mr. Durrani. Having served on panel discussions with Mr. Durrani regarding terrorism and Kashmir, I do know first hand that he is committed to combating terrorist elements within Pakistan, and continuing the alliance between the US and Pakistan in the greater ‘War on Terror.’ By facing up to the hard truths found within the Pakistani establishment, the interim of course may be one of embarrassment, however, the current government may just find that the truth about rogue elements found within the ISI and military hierarchy will ultimately grant the credibility this government so desperately seeks.
Finally, this will also allow the international community to once and for all put pressure on the governments in India and Afghanistan to face up to realities found within their own hierarchical structure. Once again, this will come with some embarrassment and humility; however, it will be the only way in which a lasting peace is achievable in the region. In no way was such an endeavor possible by the current Bush-Cheney Administration, but the support for Mr. Obama in the region must be capitalized upon should the United States actually wish to make progress on all of these issues. Unless a viable alternative to Islamic style fascism can be promoted without the propping up and support of a dictatorial regime, one that recognizes and fits within the cultural fabric of a Muslim society, this battle will continue for as long as the lifetime of religion itself. Hopefully, this is something the future VP learned on his trip and will convey to the new President.