Diary

Pakistan Ambassador to US Says Af-Pak Wars Winnable

Pakistan Ambassador Husain Haqqani spoke last week at a public forum at the Denver Art Museum. He discussed the war in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan’s own struggles against Islamic militancy and the need for a Marshall Plan for the region, and asked Americans to be patient as Pakistan works to defeat internal militant forces.

Pakistan has stepped up its fight against militant groups this year after decades of ambivalence. For these new efforts to be effective, though, Pakistan requires greater military aid and cooperation from the US and allied forces, said the Ambassador.

Pakistan still needs more military technology including helicopters and night-vision gear that has been delayed by Congress amid concerns that Pakistan could use the weaponry against India, he said. And Predator drones “need to be operated by Pakistanis” or deployed “with Pakistani participation” to minimize resentment.

According to the Ambassador, though, defeating Taliban and al Qaeda militants will require more than just military strength.

Ambassador Haqqani points out that efforts to defeat militants cannot be successful without support for the economic development that provides opportunities for local people to support their communities and families. Currently, much of the support militants receive from locals is the result of economic rather than ideological considerations.

[Ambassador Haqqani] defended the performance of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He urged the equivalent of the post-World War II Marshall Plan in Europe to create schools and clinics in Pakistan, where U.S. neglect during the 1990s, after mobilizing legions of holy warriors to fight Soviet occupiers, fostered “deep-seated anti-Americanism.”

“I’d rather that people had the opportunity to make boxer shorts for Wal-Mart than IEDs for the Taliban,” Haqqani said.

Yet Taliban forces on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border benefit from a $3 billion opium trade and “close to $100 million a year” sent from outside Pakistan “under the guise of charities.”

Additionally, there remains a significant lack of investment in the battle for “hearts and minds” of Pakistanis. This despite the fact that sympathy for radical Islamism is tanking.

What Americans don’t realize, he maintains, is how the mood in Pakistan has shifted in important ways. Yes, anti-Americanism is still rampant. But sympathy for jihadist Islam has actually cratered. “In July 2008, public opinion polling in Pakistan showed that only 33 percent of Pakistanis thought that the Taliban were a threat to Pakistan,” he said. “Today it has gone up to 83 percent.” Opposition to al-Qaeda is very high as well, he adds.

Frederick Kagan, resident scholar at AEI, made similar points in a Wall Street Journal column on September 5th, A Stable Pakistan Needs a Stable Afghanistan.

Pakistan is important because it is a country of 180 million Muslims with nuclear weapons and multiple terrorist groups engaged in a mini-arms race and periodic military encounters with India—the world’s most populous state and one of America’s most important economic and strategic partners. Pakistan has made remarkable progress over the last year in its efforts against Islamist insurgent groups that threatened to destroy it. But the fight against those groups takes place on both sides of the border. The debate over whether to commit the resources necessary to succeed in Afghanistan must recognize the extreme danger that a withdrawal or failure in Afghanistan would pose to the stability of Pakistan.

Pakistan turned an important—and little noticed—corner in its fight against its own Islamist insurgents this summer. The Pakistani military drove the Pakistani Taliban out of Swat and the surrounding areas, including much of the northern part of the tribal areas. Most recently, Pakistani military operations (with covert American support) decapitated the most dangerous Pakistani Taliban group based in Waziristan by killing its leader, Beitullah Mehsud. He was thought to be responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

In contrast with previous such efforts, the current Pakistani government has retained significant military force in all of these areas and so far appears to be continuing the fight even after these successes. Remarkably, the combat divisions now holding Swat and other areas in the northwest of Pakistan are among those most critical to Pakistan’s strategy to defend against the always-feared Indian attack.

Pakistan’s stability cannot be secured solely within its borders any more than can Afghanistan’s. Militant Islam can be defeated only by waging a proper counterinsurgency campaign on both sides of the border.