Thursday, March 31, 2011
Pakistan Is Also Erupting — Against the U.S.
As U.S. forces were firing hundreds of missiles to establish a Libyan no flight zone, Pakistani newspaper headlines were consumed by a different missile strike: “Pakistan furious as U.S. drone strike kills civilians,” blared The Express Tribune; “38 killed in drone strike on NWA tribal jirga,” declared the Daily Times.
This week marks the second anniversary of the Obama administration’s “Af-Pak strategy” to confront the “security threats posed by extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But while the United States scrambles to develop a response to protests in North Africa and the Middle East, its policy toward Pakistan is crumbling — with no clear fix in sight.
Last December, the administration’s “2010 Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review” reported positive developments throughout the region. According to the unclassified version, the U.S.-Pakistani “renewed bilateral partnership is helping promote stability in Pakistan” and defeat Islamic radicalism. But today, the facts are otherwise.
Pakistan is deeply divided and radicalism is spreading even among the nation’s most privileged classes. After the governor of Punjab was murdered in January for supporting the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, thousands took to the streets. But instead of protesting the murder, they marched in support of the law and the assassin. Pakistani lawyers — a group that was instrumental in toppling the Musharraf regime — threw rose petals at the accused killer and hailed him as a hero.
A few weeks later, another opponent of the blasphemy law and Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet member was gunned down. Although the culprits escaped, Rafi Usmani, the grand mufti of Pakistan, told the Associated Press, “I am afraid that this could be an American conspiracy to defame the government of Pakistan, Muslims and Islam.”
Far from a U.S.-Pakistani “partnership,” anti-Americanism is rampant. Last fall, 29.5 percent of students in postgraduate colleges and universities identified the United States as the greatest threat to Pakistan, according to a survey by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. That number was more than twice as many as the next greatest threat, India, with whom Pakistan has fought four wars. Only 6.8 percent of Pakistan’s young elites identified the Taliban as the greatest threat; 6.5 percent said it was Al Qaeda. In perhaps the most troubling response for America’s strategic engagement, 68.3 percent thought Pakistan should not support the “U.S.-led War on Terror,” while only 21 percent thought it should.
Since then, ongoing drone strikes, the killing of two alleged attackers by the C.I.A. contractor Raymond Davis, and the claims of his diplomatic immunity by the United States, have further inflamed public opinion. While payments to the dead men’s families recently gained Davis’s release, even moderate opposition politicians and journalists have criticized the settlement, even though the payment of “blood money” is sanctioned by Shariah law.
As for the United States promoting stability within Pakistan, the Obama administration’s expanded use of drones appears to be having the opposite effect. As early as 2009, according to a leaked cable, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, warned that America’s unilateral targeting of militants risks “destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis in Pakistan without finally achieving the goal.”
One of the authors of this article, Shamshek Asad, was raised in Pakistan. During a trip to Karachi a week ago, he experienced greater anti-Americanism than ever before at all levels of society. More than 60 years after independence and 40 years after the loss of Bangladesh, Pakistan remains extraordinarily leery of foreign influence. Coupled with a remarkable belief in foreign conspiracies and a decade of anti-U.S. propaganda by Islamists, this generates not only resentment, but near paranoia about U.S. intentions in Pakistan.
Optimists argue that U.S.-Pakistani relations may have hit a rough patch, but they remain sound. Skeptics contend that the United States has failed to bolster President Asif Ali Zardari’s government, despite billions of dollars in military and civilian aid, and that America’s efforts have yielded more antipathy than gratitude.
Two years ago, the Af-Pak Strategy answered Pakistani criticism that America had historically abandoned both countries by committing “all elements of international power — diplomatic, informational, military and economic” to the region. It is time to assess whether this ambitious strategy is working.
The Obama administration should conduct an independent review of U.S. policy toward Pakistan. The questions it should address include: Is the core goal of the United States — to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan — distorting American policy toward Pakistan? Would a lower U.S. profile and more modest agenda be more effective and sustainable? Do the tactical benefits of drone strikes further long-term, strategic goals? And should the U.S. abandon the “Af-Pak” regional approach in favor of more tailored policies for each country?
There are no easy answers. But after two years of limited progress in an increasingly radicalized, nuclear Pakistan, tough questions are the least of our worries.
The New York Times By PETER CHARLES CHOHARIS and SHAMSHEK ASAD. Peter Charles Choharis, a visiting fellow at the American Security Project, practices international law in Washington.Shamshek Asad is an international energy consultant.