The Pakistani soldier
The News, June 20, 2009
Richard J Douglas
It is gratifying to see the new White House team giving more attention to relations with Pakistan. During my recent tenure as deputy assistant secretary of defence for counter-narcotics, and earlier as a US Senate staffer, I had the privilege of making numerous journeys to Pakistan and sponsoring several counter-narcotics initiatives with Pakistan's security forces.
Based upon this experience and my personal observations in Pakistan's rugged border areas, I would like to offer a few comments about a field where loser Pakistan-US cooperation would have an important and immediate impact.
In Pakistan's effort to combat extremism, there is one critically important protagonist too often overlooked when western political leaders press Pakistan to "do more." I refer to the Pakistani soldier. In talking with young Pakistani personnel, whether Army aviators or Frontier Corps leaders, I was struck by the familiarity of their priorities, and their similarity to young Americans serving their own country in the armed forces.
The Pakistani soldiers and aviators I encountered opposed terrorism, and like many Americans, have suffered its effects directly or indirectly. They were proud of their responsibility and resourcefulness, and were open and welcoming to US cooperation.
These soldiers did not speak about grand strategy, existential threats from neighbours, or other issues that occupy the international foreign-policy establishment. Rather, a conversation with these confident, English-speaking professionals is one that any American soldier or armed forces family member would recognise.
They ask: Who will look after my family if I am wounded or lost in combat? How will my children be fed, clothed, educated and housed? What can be done to give us the confidence that our loved ones will be well cared-for in return for the sacrifice we willingly make for our nation?
This discussion is more than rhetorical. This is because another compelling feature of Pakistan's reality as I knew it was that with amazing but unheralded frequency, many Pakistani soldiers and Frontier Corps personnel experienced deadly combat engagements with "miscreants" in Pakistan's border areas. Often these soldiers went into combat in unarmoured – and even unarmed – helicopters and with inadequate or incomplete combat gear. But they went anyway, and willingly.
As a broader conversation on Pakistan unfolds in our country, I urge our leaders and policymakers to remember these soldiers and their families. Let us find ways to make a concerted effort not only to help Pakistan equip and employ its forces properly, but to work with Pakistani leaders to help answer the concerns of those who go into battle uncertain about the fate of their families if the worst should happen.
These concerns are well-known to the American soldiers who will form the core of our cooperative training effort with Pakistan. As a naval reserve officer, I learned during my own deployment to Iraq how well our Army understands the paramount importance of taking care of soldiers and their families. For this reason, I believe that our Army and National Guard are the right institutions, at the right time, to engage more closely with Pakistani counterparts.
I have been fortunate to visit Pakistan frequently enough to formsome fairly well-founded views about this beautiful and capable nation. I have also come to appreciate the first-rate group of Americans, led by Ambassador Ann Patterson, who compose the US country team in Islamabad. But my understanding of Pakistan really began here in America.
The Pakistani diaspora has found a home in our nation and it is thriving here. Pakistan and its children have influenced my own children, and welcomed them – and me – into their American homes. Confident, educated, freedom-loving, and hospitable, Pakistanis do their share to strengthen our nation in ways that earlier generations of newcomers would recognise and applaud.
I am glad that the administration and Congress are committed to deepening our nation's relations and cooperation with Pakistan. Above all, I hope the American people will come to appreciate Pakistan as I did: as a willing and compatible partner.
The writer was deputy assistant secretary of defence from January 2006 to January 2009. He served in Iraq in 2006. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org