Talking at Cross-Purposes
By H.D.S. GREENWAY, International Herald Tribune, October 20, 2010
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — When Americans and Pakistanis sit down in Washington this week for the third round of their “strategic dialogue,” it will come at a time of mutual tension. Seldom has the relationship been more strained.
For Pakistan, the recent hot-pursuit incursion that killed three of their soldiers meant that a red line had been unpardonably breached. For Americans, the retaliatory closing of the Khyber Pass, their main supply route into Afghanistan, and the images of burning fuel-tankers rankles.
If there were to really be what diplomats call a full and frank exchange, the dialogue might go like this:
America: It’s quite simple. Stop sitting on your hands and go into North Waziristan and clear out that nest of terrorists you’ve been sheltering.
Pakistan: It’s not at all simple. You are scapegoating us after having failed in Afghanistan for nine years. We may not be entirely innocent, but some Taliban taking advantage of a notoriously porous border is not the real problem. The problem is that the Pashtuns, who make up nearly half of the Afghan population and nearly all of the Taliban, were shut out of the new Afghanistan when you put their historical rivals, the Tajiks and Uzbeks, in power.
Pashtuns are underrepresented in the Kabul government and armed forces. The Afghan National Army is viewed as yet another foreign occupation force in Pashtun territory. The Taliban has become a national movement in Afghanistan, and is not dependent on trying to hide in our territory.
Our forces are stretched thin enough as it is. We are fighting the Pakistani Taliban, which represents a danger to the state. It is a tall order to demand that we take on the Afghan Taliban, which is not threatening our state.
America: The line between the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban is also growing thin.
Pakistan: It would be madness to recklessly take on another armed group of Pashtuns, setting the frontier alight, when we haven’t got the means to cope with it. And besides, you Americans are encouraging talks with the Taliban. Why should we completely sever a longstanding relationship that you originally helped foster? Those same groups you now want us to kill might help us thwart India’s intrigues when the Taliban are part of the new, post-American Afghanistan we will be stuck with when you leave. Our influence with the Taliban might help you make the deal you are looking for.
America: If only you would get rid of this paranoia about India.
Pakistan: What you don’t understand is that after a bloody partition 63 years ago, four hot wars, in one of which an Indian army invaded East Pakistan and dismembered our country in 1971, we are in a cold war every bit as serious to us as your cold war against the Communists. As you well remember, in a cold war you probe for weakness along the perimeters, as you did with Contras in Nicaragua and other proxy wars. Your endearment of India may come at our expense. All right, we have stung them from time to time, as they are stinging us in stirring up Balochistan.
America: But you are losing control of those groups you thought you could unleash with impunity.
Pakistan: Just as you did with the Afghan forces we unleashed together against the Soviets. But what we want is a true strategic partnership, not a transactional one in which you seek only to buy our loyalty. God knows we need the money, but you don’t attempt to understand what is vital to us. Your war has brought terrorism into the heart of our country. Our once-pleasant capital, with its blast walls, checkpoints and barbed wire, looks more like Baghdad than Washington. We have allowed you your drones, which infuriate our people, but please consider that our difficulties and strategic interests may not always jibe with your own. And don’t cross our red lines and let your General Petraeus send special-ops teams into our country, which he is dying to do. We will resist, and the last thing you need is a fight with another Muslim country.
America: But we’ve told you that if a made-in-Pakistan terrorist act is committed in the United States, the American people will demand retaliation.
Pakistan: So you give any terrorist group the incentive to bomb you in order to have you bomb us? Who do you think is the real winner in that scenario? Why would you want to hold us hostage to terrorist whims when we both struggle with home-grown terrorists?
America: We are always talking at cross-purposes here.
Pakistan: On that we can agree.
U.S.-Pakistani officials tackle difficult issues - Reuters
For U.S. Troops, Peril On The Afghan-Pakistan Border - NPR
Released by Pakistan, Mullah Baradar at Center of Taliban Peace Talks - Antiwar.com