While the drums of war beat both in Washington, and Tel Aviv, as both countries appear to be circling Iran, it appears that no one inside the Obama Administration wants to openly acknowledge this country’s war with Pakistan. As such both the United States and Pakistan seem to be manipulated by the latter’s defacto - leaders the Taliban. Recent revelations that the Taliban leaders are refusing to allow health agencies like the Red Cross to vaccinate thousands of Pakistani residents in an area that is being staggered by polio, a disease that was conquered in the West over 50 years ago – is just the tip of an unseemly iceberg. The Taliban’s refusal is rooted in their belief that the aid program is a front for US intelligence, and to prove it they have arrested and jailed Dr. Shakil Afrida whom they accused of aiding the US Military in their search for Osama bin Ladin under the guise of running a vaccination campaign. The fact that Osama bin Ladin found a safe haven in Pakistan is troubling enough, but in the aftermath your “ally” jails the man accused of helping track down the United States’ top terrorist target raises several red flags.
And the United States for its part has engaged in systemic drone attacks targeted at debilitating terrorist networks but according to several news reports is killing innocent Pakistanis in the process. The carnage in Pakistan comes in the midst of unprecedented military and civilian aid that has been both a blessing and a curse. And since the World Trade Center and Pentagon Attacks on September 11, 2001 Pakistan has received billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars, which begs many questions, all which center on the wisdom of American aid to that country. Moreover, since the defeat of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, the role of the United States has been questionable if not downright ill conceived. Central to American strategy has been the balancing act between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan – all three nations with both competing and long standing national interests. The mix of drugs, goods, human resources, and strategic location give rise to an American policy of strange bedfellows. Historically that part of the world world has always brought about strange relationships and unsavory alliances. And since the end of World War II, every American President has defended the relationships in that region through the prism of vital national interests. That interest primarily came from the US need to blunt post World War II Soviet Expansion and to fill the void left by the declining British influence.
Like Iran in the 50’s Pakistan became an anti Soviet military asset, and like Iran the relationship was fraught with mutual mistrust. Now the presence of the Taliban and remnants of al-Qaeda in Pakistan allow political cover for US Aid, ostensibly the necessary price to pay in the United States war against terrorist, but given the lack of trust, and some would say minimal results. Even worse, the assertions that too often American soldiers are confronted and perhaps killed with weaponry provided by American military aid that make their way to the Taliban deepens the quandary. Last year’s testimony of American David Headly in the trail that came in the aftermath of the 2010 Mumbai attacks provide evidence that the ISI the Pakistani Intelligence agency was involved in that attack, in addition reporting by the New York Times in a 2010 article that cited Wikileaks as a source, claimed that the Taliban aided by the ISI got critical Intel which assisted them in their fight with the United States as well as help to target Afghanistan leaders. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Whether legitimate or not, the rationale that tethered Pakistan and the United States together – threat of Soviet hegemony has ended, yet the consequences of that partnership has extended to dealing with a new threat, Islamic terrorism. Distrust between these two nations are so acute that the Obama Administration only provided an eleventh hour heads up on their Bin Ladin raid speaks volumes. On the other hand America’s vulnerability vis a vis potential Islamic lead attacks seem to force a continuance of a doomed strategic partnership where neither side trusts each other, yet both sides need each other. America at a time of increasing national debt, military overreach, and fear of another attack is trapped in a relationship with a shaky “ally” that for all practical purposes we are at war with. While Iran lurks in the foreground, unless we gain revisit our relationship and gain clarity with Pakistan it is hard to imagine how this partnership will provide lasting benefits. For as long as the Taliban maintains its undue influence in Pakistan and continues their quasi partnership with al-Qaeda and other anti American forces, America’s so called friend may be her greatest threat. And unlike Iran, they have nukes.
Many in the United States are asking out loud what did the Pakistani leadership know about the whereabouts of Osama bin Ladin and when did they know it – in addition, there are many in Congress who is questioning our Aid policy to that country. Ultimately foreign aid is an extension of American foreign policy, it has been the carrot rather than the stick that fosters the pretense of friendship, and policymakers will be quick to point out the benefits that are derived from the aid program. But it cuts both ways, if it is fair for those in favor of aid to Pakistan to tout how and why US aid has helped in our war with terror, it is just as fair to ask are we really getting our money’s worth, and deeper still, are our soldiers, diplomats and others threatened and killed as a result of our aid dollars trickling down to the Taliban and other anti American forces?
I love the term “law of diminishing returns” as it may aptly describe the choices confronting the Obama Administration. Foreign policy in 2012 can often be best described as a “Hopson’s Choice” where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t – Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan all challenge this government – yet too often those in charge default to what has worked – or what was tried in the past – not what bodes well for the future. Pakistan may feel that her value to this country has not diminished, the end of the Cold War notwithstanding, for our part we need to see the distinction between the world of 1950 and today, and determine if we can win this “war on terror” without Pakistan, and if not, are we prepared for a long, and bloody proxy war where we are both allies and enemies at the same time.