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When Push Comes to Shove on the Zero Line

Love Fest in the Hindu Kush

by PAUL FITZGERALD and ELIZABETH GOULD

In the wild gyrations surrounding the Obama administration’s AfPak scenario, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent swing from “Blunt Warning,” to Pakistan, to sudden love fest in the Hindu Kush betrays the underlying schism in American foreign policy-thinking that is losing America its “empire” by the minute. Despite the Secretary of State’s recent conciliatory statements on her visit to Islamabad regarding Pakistan’s ISI and their support for the Haqqani Network, U.S. tensions with Pakistan will remain high. In the months since the U.S. Navy Seal raid that killed Osama bin Laden, 55 cross border rocket attacks (a substantial increase from the same period a year ago) have been waged on U.S. forces in Afghanistan across what the U.S. military refers to as the Zero line with Pakistan. Afghanistan’s sovereignty has routinely been violated since Pakistan’s creation in 1947. In fact, Pakistan’s sole value as a Cold War ally of the U.S. was to shore up what western military analysts called, “the crescent of crisis” as a strategically pivotal “frontline state” against the Soviet Union. During the Cold War Pakistan gained a reputation for inflating the threat of Soviet subversion as part of the Washington money game and was duly rewarded for playing. Pakistan’s repressive military bedeviled Afghanistan’s moderate government at every turn, saw Moscow’s hand behind every public demonstration and independence movement and used the specter of a grand Soviet design, to suppress them all. The old adage that most countries have a military but Pakistan’s military has a country is perhaps the most useful in understanding the ongoing standoff. Pakistan’s military operates its own business conglomerates which run thousands of businesses. During the 1980s under General Zia Ul Haq, the military employed its own trucking company the National Logistics Cell to ship weapons along with opium to and from the port of Karachi. Had the U.S. vigorously fostered democratic movements in the 1960s, 70s and 80s instead of empowering a succession of ruthless military regimes and radical Islamists in the name of Cold War containment, today’s Pakistan would be a different place. During the 8 years of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” Pakistan pretended to be an ally and the U.S. pretended to believe them. Now the U.S. pays for its Cold War policy-blindness and Bush-era delusion with the blood of its soldiers and diplomats as well as its tax dollars to service a hopelessly failed policy and a Pakistani military that acts more like an enemy than an ally.

Hillary Clinton’s Islamabad statements stand in stark contrast to her stern warning on a recent visit to Kabul that Pakistan’s continued support for terrorism would incur “a very big price.” Recently, former CIA officer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Bruce Riedel recommended that the United States should now apply a policy of “containment” to Pakistan, whereby the U.S. would reduce aid, cut military assistance “deeply” and resort to a “more hostile relationship” in order to restrain the Pakistani Army’s ambitions.

Riedel’s use of the premier Cold War term is a sign that some in the administration are shifting away from supporting Pakistan in its game with arch-rival India. But is America’s Secretary of State so under pressure from the Pakistan lobby in Washington that she dare not sway from a U.S. Cold War alliance whose questionable benefits have long since come and gone?  The idea that such an antiquated Cold War practice as containment would even be an option when Pakistan is already waging a de facto Hot War on American and Afghan forces, should be taken as another sign of how far out of touch the debate in Washington is.

According to numerous scholars, the Cold War should never even have happened in the first place and was renounced by no less than its creator George Kennan, who believed at the time that any policy of containment should have been limited to political measures, not military. Senator J. William Fulbright in a 1972 New Yorker article bemoaned the flawed assumptions behind the Cold War and how the “perniciousness” of the ideology of the Truman Doctrine gave rise to the “distortion and simplification of reality.”

According to America’s own military thinkers, mechanical Cold War planning and programming made America’s defense strategists virtual prisoners to static and obsolete methods and practices that masqueraded as a coherent defense strategy after the Cold War. But this strategy proved wholly inappropriate to the complex, evolving geopolitical environment that gave rise to 9/11.

Yet, ten years later the U.S. continues to pursue policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan that not only rely on these Cold War tools, but fail to accept that even in their own time these tools were criticized as unsound and not based in reality.

Pakistan takes American money but acts toward the United States as if it has nothing to lose by harassing the NATO engagement and supporting the Haqqani network. Pakistan allows the transport of NATO equipment to Afghanistan by caravan from the port of Karachi, but curries favor with China’s military to offset American pressure. Pakistan plays a waiting game as the U.S. draws down its forces, believing it can resume its pre 9/11 dominance of Afghanistan once the U.S. leaves. But with the U.S. lobbying Afghan president Hamid Karzai to forge a permanent relationship with the U.S. military, Washington’s dysfunctional Cold War relationship to Pakistan will have to give.

Pakistan’s problems run deep and wide. According to Harvard’s Dr. Charles Cogan, who served as chief of the CIA’s Near East-South Asia division in the directorate of operations from 1979 until 1984, Pakistan isn’t just a bad marriage for the U.S., it’s a country that should never have happened. Pakistan’s military fears a repeat on its western frontier of its 1971 war in East Pakistan (Bengal) which grew into a war with India and established the breakaway state of Bangladesh. It uses Pashtun Taliban to suppress Pashtun and Baluch independence movements. Its support for Islamism undermines Pakistan’s fragile secular state and threatens to bring it down, all the while provoking another and perhaps final war with India that would undoubtedly go nuclear.

Pakistan’s military is driven to win the endgame for control of the gateway to Central Asia, rule Afghanistan and fulfill its destiny as the Islamic Land of the Pure. From a position of pure self-interest, it would be to America’s benefit to reassess the entire policy and the assumptions under which the United States operates in Central Asia, support a strong Afghanistan along with the independence movements of Baluchistan, Pashtunistan, Sindh and Kashmir and find a workable solution that neutralizes the Pakistani military’s control of state policy.

A frustrated Obama administration wants to get reelected in 2012 but is committed to staying in Afghanistan long after 2014.  All that is needed now to justify a prolonged occupation of the Hindu Kush is an incident that will finally put the dysfunctional U.S./Pakistan relationship to the ultimate test.

If push comes to shove over Zero line, both may soon get more than they bargained for.

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story  and   Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire . Visit their website here.

 

Copyright © 2011 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved