Is state violence an effective counter to insurgent violence? A choice exists.
Taliban abuses make it easy for shallow thinkers to condone anti-extremist abuses – respond to an attack on aid workers or schoolgirls with a drone attack on a funeral, an eye for an eye, law of the jungle. But how do such tactical responses offer society a choice? Abuse from insurgents is countered by abuse from authorities, with the extremism of one justifying and stimulating extremism of the other. Ambitious leaders on both sides win, while society loses.
The important point for Americans struggling to figure out how to respond is that when our reactions promote the extremism we are fighting against, then it is not just Pakistani society that loses but American society as well. The whole world political and moral climate is degraded, promoting conditions that poison civil society, undermine democracy, and facilitate the rise of cowboys, fundamentalists, and general intolerance. Every abusive act further alienates and radicalizes innocent bystanders and thus further empowers the lovers of violence.
Even when it is determined that killing someone is required, it must be kept clearly in mind that the killing is not a goal but a means and should not be done if that means does not lead to the goal. The goal is a smoothly functioning civil society, and our common enemy is those who oppose the creation of such civil societies. A smoothly functioning civil society may not flow automatically from democracy, but democracy, physical and economic security for all citizens, and education together are pretty much the best foundation pillars to hold up a smoothly functioning civil society that mankind has yet been able to construct.
From this perspective, the common interest of American and Pakistani society [not, to be sure, of decision-makers who focus on strategic issues to the exclusion of all else and, for example, aid the Haqqani Network to gain influence in Afghanistan at India’s expense] is clear and the question flowing from that common interest is not a military one but a political one: “How do we create a functioning society?” Once that simple question is asked, it instantly becomes obvious how ridiculous it is to answer: “by remotely bombing groups of unidentified adult males or anyone who attends a funeral for anyone who was bombed.” Since the Taliban is not attacking the U.S., it is not clear that the U.S. should be doing anything at all, but if, upon contemplation, Americans decide that it is appropriate to make some effort to influence events in Pakistan, then the goal should be the positive one of helping Pakistani society to function better, precisely the outcome most beneficial to the long-term interests of the American public.
Now we have the basis for a useful conversation with Pakistani officials about day-to-day tactics. When the Taliban threatens to murder a social worker who “operates hundreds of ambulances and shelters for women, children and the destitute
,”it is clear that Americans who want a vibrant, secure, and free civil society in the U.S. have common cause with Pakistanis struggling for the same goal in Pakistan. It should also be clear that drone attacks are at best an extremely poor and most likely a highly counterproductive route to that common goal.
Some Pakistanis understand this:
The Taliban are pursuing an ‘anti-state struggle’ and Pakistan must take this threat seriously before it causes an irreparable damage to the country, NWFP government’s Peace Envoy Afrasiab Khattak said on Tuesday. “They (Taliban) want to defeat the state and their success starts where the state fails.” [New Age Islam 9/20/2008.]
The problem is that those Pakistanis and Americans who understand their common interest have great difficulty holding a dialogue about how to pursue that common interest. The remark of the NWFP peace envoy, above, points to a way forward: focusing on U.S.-Pakistani cooperative actions to build an effect state. Effective police action followed by open trials under an honest court system will be an important long-term component of such an effort. Killing alleged enemies, much less killing unidentified people, will become more counter-productive the longer it occurs. The argument that the threat is immediate so we cannot wait for long-term solutions is clearly invalidated by the now obvious failure of violence to eliminate an insurgent threat that has been spreading for a decade in violence-ridden Pakistan.
This leaves concerned citizens and policy-makers in both the US and Pakistan with the following question:
Who are the potential Pakistani allies of Americans struggling to defeat violent extremists and what set of tactics might be accepted by each national group as in its own best interests?
A Supplementary Approach from the Afghan Theater
In the context of a primary focus on building civil society and extending the writ of effective, supportive governance in Pakistan, offering inclusion to Taliban personnel willing to renounce violence offers a supplementary approach:
Pursuing high-level reconciliation with the Taliban senior leadership as a unified, singular organization will fail to achieve the grand bargain that the U.S. and Afghans seek; that is, an agreement to renounce al-Qaeda, respect the Afghan constitution and cease insurgent operations targeting Afghan government officials and security forces. Recognizing that the Taliban is a diverse movement where significant internal divisions and mistrust abound, reconciliation efforts should instead be pursued as a means to divide and weaken the cohesion of the movement’s senior leadership cadre. However, before such efforts can achieve their desired intent, U.S. and Afghan forces must develop a sophisticated understanding of the differences among the factions and their leaders, and identify, encourage and protect those who want to reconcile. The purpose of these efforts is not only to support the primary aim of reconciliation, but also to fracture the Taliban operationally and thereby limit Pakistan’s leverage over the Afghan state.[Understand War 6/13/2012.]