U.S. – Pakistani Negotiations Missing the Key Issues

Washington and Islamabad are doing their respective societies a huge disservice by focusing in their bilateral negotiations on superficial issues such as transit fees for NATO military supplies rather than the core strategic disagreement on which the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is cracking apart. Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business.

Pakistani-U.S. relations are being sucked into a whirlpool of recriminations over relatively superficial issues, to the harm of both societies. Each side may speak of its own feelings; I will tell you as an American that Americans are angry. Pakistanis say, correctly, that Washington is behaving like a bully. Americans say that Pakistan is playing an immoral double game by working secretly with violent fundamentalists in order to gain influence over Afghanistan.

Each side needs to compromise, but to reach a compromise, each side needs to understand and address the concerns of the other. Pakistan must learn to live with India. Neither the U.S. nor Pakistan should see Afghanistan as a prospective colony. The Pakistani security services need to accept that provoking violent fundamentalism is a bad long-term bet: it scares the U.S. into extremist violence of its own, it harms Afghan society, and it undermines the hopes of all Pakistanis for security and democracy. If Islamabad wants Washington to listen, then Islamabad needs to make a crystal clear argument showing why its support for some radical Afghan factions will not lead to a terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland or a Pakistani-Indian war. That is the rock on which the U.S.-Pakistani alliance is foundering.

Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business. For Washington, the new way of doing business must be a willingness to move behind the self-defeating focus on military solutions to the radical Islamic political challenge. Frankly, given the problems in Muslim societies across the globe, a bit of political radicalism is the seasoning needed to cook a good political stew. (The same could be said for the U.S., but that is a very different story.) For Islamabad, the new way of doing business is an historic settlement with New Delhi that will free Pakistanis to move beyond the garrison state toward real democracy based on peace with its neighbors. This new approach must include accepting an independent Afghanistan as well as either allowing Waziristan to leave Pakistan or offering Waziristan and the rest of the border regions full participation in Pakistani society and the Pakistani political-economic system with all the implications for autonomy, tax benefits, security, justice, and respect for minority cultural concerns.

Some Americans protest that it is naive to relinquish drone attacks; the dangerously short-sighted mood in the U.S. is to label all Pakistanis as “the enemy.” I suspect the mood in Pakistan is a mirror-image tendency to see all Americans as “the enemy.” I reject these generalizations and instead see as truly naive the assumption that violence is the answer. The enemy is neither “Americans” nor “Pakistanis” but those who choose violence to resolve conflict. The key to a successful dialogue lies not in the details but in focusing on finding a positive-sum compromise that makes the U.S. feel safe, identifies a relatively inclusive political outcome for most if not all Afghan factions, and minimizes Pakistani-Indian proxy conflict in Afghanistan. 

At least, that’s the perspective of one American who finds himself equally frustrated with the negotiating positions of each side. I would be most interested in hearing Pakistani perspectives.


War on Terror, War on Justice

As the war on terror heats up, liberty and justice become increasingly constrained.

Sliding invisibly down the slippery slope toward illegality and immorality is a common feature of life requiring constant vigilance; explicitly defining a new policy to undermine what all previous legal and moral standards have clearly prohibited is something far more frightening. That is what Obama, who campaigned for “change,” has done by authorizing the murder via drones of individuals not known to be enemies but simply identified as enemies by profiling. Worse, the decision to kill the individuals so profiled will be made by low-level members of the bureaucracy without any Executive Branch or Judicial Department review.

As reported by the New York Times [4/25/12]:

The policy shift, approved this month, allows the C.I.A. and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command to strike militants in Yemen who may be plotting attacks against the United States, but whose identities might not be completely known, an authority that already exists in Pakistan, the official said.

In other words, intel and military personnel will be authorized to kill people whose identity is unknown and who may well not be doing anything at all…except…what? Perhaps they will be driving on the wrong road returning late from a celebration or trip to the local market in a vehicle that is popular among either enemies of the U.S. or enemies of a repressive regime or just enemies of U.S. military involvement. Who knows?

The War on Terror is alive, well, and expanding. The basic strategy is pretty clear: following defeat, move elsewhere, and repeat. This policy guarantees full employment and a steady flow of recruits for all the world’s jihadis, while offering endless profit for the military-industrial complex. Whether or not, way down the road, it leads to profiling and shooting from drones of Americans who “drive in the wrong neighborhoods,” remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: this is “change” all neo-cons can applaud.

Uniting Muslims?

How the world may view the increasingly explicit Washington insistence on its right to attack at will remains to be seen. One indication, however, came quickly from a Pakistani:

Shahzad Akbar, an attorney with the Pakistani Foundation for Fundamental Rights said in Washington, D.C. Thursday that the move only gives the CIA less incentive to discover suspects’ identities.
“They can’t kill them if they know someone is a low value target, however they can kill if they don’t know that person,” he said. “We were confused reading about it this morning.”
“They can’t kill them if they know someone is a low value target, however they can kill if they don’t know that person,” he said. “We were confused reading about it this morning.”[U.S. News 4/26/12.]

A more worrisome indicator for Washington came from Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who has just warned the U.S. categorically to end drone attacks:

I maintain the position that we’d told them categorically before. But they did not listen. I hope their listening will improve. [Reuters 4/26/12.]

Meanwhile, Pakistani foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani cast diplomatic niceties aside to warn visiting U.S. special representative for Pakistan Grossman in public that:

We consider drones as illegal, non-productive and accordingly unacceptable. [AFP 4/26/12.] 

New Concept of Justice 
Are we creating a new concept of justice? Government refusal to regulate Wall Street banks and quickie mortgage operations recently trashed the U.S. economy; recovery is still not in sight, with millions unemployed and forgotten. According to the concept of justice being applied to Pakistanis and Yemenis by the U.S. Government, we could start profiling all big financiers. Let’s be reasonable and not talk about drones. The first step could simply be the polite and gentle arrest of everyone driving a vehicle costing more than $75,000 or everyone with three houses worth more than $10 million. Yes, occasionally, an innocent member of Big Finance might be arrested, but think of the amount of corruption that would be eliminated from American society overnight!  The possibilities are endless.

U.S. Behavior So Far [Salon 4/19/12]:

The brutality of “signature strikes” is not new for the CIA leadership. As the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reliably reported, “signature strikes” have regularly targeted funeral ceremonies in Pakistan. The amorality of the U.S. actions is chilling. An alleged militant is killed by a U.S. drone. Then when his family and friends try to come to mourn him, the U.S. attacks the gathering from the sky, on the grounds that attending an al-Qaida funeral is evidence of hostile intentions toward the United States. In one such attack reported by the New York Times in June 2009, 60 people were killed. Local press accounts of the incident, cited by BIJ, put the death toll at 83, 45 of whom were non-combatants. It is said that 10 were children.