Take this war into Pakistan

By Jawed Ludin, the Afghanistan’s Ambassador in Oslo (THE GUARDIAN, 27/08/08):

If the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf represented a step forward for Pakistan’s nascent democratic transition, the collapse of the ruling coalition this week underlined its delicacy. This is a crucial time for the international community, and the United States in particular, to review its relationship with Pakistan – especially when it comes to a strategy for defeating the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and the terrorist threat across the wider region.

To begin with, the US must invest more confidence and resources in Pakistan’s civil society and its civilian, democratic leadership. The last general election, held in February, in which secular political parties won landslide victories at the expense of extremist groups, reflects the true aspirations of the people, which must be nurtured and supported.

Next, the US must recognise the utter futility of working with the Pakistani military establishment. A politically compromised institution, the army is complacent about confronting terrorism and has, over the past seven years, sought to undermine the international effort to stabilise Afghanistan.

Above all, the US has to realise that it cannot win the war on terror in Afghanistan’s territory. Indeed, to the extent that the terrorist threat in Afghanistan emanates from sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan, it is in Pakistan that terrorism must be defeated. No other strategy stands any chance.

Radical though expanding the war on terror into Pakistan may sound, it is not implausible or unrealistic. A few practical steps may be taken: first, the US must initiate a crucial debate about revising the existing modus operandi of the international forces in Afghanistan, currently divided into two separate missions – the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), and the US-led Coalition Joint Task Force. Political assent from allies around the world and Pakistan’s leadership will allow a geographical expansion of the theatre of war.

In the new arrangement, Isaf must be strengthened to take on a greater role in building up Afghan security forces and help the Afghan government to expand the rule of law across the country. The counter-terrorism mission, on the other hand, must be entrusted to a revitalised, US-led coalition of the willing that includes the newly constituted Afghan national army and the Pakistani military. Without having to invade Pakistani territory, the coalition should establish a viable presence by opening military bases on Pakistani soil. A supreme commander, with deputies from Afghanistan and Pakistan, should be appointed to devise and implement an effective counter-terrorism strategy for operations on both sides of the Durand line that separates the two countries. The coalition should also ensure the security of Pakistan’s dangerous nuclear arsenal and prevent any potential proliferation.

In doing the above, the US must not be deterred by predictions of a possible public backlash in Pakistan as a result of international military intervention. The assumption, widely held in the west, that Pakistani society is fundamentally hostile towards the west is largely hot air from Pakistan’s military establishment. The Pakistani people share some of the rather abstract grievances that Muslim populations across the globe harbour. However, radicalism and militancy are not necessarily ingrained in any Muslim society, including Pakistan’s.

And if Afghanistan’s experience is anything to go by, strong leadership and a true commitment to the security and wellbeing of the people of Pakistan will help the United States to find a staunch ally in the task of ridding the region of the cancer of terrorism.