Monday, 10 May 2010

Pakistan in the pressure cooker (again!) and preparing to explode?

Pakistan faces "very severe consequences" if a terrorist plot like the failed Times Square bombing was traced to that country, United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in remarks made public yesterday. (May 9, 2010)

For a country which sees approximately one hundred (yes, that's one hundred) police, paramilitary and soldiers killed each month (yes, that's each month) at the hands of Islamic militants, Clinton's threats are difficult to swallow. I will not mention the hundreds of civilians killed in suicide bombings at Pakistani bazaars, markets and pretty much anywhere in retaliation for the government's efforts to battle militant Islamic extremists.

I guess what Clinton wants is a haven of peace and tranquility like the 160,000 US and NATO troops have established in Afghanistan. Nine years and countless operations later Afghanistan's rabid population has been unconditionally tamed and civilized by disciplined uniformed forces from faraway lands.

One only needs to ignore the fact that Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar, is effectively under Taliban control. Or that two thirds of Afghanistan, including in the non-Pashtun dominated areas of the Northeast and the West, remain under the sway of the Taliban to various degrees.

But at least since the US installation of President Karzai and the Northern Alliance as Afghanistan's rulers the country has been flourishing economically? Commerce is flourishing, the communications infrastructure is almost first world and a large number of Afghan citizens have gained access to clean water, electricity and medical facilities. Foreign companies, including security contractors, are beating doors down to do business in Afghanistan. Yea, right.

Just as one can find winning stocks in a bear market, there are winners in Afghanistan too: opium farmers, drug dealers, pre-Taliban warlords and a new generation of 'nouveau riche' warlords. And, of course, the hordes of foreign consultants present to ensure the judicious use of foreign aid.

When the Afghan Taliban regime was overthrown in late 2001, UN reports confirmed Afghan opium production had been virtually wiped out from a peak of approximately 400 metric tons a few years earlier. In 2009, under the effective law enforcement regime of US Special Forces and their NATO / ISAF counterparts, Afghan opium production has soared to over 1,000 metric tons.

Who needs Gulf petrodollars to fund an insurgency, opium dollars are just as effective.

Karzai's regime is staffed with technocrats leading the country through an economic revolution. Take Karzai's brother, ISAF is unable to bring drug smuggling charges against him due to lack of evidence. Surely, the Afghan population respects the moral authority emanating from an 'innocent' First Family.

Then again, there is the governor of the newly liberated Helmand province, a convicted criminal. Governor Gulab Mengal was found guilty by a German court of attempted murder prior to his 'rehabilitation' as an Afghan leader. Undoubtedly, Mengal's experience with the German justice system provides a solid foundation to dispense justice in Afghanistan. (Mengal stabbed his eighteen year old stepson while in Germany on asylum.)

Helmand, one may recall, is the province which ISAF liberates each summer from the Taliban through a well publicized media offensive. Somehow, each winter the province reverts back to the Taliban until the latest grandly named NATO offensive heroically liberates the people again. Each summer, NATO improves Helmand's physical infrastructure to help erect fresh targets for its precision bombers for the next summer.

However, since Obama's speech in Cairo and Clinton's engagement with Pakistani students in Lahore, everyone knows ISAF forces are not present in Afghanistan to bomb wedding celebrations, truck convoys or just simply villages.

US Admiral Mullen winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan

If a nation wants to join the ranks of the civilized, it must emulate global best practices. And where better for Pakistan to look for such practices than just across the border at nine years of American successes in Afghanistan? Jack Welch would surely agree with me.

Simple logic dictates that if Pakistan cannot manage its tribal areas with the same efficiency as the ISAF forces demonstrate in Afghanistan then Pakistan should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age! As for border crossings, let's make the Pak-Afghan border as difficult to cross as the US - Mexican border; an estimated (minimum) two million illegal Mexicans crossing annually into the US demonstrates efficiency otherwise only seen in the use of capital by the US banking system.

Since Pakistan is the root of all evil perhaps the best solution is to outsource security for the tribal areas to the Americans. Through the Coalition Support Fund, the Americans pay (whenever they feel like it) for Pakistan's military operations in the tribal areas. Pakistan does not have to worry about paying for the cost of drone attacks - the missiles are a 'free gift,' a goodwill gesture to win the hearts and minds of Pashtuns.

American forces with their high tech gadgetry coupled with their cultural and linguistic sensitivities can tame Pakistan's tribal areas. What's the worst case scenario for Pakistan, an ethnically based Pashtun insurgency waged against the Islamabad establishment? But that won't happen for at least twenty years and by then the Americans will have forgotten Pakistan existed. Again.

Most of us are familiar with the effect of leaving something for too long in a pressure cooker - it explodes. If the US is trying to push Pakistan into joining 'the Dark Side' then Clinton and her people are doing a great job. Even in the best of times Pakistanis are an emotional people. In 2010, the Pakistani people are ready to explode.

Will it be on Clinton's conscience if General Kayani or his successors, and his band of merry warriors actively encourage 'expressions of discontent' among Islamic extremists in Western cities.

Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Pervez Kayani walking with US General McChrystal

I wonder if the world will be a safer place if Pakistan allied itself with Iran, Syria or Chavez's Venezuela. The Pakistani establishment must be questioning whether US aid is worth the constant public humiliations and rebukes it receives every few weeks. The general population has been asking the same question for some years now.

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