One of the biggest strategic reasons for being in Afghanistan is, ostensibly, to keep Pakistan from falling into the hands of Islamist extremists like al Qaeda. While I support that goal—no one should really want Pakistan to turn into a proxy government of al Qaeda for a number of reasons—I’ve become less and less convinced over the last few years that the war in Afghanistan is actually contributing to that goal.
This, with the full understanding that Asif Ali Zardari is going to be self-serving and dodge any personal responsibility for Pakistan’s fate, I still found a lot to take pause at in this interview he gave the Guardian.
“Just as the Mexican drug war on US borders makes a difference to Texas and American society, we are talking about a war on our border which is obviously having a huge effect. Only today a suicide bomber has attacked a police compound in Baluchistan. I think it [the Afghan war] has an effect on the entire region, and specially our country,” Zardari said.
Asked about harsh criticism of Pakistan’s co-operation in the “war on terror” published in a White House report last week, Zardari said Pakistan always listened to Washington’s views. But he suggested some members of Congress and the US media did not know what they were talking about when it came to Pakistan.
Imagine that. This reminds me, though, of a January, 2008 interview with Pervez Musharraf. When asked about Pakistan’s quest to arrest Osama bin Laden, Musharraf responded, “We are not particularly looking for him.” So there is a bit of a dodge in that Pakistan has a very selective sense of what is worth going after—mostly low-level militants and foot soldiers—and what is not. The high-profile arrests of senior militants like Khaled Sheikh Muhammad and Mullah Baradar are so memorable because they are so rare.
The strategic positioning of the war is pretty worrying. Pakistan isn’t doing much to go after the Taliban, certainly not the Afghan Taliban, and it has declined to pursue the senior leadership of al Qaeda. The U.S. is fighting a war in Afghanistan to prevent it from becoming a sanctuary for al Qaeda, and to destroy the Taliban in both countries. Yet, Pakistan’s president is complaining that that very war is contributing to Pakistan’s instability—a dubious claim, at the very least, though there is little doubt that Pakistan is becoming less stable.
So, dear readers, looking at this weird tangled knot… what would you do in response?