COMMENT: Wage peace, not war —Zafar Hilaly - Friday, December 31, 2010

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Constant American carping that Pakistan should ‘do more’ in return for American largesse is fast driving a wedge between the better off Pakistani, the business crowd, the traditionally pro-American army and the common man whose hatred for the US has reached alarming proportions

A few days ago, the New York Times (NYT) published a story suggesting that the US had lost patience with Pakistan’s dilly-dallying on the North Waziristan operation and was preparing to undertake cross-border operations against the Haqqani Taliban sheltering in Pakistan. Our reaction was prompt and firm. The Foreign Office spokesman said that any such action would be intolerable and that there would be consequences. Thereafter, a Pentagon spokesman debunked the NYT story as being baseless.

This was followed by General Petraeus declaring to the media on December 25 that Pakistani and US forces were coordinating their moves against the Taliban on both sides of the border, and that more such ‘hammer and anvil exercises’ were planned. There was also a suggestion that the US wanted to do more to ‘help’ Pakistan with its own operations.

As welcome as such sentiments were, neither in Petraeus’s utterances nor in the statement of the Pentagon spokesman was there an express disavowal that US forces would cross the border into Pakistan. In fact, Petraeus’s offer to “coordinate with (Pakistan) to help their operations” might mean anything, including conceivably sending US ground forces across the border. Already Pakistan is on notice that the Taliban’s use of Pakistani territories as a sanctuary presents “a clear and direct threat” to American interests and forces in Afghanistan. It was a blunt warning that direct American action is possible; in fact, Bush had ‘cleared’ cross-border raids as long ago as July 2008, and it can be done again by Obama. Nor should we forget that the earliest advocate of raids into Pakistan is Biden, that unguided missile whose salvoes will do more collateral damage than good.

The US has yet to concede that a political settlement, rather than military action, is what will end the war and that there is no military victory to be had in Afghanistan. A major deficiency in the US Strategic Review, released on December 16, 2010 was the absence of any reference to a political settlement. Yet, it refers to 2014, scarcely four years away, as the cut-off date for direct combat operations by US and NATO forces. The thought occurs that if the US does not pursue a political solution while present in Afghanistan in strength, how do they expect to obtain one when they start pulling out in 2014? As long as American policy remains confused and Obama remains an instrument in the hands of his generals, rather than a decision maker, little progress can be made to agree on a strategy for, let alone arrive at, a negotiated solution. As the US searches for the elusive military victory in Afghanistan, any kind of madness is possible including intrusions by American forces into Pakistan.

Petraeus’s Christmas Day statements have suggested to some that he may finally be coming to his senses by recognising publicly what our army has been telling him for quite some time, that it does not want to go into North Waziristan without proper preparations, especially not without consolidating where it is already immersed. But, Petraeus is unwilling to acknowledge that politics must come first and that military action should be in support of a policy that seeks a settlement, not on a take it or leave it basis, but on terms to be negotiated.

While this is a simple enough proposition for us to understand, it is not so for Petraeus. It seems that as long as he is heading the ‘surge’, there will be no movement for a negotiated settlement of the war; Petraeus means to let the guns do all the talking. Needless to say, that is absurd. Neither superior firepower nor any number of skirmishes on which the Americans find themselves on the winning side will have an impact. Force is not a remedy in Afghanistan. It can subdue for the moment but will not remove the need to subdue again. An ideology like that of the Taliban cannot be defeated by physical force alone.

The Taliban movement, like that of the Maoists in India and the recent communist-led insurrection in Nepal, is a product of a society where stark poverty and despair are pervasive. The solution is massive job creation and political and democratic reform for which peace is a prerequisite. A fraction of the $ 130 billion annually spent on waging war in Afghanistan, if spent on waging peace, would make the US safer.

The other incontrovertible fact is that no American strategy for Afghanistan can work unless Pakistan is on board. Pakistan has more at stake than the US in seeking peace and stability in Afghanistan because its long-term security and economic prospects are both tied to a breakthrough in Afghanistan. However, at times the US acts as if what happens within Pakistan does not matter. Well it does matter, and like hell. Similarly, to consider Pakistan a hindrance rather than a partner in the war is becoming a bad American habit. But if not for the safe havens, we are told, the US would by now have defeated the Taliban. Actually, if it were not for the safe havens, the entire country would have become one. Indeed, that is what seems to be happening in Karachi, which is increasingly becoming a Taliban hideaway.

Constant American carping that Pakistan should ‘do more’ in return for American largesse is fast driving a wedge between the better off Pakistani, the business crowd, the traditionally pro-American army and the common man whose hatred for the US has reached alarming proportions. And the longer the establishment and business lobbies remain tethered to the American chariot, the greater will be the loss of their popularity.

All this should by now have been home truths manifest to all but the most insensitive and, of course, the deaf and blind. In that respect, Petraeus’s recent utterances are welcome as they show a greater understanding for the army’s stance. It should make for better cooperation between them but it will do little else. While he concedes that victory in Afghanistan is by no means certain, Petraeus has not given up striving for it, to the exclusion of other means, thereby, postponing the negotiated settlement that his countrymen, Afghans and Pakistanis crave. Seldom has it been truer to say, like Clemenceau, that “war is too important a matter to entrust to military men”.

The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at

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