Walter Russell Mead, an esteemed scholar of American history, and provocative observer of current geopolitical trends is attempting to see the world through Pakistan’s eyes. Here’s his Pak-Vision of the situation in Afghanistan through Islamabad’s view:
The second major issue shaping negative Pakistani feelings about the United States is almost as important. Pakistanis are on the front lines in the war on terror and Afghanistan is, literally, right on their doorstep. Pakistanis have no confidence in America’s regional strategy and they are convinced that American blunders have created a multifaceted disaster that has already cost Pakistan dear. Many Pakistanis believe that the US invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake in the first place; Mullah Omar offered to send Osama Bin Laden to stand trial in a third country, they say, and the US should have accepted that. More, they argue that American policy from the beginning was a disaster. We invaded in the wrong place at the wrong time; we refused to work with the people who could have helped us; we lost our focus on Afghanistan to turn toward Iraq (a war deeply hated by many Pakistanis). Now, inevitably, the disaster in Afghanistan has spread across the border into Pakistan, with religious radicals and tribes in revolt turning their fury against Pakistani targets even as drone strikes in Pakistan infuriate many people.
The US, Pakistanis say, has given only derisory military aid — $1.5 billion versus the estimated $40 billion the war has cost Pakistan. More, we are blaming the victim. The spread of radical violence in Pakistan is the direct result, they say, of the American war and American blunders in Afghanistan, but all we do is blame Pakistan for the problem and, endlessly, repeat the cruel and unfeeling refrain: “Pakistan must do more.” We even want them to dismantle their defenses against India (an enemy strengthened by America’s nuclear bias) to move forces to the Afghan frontier.
US attacks on Pakistan for ties to the Taliban and radical groups are, Pakistanis say, cynically hypocritical. After all, the US and Pakistan worked together with many of these groups to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Is it perfectly OK to work with radical religious groups for American goals but a moral crime to use the same groups to protect Pakistan’s interests?
More, US threats against Iran threaten Pakistan’s economic interests and political stability — just as our failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute outrage Pakistani sensibilities and make our overall position in the region less stable. Pakistanis darkly suspect that Indian money and Indian agents are responsible for violence in troubled parts of Pakistan and many believe that the US supports what Pakistanis believe are India’s efforts to build up its influence in northern Afghanistan.
Many Pakistanis believe that on top of everything else, the US is now getting ready either to cut and run in Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan with the thankless task of sweeping up, or, worse, handing northern Afghanistan to India, forcing Pakistan into a two front confrontation with its larger and richer rival. Pakistan has no greater strategic nightmare than to see India entrenched in Afghanistan; many Pakistanis are completely convinced that this is what the end result of America’s Afghan policies will be.
Harsh! Mead has spent the last couple weeks traveling around Pakistan doing his academic thing, which means he does his ‘best to try to understand what it is that people object to in American foreign policy and, at times, American culture and life. Before I arrive,..I’ll read up on the history and on contemporary issues and try to get a sense of the economic situation….I’ll come up with some working hypotheses about what is going on, or going wrong, in the relationship. Once on the ground, I spend as much time as possible absorbing the local news media, interacting with journalists, officials, students, intellectuals and diplomats to test and refine my hypotheses. I keep at this until I find that more and more of the local people I meet with think that I ‘get it’, and it’s at that point that the conversations get really interesting.’
As one can see from Mead’s assessment of Pakistani interests in regards to the Afghan state, there are many areas of concern. First and foremost is their fear of Indian encirclement. An Afghan state too closely allied with India is considered a non-starter for Islamabad. Another threat that Mead mostly underplays in this section is the present violent turmoil being wrought by the Pakistani Taliban inside of the Pakistani state. The military has benefited from these insurgent forces inside of Afghanistan, but there have started to wreck havoc internally, with Karachi becoming a spot for near daily scenes of planned violent actions. That being said, Mead’s analysis puts the insecurities of Islamabad regarding its relationship with the United States, Afghanistan, and India under a bright, transparent light.
What do you think of Mead’s Pak-Vision?