An Escalation of the War in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a Very Bad Policy

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Ben Cohen
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By John Maszka
Contributing Writer

Conservatives and liberals can argue the merits of the surge in Iraq, or the need to deal with terrorism now rather than later. I want to focus on something else: the impact of the perspective of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. I’m not implying that it is somehow homogeneous, just relevant; more relevant than my opinion at least.

Taking the war on terror back to Afghanistan (and most likely Pakistan) is bad for a number of reason: the perspective of the international Muslim community; the fact that a military solution has not worked thus far, so why keep kicking a dead horse (especially when it has the potential to trample you); the delicate balance of power in the immediate region and in the broader scope; the likely negative reaction of other states; and last but not least, its potential impact on the price of oil.

Pakistan’s reaction to the Bush Doctrine has been somewhat mixed. Musharraf is caught in the middle between pleasing the US to ensure continued military and economic support, and the preferences of his constituents who resent the US presence there. The region is already very unstable because of this tension between the US applying pressure from the outside and the internal desire of the populace to rid themselves of the unwanted American presence.

We can say the exact same thing about Afghanistan, Karzai is in a very
similar position as Musharraf. In 2006, Karzai had to start rearming
the warlords to maintain order. Similarly, Pakistan was forced to
recognize the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan in September of 2006. The
Islamic Emirate of Waziristan is a loose group of Waziristani
chieftains, closely associated with the Taliban, who now serve as the
de facto security force in charge of North and South Waziristan.

If Senator Obama becomes president, and refocuses the war on terror in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, the best we can hope for is another five to
six years of what we’ve seen in Iraq. But this best-case scenario is
very unlikely.

In addition to a multiple-front war, we would not be dealing with a
fallen state as with Iraq, but with two established states. This could
possibly work in our favor as long as they continue to remain on our
side. But as already mentioned, the tension is high, and there is a
very delicate balance keeping Karzai and Musharraf in power.  What
happens if we lose the support of Karzai and/or Musharraf to the
popular demands of the people? Or they lose control of power? Or are
assassinated? We could find ourselves at war with the sovereign states
of Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, not just insurgent forces there. If we
consider the history of this region, we realize that this is not as
far-fetched as it might sound on the face of it.

As we all know, the Taliban was comprised of Sunni Islamists and
Pashtun nationalists (mostly from southern Afghanistan and western
Pakistan). The Taliban initially enjoyed support from the US, Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in the early 1980s to fight
the Soviets. By 1996, the Taliban had gained control of most of
Afghanistan, but its relationship with the US and most of the rest of
the world became strained. Most of the international community
supported the Taliban’s rival, the Afghan Northern Alliance.

Still, even after the US began to distance itself from the Taliban in
late 1997, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates
continued to officially recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Even after 9/11 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
officially stopped recognizing the Taliban, Pakistan continued to
support it. The Taliban in turn, had tremendous influence in Pakistani
politics, especially among lobby groups- as it virtually controlled
areas such as the Pashtun Belt (Southeast Afghanistan, and Northwest
Pakistan) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Going back to the perception of the international Muslim community …
When the US demanded that the Taliban turn Bin Laden over, it initially
offered to turn Bin Laden over to Pakistan to be tried by an
international tribunal operating according to Sharia law. But Pakistan
was urged by the US to refuse. Again, prior to the beginning of US
airstrikes against Afghanistan, the Taliban offered to try Bin Laden
according to Islamic law, but the US refused. After the US began air
strikes, the Taliban offered to hand Bin Laden over to a neutral state
to be tried under Islamic law, but the US again refused. This is
important because in the eyes of the greater international community,
the war in Afghanistan was justified (at least initially). But in the
eyes of the international Muslim community, especially given the
Taliban’s offer to turn over Bin Laden, it was an unnecessary war.
This, combined with the preemptive war in Iraq, has led many Muslims to
equate the war on terror with a war on Islam. Obama’s plan to escalate
the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will only serve to reinforce that
impression.

Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an Islamic political party in Pakistan, won
elections in two out of four provinces in 2003, and became the third
largest political party in the Pakistani parliament – with substantial
support from urban areas (not just border regions). This speaks to the
tremendous influence Islamic groups enjoy in Pakistan.

This strong influence is fueled by the fact that the Pashtun tribal
group is over 40 million strong. The Taliban continues to receive many
of its members from this group today. In fact, the Pakistani army
suffered humiliating defeat at the hand of these so-called
“insurgents.” Finally, in September of 2006, Pakistan was forced to
officially recognize the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. Many see the
Pakistani government’s acknowledgment of the Islamic Emirate of
Waziristan as not only a military necessity, but also a political one
as well – a concession in response to the growing internal pressure on
the Musharraf administration from the people of Pakistan who resent the
US presence and involvement in the region.

Just consider the many, many public protests against the Pakistani
government’s compliance with the United States. For instance, on
January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the
village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman
al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered
17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government
and further destabilize the entire area.

On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the
US, attacked a madrasah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan.
Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced the US
military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of
President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack
on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault
against Islam. On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated.
Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to
the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President
Musharraf did the same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with
an iron hand.”

More recent troubles have escalated surrounding the Pakistani
government’s siege of the Red Mosque where more than 100 people were
killed. “Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid...the
retaliations began.” Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan
Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a
police recruiting center.

There are countless more examples; too many to mention in detail.
Likewise in Afghanistan; April 30, 2007 for example, when hundreds of
Afghans protested US soldiers killing Afghan civilians.  Why can’t the
powers that be recognize that we’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly
seven years, and in Iraq for over five; a military approach is not
working. If we must focus the war on terror in Afghanistan and
Pakistan, let’s focus on winning the hearts and minds of the beautiful
people of these countries, rather than filling their hearts with
bitterness and hatred toward us. With their support, we can offer them
the financial and technical assistance that they need to rebuild their
infrastructure, their agriculture and their economy. With their
support, we can offer them the needed resources to rebuild their human
capital and start attracting foreign direct investment. But without
their support, we cannot possibly have any positive influence in this
region at all; our only influence will be that of brute force, bribery
of corrupt officials, and outright coercion. It will be a long, hard,
costly and bloody endeavor, and the people of these countries will
continue to suffer.

Let’s not forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Let’s not also
forget that this is a highly Muslim-concentrated area, the Islamic
concept of duty to come to the aid of fellow Muslims would no doubt
ensure a huge influx of jihadists in this type of a scenario. Why on
earth would we want to intentionally provoke a situation that would not
only radicalize existing moderates in the region, but could also
potentially cause the influx of a concentration of radical jihadists
from elsewhere into an already unstable region (that has nuclear
weapons no less)? We would be begging for a nuclear proliferation
problem.

We like to assume that we would have the upper hand in such a scenario.
But we have been in Afghanistan since October of 2001. And we have yet
to assume the upper hand. The fight in Afghanistan has the potential to
become much more difficult than it already is.

Nor would it be unheard of to expect other major powers to back these
radical jihadists with economic and military assistance in much the
same way that the US backed the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan
against the Soviet Union. Beyond the fact that roughly 1/5 of the
world’s population is Muslim (approximately 1.5 billion people- 85%
Sunni, 15% Shia, Ibadiyyas, Ahmadis and Druze), we have to remember
that Muslims are the majority in 57 states (out of 195).  Most have
Sunni majorities, which give them added political power.

China has traditionally backed Pakistan. What would China do if the US were to find itself at war with Pakistan?

India has tremendous economic and security interests in the region.
Let’s not forget that while India has been in nearly continual conflict
with Pakistan, primarily over the Kashmir issue, it has the second
largest Muslim population in the world next to Indonesia.  What happens
if India sides with the US? It will have a very difficult task
defending that with its very large Muslim population. A US/Indian
alliance could also spark more terrorist attacks in the Kashmir region.
Or, if radicals gained control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, a nuclear
attack against India could spark a nuclear altercation between the two
nuclear powers. What if radicals then gained control of India’s nuclear
arsenal?

On the other hand, What happens if India for some reason (either via a
coup or due to internal pressure) were to side with Pakistan? It seems
unlikely now, but not completely unrealistic considering the on-again,
off-again relationship between the US and every country in that region.
We constantly flip-flop in our foreign policy. An attack on Pakistani
soil would be a perfect example of this type of wishy-washy foreign
policy, as the Bush administration guaranteed Musharraf the US would
never do such a thing.

Also consider the US position on Kashmir (which has a predominantly
Muslim population); Pakistan wants a plebiscite, as called for in a
1949 UN resolution. India refuses a plebiscite, claiming Kashmir and
Jammu as an integral part of India. The US is arming both sides through
billions in aid to Pakistan and selective proliferation to India, but
insists Musharraf stem terrorist activities flowing from Pakistan, and
discourages India from attacking Pakistan. Yet US intervention in the
area could backfire badly.

Beyond all that we still have to consider a slew of other states such
as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia … etc. All of which have economic and/or
political and security interests in the region. How will they react to
an escalation of the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan?

Finally, what would such a scenario do to oil prices? The oil embargo
of 1974 (in support of Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur war against
Israel) in retaliation against the US for its support of Israel had
devastating economic and political consequences on the US and much of
Europe. Also, the more recent boycott of Danish products across the
Muslim world, in retaliation for the 2005 cartoons of the Prophet
Muhammad, demonstrates the ability of the international Muslim
community to act collectively.

Escalating the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan will also demonstrate the
fickle and hypocritical nature of America’s foreign policy. We
supported the Taliban when it served our interests (to oppose the
Soviets in Afghanistan) in spite of clear human rights abuses, but
still we condemn the Taliban (and much of the Muslim world) over the
very same human rights abuses (against women …etc.), while we also
continue to ignore similar or same human rights abuses in China, Saudi
Arabia, Israel … etc. when its convenient to do so.

We did the same thing with Saddam Hussein; arming him inspite of clear
and egregious human rights abuses when he was our ally, and condemning
the same actions when he wasn’t.

The US practices selective proliferation with India, and selective
sovereignty with those it chooses (today Pakistan, tomorrow someone
other than Pakistan), while violating the sovereignty of other states
depending on its whim at the time.

We insisted that the Taliban turn over Bin Laden, but the United States
has refused on several occasions to return foreign nationals (being
held on death row in America) to their state of domicile because it
wanted them to face execution, and the home state did not uphold the
death penalty. We also continue to refuse to acknowledge the ICC
because we don’t want American military personnel tried in an
international court. How is that so different from the Taliban wanting
Bin Laden tried in an Islamic court?

Rather than blindly accept that America holds some God-given moral
superiority over the rest of the planet, we need to realize that
everywhere, humanity has a God-given right to live, love and prosper.
Our children have the right to grow up in an environment free of air
strikes and constant assault from an external enemy. They have the
right to attend schools without fear of being bombed inside of them.
And they have the right to be children, instead of orphans. No state
has the right to take that away from your children, or from mine.