Thursday’s edition of the New York Times had a cliched beltway piece by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker espousing a Pentagon plea that it’s seeking three “new” billion dollars in military aid to Pakistan and must bypass the State Department in doing so. “Military supporters of the program said it offered a speedier alternative to the traditional military assistance process overseen by the State Department” says the Times. “Speedier”? Nothing that takes place in Pakistan is terribly speedy. At least nothing beneficial that is. Pakistan needs well thought out, nuanced solutions that will benefit the country in the very long term in order for it to maintain itself with a modicum of integrity into the twenty-first century. As an avid Pakistan watcher, I can tell readers that the very last thing Pakistan needs is the promise of further military aid from the United States and the unwitting American taxpayer. What Pakistan does need, however, are billions in emergency aid for schools and an aggressive rural literacy program. Northwest Pakistan needs up to date hospitals and proper asphalt roads. It is much sexier to sell Congress on injecting useless billions to bolster a feeble, incapable military that has lost every war it has ever fought than, say, printing millions of Pashtu language school books and training an army of Pashtun teachers. As opposed rearming the peasantry. which is essentially what the Frontier Corps is, the Americans must focus on investing in the human infrastructure of the region if the clash of ideals is ever to be reconciled .
The United States must stop looking at the short term. Insurgencies are not a short term problem. Insurgent movements stem from lack of opportunity among their foot soldiers, vast civil inequality, boredom and outright political and ethnic oppression by the state. The Northwest Frontier and the jihadi hamlets of FATA existed for ages in isolation from the mainstream economy of the rest of “settled” Pakistan. The various FATA guerrilla movements will not be defeated by more accurate drone attacks and handing Pakistani soldiers night vision goggles. They would be defeated by an increase in literacy and finally coming to a regional settlement with Kabul and lastly, addressing the aspirations of broader Pashtun nationalism. These are issues Washington does not seem to know how to deal with and Islamabad and Kabul will keep on the back burner for the foreseeable future until their hand is forced by the international community. FATA is not simply Anbar in the mountains. The issues go (at the very least) as far back as the age of the Afghan kings and the British Raj. The Anbar insurgency was a direct result of American war fighting strategy. Pakistan’s Tribal belt has been the seat of ethnic and religious tension in that region for much of modern history. Inter tribal blood feuds and the deadly Sunni-Shia schism have little to do with the legacy of the Soviet war or the American intervention and troop build up though they have since been exacerbated by it. FATA is, and always has been, a threat to Pakistan’s already weak territorial integrity since Partition. Letting the Tribal Areas fester and fend for themselves has been part of Pakistani government doctrine for decades.
The solution lay not in giving the enfeebled Frontier Corps newer small arms but, short of creating a viable political settlement along the Durand Line, in providing education and healthcare in dangerous and remote areas. A civil society approach is needed which would undoubtedly cost the lives of civil servants, NGO workers and other perceived “collaborators” whom the Taleban and their imitators will certainly harm in the short term as the soft targets they are.
It seems as though little has changed since the Johnson administration. More money for war? You bet! Simply distributing more weapons to a faltering institution like the Pakistani Army is an irrelevant strategy that failed in Indochina and will not work in South and Central Islamic Asia today. The battle against nihilistic Islamism in Pakistan cannot be fought with conventional weapons. A war of ideas, which is what is actually being waged inside Pakistan today, can only be outgunned by partnering with the indigenous civil society in that country who desperately seeks to be heard.