Opinion

Understanding Pakistan’s War on Terror

“For those who want to deny Pakistan funding, I would ask if they would rather have Pakistan as a Chinese ally (as China has built both highways and naval stations in the country) and have a nuclear power with even less ability to control its dissidents.”

Donald Trump made news recently by suspending aid to Pakistan, citing lies and deceit over 15 years. This move is applauded by many conservatives who dislike foreign aid in general, especially when it seems like it goes to support corrupt officials who are uncooperative allies at best.

President Trump wants to see “decisive action” against terrorists before resuming aid. The anger directed at Pakistan for not pursuing the war on terror more vigorously represents the difficult situation in which Pakistan finds itself between Western allies and impulses as well as segments in their society.

Like many Muslim majority countries, Pakistan is at war with itself. There are political, military, and economic elites in the country that are often educated, relatively wealthy, and progressive. (Progressive meaning they support things like education for women and the end of honor killings.) Many of them have contacts with the West, dress in modern clothing, have satellite tv and cell phones, and were even educated at Oxford and other elite universities.

In contrast, the average person in Pakistan, especially in rural areas, still doesn’t have running water. They have little education, few opportunities, and are essentially tied to the lands or factories run by elites of the province (who are often the political leaders as well). They are struggling in life and turn to their faith to succor them.

Americas are correct to be frustrated with Pakistani efforts in the war on terror.

In many cases this is perfectly innocuous and no worse than Americans trying to find a Christ-like way to use social media. But terrorist groups exploit grievances and local fears to attract support, and these violent groups gain support because they seem like groups that support traditional values to make Pakistan great again.

This creates a dichotomy between urban elites, who have attitudes and values largely similar to the West, and the rural poor, who don’t. The latter often rely on local councils of elders called the Jirga instead of politicians. These elders are often seen as wise and caring individuals who are more sensitive to the needs of the people compared to politicians who are often corrupt, such as Mr. 10%.

To make matters even worse, politicians have clear reasons to placate the people. The rare, brave politicians who support human rights and progressive values are often killed. After the governor of Punjabi province was killed by his own body guards in 2011, the people celebrated his killer as a cultural hero.

This means that even though Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan, is only a few hundred miles from the capital of Pakistan, it might as well be a world away. When Pakistan launched a campaign against terrorist safe havens around 2007, they faced a protracted insurgency that was difficult to win. They sustained heavy casualties and signed a peace agreement that sounds nice on paper but in practice did little to remove the safe havens.

This sounds awful to many conservatives who are tough on the war on terror, and I agree. But keep in mind that the US has been fighting in Afghanistan, sometimes with over 100,000 troops, for 16 years and still face a resurgent Taliban. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis even suggested a negotiated peace with moderate elements of the Taliban.

Not only has a world power faced difficulty in the same region fighting the same kind of enemy, but Pakistan has even more challenges. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a product of a precipitous British withdraw in 1947 and suffers from ethnic divisions, lack of natural borders, and a myriad of other issues that contribute to stable borders around the world. Many of the tribes in this area straddle both sides of the Durand Line, and the terrain is some of the most foreboding in the world, both of which make counter-insurgency operations incredibly difficult.

Moreover, Pakistan has added to its own problems through policy. General Zia (whose name and photo make him a candidate for a James Bond villain) declared martial law in the late ‘70s and ruled as a dictator through much of the ‘80s. He actively supported violent elements and terrorist groups to help settle the Kashmir border dispute with India. Since the war on terror started in 2001, these groups have increasingly turned their activities against the Pakistani minorities and the government itself.

Not only has a world power faced difficulty in the same region fighting the same kind of enemy, but Pakistan has even more challenges.

Zia’s policies militarized Pakistani society and made them more fundamentalist, which further divided the rural population against the elite politicians and the majority religions against minority sects like the Ahmadi.

Americas are correct to be frustrated with Pakistani efforts in the war on terror. There are elements within that society, both in the intelligence service and rural population, that actively support terrorist groups, or at least disbelieve accounts about terrorists and actively distrust the government. But Pakistan is a nuclear power and nominal ally in the war on terror. And actions against terrorists face both difficult physical and human terrain that makes counter-insurgency incredibly difficult.

For those who want to deny Pakistan funding, I would ask if they would rather have Pakistan as a Chinese ally (as China has built both highways and naval stations in the country) and have a nuclear power with even less ability to control its dissidents. In other words, Pakistan is a basket case, but it’s better that they are “our” basket case than being available to the highest bidder.

Since foreign aid is less than 1% of the total budget, I would rather that one percent help secure nuclear weapons and a key ally in the war on terror.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Morgan Deane

Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming book Decisive Battles in Chinese history, as well as Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon.

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