As the dust settles from the daring U.S. raid on Osama Bin Laden's lair in Abbottabad, a cantonment town just a few hours from Islamabad, serious rifts are obvious between Pakistan and America. Both countries need each other for a host of different reasons, and, at the same time, resent this mutual dependency that has locked both in a deadly embrace.
In the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, U.S. officials and citizenry alike want to abandon Pakistan, and indeed, the bin Laden affair was the most recent in a string of revelations that cast doubt on Pakistan's reliability as a partner in the war on terror. Pakistan's government, armed forces and citizens are no less vexed with the United States after the raid for equally valid reasons. And it is well past time for both Americans and Pakistanis to consider each other's views and come to an accommodation.
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ISLAMABAD -- After a team of helicopter-borne U.S. Navy Seals stormed a compound in the densely populated Bilal Town neighborhood in the Pakistan Army town of Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden was dead. Pakistan was notified after the operation. The U.S. Congress and citizens alike are dumbfounded that America's archenemy was hiding in the plain sight of the Pakistan military and intelligence rather than in the mountainous frontier of the tribal areas. Former President George W. Bush famously declared that the United States would smoke him out of his cave.
However, Abbottabad is far from a cave. The small city is about a three hour drive from Islamabad, reached through roads that trace the modest altitude climb. The town is a hilly and verdant spot where many Pakistanis retreat for the summer when the plains are scorching. It's near some of the famous hiking spots such as Natiagali. Abbottabad is covered in most guidebooks for Pakistan, including Lonely Planet. Most notably, the hill-town is also home to Pakistan's Military Academy and indeed, Bin Laden's massive, albeit non-luxurious, lair was a mere kilometer from this prestigious institution and the security that accompanied it.
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In September of 2010, Pastor Terry Jones, an obscurantist preacher from the boondocks of Florida, caught the attention of U.S. political, diplomatic and military leadership when he threatened to burn a copy of the Quran. Ultimately, Mr. Jones desisted from this inflammatory folly after achieving several days of sustained fame and after receiving various entreaties by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who warned that such action would put U.S. troops in harm's way. The crisis was dispelled when the gun-toting Mr. Jones -- who is no religious scholar but rather a homophobic, Islamophobic used furniture salesman -- at last relented and promised to not revisit the subject in the future.
In early January of 2011, the mustachioed Mr. Jones announced, while sporting a leather jacket, that he would hold an "International Judge the Koran [sic] Day," during which the Quran would be tried for murder. Unlike his September escapade -- conveniently timed to coincide with the ninth anniversary of 9/11 -- this round of theatrics drew no press attention. On March 20, 2011 Mr. Jones served as the judge in this "trial of the Koran," which also featured a mock prosecutor, defense attorney, and witnesses. Some of the participants were even sporting robes and headwear presumably intended to be some variety of "Arab" costuming. Amidst about 30 observers and a film crew from an Orlando film school, the Quran was found guilty after which it was doused with kerosene and burnt upon an ornamental outdoor firepit. Despite the modest turnout, Jones declared the event a success as well as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The bizarre mock trial and execution of Islam's most revered book went unnoticed in the American and international media until April 1, when angry mobs in the usually peaceful northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif stormed a U.N. compound and slaughtered at least eight people. The violence quickly spread beyond the city of Mazar-i-Sharif into Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Kabul. The crowed was mobilized following Friday prayers at the shrine of Hazrat Ali, in which the event was recounted, enraging the attendees.
While Mr. Jones was deliberately provocative, this butchery of innocent Afghans and international U.N. workers is mind-boggling. How is it possible that the actions of a largely reviled, fringe lunatic in central Florida could result in protests in Afghanistan and Pakistan and spawn the deaths of so many people -- including Afghan Muslims?
The United States and Pakistan are bound by mutual if asymmetric dependence, which generates considerable resentment among our peoples and governments alike. The Pakistan-U.S. relationship sometimes feels more like an arranged marriage than a love match: both stay in it because of larger considerations, and begrudgingly acknowledge or even outright deride the other's concerns and priorities.
This is not new: it has been the case since the partnership was renewed in the wake of the events of 9/11. The Raymond Davis affair -- in which a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistani men he said were trying to rob him in Lahore in late January, causing a national outcry from Pakistanis worried about armies of American spies ravaging the country -- has again brought these long-standing bilateral troubles to fore. The crisis has revealed the apprehensions, recriminations, and anger that are rife on both sides. But Raymond Davis is a symptom, not the cause, of deep tensions between America and Pakistan.
LAHORE -- This much is clear about the latest convulsion in U.S.-Pakistan relations: an American man, operating under the name of Raymond Davis, shot and killed two men in Lahore in the populous province of the Punjab. After the event, an "emergency vehicle," presumably from the U.S. consulate, rushed to rescue Davis and careened into a crowd. The as yet unidentified driver of the rescue vehicle killed a third person. Davis is currently being held in Pakistani custody in Lahore. He has been added to Pakistan's exit control list while his status is being determined in Pakistan's courts, which precludes his exit from the country.
The U.S. government maintains a simple account: he was an employee of the U.S. consulate in Lahore who shot two men in self defense. Since he has "diplomatic immunity," he should be released under the Vienna Convention immediately. President Obama has himself argued that he should be released for these reasons. Concurrent with Obama's appeals for the man's diplomatic immunity, U.S. Senator John Kerry travelled to Pakistan this week to resolve the ever more complicated row. With such high-level demands, the very credibility of the U.S. presidency is at stake. This is not lost upon Pakistan or its citizens.
Pakistan has its own stylized, yet starkly divergent, account from that heard in the United States. Whereas Raymond Davis is a niche topic of the chattering classes in Washington D.C. in the United States, he is the mainstay of conversation across all stratum of Pakistani society and has become a national obsession in Pakistan's print and television media. Pakistanis have called for the hanging of Davis in public rallies.
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At a recent event on Pakistan co-sponsored by Brookings and the U.S. Institute of Peace, several panelists cogently stressed the need for greater transparency on the parts of Washington and Islamabad as a necessary step in forging better relations.
Inevitably, the sad story of Pakistan's F-16s emerged during a panel discussion. In the early 1980s, the United States agreed to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets. This decision was taken when the United States worked closely with Pakistan to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan. The F-16 was the most important air platform in Pakistan's air force and it was the most likely delivery vehicle of a nuclear weapon. When nuclear proliferation-related sanctions (under the Pressler Amendment) came into force in 1990, the U.S. government cancelled the sales of several F-16s. Pakistanis routinely cite this as hard evidence of American perfidy to underscore the point that Washington is not a trustworthy ally.
With the lapse of time, many American and Pakistani interlocutors alike rehearse redacted variants of this sordid affair for various purposes. But I was dismayed when a U.S. official (speaking in his personal capacity) did so at the U.S. Institute of Peace event. He stressed, with suitable outrage, that the United States unfairly deprived Pakistan of the F-16s it purchased, demurred from reimbursing Pakistan when sanctions precluded delivery, and even charged Pakistan for the storage fees while the United States sought a third-party buyer for the planes. This particular individual has a long-standing relationship with South Asia and extensive experience in the region, which made the stylized telling all the more troublesome.
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The floods in Pakistan in 2010 were massive. The rains affected the length of Pakistan, maximally impacting the provinces of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Punjab, and Sindh as well as parts of Baluchistan. Flooding displaced more than 20 million people and covered about one fifth of Pakistan's arable lands -- an area roughly equal to the U.S. eastern seaboard. This flood affected more people than the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricane Nargis (2005), the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. Irrigation systems were destroyed, crops ruined, and seed stockpiles devastated. More than six million heads of livestock (including poultry) were killed. Yet, amazingly, only 1,985 people perished while another 2,946 were injured.
Given the population density of the affected regions, the poor infrastructure, and the baseline level of poverty, these figures are astonishingly low. In spite of the physical destruction, the fact that fewer than 2,000 Pakistanis died suggests that the Pakistani government did something very well last summer. Amidst numerous ongoing internal security crisis, political challenges and shortfalls of international assistance, Pakistani agencies continue to manage this crisis well despite the serious challenges that remain.
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ISLAMABAD -- Advocates of the current U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan deploy false choices and flawed assumptions to defend the status quo. Proponents of "staying the course" delegitimize the pursuit of better options for ending this deadly nine-year war by reducing the debate to a dubious binary: maintain a long-term counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign against the Taliban or leave Afghanistan after ignominiously "cutting and running." It is time to reframe this public discourse over the costly status quo and consider a new way forward.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently in Afghanistan and headed to Pakistan shortly, has argued, among others, that a policy of "Counterterrorism Plus" will more effectively secure genuine U.S. security objectives. He's right.
This approach calls for a much smaller deployment of forces that would focus upon al-Qaeda, including continued drone attacks on al-Qaeda and international militants both in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas. Proponents of such a plan argue for continuing the training mission of Afghan National Security Forces with a dedicated focus upon sustainability as well as continued and long-term initiatives to develop civilian capacity in the Afghan government. Obviously, this implies a sustained -- albeit a different and perhaps smaller -- U.S. presence in Afghanistan. This is not "cut and run."