How the US can help Pakistan defeat the Taliban

After 17 years of fighting the Taliban, and trillions of dollars spent, the War on Terror does not seem to be ending. It has become clear that the Taliban, who flees to Pakistan when attacked by allied forces, cannot be defeated without Pakistan’s participation. The problem is that Pakistan is unable to do so, because its leadership both lacks the public support and the resources to establish control in the Tribal Areas, which serve as the base for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. A 71 year old conflict with India eats up all the military and financial resources which Pakistan could have used to establish control in the militant Tribal Areas, and a widespread distrust of the US makes it impossible for Pakistani leaders to attack militants without being seen as ‘American puppets’.[1] This means that if Pakistan is to have the resources and public support necessary to defeat the Taliban, the US needs to have a strategy towards ending the Pakistan-India conflict and gaining the trust of the Pakistani people. Understanding the reasons behind the Pak-India conflict and Pakistani distrust of the US will enable the US to create a strategy for gaining Pakistan’s full participation in the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

A history of Muslim domination over Hindus, a massacre of millions during the partition of British India and four wars has created tensions between Pakistan and India.  All of Pakistan’s foreign security policies revolve around their enormous neighbor, and they station hundreds of thousands of soldiers along the border areas in order to match India’s military power.[2] But Pakistan feels that this is not enough, so they have turned to financing a Jihadi insurgency in the Indian half of the Kashmir region.[3] This has diverted half a million Indian troops to the area, giving Pakistan a tactical advantage in the remaining border areas. The problem is that Pakistan now spends military and financial resources in the east which are desperately needed to take back control from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Tribal Areas in the west. This means that it is necessary for Pakistan to have peace with India in order to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But India refuses to go forward with any peace negotiations as long as Pakistan supports Kashmiri militants, and Pakistan will not stop funding these militants as long as it believes India to be a threat. There is, in other words, a political deadlock.

This is where the US comes in. Pakistan has been looking for an alliance with the US to balance its power against India for decades. There is in other words a power-vacuum which the US could help fill. Becoming a genuine ally to Pakistan could help the country feel secure enough to let go of their support to Kashmiri Jihadis. This would in turn open up the road for peace with India, and therefore free up the resources Pakistan needs to use in the Tribal Areas. The problem is that, despite all the aid the US has given Pakistan, the country’s leadership and general population severely distrusts the United States. This distrust stems from two main factors: First of all, after the US and Pakistan had cooperated to fund the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980’s, it left Pakistan to deal with  3 million Afghan refugees and a plague of Jihadis on its own.[4] The US also restricted most economic aid to Pakistan because of its nuclear program, while at the same time deepening its friendship with the also nuclear capable India.[5] Not only did this create the Pakistani belief that the US only helps Pakistan to fulfill its own goals, but it also gave rise to the belief that the US works with India to undermine their interests. Secondly, when the US pressured Pakistan to join the War on Terror with the famous statement that “Either you’re with us, or you’re against us”, they did not take into consideration the delicate balance of Pakistani politics at that time.[6] The military ruler Musharraf was in the process of consolidating his power and carefully taking power away from the army of radicals which General Zia Ul-Haq had formed in the 1980’s. By forcing Pakistan to take premature measures to fight radicals, they created widespread outrage in the Pakistani population, who felt insulted that Musharraf would attack his own people at the will of the US. This only served to create sympathies for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and finally gave rise to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Pakistani Taliban, who today field up to 40,000 anti-government militants.[7] This convinced the Pakistani leadership that the US has no concern for their domestic interests, and has made them reluctant to fully taking the fight to the Taliban at the risk of creating more public outrage and support for the Taliban.

Therefore, before the US can help Pakistan to feel secure enough to let go of Kashmiri militants, create peace with India, and free up the military resources necessary to fight the Taliban, the US needs to regain Pakistan’s trust. First of all, the US would have to ease up on the drone-strikes in Pakistan, which only serve to create anti-American sentiments and more support for the Taliban because of the high civilian casualties they inflict. Secondly, the US would have to stop making comments for Pakistan to ‘do more’ in the fight against terror. This only undermines the Pakistani leadership, who already has a difficult time convincing the Pakistani people that it is in their own interests to fight the Taliban. Comments like that make the leadership instead seem like ‘US-puppets’. Finally, after these measures are taken, the US could start providing economic aid to Pakistan. Broken roads, an ineffective tax system and widespread illiteracy all serve to weaken the economy and to undermine national unity.[8] By helping to improve Pakistan’s infrastructure, building schools and funding training programs for workers, the US could not only help fight poverty, which is a main factor behind radicalism, but also regain the trust of the Pakistani people.

A long-term strategy which takes into consideration Pakistani foreign and domestic interests, while at the same time easing them up to the idea of having the US at their backs, will foster an environment in which Pakistan will be willing to let go of the Kashmir militants, and to finally go forward with peace negotiations with India.

When this goal has been achieved, the Pak-India border would be de-militarized, and thousands of Pakistani troops could be re-directed to take the fight to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Tribal Areas. Peace between India and Pakistan would also open up trade between the two countries, which has an estimated potential of $40 billion annually, or ~14% of Pakistan’s BNP.[9] This would give Pakistan the resources to not only finance military operations in the Tribal Areas, but also to establish governmental rule and social care in the region. This would enable Pakistan to finally take control away from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who would now be locked to the Afghanistan region. This would be a great help to allied forces in Afghanistan, who don’t have permission to follow the militants into the Pakistan side of the border. This would pave the way for an end to the War on Terror.

In the end, the War on Terror has shown us that forcing Pakistan to take measures against terrorism, and criticizing it for not doing more, only serves to undermine Pakistani leadership, and to increase support for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. By taking Pakistan’s domestic and foreign interests into consideration, the US can instead gain Pakistan’s trust, and help it become strong enough to actually fight the militants in the Tribal Areas. Reducing air-strikes in Pakistani territory, and helping to build its economy, will help Pakistan trust that the US will not allow India to undermine its interest. This will make them confident enough to let go of the Kashmiri militants, which will free up the military to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

This in turn will force the militants into the Afghanistan region, where the Afghan government, the US and Pakistan can work together to finally end the plague of extremism in the region.

As a Baloch who has grown up hearing of Pakistani atrocities against other Baloch, I can understand any bitter feelings towards Pakistan. Until recently, I had a strongly hostile attitude towards the nation, but I came to realize that isolation and sanctions only help to worsen the situation in Pakistan, and in turn, for the Baloch. Similarly, it is understandably difficult for the US to show consideration for an ally who has hosted the US’s greatest enemies. But a lack of consideration for Pakistan’s interest and aggressive posturing has only exacerbated the problem that the US wanted to solve. Befriending Pakistan will not only help to end the War on Terror, but a strengthened economy and government will also put the country on the road to democracy, making it unlikely to host any militants in the future.
This is why it’s unfortunate that President Trump has pulled in military support for Pakistan while at the same time strengthening US friendship with India, as it makes Pakistan feel cornered and threatened. This in turn is likely to motivate Pakistan to continue supporting Kashmiri militants. It is important instead that US leaders understand how aggressive policies towards Pakistan only help to increase the problems of radicalism, rather than ending them.

[1] I. Ahmed, Pakistan – The Garrison state, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2013, p.65
(This chapter describes the first India-Pakistan war which started in 1947).

[2] A. Mazhar, Military Control in Pakistan: The Parallel State, London, Routledge, 2008, p.4
(This chapter, but also the book in general, helps explain how Pakistan has formed its governmental institutions and politics based on a fear of India’s military superiority).
R. Khan, Afghanistan and Pakistan – Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity, Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington, 2011, p.243
(In footnote Nr.23, the author quotes General Kayani from a NATO meeting in 2010, where he stated that the Pakistani military’s capacity in the Tribal areas were at their fullest, since a third each of the army is stationed in the country’s two fronts).
Global Firepower, 2018 Pakistan Military Strength
https://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.asp?country_id=pakistan
(This source shows that Pakistan has 637,000 active personnel. Combine this with the statement that a third of the military is stationed at the Indian front, and you have the result that ~212,000 soldiers are stationed there).

[3] Z. Hussain, Frontline Pakistan – The Struggle with Militant Islam,  I.B  Tauris & CO Ltd, London, 2007, p.76
(This chapter explains how Pakistan created madrasas to radicalize youth in preparation for Jihad in Kashmir)
Z. Hussain, Frontline Pakistan – The Struggle with Militant Islam,  I.B  Tauris & CO Ltd, London, 2007, p.102
(This chapter explains how, even though Pakistan has officially ended its support for Kashmiri militants, it has not fully cracked down on them due to public and military opposition to such measures)
R. Khan, Afghanistan and Pakistan – Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity, Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington, 2011, p.209.
(This chapter explains how the Pakistani military was especially lenient towards Kashmiri militants, when pressured by the US to fight extremists)

[4] U. Butt, Pakistan: The U, Geopolitics and Grand Strategies, Pluto Press, London, 2012, p.26-27
(These pages explains how the US abandoned Pakistan to deal with the refugee-wave and the outfall of the Afghan-Soviet war by themselves).

[5] M. Mufti, Pakistan: The U, Geopolitics and Grand Strategies, Pluto Press, London, 2012, p.68
( This page explains the restriction of economic aid to Pakistan after the Soviet-Afghan War)

[6] I. Ahmed, Pakistan – The Garrison state, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2013, p.314
(The Statement: Either you’re with us or against us).

[7] R. Khan, Afghanistan and Pakistan – Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity, Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington, 2011, p.209
(This chapter explains the delicate situation with extremism in Pakistan at the time of the onset of the Global War on Terror, and how US pressure for Pakistan to fight the Taliban only undermined Musharraf’s leadership, gave rise to anti-American sentiments and led to the creation of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan).

[8] M. Ababsa, H. Abadzi, H. Abdul-Hamid, A. Abdullah, R. Abdullah, D. Abu-Ghaida, JL. Acero, P. Acosta, P. Acosta, Revitalizing Industrial Growth in Pakistan: Trade, Infrastructure,  and Environmental Performance, World Bank Group, Washington D.C, 2014.
(This book summarizes the economic, infrastructural and educational areas in which Pakistan could develop).

[9] The Express Tribune, Pak-India Trade still a fraction of $40 billion potential, March 13th 2014
https://tribune.com.pk/story/349146/pak-india-trade-still-a-fraction-of-40-billion-potential/
(Here is the statement that Pak-India trade could be worth $40 billion annually)
World Banks National account data, 2016
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=PK
(Source for Pakistan’s BNP, which I divided the $40 billion trade potential by in order to figure out how much it was in relation to Pakistan’s BNP).

About the Author
Nohan Zainudini is a 22 year-old student of Psychology at Stockholm University, and the founder of the Organization of Baloch Youth in Europe. They are currently conducting Project Baloch Voices, where testimonials of military oppression against the Baloch are to be presented to the UN and EU.
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