Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pakistan and the U.S. (op-ed piece)

This piece was published in The Wake under my alternate (read: real) name, with a few minor alterations/mistakes and an entirely inappropriate title. Click here to read it.

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As the United States and much of the world fretted over elections in Palestine and Iran’s growing threat, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited the White House Jan. 24. Aziz used American airtime to say all the right things, pledging to fight both “terrorism in all its forms” and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush hailed the U.S.-Pakistani relationship as “strategic” and “a vital friendship for keeping the peace.”

Vital, certainly—but this “anchor of regional peace and security,” as Aziz boasts of his country, remains far from a dependable ally in the war on terror.

Granted, Pakistan is undergoing positive political and economic reforms, attempting to make peace with India, and has allegedly arrested 700 al Qaeda members. But in spite of Aziz’s claim to an “unwavering” commitment to counter-terrorism “despite its cost and risks,” the country very much retains its weakness for radical Islam.

Indeed, ABC News recently reported, “Al Qaeda and its former protectors—the Taliban—are in the midst of a powerful resurgence” in Pakistani tribal areas such as the Waziristan Province, where “the Pakistani army is barely seen.” Al Qaeda videotapes obtained from the area show members plotting attacks at targets across the Afghan border, “open recruitment for the jihad, or holy war, to kill Americans and their allies,” and beheadings. Additionally, ABC reporters “have confirmed that Western aid organizations have been forced out, their headquarters burned, schools shut down, teachers and journalists killed, and music banned.”

Given this situation, the Jan. 13 CIA air strikes should come as no surprise. Directed at an al Qaeda target inside a remote Pakistani village, it is uncertain whether the strikes eliminated any key al Qaeda figures, as initial reports indicated. Instead, at least 13 civilians were killed.

Some Pakistani officials complained about the U.S. intervention (and others like it), claiming the ability to manage “security” within their own borders. Meanwhile, thousands of Pakistanis protested the act, and liberals like James Cogan decried America’s “imperialist arrogance and outright gangsterism.” But there’s only one reason the U.S., whose troops are not permitted inside Pakistan, occasionally uses drones to target terrorist activity across the Pakistan-Afghan border: Pakistan isn’t getting the job done.

Some nevertheless condemned the “slaughtering” of innocent Pakistanis, but attempts to take out mass murderers will nearly always be of great cost. Though unfortunate, civilian casualties will be present in any war, and there can be little doubt that this particular action was morally justified.

It was, of course, part of a worldwide struggle against the murderous, theocratic, Islamic militants sometimes called Islamofascists. One such man, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has garnered the spotlight again after Al-Jazeera released his latest sermon on audio tape, possibly demonstrative of some kind of desperation or an effort to reassert his prominence. The message, apparently targeted toward the American media and potential supporters in Iraq and Afghanistan, relied heavily on the talking points of U.S. liberals. Appealing to poll results and American casualties, Osama joined leading Democrats in opposing both a moralistic U.S. policy intent on spreading freedom and the stubborn willingness of America to defend its people from being murdered by foreigners.

But a bold, world-changing vision—one that challenges the roots of the Islamofascist worldview—is necessary in today’s world. And, for better or for worse, Pakistan plays a crucial role in that vision.

Prime Minister Aziz’s inability (or unwillingness) to crack down on al Qaeda in certain areas of the country—and America’s growing impatience with such failure—threatens to unravel a tenuous alliance, as Aziz seeks to walk the line of appeasing an Islamic population largely sympathetic to terrorism while assisting America in its anti-terror efforts.

Of course, President Bush has said, “We will not distinguish between terrorists and the states that harbor them,” though pragmatic considerations must be taken into account. With regard to Pakistan, how (or the degree to which) America chooses to implement Bush’s principle is certainly a matter for debate, but the fate of U.S.-Pakistani relations rests primarily with the Pakistani government. Indeed, America won’t be altering its full-fledged opposition to Islamofascism any time soon (at least not before 2009), so the important point, as Dr. Walid Phares of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies says, is clear: “Either Pakistan considers al Qaeda as an enemy or it doesn't…either it considers the US an ally or not in this war.”

So it’s really that simple. And now we can fret about Iran.

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