By Mansoor Ijaz
Pakistan has a split personality problem. Its citizens can rise up en masse on one day to depose a military dictator and reinstate honest judges, but the next day seem helpless to stop politicians from ceding strategic territory to enemies who publicly flog a 17-year old woman as a show of justice. Most American taxpayers, who are being asked to finance aid even as the country disintegrates, don't have the faintest idea how to decode what's really wrong there or where to begin to help. President Zardari could change that during his upcoming visit to Washington - but it would require his bold domestic leadership and a new direction for Pakistan and its relationship with the U.S.
Pakistan's central problem today is the systemic failure of its federal, provincial and local governments to provide for its citizens' basic needs, whether public safety, healthcare, education or employment. The Taliban is stepping in to fill that void. Hamas did the same in Palestinian enclaves throughout Israel when PLO leadership failed to offer disenfranchised Palestinians a structured way of life. You've heard it before: security is assured, albeit through intimidation and brutality. Basic daily staples like food and clothing come from Arab-financed hawala cash transfers. Education comes from Saudi-funded madrassa schools. Legal disputes are settled through harsh Islamic laws. Only geography makes the Pakistani case different from that of the Palestinians.
To make matters worse, America's visible role in Pakistan's internal affairs only helps the Taliban's cause. Pakistan's woefully inadequate leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, has been privately lectured and publicly admonished by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Those lectures have made him look like an American stooge playing to the often conflicting ways in which Washington wants Islamabad to act.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials order more drone attacks on Taliban and al-Qaeda hideouts, knowing their exhortations are falling on deaf (or worse, impotent) ears. Unannounced U.S. military actions make Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, army chief of staff, appear weak in his anti-terror campaign when in fact he is simply waiting for the civilian government to order him to take action. Unannounced drone attacks also raise serious questions about Pakistan's sovereignty. Innocent civilian life lost in each strike creates more Pakistani anger and frustration, almost all of which is galvanized by Pakistan's political opposition and unleashed on the cowering Zardari. He then runs to Washington for more aid to shore up defenses designed to attack his people even more savagely and indiscriminately.
This is not what American taxpayers signed up for. We need a different approach.
The Taliban movement in Pakistan must be destroyed at all costs. Pakistani politicians of all stripes have finally realized the severity of this threat (which must seem especially dangerous now that Taliban forces have gained so much ground that they could soon aim rockets and grenades at politicians' Islamabad homes from the surrounding hills.) They also know that the Pakistani army is the only institution capable of taking on that threat. And they have legitimate justification for doing so, since the vast majority of Taliban mercenaries are foreigners (Tajik, Uzbek, Afghan, etc.) operating on Pakistani soil. One can only imagine how Pakistani politicians would react if Taliban fighters were of Indian origin.
Forging political consensus in Islamabad that empowers Gen. Kayani through civilian orders to take back his countryside is the most urgent priority. Before Zardari heads to Washington (so not a single action he takes is seen as American puppeteering), he should call a meeting of his political allies and opponents, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan's chief justice, Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry, to agree to a way forward.
They should openly and unanimously declare that foreigners who conduct Taliban military operations are enemy combatants against whom all armed state action is justified. After that declaration, I propose they pursue this agenda:
-- Pakistan's corps commanders begin "Operation Zero Tolerance" to forcibly take back land politically ceded to Taliban forces in Swat Valley, just as they have begun taking back Taliban-infested areas in Buner district over the past two days, and to root out the Taliban in any other areas of the Northwest Frontier Province currently under their control.
-- Pakistani intelligence begins "Operation Clean Sweep" to disrupt supply routes and dramatically reduce the inflow of men, armaments, munitions, cash and other supplies that sustain Taliban operations.
- Pakistan's National Guard (with approximately 185,000 active duty personnel) and Frontier Corps (with approximately 60,000 active duty personnel) mobilize in tandem with army battalions to help citizens to return home and resume their daily lives - in essence, providing the same healthcare, public safety and basic staples for everyday living that the Taliban now offer.
--The leaders ask for India's assistance on intelligence gathering and for a firm commitment from India's army chief that while Operation Zero Tolerance is in progress, there will be no border movements by the Indian Army, no matter how heated the political rhetoric during India's current election cycle.
--The leaders seek NATO assistance in Afghanistan to close supply routes along the Afghan-Pakistani border, potentially moving up the announced time frame for U.S. deployment of 20,000 U.S. marines and soldiers in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul Provinces in Afghanistan to restrict the poppy trade's cash flow to the Taliban.
These are bold steps by any measure. When Zardari arrives in Washington, he will need American help to turn that boldness into action. We should give it to him without the traditional strings attached; constrained American aid in small doses has simply not worked so far. Pakistan's army is not equipped to handle guerrilla warfare. American military aid should focus exclusively on first equipping and then training Pakistan's army in anti-guerilla battle tactics, rather than on providing F-16s, high-tech military upgrades and other traditional tank warfare armaments - even if that training must occur outside Pakistan.
America needs to help Zardari implement a national rehabilitation plan that focuses on aid for key government services to his fellow citizens. Congress's aid package, due for a vote while Zardari is in Washington, should include a component that funds Pakistan's equivalent of the Army Corps of Engineers, employing trained army personnel who would help reconstruct affected rural areas to improve poor infrastructure and living conditions for their fellow Pakistanis. We should send our nurses and doctors to Pakistan to help improve its healthcare infrastructure. We should send our teachers armed with books, pencils and paper pads to teach Pakistani children what madrassahs cannot or will not. We should offer assistance to Pakistan's robust agriculture sector so it can provide more food for its people. We should send ambulances to its cities and large volumes of medical equipment to its rural areas so health services reach even the poorest. USAID and other NGOs could handle the disbursement procedures, but the end objective should be to change the mindset of Pakistanis about why and how America cares for Pakistanis by giving our tax dollars in direct, tangible ways that visibly help people restore their lives.
Before leaving the United States, Zardari should make one very personal concession. Once every week, for two to three days, he must go to a remote region of Pakistan and live amongst his people. His people will follow him and work hard to restore Pakistan's place in the world when they know he is prepared to sacrifice, even if briefly, what they have had to sacrifice for an entire lifetime.
It seems incomprehensible that gangs of well-armed, black-turbaned mercenaries can bring such a dynamic and capable country to its knees. Pakistanis must stand together and resolve to take their country back. America must give them every resource possible to ensure that happens. Pakistan's resurrection will stabilize a region that is home to one sixth of humanity - no price is too high to pay for that goal.
Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani descent, is a venture capitalist and financier.
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