Before we throw caution to the wind and build a new embassy in Islamabad, a la Baghdad, fit for 1,000 employees, let’s first acquire a proper understanding of the nature of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
A majority of Pakistanis believe Sept. 11, 2001, was a CIA-Mossad conspiracy designed to enlist the world in a giant pushback against Islam’s growing popularity. Think I’m kidding? Don’t ask the thin veneer of Western-educated Pakistanis who speak highly polished English, or about 10 percent of 175 million people, but even in that minority many will tell you that the ultimate objective of America’s invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, was Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal. Pakistanis are to the conspiracy theory born.
The Iraq war wound up costing U.S. taxpayers close to $1 trillion. In the past eight years Afghanistan, with 30 million people, swallowed $40 billion but doesn’t have much to show for it, except for off-the-charts corruption. It took Congress a year to agree to $1.5 billion in aid for Pakistan. Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani, arguably Embassy Row’s sharpest operator with instant access at the highest levels, is talking up the need for a $20 billion lend-lease package. This he says could be patterned on what President Roosevelt devised to assist Britain when it stood alone in 1940-41 after the fall of France and before Pearl Harbor and Germany’s declaration of war brought the United States into World War II. Haqqani is on the phone daily to President Asif Zardari and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke and CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus are urging Pakistan’s leaders to follow up their success in flushing out their homegrown Taliban insurgents from the Swat Valley in Pakistan proper with a major offensive in the tribal areas where the Afghan Taliban and their al-Qaida allies have enjoyed safe havens – except for the occasional U.S. drone strike – since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan Oct. 7, 2001. For this to succeed, Haqqani, Zardari and Kayani have been pleading for weeks for helicopters that can hop, skip and jump from one mountain to the next and drop or pick up special forces as they hunt down insurgents.
The United States provided 10 Russian-made helos. They came without spare parts, and four of them were useless. In the Vietnam War the United States lost 5,086 aircraft out of 11,827 documented in service. More than half of them – 3,305 – were Huey helicopter troop carriers; 2,202 Huey pilots were killed in action. Since the late 1970s Hueys have been replaced by Blackhawks – almost 2,000 now with U.S. forces and sold to a score of countries, including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Philippines. But, a four-star general told this reporter, the Pakistanis haven’t been trained in Blackhawks. Why not? Colombia uses almost 100 UH-60 Blackhawks for its counterinsurgency operations.
Blackhawks have seen action in Grenada, Panama, Mogadishu, Balkans, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq. Since World War II, Pakistani pilots are known to be among the very best in the world. They were hired by the score in the Gulf before the Arabs were trained to fly F-16s and Blackhawks. This is another front on which the Pakistani trust quotient needle is near zero.
Also close to zero is U.S. trust in ISI, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the organization that originally nurtured and trained the Taliban to put an end to the Afghan civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989. And after the Taliban conquered most of Afghanistan and set up its religious dictatorship in Kabul in 1996, several hundred ISI agents, including some 300 assigned to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida training camps, made sure their investment didn’t stray from the reservation. For Pakistan’s strategic planners, Afghanistan was the country’s defense in depth in another war with India.
The Iraq war wound up costing U.S. taxpayers close to $1 trillion. In the past eight years Afghanistan, with 30 million people, swallowed $40 billion but doesn’t have much to show for it. On the U.N. Human Development Index, Afghanistan now ranks 181 out of 182 countries; only Niger was lower and last. Pakistani newspapers, especially the Urdu-language publications, constantly question U.S. intentions about what they call the mingy U.S. aid package of $1.5 billion in “non-security assistance.” “Insulting” was a unanimous cry from all media. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill wasn’t even seen as an improvement over nothing.
Pakistan’s strategic thinkers who scan the Afghan horizon cannot find a silver lining. No one believes the United States and its NATO allies will muster the political courage to commit to the five- to 10-year politico-economic-military engagement Afghanistan requires. They can also see a three-sided coalition, including key tribal chiefs, some Taliban sympathizers and the new military that would guarantee al-Qaida wouldn’t be allowed back under penalty of aerial retaliation.
After being close allies in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the United States turned against Pakistan and began punishing former allies with all manner of sanctions against their secret nuclear weapons development program. A nuclear deterrent against India was first proposed by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father, later executed by President Zia ul-Haq, after Pakistan had lost half its country to India in the 1971 war that gave birth to Bangladesh. A national feeling of betrayal against the United States swept through the armed forces and the intelligentsia in the early 1970s, again in the 1990s, and again now. India is launching a 10-year, $100 billion military modernization program. Thus, it becomes incumbent on President Obama to nurture peace between these two nuclear powers or face, down this road, the world’s first nuclear war.
Zia was also the leader who double-timed a process of Islamization in the armed forces coupled with Koranic schools (madrassas) for poor boys where the only discipline superannuated clerics taught them was how to recite the Koran by heart – a 10-year process from the age of 6 to 16 – interspersed with homilies designed to nurture hate against America, India and Israel. Since Sept. 11 some 5 million potential jihadis have passed through some 12,500 madrassas, so there is no shortage of volunteers for suicide bombings. Even the U.N. World Food Program headquarters in Islamabad that feeds the poorest of the poor wasn’t spared. The man in military uniform who asked permission to use the WFP restroom was a jihadi who blew himself up – killing five WFP staffers who had volunteered to help feed 10 million Pakistanis.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is an editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times. This essay was previously published as “Unraveling at the seams” in UPI.