The Great Game

Conrad Barwa has an insightful post at the Head Heeb on the structural and strategic elements in Pakistan’s policy towards the tribal areas and Afghanistan. Here is his conclusion:

What does seem clear is that the production of any ‘HVTs’ [high-value targets, i.e. terrorist leader] will not be an easy task and will only be accomplished, if at all, with painstaking care and effort as well as, where ever possible co-operation and neutralization of any distrustful actors on the ground. Given the absence of usual governance structures and the relative autonomy enjoyed from any centralized state authority that has historically predominated this belt on both the Afghan and Pakistani borders, any other approach, unless reinforced by a substantial investment of manpower, resources and time will not bear fruit. Moreover, it runs the risk of weakening the faultlines within the polity with the possibility of a serious breakdown of order and expanded domestic conflict. The debilitating linkages between foreign and domestic policy, noted by Jalal and cited earlier, that have put in place a structural conflict between external security goals and internal stability need to be severed and re-articulated. Such drastic de-linking between the external and internal spheres involving foundational changes in definition of ‘national interest’ have occurred before, most notably with the re-orientation of Egyptian foreign policy in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such wholesale changes in how foreign policy is conducted and the ‘national interest’ defined, in order to be successful need to obtain the acquiescence of the state policymaking elites and crucial sections of the political leadership, in order to overcome the opposition to change. Usually, such redirections are carried out by authoritarian nationalist leaders, who can ride roughshod over any domestic resistance; but in this case for a real peace dividend to be achieved for the region and the domestic population as a whole, only a democratic government has a realistic long-term chance of successfully enacting such a change and carrying it through to its conclusion.

I think the strategic factors in the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship do not get commented on frequently enough here in the US as opposed to the religious and ideological ones. Conrad’s post is useful since it focuses on the the “Great Game” which continues unabated.

Sepoy of Chapati Mystery posted recently at The Acorn about the history of the tribal areas of Pakistan which has been pretty constant since the late 19th century policy put in place by the British.

Quite some time ago, I touched upon the acrimonious history of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations before the Soviet invasion.

And finally an Amnesty International report on human rights abuses by Pakistani army in its South Waziristan operation:

Amnesty International is concerned that during the two-week long operation in March 2004 intended to remove people believed to be associated with the Taleban and al-Qa’ida from South Waziristan in the tribal region of Pakistan, a range of human rights violations were committed. They included arbitrary arrest and detention, possible unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions and the deliberate destruction of houses to punish whole families when some of their members were alleged to have harboured people associated with the Taleban or al-Qa’ida. Tribal fighters who may be associated with the Taleban or al-Qa’ida appear to have taken —- and in some cases killed —- hostages.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

4 thoughts on “The Great Game”

  1. Well this report by amnesty international is alarming (not that pakistanis are not aware of this).
    Pakistan army did the same in bangladesh and we know the result. such actions will only spread more hatred.
    But then again we must keep in view the situation on ground. the intricate tribal system in those areas and the environment leave little options to the army. even then such actions are not justified
    there was this recent news in the paper which told of increasing unrest in the civilian population of tribal areas over the tight economic sanctions imposed on them by the army. there jirga warned the govt. of harmful consequences if such imbargo was not lifted. as a result there was another news item the next day which told of govt.’s step towards easing the economic sanctions in the area.

  2. It is very unfortunate that, in our country, democratic culture has not been allowed to develop. There have been dictatorships after dictatorship. People, generally, like to use coercive methods of control. Another problem is that we lack the courage to accept our mistakes. In army they are, perhaps, tought to not-to-accept their fault. By force one can win bodies only temporarily while through discussion and good manners one can win bodies and hearts permanently.

  3. Thanks for the kind words, Zack. The one sobering thing about looking at inter-state relationships within the region in this way; is that the strategic dynamics are such that there will still be a conflict of interests between most of the states involved regardless of their domestic political characters. This element of competition will become more stable and less violent if Pakistan frex, becomes a sustained democracy but it doesn’t necessarily mean that its rivalry with India will become any less pressing in the long-term. For this to happen other re-alignments over how to define national interest need to happen. But to me it is intriguing that amongst fashionable talk we hear today about ‘Clash of Civilisations’ the ‘Islamist threat’ etc.etc.etc. even if regimes become more liberal and secularised, it doesn’t follow that their security stances will alter automatically, particularly since nationalism and the conflicts it arouses form a distinct axis of confrontation separate from religion. What we need is a regionalist agenda and mindset to develop a framework that can minimise these conflicts and seek political solutions that don’t rely on coercion or violence.

  4. Conrad: Definitely. In fact, I think in some cases (like China or the Middle East for example), a democratic government is, at least in the short term, more likely to be nationalist and/or anti-American.

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