Following the visit I was given several books to provide further background on Pakistan's history and current condition. One of them was "Pakistan: A Hard Country" written by Anatol Lieven. It provided me a mind-opening perspective which I believe casts a sharp light on errors in American policy and what we should recognize and consider going forward.
Here is s summary of what I took away from this book.
This was the first of the books I received while in Pakistan and what an informing and sobering mind-opener it is. On one hand, I wish I had read it before my trip to Pakistan. It would have led me to ask many more questions than I did though time would not have permitted me to discuss nearly as many as I would like. And on second thought, I don't believe I could possibly have become so engrossed in this book if I had not already been to Pakistan. I read this book just after reading "Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. I may comment on this book separately though some of its themes relate directly to those raised in "Pakistan: A Hard Country" so I will reference them here. The first comment I have to make is how complex and deeply rooted the tribal, cultural, geographic, religious and political dimensions of Pakistan are. Another take away for me is how YOUNG Pakistan is as a nation. Only 65 years. Think of where the U.S. was after 65 years. Top of mind learnings and questions: 1. I had not realized the historically deep connection and historical roots of the Pashtun populations in Afghanistan and important parts of Pakistan. And how this has connected the two nations and how important the role of Pashtun leadership in Afghanistan is seen by Pakistan in terms of its relationship vis a vis India. (The non-Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan are seen to be and have historically been closer to India). I can now see how this has impacted Pakistan's willingness to combat the Taliban (largely consisting of Pashtuns) which has a strong presence in both nations and how the great majority of Pakistanis (according to this book) while not agreeing by any means with all that the Taliban has done, has overwhelmingly supported the Afghan Taliban in combatting what is seen as an illegitimate invasion by America of Afghanistan. Furthermore, many/most Pakistanis believe their government has been unduly pressured by the U.S. to fight and support its war. The bottom line sentiment is simple: "Muslim countries should be ruled by Muslims". 2. All of this was colored by the fact that the Taliban had played a decisive role, supported by the US and Pakistan, in defeating the Russian Army in the 1980s. Here comes another "invader", most people say. Why now turn against the Taliban, especially when they are seen as able to provide order and support not provided by the central government. 3. While there is no doubting the perfidy of certain elements of the ISI, I came to recognize the very difficult position of the Pakistani government in taking more aggressive steps to combat the Taliban in light of the factors mentioned above. In addition, I learned of the historically weak/to nil federal or indeed local government in the Northwest regions adjoining Afghanistan made up of the Federally-Admistered Tribal Areas and the North -West Frontier Province. This is where the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda sought refuge. (This is where Osama bin Laden was eventually caught and killed). I have to say that U.S. policy has showed far too little sensitivity to the reality of the situation. I have to wonder how informed the Administration and Congress are on these realities. All too little I would guess. There has to be a high priority on deepening the understanding of the realities/complexities of Pakistan. We need continuity in relationships. 4. As often happens, the Pakistani Taliban have proved their own worst enemy, bringing significant and totally deserved disrepute on their cause by extreme inhumane actions, including expanding their terrorist activity into Punjab (getting closer to the elites) and committing highly inflammatory individual acts including recently killing the polio workers and maiming a 14 year old girl who wanted to go to school. The reality of their blatant inhumanity was inescapable. But the roots of their power and reach should not be taken lightly. To say they are deep and powerful would be a classic understatement. 5. I gained a deeper understanding of the deeply embedded and variegated clan and kin-based nature of Pakistani society and government and religious sects. And how in many ways they intersect and in their own way rule against both a strong sense of nationalism (other than opposition to the U.S. and India) and the likelihood of the Taliban or other fundamentalist movement securing control of the country. This strong kin-based culture results in important differences in expected behavior compared to the West. For example, it makes "corruption" in our terms equate to expected loyalty. I also gained a far better understanding of the unique position of the military with its perceived (internally and externally) superior status and way of life. Hence, its ability to engineer several regime changes. 6. I come away believing strongly (even without knowing how to do it) that combatting those elements of al Qaeda (and other terrorists) which threaten the US and the world must be done in alliance with Pakistan and in a way which recognizes Pakistan's most important strategic imperatives including its relationships with India. In the same way, I believe resolving as quickly and as best we can America's exit from Afghanistan must be done drawing on the expertise and cooperation of Pakistani leaders. Further, I believe that in the end the solution to Afghanistan's troubled situation will require a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. This now appears to be accepted by Hillary Clinton. It what Richard Holbrooke believed to his dying day. I believe that Pakistan could be the key to achieving this. Questions still abound in my mind: 1. What is the path forward for Pakistan to accelerate the development of its economy to benefit the many not the few? What role can the United States and other countries/ international bodies play (America's getting out of Afghanistan is certainly one). What is the path forward for Pakistan to develop a stronger civil society and rule of law? While needing to be driven from within, is there help to be provided from the outside? What role might there be for having leaders from Pakistan spend time in other countries that in some ways could be a model? One thing seems clear: we are talking generational changes. Patience and realistic expectations must rule the day. What role can the Pakistani/International business community play? 2. Pakistan appears to have significant ecological threats. Witness recent flooding. Is here help that can be provided on this front? 3. What role can Pakistan play in engineering a negotiated, stable settlement in Afghanistan?
Pakistan is far to important to be ignored. Far too important not to be an ally of the United
States. Achieving the right strategy and action will require deep knowledge and trust based relationships.