"PAKISTAN: A HARD COUNTRY" by ANATOL LIEVEN

December 29, 2012

I recently visited Procter & Gamble's operating team in Pakistan with a visit to Karachi.

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.

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