Sunday, May 17, 2009

And we wonder why they hate us...

Aid team with Pakistani families in Mardan and Swabi districts. Manzoor Hussain/Mercy Corps

Yesterday I got a call from a solicitor for a charity. It was not one I regularly give to, but a couple of years ago when a huge earthquake shook mountainous regions of Pakistan, I did some research and discovered that Mercy Corps seemed to have some ability to deliver aid, so I made a small donation. As a resident of San Francisco, I'm attuned to people needing help after earthquakes.

This time they sought cash to help the nearly one million people driven from their homes by the Pakistani Army's offensive in Pushtun areas of their country. The army proudly announces they killed 1000 "militants" and they won't rest until they've "flushed out" every Taliban adherent.

This offensive is something the Pakistan Army has undertaken under intense pressure from the United States. Pakistan's President Zardari visited Washington last week and evidently Obama laid down the law. The groups the U.S. lumps together as "Taliban" must go. So one million people -- people who used to have homes and lives -- are now on the move, many crowded in refugee camps, while Army tanks charge around trying (probably fruitlessly) to eliminate 15000 guerillas.

And we wonder why they hate us ...

Professor Juan Cole's popular book, Engaging the Muslim World, devotes a chapter to explaining, simply and clearly, some background realities that should give our bellicose rulers pause. Here's his summary of the misconceptions that drive our Afghanistan and Pakistan wars.

The Taliban create Islam anxiety in the West not only because they hosted al-Qaeda but also beause they dislike foreigners, oppress women, and practice extreme Puritanism. Westerners confuse the social conflict between urban and rural society in these two countries with mere terrorism and tend to assume that the deployment of military might by a praetorian state against tribal and rural peoples is synonymous with a war on terror. In fact, good policymaking would recognize the legitimate social and economic discontents of the rural population and seek to redress them with well considered aid programs instead of bombs.

Ooops. There we go again with the bombs. Furthermore:

It's a fool's errand. These rugged regions along the Afghan border are thinly populated by Pushtun tribesmen who are interested in reducing their isolation from the outside world only if they can see a benefit. ... The tribes' segmentary politics, whereby they pursue internal feuds with one another, can quickly be put aside to unite against a grasping or belligerent outsider. This makes the tribes a formidable obstacle to heavy-handed forms of governance imposed from the outside. Even the British Empire at the height of its power never subdued them.

Nor he goes on to point out, has the government of Pakistan. These people don't recognize the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And they are not necessarily a danger to us.

September 11 was launched not from Khost in Afghanistan but from Hamburg in Germany, not by tribal persons or seminarians [Taliban] but by engineers trained in the West. Even in their heyday in the 1990s, the Taliban were seldom directly involved in committing international terrorism. The conflation of Pushtuns, and their love of relative autonomy, with Talibanism frequently obscures the local politics that drive militancy.

Pakistan is a huge country, with an area the size of the states of California, Oregon and Washington, and a population of about 170 million people. It has a prosperous urban middle class that is sick of both military dictators and corrupt politicians. This democratic group drove the last military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, from office, forced the reinstatement of a deposed chief justice of the Supreme Court, and is proud of the country's freely elected government if perhaps not entirely happy with their political leadership.

And guess what? Pakistanis don't look at the world through American eyes. A few more facts from Professor Cole:
  • Pakistan has fought three wars with India since independence in 1947. Pakistanis tend to suspect any threat to their country comes from the Hindu-majority colossus to the south.
  • Since the U.S. pushed the Taliban out of Afghanistan and propped up the Karzai government there, Afghanistan has become friendly to their enemy, India.
  • About half of all Pakistanis blame the United States for most of the violence in their country, while 14 percent think India is stirring things up.
  • Historically U.S. aid to Pakistan has gone almost exclusively to the military, not civil society.
  • Pakistanis suspect, with reason, that the U.S. has preferred to deal with military rulers, rather than support their struggling democratic efforts.
And we wonder why they hate us ...

President Obama owns his Afghanistan/Pakistan war now. Success, whatever that means and the powers-that-be don't seem to know, is very unlikely. What to do?

Inform ourselves. Cole's Engaging the Muslim World is one source, as is his blog, Informed Comment. Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos is also totally worth the effort.

Support the early rumblings in Congress asking the Administration to name an endgame. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) has put in a bill asking to hear an exit strategy.

Make a donation to help the latest wave of U.S. created war refugees. We're breaking their country; it's the least we can do. Mercy Corps is one place to start.

1 comment:

Mr. Natural said...

Another great post. I just happened to wander in here - I think from some comment you left somewhere. Glad I did. Critical thinking and great writing - wish I could do it!

Left Edge North is my angry political blog, INFORMIORIUM my art blog, Beach Home For Sale is our home for sale blog, Joe's Bank my failed bank bailout YES PLEASE - ME SOME TOO blog.

Peace, eh?

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