Pakistani prez’s new Marshall Plan: would Obama chip in?

(6 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Yesterday, two American helicopters were fired on and turned back by Pakistani troops after trying to enter a Pakistani village without the government’s permission. This only 12 days after the first known US ground incursion into Pakistan killed 20 civilians in the same village. The Pakistani people and their leaders are demanding  that Pakistan defend its land and people against foreign attacks.

President Zardari of Pakistan, is now on a diplomatic jaunt in the UK presenting what his aides call a “new Marshall Plan” for Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan. Will an Obama administration transplant the Bush administration’s policies that failed in Iraq to the homeland of the Taliban? Or will they commit to serious, long-term solutions?  

Recently, Obama has implicitly endorsed the Bush administration’s current last-ditch efforts to capture Bin Laden. While this may have seemed necessary in a tight election, Obama is in danger of becoming the next Lyndon Johnson if he commits himself to a disastrous and unnecessary war in NW Pakistan.

For those who haven’t been following the situation in Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, now president of Pakistan, widower of assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto, came to power in a peaceful popular revolution against the Bush-backed pro-Taliban dictator Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf was thrown out on his ass in an election that brought secularist and moderate Islamist parties to power, which also overwhelmingly rejected pro-jihadist parties.

The Guardian’s Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark explain his plan:

Zardari will call for all of Pakistan’s regional neighbours or mentors – Russia, China, Afghanistan, Iran and India among them – to sit together and think through the crises. The US and the UK would also be present but in the background. “A consensus is necessary so the war on terror is not considered an American war but is owned by all countries,” the paper concludes. Not only would such a move distance Washington from Islamabad, it would also feed into the counter-insurgency strategy for Pakistan’s border areas that Zardari will also be revealing today in Downing Street.

Referred to by his aides as a new Marshall plan, it calls for an international consortium led by the UK to reconstruct Pakistan’s tribal areas, unravelling extremist infrastructure that grew massively during the Musharraf years – when more than a dozen proscribed terrorist organisations were allowed to regroup under new names, and pro-jihad madrasas trebled to 13,000. Zardari proposes a reconstruction budget to revitalise everything from local transport to water supplies. His aides have drawn up employment schemes and proposed wholesale reforms of partisan local police and local government. The families of those who die in the struggle against extremism are to be paid compensation, and those who are injured will have their medical costs covered.

Finally, Zardari is offering to establish a special intelligence cell at the Pakistan High Commission in London, which will act as a storehouse for information about Islamists and terror threats, tracking British Pakistanis as they make their way from the UK to Pakistan – a concrete boon to British counter-terrorism officials, who recently revealed that eight out of 10 current investigations in the UK have a close connection to Pakistan. Given the spectacular collapse of the airline bomb plot trial this month, this cell might tip the balance in Zardari’s favour. “We all want fewer blunders,” Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner in London, said.

The Pakistani security forces are the only organization that can effectively fight the Taliban in northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US has repeatedly failed to gather reliable intelligence before attacking targets. It has become impossible to conceal these failures from the international media, to say nothing of Afghanistanis and Pakistanis. The magnitude of these intelligence failures has reached the point where Taliban agents are tricking the US army into attacking their own allies.

One of the greatest liabilities for Pakistani efforts to contain the Taliban is the appearance that the Pakistani leader is simply caving to foreign pressure. With the rising toll of civilian casualties, this is simply not acceptable, and poses a real risk to Pakistan’s political stability. Central cities in Pakistan are already threatened with regular suicide bombings by disaffected people from the northwestern tribal areas. While an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis oppose the jihadist groups, some elements in the security forces, especially under Musharraf, were linked to jihadist organizations. This potentially very dangerous, given that Pakistan is a nuclear power.

The US military under the Bush “administration” has pursued thin leads on supposed al-Qaeda targets for years, and this has consistently resulted in nothing more than dozens of civilian casualties, retaliatory attacks against US allies and Pakistani cities, and no small likelihood of tribal leaders siding with the Taliban. While Obama’s emphasis on the war in Afghanistan is well-placed, failing to learn from the mistakes of the Bush “administration”‘s current policy would be a disaster. My fear is that, if this issue does not receive wider attention, there is a real danger of an Obama administration being pressured or misled by the Washington foreign policy bubble into continuing this failed policy and getting sucked into a land war in Asia.

As people have said in regard to Iran, Afghanistan and neighboring regions of Pakistan will make Iraq look like a cakewalk. While Iraq is mostly flat and easy to move around in, the Pashtun homeland is mountainous and full of caves–and difficult to surveil, as the current record of civilian casualties and an as-yet un-caught bin Laden indicates.

This is a vital danger for the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. An Obama economic advisor already suggested, in an interview on the radio program, Fresh Air, that we would not see a large peace dividend from an end to the Iraq war because we would become more engaged in Pakistan. This may not be a bad thing in itself, but it is imperative that an informed citizenry pay attention to the course of events and promise to make it difficult for a non-diplomatic, all-guns approach to take root. For the US to ignore the offers of cooperation by a democratically-elected civilian government in Pakistan, and get sucked into a wider ground war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, would be tantamount to repeating the mistake of going to war in Iraq.

Marcion, NC Dem, and truong son traveler have also written excellent diaries on the situation in Pakistan.

Juan Cole has also written about this on his blog, Informed Comment.

Cross-posted on dkos