There is no gainsaying the fact that the graph of negative feeling about United States has been rising in Pakistan and the efforts made by Washington to win the battle for the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people have yielded very little tangible results. According to national and global public opinion surveys overwhelming majority of Pakistanis views Unites States as an unfriendly country. According to the data compiled by Pew Global Attitude Project since 2002, the annual average of those Pakistanis who hold a positive image of the United States is less than 20%. This public disaffection toward the United States stands in marked contrast to the decades of the 1960s and 1970s when Pakistanis turned out in large numbers to welcome visiting American leaders. The first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, for example, was greeted by thousands of cheering Pakistanis, when her motorcade passed through the narrow streets of Rawalpindi in 1962. Standing next to President Ayub Khan in a convertible vehicle, she constantly waved at people who had lined the streets to catch a glimpse of her.
What explains this turn around in public sentiments toward the United States? The reasons for this Pakistani disenchantment with Washington are varied and complex. The overarching reason is the transactional nature of ties between Islamabad and Washington. Rather than valuing Pakistan as an ally in its own right, Washington has taken an instrumental view of Pakistan. In the early 1950s, strategic links were forged with Pakistan with the sole aim of using the country as a bulwark against the threat of communist expansion in Asia. Pakistani concerns relating to Kashmir and the threat from India were never accorded a strategic priority by Washington. Pakistanis felt “let down” and “betrayed” after the United States suspended aid during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Pakistani efforts to cultivate China as a strategic ally in the mid-1960s were also disapproved by Washington due to strained Sino-American ties. The United States used Islamabad as an intermediary for its historic opening to China but failed to prevent the disintegration of Pakistan following the 1971 India-Pakistan war.
A country ravaged by 30 years of civil wars, foreign invasions and raids by terrorist factions stands today in the rubble of its past glory, amid destroyed monuments, broken homes and battered faces weary of an unending war.
Afghanistan’s troubles began some three decades ago when the Mujahideen were created to oust the Russian forces whose tanks rumbled along the Amu Darya River and entered the country in order to restore stability following a coup brought by a Leninist-Marxist group.
With the covert backing by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States the mujahideen or jihadists accomplished their task of ousting the alien forces in1989. In the absence of the enemy, warlords turned the guns against each other and a long civil war ensued breaking the country into small fiefdoms. The Taliban seized power in 1996 but their government lasted only a few years when it was toppled by the American campaign launched formally in Afghanistan on 26th of September 2001 coded “jawbreaker”.
While the Democrats face greater challenges in implementing their foreign policy goals following dominance of Congress by the Republicans, it needs to be remembered that it is only the President of the United States who sets the foreign policy agenda. According to American university professor David Lublin, “America has continuing interests regardless of which party is in power.”
Prior to President Obama’s upcoming December review of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, a new Council on Foreign Relations sponsored Independent Task Force report on U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan has found that America’s current approach to the region is at a critical point. “We are mindful of the real threat we face. But we are also aware of the costs of the present strategy. We cannot accept these costs unless the strategy begins to show signs of progress,” says the report.
The bipartisan Task Force includes almost two dozen distinguished experts on Pakistan and Afghanistan who represent a range of perspectives and backgrounds. The report has endorsed the current U.S. effort in Afghanistan, including plans to begin a conditions-based military drawdown by July 2011. The U.S. administration’s review would place matters in a clearer perspective and the government will be able to conclude in a much better manner whether the strategy is working. If the conclusion is to the contrary then the current military presence in Afghanistan could be whittled down.
With 1,300 American men and women dead and billions of dollars spent over the past nine years, America’s Afghan war strategy has yet to show positive results.
Growing reluctance among NATO partners to fight and continue contributing troops, getting nearer of the self-imposed withdrawal date, fear of mounting pressure from American public, particularly in the aftermath of the mid-term polls, and resurging Taliban in Afghanistan are the key issues on the menu before the Obama-led administration.
Besides, regional politics and disputes are the other factors hampering the U.S. march towards an expected victory against the Taliban who had become more united, organized, trained and equipped over the years.
Each dead Pashtun is not a talisman of success, as NATO press releases claim, nor is each civilian killed merely “regrettable”. It recruits 10 more to the enemy. Every Taliban elder murdered breeds another, younger one, frantic for vengeance.” Simon Jenkins; A history of folly, from the Trojan Horse to Afghanistan; Guardian 29 July 2010.
The American war in Afghanistan entered its tenth year in October. But there are no signs of victory for the invading forces. In the first flush of his election victory Obama dispatched 30,000 additional troops to bolster the strength to 70,000. Further 30,000 were added this year under pressure from the army. With 50,000 NATO troops, the occupation forces now number around 150,000 strong, besides untold number of Special Forces and CIA agents.
In July President Obama replaced Gen. Stanley McChrystal for his loose tongue, with Gen. David Patreus as the overall commander of U.S.-NATO forces, because Patreus is known as the “wizard of Iraq” for his successful counterinsurgency measures in that country. He is therefore straining every nerve and using all the tricks in his bag to bring about a semblance of success in time for the presidential review of the war strategy due in December to justify the trust Obama has reposed in him.
The war in Afghanistan is in its ninth year. It has been the longest war for the U.S. surpassing even the war in Vietnam, although in terms of casualties and loss of lives far less. Nonetheless, it has proved to be a quagmire and a huge challenge for U.S. and ISAF. Apart from progress in some isolated areas it has failed to achieve any of the original goals that President Bush had set when he launched the military operation in 2001. It is also ironic that President Obama, while still a Senator and during the Presidential election campaign, remained an ardent supporter of the war in Afghanistan. He called it a just war, unlike the war in Iraq that he opposed and did not vote for.
Despite the fact that he took several months to deliberate and formulate a revised strategy for the region (the Af-Pak strategy) it has failed to produce commensurate results. Violence has risen to new heights across the whole of Afghanistan and civilian and military casualties have been the highest during this year since 2001. From a Pakistani perspective the war has been pushed into the tribal belt and other parts of Pakistan with considerable loss of life and property. The Taliban and other militant groups have suffered setbacks in certain pockets in Kandahar and other eastern and southern provinces but continue to demonstrate dogged resistance and the ability to bounce back.
The relationship between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the United States has always been spotty or at best described as a romantic relationship where both parties separate albeit temporarily, only to run into each other’s arms as danger looms on the horizon. Each time the United States and Pakistan have always found themselves in a sort of marriage of convenience or inconvenience as seen in the current war in Afghanistan. The last documented separation between Pakistan and the United States was after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. When General Boris Gromov, the last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan, crossed the bridge out of Afghanistan on 15 February 1989, the Americans began defunding Pakistan and abandoned the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
September 11, 2001 and its aftermath aligned both countries again as General Pervez Musharraf declared his support and pledged his loyalty to the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” In exchange, Pakistan received billions of dollars both in economic aid and military reimbursements. Pakistan was also elevated to the status of a major non-NATO ally, a position that guarantees purchase of some of the finest military hardware ever built. Behind all this is the subtle and tacit approval of the Pakistani government to allow the CIA’s aerially manned drones to strike targets in the FATA region along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan. To save face at home, the Pakistani government routinely protests these attacks as an infringement of its sovereignty. Bob Woodward, a veteran Washington journalist and bestseller author summarizes Zardari’s unattributed approval in his latest book “Obama’s wars.” According to Woodward, President Zardari is alleged to have told Mike Hayden, former Director of the CIA in a meeting to “Kill the seniors. Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”