Ambassador Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan arrived day before yesterday in Pakistan. He has been assigned a task no less difficult than what confronted US Policy makers 40 years ago in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Disclaimer: I am a proud US National of Pakistani origin and it is with this perspective and motivation that I contribute this blog posting.
For Ambassador Holbrooke to succeed, a prerequisite will be that him and his boss, Secretary Clinton, with the full support of President Obama are able to closely coordinate with a fine and sharp focus the activities of a wide spectrum of agencies within the US Government – particularly with USAID within the State Department as well as with Defense, and the National Security Council -- if they are to achieve President Obama's strategic goals for the region.
Any informed and reasonable commentator and expert on the issues confronting USA in this region will accept and confirm that dealing with the situation in Afghanistan requires an integrated strategy that addresses the needs and aspirations of the Governments and people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan AS A WHOLE. This is something that the Bush Administration paid only lip service to. It would also best serve US interests if it drops its role of the last seven years as a "lone ranger" and engages NATO, Russia and China in developing a durable solution.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are two very distinct countries with different languages and different cultures. As someone who has a South Asian father and an Iranian mother – I am well qualified to comment on that. People tend to focus on the Pakhtoon ethnic overlap in both countries BUT there are more Dari speaking people in Afghanistan (with a different mindset and outlook on life) and more Urdu speaking people in Pakistan. Most of the visitors to this blog site are from Pakistan so you will appreciate when as I quote as an example the different outlook on life that a Mohajir or a Sindhi or a Punjabi has as compared to someone from the Tribal Areas. Both countries have extraordinarily different histories AND YET are intertwined by geography and religion and a common hatred for the colonial / imperial ambitions that the West has through the centuries exhibited for this part of the world.
To broker a fair and lasting solution that meets the needs of all key stakeholders is a VERY DIFFICULT ASSIGNMENT. Nobody can say that the war in Afghanistan has gone well for the Americans. US and allied soldiers occupy a country where they are becoming increasingly unpopular and are entrenched in a fight with a ruthless and elusive enemy – Vietnam all over again with perhaps the same negative outcome for America except that the killing fields this time will not be in Cambodia but in Pakistan. Just as Pol Pot savagely decimated Cambodia's population, so might the Talebaan and their fundo allies decimate and slaughter Pakistan intelligentsia and the secular educated middle class in Pakistan.
I have no love or admiration for the Talebaan. To me they represent a bigger threat to Pakistan and the ideals espoused by my beloved Quaid-e-Azam than anything that USA might have inflicted upon us, by supporting a succession of unpopular and destructive military regimes or India might have tried to inflict upon us through its territorial ambitions. This is a cancer that is growing from within and unless strong medicine is prescribed and radical surgery undertaken, will kill us as a nation. The Talebaan are without any scruples at all and have done some of the most odious things in the name of Islam.
I would submit that today Pakistan's and USA's long term objectives coincide – to eradicate the menace that is the Talebaan. We stand to lose more from these vile creatures and their despicable philosophy than USA. Both USA and Pakistan will need to work closely with an open mind and due respect for each other if we are to avoid the looming tragedy i.e. the implosion and collapse of Pakistan.
The situation is infinitely complex. I however think that a good start has been made by placing Afghanistan and Pakistan under one envoy. What is needed is a regional approach and a comprehensive policy and the Obama administration is far more likely to adopt this approach than the Bush Administration was in the last seven years.