By Ulrich Ladurner
Translated By Ron Argentati
24 April 2009
Edited by Bridgette Blight
Pakistan is a mortal danger to the world, Secretary of State Clinton warns. She’s right – but her approach is making the danger even worse
Germany – die Zeit – Original Article (German)
Nuclear weapons in the hands of the Taliban – the ultimate nightmare. Now the nightmare is turning into reality. The Taliban is less than 60 miles from Islamabad, capital of a nuclear-armed Pakistan. Alarm bells are ringing everywhere and they ring loudest in Washington. In an address to Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked of “an existential danger” to Pakistan and a “mortal threat” to the world.
Those are dramatic words. Clinton has good reason to be frightened. A disintegrating Pakistan is a danger to the entire world, and the country is indeed on the brink of imploding. An indication of that is the Taliban, which has meanwhile advanced so close to Islamabad that people there now live in fear. “Talibanization” is another term for the continuing failure of the central government to rule effectively. That’s happening right now in Pakistan. The nation is, indeed, in “mortal danger.”
But as much as Hillary Clinton correctly assesses the situation there, her comments also betray a political agenda in equal measure. Clinton wants international consensus for America’s new Afghanistan strategy. President Obama announced the new strategy, which he calls “Afpak” making clear that he doesn’t consider Afghanistan as an isolated problem. He correctly recognizes that Afghanistan can only be saved in tandem with Pakistan and vice versa.
“Afpak” recognizes that which has long since been the reality – the war against terror isn’t limited to Afghanistan alone. Clinton seems to be saying the Taliban is after the nuclear weapons, the world must be more engaged in Pakistan and Afpak is the answer.
Clinton’s public appeal, however, is very problematic. It gives the impression that the Taliban is an enemy army at the point of capturing the capital of a nation of 170 million people. It suggests that the Taliban could march into the control room of a nuclear missile site at the drop of a hat and start launching missiles with nuclear warheads. In short, Clinton is adding to the aura of pervasive hysteria.
The truth is, the Taliban is a guerrilla organization of a few thousand men who have no heavy weapons whatsoever. They cannot win in battle against a Pakistani army of 700,000 troops. The problem is something else, and it is much more insidious: the Taliban is capable of winning a war of attrition against Pakistani forces, of undermining their morale. They have been successfully doing so for a couple of years already.
The debate in Islamabad is no longer whether the army has the will to oppose the Taliban; it’s now whether it is even capable of doing so. Internally, the army is exhausted and that, in fact, is the army’s own fault. It underestimated the Taliban. The Taliban has long since ceased to be a tool in the hands of the generals; it has taken on a life of its own.
But the United States also shares in the responsibility for this weakness. In recent years it has exerted considerable force on the Pakistani army to attack the Taliban. That may seem logical, but the United States did so mostly by publicly and spectacularly criticizing the Pakistanis. It began immediately after the September 11Th attacks in 2001. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage flew to Islamabad and told then-President Pervez Musharraf that he was faced with a decision: either decide who’s side he was on or be bombed back into the stone age.
Small wonder that a proud Pakistani army’s own soldiers then saw themselves as a bunch of raw recruits who could be ordered around by anyone. Secretary Clinton has now reverted to this brutal sort of American foreign policy. “The Pakistani government is surrendering to the Taliban,” she announced, and appealed to the people to prepare to defend themselves. That was a targeted attack on the credibility of the Pakistani government. One has to ask why she did that instead of doing what was really needed, namely, give the government meaningful support.
Even if the Pakistani army now takes the helm and launches an offensive against the Taliban, it will only be able to do so in accordance with the Washington-blessed Afpac strategy. That, in turn, will only reinforce Taliban propaganda that the army is nothing more than a client of the United States, killing its own brothers at Washington’s behest. That mainly hits home with the lower enlisted and non-commissioned officer ranks.
There’s no doubt that Pakistan has to engage the Taliban in battle. To do so, it needs decisive support from Washington and Europe. What Clinton is doing is the exact opposite of that.
Unfortunately this attitude of our new Administration and Sec of State, Clinton, has the flavor of appeasing the Military-Industrial Complex, something the Bush Administration did for eight years. This is the same concept that has led to endless wars and acts of aggression. Waging both sides against the middle is the ultimate goal of the Complex. That is where the greatest bottom line profit margin lies. The world is not a safe place, no doubt, but the ultimate answer to these conflicts is shutting down the infrastructure that profits most from endless conflicts. Without mutual destructive power, conflicts would still exist, but the consequences would be less devastating and pronounced.