May 28, 2009

2.4 Million Little Problems

Within the mountainous terrain of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province sprawls an estimated 2.4 million displaced Pakistanis, and every single one of them is connected to America. Special representative Richard Holbrooke has denied responsibility for Pakistan’s refugees crisis, but proving otherwise is an easy task.

Two paths lead to the same end and both coincide with widespread Pakistani opinion.

The long way began with the decision to minimize the war in Afghanistan; a full explanation for this decision may never be heard. There were signs of trepidation before Iraq, such as ambiguous strategic objectives, underestimation of initial troop requirements, and the controversial failure to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora.

Under-resourced, confused, and on the defensive, America sank into Afghanistan after the invasion of Iraq. There would be no swift victory and the following eight years of stalemate slowly pushed the Taliban and al Qaeda into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. If America had concentrated its full power into Afghanistan and not gone witch hunting in Iraq, Pakistan would not be in its dire condition.

2.4 million refugees may not exist.

The shorter route to American culpability is the perceived notion that America ordered Pakistan’s military operations in Swat. Real or not, the widely disseminated rumor is an immediate propaganda loss for America. The timing of the operation has been questioned to death, coming as it did in the immediate aftermath of Pakistani president Asif Zardari’s visit to Washington.

America is being held partially accountable for two million IDP’, along with the Taliban for breaking its peace agreement and the law of Pakistan in general. Perhaps all would be well if Pakistan’s army was mopping up the Taliban and the refugees were secure, but this is not the case.

President Obama’s national security adviser, General James Jones, recently told the Atlantic Council, “We’re happy to see in Pakistan a new and comprehensive and so far impressively successful effort by the Pakistani army to react to its extremists... and have noted that they are also handling a growing refugee problem with great skill.”

Successful maybe, but only in a dream has Pakistan’s counterinsurgency been “impressively successful.” Though dead militants pile up, Pakistan’s deployment of heavy artillery and air support has begun taking its toll on civilian property and psyche.

The mood for military action, initially enthusiastic, has already eroded into second guessing. Though uniting against the Taliban, the Pakistani people are still angry that Pakistani citizens are caught in an imperialist game.

A thousand militants have been killed in two weeks, but Swat valley alone reportedly supports 4,000 militants. They’re headed into the mountains to prolong the battle, which will negatively impact its popularity as time drags on. Agencies surrounding Swat could hold 30,000 militants presumably laying defenses for the looming war.

Tales of refugee treatment haven’t been flattering either, according to the UN and Human Rights Watch. Conditions aren’t terrible - 90% are said to be living with relatives or friends. The remaining 10% in camps are loaded with symbolism though, and their insufficient care has multiplying effects in guerrilla warfare. If the state fails then the militants win.

Refugee numbers also fail to monitor those too poor to flee - those who will suffer most - and a sense of lawlessness persists in both Taliban and government territory. Pakistan’s operations appear rushed and the consequences miscalculated, which again points to American pressure.

America still has options if it wishes to change strategy. The first would be to distance itself from Pakistan’s leaders, as American fingerprints are on opposition figures, militant contacts, nuclear weapons and India. Pakistani officials and institutions have been undermined by the lopsided relationship. The Pakistani public wishes for stronger rulers, not to oppose America but to put Pakistan’s interests first.

Pakistan must be allowed to breathe.

A check is always welcome too, but without strings. America has pledged half of a total 540 million dollars in aid, but UN officials claim that only 16% has been received. And Pakistan needs a big check. Its operations require billions, not millions, to ultimately be successful. The Kerry-Lugar bill concerning Pakistan’s aid should be immediately shifted to the current refugee crisis and any future emergencies.

This is not misappropriation; the objective of the bill is to aid Pakistan in its fight against the militancy. In their guerrilla war, America and Pakistan stand to gain more ground in helping IDP's than funding bureaucratic programs and manufacturing weapons.

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