Learning Curve: The United States and the Future of Pakistan. (World in Review)

Article excerpt

Since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last fall, coalition building has become the new catchphrase in foreign policy. Forming close relationships with Muslim countries is essential for success in the war on terrorism, and thus the West has looked to President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan as a key ally. However, many find it ironic and even appalling that one of the West's primary allies in the war on terrorism is a country that has had a reputation for harboring terrorists, given that the Taliban has been instrumental in providing support for Pakistani militants in their quasi-war in Kashmir. The West needs Pakistan as an ally, but in order to avoid unpleasant future consequences, it is necessary that this alliance develop into a long-term relationship and not remain merely a solution to present problems. The parallels between the present-day alliance with Pakistan and Western involvement in Afghanistan during much of the Cold War may point to the proper equilibrium that should be struck in f oreign policy.

Troubles in Afghanistan

Western nations have been directly involved in the affairs of Afghanistan for over 100 years, beginning with the British Empire in the late 19th century. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviets played an increasingly large role in Afghanistan, far surpassing US influence. The United States became more interested, however, when Babrak Karmul, a former Communist Party member, seized power after helping to unite the disparate Islamic factions. It was at this time that the United States began to aid the mujahideen movement--first as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) mission and later under the express consent of classified directives from the administration of US President Jimmy Carter. Little more than a year later, on December 25, 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.

In the wake of the Soviet invasion, the focus of Cold War tension moved from Eastern Europe to Asia. This change led to the Carter Doctrine, in which the United States claimed a vital interest in the Middle East and Central Asia and reserved the right to use force to stop any outside power from gaining control over the region.

The United States began what was to become an integral partnership with Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (151), the primary link between the mujahideen movement and foreign supporters. President Zia of Pakistan was shrewd enough to manipulate the situation, hoping to cement Muslim unity and position Pakistan as the leader of the Muslim world. Meanwhile, US congressional support fell into two groups, one that saw aid as part of a greater effort to induce a negotiated settlement, and another that was interested primarily in raising the cost of the occupation for the Soviets. CIA and Pentagon operatives aided the ISI in establishing a network of schools in Pakistan and bases in Afghanistan to train the mujahideen in secure communications, covert financial transactions, guerrilla warfare, urban sabotage, and heavy weaponry. The primers in these schools taught that the Urdu letter jeem stood for jihad (holy war) and kkay for khoon (blood). Some of these fighters would later form the Al Qaeda network, t urning virulently against former American and Saudi supporters.

Throughout the 1980s, the United States channeled two to three billion US dollars in weapons and supplies to Afghanistan through the CIA and ISI as part of its largest covert action program since World War II. It was generally believed that the Soviets would not withdraw until they had assured the Afghan government's ability to survive on its own unless staying became too costly. The situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate, however, after Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in the Soviet Union. In 1986, he notified the government in Kabul that the Soviet troop commitment to the region was to be limited. The Geneva Accords were signed in April 1989, and the Soviets withdrew, leaving behind a war-torn nation and a proxy government headed by President Najbullah--an Afghan with close ties to the Soviet Communist Party. …