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America’s leaders can’t seem to get a grip on “The Stans.”
The White House, Congress, the Pentagon, and assorted war hawks keep insisting that our soldiers and billions of our tax dollars must stay committed to defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and creating a stable Afghan government with a strong army to keep the Taliban down. Luckily, they say, the government of neighboring Pakistan is our ally in this noble cause. Indeed, our whole war strategy depends on our Pakistani friends helping us defeat Taliban forces in their own country, thus weakening them next door. If it all comes together, Afghanistan will flourish as an independent force in the region.
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In summary, to build up Afghanistan, we need Pakistan to tear down the Taliban. Get it? Neither do our leaders. It seems that Pakistan is not really helping us, despite our constant pleas and threats. Why? Because there is a fundamental flaw in our leaders’ assumptions. Pakistan, you see, doesn’t hate, fear, or really want to get rid of the Taliban in either country. Pakistan’s real concern is with its powerful, antagonistic, and aggressive neighbor on its eastern border: India. In fact, Pakistanis see a strong Taliban in Afghanistan as a check on the possibility that India would establish a stronghold there, thus threatening Pakistan from the west and east.
Not only does Pakistan see the Taliban as a useful ally, but Pakistani intelligence agencies helped the Afghan Taliban rise to power in the first place!
Yes, this is a convoluted mess. But, in essence, it comes down to this: Pakistan’s national security interests in Afghanistan are in direct contradiction to ours. So the real question is not why Pakistan won’t do more to help us, but why the hell are our war leaders putting American troops on the line for a strategy that can’t work?
“Allies in War, but the Goals Clash,” The New York Times, October 10, 2010.
“Documents expose worries over nuclear security in Pakistan,” Austin American Statesman, December 1, 2010.