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Colombia then, Pakistan Now

Apr 06, 2012 Written by  Andrew Bingham, Guest Contributor

Taliban_1The United States-Pakistan relationship continues to deteriorate, and each side appears to be trying to reset relations after a year of increasingly terrible incidents between the two nations: a security contractor, Raymond Davis, was detained in Pakistan after allegedly shooting two armed locals in Lahore; Osama bin Laden was killed and his compound in Abbottabad raided; and 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed when U.S./NATO helicopters and fighter jets from Afghanistan struck a Pakistani base.

Each side seems interested in coming back to the table to the discuss how to deal with Afghanistan. The main point of contention, however, is the issue of U.S. drones flying through Pakistani skies, with the CIA refusing to relent and Pakistan refusing to concede. Within Pakistan over the past year, there has been a trend by the Taliban to kidnap for ransom, but a decline in the number of suicide bombing attacks throughout the country. In light of all these details it important to step back and look at this conflict through a different lens - consider the long (and at times tenuous) relationship that America has had with Colombia. The following analysis does not seek to outline the many similarities and differences between the two situations, but rather to draw some recommendations that could be helpful for American/Pakistan cooperation in the future.

In the 1990s Colombia was a notoriously dangerous place with one of the highest murder rates in the world. Large swaths of Colombia were ruled by the FARC and, at the same time, an increasing number of areas were coming under the rule of drug kingpins like Pablo Escobar. As time went on and the Colombian government got more serious about taking on the FARC and drug production, many of the drug lords were killed and the FARC moved towards kidnapping to offset the loss of money from drug taxation. While many can criticize the scores of problems with training the Colombian police and military, one can’t look past the stable nation that eventually resulted. Twenty years later, Colombia has a strong economy and has grown more free and open in the aftermath of the human rights-related problems that came from cracking down on the FARC and drug lords.

America should take a similar approach with Pakistan, though it must be done with great patience. Pakistan already has a large military and a robust police force. But what if, instead of just giving the country millions, the U.S. actively participated more in their training? The U.S. military could work with Pakistani security forces to better use sophisticated equipment, which has already been made available to them through our military aid, and train them in U.S. counterterrorism tactics. The U.S. could work with Pakistan to demonstrate not only best practices, but also that they have a willing partner in the U.S.

Certainly there will be pushback. The Pakistani military is skeptical of any alliance with the U.S., and the ISI is actively hostile towards any American activity inside their borders. Moreover, Pakistanis are against U.S involvement in their country, are contemptuous of the “puppetry” they see in their leaders, and utterly loath the drone program. All of this, however, offers more reason to pursue this approach. The U.S. currently gives billions in military aid to Pakistan, so why not reroute the money so more face-to-face interactions happen? Obviously critics will state that Pakistan will never allow U.S. boots on the ground, but their past relationship doesn’t necessarily bear that view out. In 2009, the AFP reported the United States currently had more than 70 military advisors based in Pakistan. Further, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, Peter Bergen, has been advocating for years to bring more Pakistani military brass to Fort Leavenworth or Fort Brag to strengthen ties between the two militaries This strategy would not be an easy sell, but if the U.S. uses a more collaborative approach, perhaps there wouldn’t be a need for the constant buzz of the aforementioned drones flying overhead. Win-win.

To encourage this sort of approach will certainly not be a panacea and the country of Pakistan is infinitely more complex than the realities the U.S. faced during its involvement in Colombia. However, the current policy of carrots and stick seems to be unsustainable. Eventually the headwinds in Pakistan could change enough for the Pakistanis to actively seek ending the drone campaign by military means. Then where would the U.S. be? For now, it seems that the relationship is only treading water: the Pakistanis use angry rhetoric to denounce American policies while passively allowing us to carry out some of what we want. Meanwhile, we assassinate many members of the al-Qaeda and Taliban with civilian collateral damage and the everyday local Pakistanis hate us for it. A more cooperative approach may not succeed, but it couldn’t be any worse than the course we are currently charting.

Andrew Bingham spent more than four months traveling through Pakistan and India, met with various Afghan refugees and even a tribal leader or two. He hopes to get back to Pakistan as soon as possible to set up an NGO providing clean drinking water for the Afghan refugees displaced behind the Pakistan border.

Photo: Pfc. Joshua Kruger

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