Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lessons of hatred

Alissa Rubin writes a thought provoking article in NYT about what is her take away from Iraq - not to undermine the power of hatred and historical animosities. As she mentions at the end, indeed one wishes Americans do not forget this issue as Americans start addressing issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan with a newer strategy. Hilliary's last week trip must have given her that dose first hand.

So all the care and precaution which Obama White House is taking in plotting next moves in Afghanistan and Pakistan; those all are welcome. Not that lengthy deliberations are any guarantees for smart policies, but it will at least give appropriate time for thorough understanding of the situation as well as conducive political developments on grounds (new Presidential term in Afghan and developments in Pakistan's internal battle in South Waziristan).

The general perception of Pakistani and Afghan population is that Americans were only interested in them while fighting Soviets and when that part was done; Americans abandoned them. Of course, there is some truth to that. What was required after the Soviet departure was continued American involvement in that region to carefully handle simmering fanaticism and supporting moderates and middle class in those countries, especially Pakistan. Bill Clinton did not find anything attractive there to continue diplomatically (apart from some high profile visits) nor he found worth while to invest politically at home so as to fund large American aid supporting those societies (instead of just military aid). In some sense there was no pay off to Afghanistan and Pakistan for their support to America in the war against Soviets. American Presidents continued to live with dictators and democracy was skirted aside. It is true that Bill Clinton did see democratic governments in Pakistan and he encouraged those to certain extent. But when those democratic forces started to whittle away, he did not get involved as much as needed. Seeds of 9/11 were sowed in this background.

Coming back to Rubin's article, the involvement cannot be blind or crude without understanding the regional and ethnic divides in those societies. All in all there is no escape for America other than to get involved in this region for a long haul and at great expense. Past mistakes cost a lot. In Bill Clinton's time political environment was favorable to America - it was the only superpower of consequence in those times, American budget was in surplus, Dollar was strong and America had capacity to spend then. Whether America sends more troops today as General McChrystal asks or it does not; it is going to be an expensive endeavor no matter what.

There are few who argue that may be America should restrict all this involvement in AfPak region. Liberal Left is prominent in demanding that and then there are pundits like Tom Friedman who advice along this line now. The case with Friedman is surprising - he was the guy who was at the fore front in backing Bush's Iraq war regardless of realistic cost estimates and now here he wants America to contain her involvement because he fears China, Russia and Brazil all are going to be happy for a perennial entanglement and bogging down of America. It is true that indeed China will be happy for America digging it's own grave in AfPak region. But that still does not absolve America from past omissions and it is imperative for her to still get involved and solve those issues so as these are not fertile grounds of terrorism against America and her allies. Deepening relationship with India and eventual peace in AfPak region; these are worthwhile additional gains too. While executing this undertaking, America needs to be smart and incorporate all lessons which America stumbled upon in Iraq.

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