Connecting Regions of Asia.

US Can’t Avoid Pakistani Rackets

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The U.S.-Taliban agreement is in tatters, held together only by the State Department’s desperation and refusal to hold the Taliban to either the letter or the spirit of the Feb. 29 agreement.

Just two days ago, for example, an attack on Afghan security personnel killed seven in Parwan, the province just north of Kabul. Whereas in most countries, ordinary civilians crave peace, a recent survey of both Twitter and Facebook shows that Afghans are generally opposed to the exchange of prisoners negotiated by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Not only has the unequal terms of exchange led to a spike in kidnapping and hostage-taking by the Taliban, but while the Taliban tortures their prisoners, Afghans joke that Pul-e-Charkhi prison just east of Kabul has “won an award as the best hotel of the year.” Simply put and with gallows humor, Afghans understand that what the United States now pushes is not a plan for peace, but rather a thin cover for surrendering Kabul and the nascent democratic order to the Taliban.

While on its face, the Taliban peace deal is a disaster, behind the scenes, Khalilzad and U.S. diplomats congratulate themselves for their supposed sophistication of co-opting the Taliban to fight the Islamic State, which has sunk its roots into Afghanistan. Khalilzad is not alone in embracing the idea. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has long argued to American diplomats, military leaders, and intelligence officials that the U.S. can utilize the Taliban against other radical groups. And as with American diplomats who have served in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, an informal Pakistan lobby exists at the State Department among those with service in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar. They are often willing to accept with credulity Pakistani good faith and excuse bad behavior. David Hale, the undersecretary of state for policy (the third-highest ranking diplomat at Foggy Bottom), is a former ambassador to Pakistan.

The Taliban may tell American officials what they want to hear and stroke the egos of those who imagine a peace deal to be key to promotion. But if actions rather than words are the metric, the Taliban show little desire to play along. The New York Times report headlined“How the Taliban Outlasted a Superpower” is a devastating piece of reporting, allowing the Taliban in their own words to show how little the movement has changed and how uninterested they are in peace.

The biggest problem with ISIS versus Taliban strategy, however, is that while ISIS eschews nationalism and the Taliban in theory embraces it, neither could survive in the Pashtun belt without funding and ammunition from Pakistan and the donations from charities run by Saudi and Qatari clerics and patronized by rich businessmen across the Persian Gulf.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence both channels the money it has historically received from the Persian Gulf to stand up and support terrorist groups, but then, in its failure to fight them effectively, allows Pakistan to solicit billions of dollars more in security assistance to support the fight against terrorism. It is essentially an extortion scheme.

The civilian and military assistance flowing into Pakistan has reached such a level that no Pakistani government could survive without it. Should the Pakistani military cut off and defeat extremists, Pakistan would be looking at the potential loss of billions of dollars in foreign assistance.

This dynamic is not unique to Pakistan. Consider Egypt, also one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance and military aid. One of the reasons why the U.S. funds Egypt so lavishly is because of the dual perception that Egypt is a linchpin to regional security and because it faces a persistent Islamist insurgency in the northern Sinai with groups at various times pledging allegiance to al Qaeda and ISIS. After billions of dollars in aid, however, the Egyptian army has yet to make significant inroads, raising the question: Is the Egyptian army incompetent, or on some level does it recognize that defeating the insurgency would likely also end the reason for the U.S. to invest so lavishly in Egyptian security?

Likewise, there is Somalia: Eric Herring, a professor of world politics at Bristol University, notes that Somalia received almost $1 billion from the U.S. in 2019 and another billion dollars from other donors. The recent uptick in military aid to counter al Shabab, however, has not resulted in any measurable success. Rather, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed seems intent to divert money to fight his political opponents, leaving the Islamist extremist group relatively unmolested but still citing it as a reason for aid.

From a Pakistani, Egyptian, or Somali standpoint, they have got a good thing going. To tolerate but contain the presence of extremist groups is a formula worth billions of dollars in American assistance. True, they must make some sacrifice: Pakistan-based extremists have killed Pakistani soldiers, ISIS fighters in Egypt have slaughtered Christians, and ordinary Somalis pay the price for al Shabab. But authorities in Islamabad, Cairo, and Mogadishu appear to believe the problem can be controlled and the price worth it.

It is time for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and congressional leaders to stop falling prey to a sophisticated extortion racket. They can start by recognizing the Khalilzad plan plays and pays into Pakistan’s hands and ultimately funds a terrorist proxy which differs from ISIS more cosmetically than ideologically.

Courtesy – washingtonexaminer

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