Maureen Dowd Gets It But David Ignatius Does Not?

Last week was dominated by the leaked military documents released by the website Wikileaks. The leaked papers prove beyond a shade of doubt to any unbiased reader that ISI, Pakistan’s Intelligence Service, has been assisting the Taleban in attacking US forces in Afghanistan while its parent & supervisory body Pakistani Panjabi Army calls itself the indispensable ally of America in fighting the Taleban. 

None of this comes as a surprise to readers of this Blog. In our December 2009 review of President Obama’s new Afghanistan Strategy, we wrote “Pakistani Army is fighting a proxy war against the American Army in Afghanistan while maintaining the illusion of being America’s ally” . We were not alone. In fact, we quoted Leslie Gelb, the Founder of the Council of Foreign Relations as saying “the Pakistanis want us to stay in Afghanistan as they help the Taleban to kill our troops.”

We have maintained from our early articles that the conflict in Afghanistan is not a religious war per se but a war for a Pashtun homeland or the reunification of South Afghanistan (also called Pashtunistan) with North Afghanistan (or today’s Afghanistan). So the real conflict underneath the visible war is between the Pashtuns and the occupying Panjabi-Pakistani Army. 

The Awami National party of Pashtunistan, a secular, non-religious, Pashtun-Nationalist party, swept the last elections and came to impotent power. Impotent because this political party has no ability to fight the occupying Pakistani Army. The Pakistani Army uses the worst of the Taleban to attack this secular political party and to launch attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. The United States has expressed no interest in helping the non-religious Awami Party and focused all their attention on drone attacks in Pashtuns areas in South Afghanistan. So the moderate Pashtuns have no ally left and no choice but to support their local Taleban.  

We were astonished to see Maureen Dowd touch on this issue of Pashtun Nationalism in her opinion Lost in a Maze last week. Speaking of Ambassador Blackvill’s article, Ms. Dowd wrote “He said that the administration doesn’t appreciate the extent to which this is a Pashtun nationalist uprising.” 

Forgive us but this is the first mention of Pashtun Nationalism by a mainstream, non-military journalist that we have seen. And this is a journalist who often tends to write about issues such as “Do We (women) Need Men?” This is not a pejorative by any means. It is simply to make our point that the concept of Pashtun Nationalism being the crux of the Af-Pak conflict has now reached the broad American mainstream. 

Maureen Dowd makes another inspired point without actually claiming to do so. Speaking of warrior tribes like the Pashtuns, she asked “But why are they warrior cultures only until we need them to be warriors on our side? Then they’re untrainably lame, even when we spend $25 billion on building up the Afghan military and the National Police Force, dubbed “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight” by Newsweek.”

Ms. Dowd is too intelligent to ask this question without knowing the answer. Warrior tribes get their reputation and show their ferocity when fighting to defend their homeland. The same people act lame when they are paid and politically coerced by a foreign power to fight their own brethren. This is why Ms. Dowd concluded that “the process of transition to the Afghan forces (words of General Mattis) never seems to get past the starting point“.

So if Maureen Dowd gets it, surely the other opinionators, especially the foreign affairs opinionators, must get it! But then, we read the article by David Ignatius of the Washington Post titled Little choice but to depend on Pakistan’s help in Afghanistan

When you read the Ignatius article, you might reminded about Gandhi’s metaphor of 3 monkeys who refused to see, hear or recognize evil. Mr. Ignatius calls himself a thoughtful person and expresses his “recurring worry” in his article. What is this recurring worry? Calling the situation the Pakistan Conundrum, Mr. Ignatius expresses his worry Can America rely on Pakistan?

We may not be as thoughtful as Mr. Ignatius and we don’t believe much in words like conundrum which are meant to deceive rather than illuminate. We remember the famous Bond Conundrum of Alan Greenspan who kept interest rates artificially low for years because of his pet “conundrum” and created the housing bubble. 

Well, Mr. Ignatius, here is our answer to your question. Yes, America can rely on Pakistan. America can rely on Pakistan to do everything it can to achieve its paramount strategic objectives in Afghanistan. In fact, America can take this reliance to the bank. 

Pakistan’s paramount strategic objective is to control Afghanistan. Their basic tactic is to assist the Taleban in planning and launching attacks on the US forces in Afghanistan. This allows Pakistan to keep some control on the Taleban and ensures that the Taleban use their ferocity to fight America rather than the occupying Pakistani forces in South Afghanistan. 

The reality is that Pakistan has no wish to choose sides in the fight between the US forces and the Taleban. As long as this US-Taleban fight continues, Pakistan benefits as the sole middleman who is indispensable to both sides. 

This seems self-evident to us. But not to David Ignatius. He still expresses the hope that Pakistan will help America achieve the “acceptable end state” by closing down Taleban havens in Taleban’s own homeland of South Afghanistan.  

David Ignatius is an intelligent and experienced journalist. He is nobody’s fool. So we wonder whether Journalist Ignatius might just be playing ball with his powerful sources by expressing their views as his own. The aftermath of Wikileaks is the just time for loyal Journalists to come to the aid of their Sources. If true, this would fit with the Washington Post approach we have seen and described in our New York Times vs. Washington Post articles.

And yes, as it happens, Maureen Dowd writes for the New York Times and her article does seem to be a genuine expression of her own views. 

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