In the world of foreign affairs, there is no black and white. Merely shades of gray.
Outside the American media and the politics that consume its attention, a complex reality faces us. Our conception of the surrounding world is typically that of good battling evil. But reality is starkly different. Sides are multiplicitous and situations are intricate and complex. Our allies fight for their own interests, and they often conflict with ours.
When New York Times investigative journalist Dexter Filkins joined a Talibani group, he discovered frightening circumstances on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Despite Pakistani promises to control the Taliban in its lawless Northwest Frontier, the Taliban has total sway over the region. It turned out that our Pakistani allies were not as sincere as we had thought.
Filkins reported in the Sept. 5 article on his experiences that he found Haji Namdar, a ‘Taliban chieftain, enforcer of Islamic law, usurper of the Pakistani government and trainer and facilitator of suicide bombers in Afghanistan.” According to Filkins’s article, Namdar was ‘sitting at home, not three miles from Peshawar, untouched by the Pakistani military operation that was supposedly unfolding around.”
Filkins related the following conversation:
‘”What’s going on?’ Filkins asked the warlord. “Why aren’t they coming for you?’
‘”I cannot lie to you,’ Namdar said, smiling at last. “The army comes in, and they fire at empty buildings. It is a drama it is just to entertain.’
‘”Entertain whom?’ Filkins asked.
‘”America,’ he said.”
Filkins found the Taliban were free to do as they pleased in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier. As long as they contained themselves to that region and didn’t disrupt Pakistan’s heartland, their military let them be.
We have given over $10.8 billion to Pakistan in foreign aid since 2001(more than any other nation has received), most of it to be spent on military support against the Taliban. Yet, it appears that we have spent that money in return for unfulfilled promises. Pakistan’s military is oddly friendly to the Taliban, regardless of how much money we give it.
Filkins reported a scene in which Abu Omar, a Taliban fighter, described a raid into Afghanistan from Pakistan:
‘”We killed seven Afghan soldiers,’ Omar claimed. “Unfortunately, there were no Americans.’
‘Their attack successful, Abu Omar and his comrades trekked back across the Pakistani border. The sun was just rising. The fighters saw a Pakistani checkpoint and headed straight for it.
‘”They gave us some water,’ he said of the Pakistani border guards. “And then we continued on our way.'”
But why would Pakistan not attack the Taliban when the United States has been giving them billions to do so? How could Pakistan’s military be so ineffective if Pakistan has professed repeatedly to be an ally in the War on Terror?
In an interview with a former Pakistani official who would only speak in anonymity, Filkins discovered the answer to these questions.
It was not, as Filkins expected, hatred of America or Islamic sentiments in the army that explained why Pakistan’s military ignores and sometimes supports the Taliban. Rather, it was for a more sinister reason. The Pakistani explained that by keeping the Taliban alive, Pakistan could ensure billions of dollars in foreign aid from the U.S. aid desperately needed for Pakistan’s economic infrastructure and military.
Confronting the Taliban is not an easy prospect. We cannot simply expect to pay the Pakistani government to do our bidding. Our allies have their own agendas. Despite doing the best we can, they will not follow us unquestioningly.
Our best chance is to not prop up a dysfunctional army that often supports our enemy. If we want to improve our position in Pakistan, we need to provide education and social services. Another possible solution is to not frivolously spend our money on others.
Pakistan has played the money game well. Their professed enemy is the Taliban, but it’s also their best asset. The longer they can keep the Taliban as a threat to America in Afghanistan and pretend to fight it, the more aid they can receive from the United States.
In the words of that former Pakistani official, ‘We are saving the Taliban for a rainy day.”
It may behoove America to remember that no one is as innocent and good as he may seem. Everything is a shade of gray.
Otis is a member of the class of 2011.