Rudyard Kipling once wrote, "Asia is not going to be civilized after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old."
... I'm not at all sure about the recent AfPak/PakAf strategy emanating from the US. The Americans are failing miserably in Afghanistan because increasingly the Afghans associate them with military and not aid and development. There's a protracted war with the Taliban where there are many civilian casualties. Then there are the Drone Attacks launched by Americans in the Pashtoon belt to target the militants (whilst Washington and Islamabad look the other way). This does the Americans no favours amongst local civilians. Kinds of feeds the beast they say that they are trying to tame. See Eric Maroglis's commentary on the issue.
The AfPak/PakAf strategy sets out a pathway, that we've been along before. US failure to bring peace and order to the Pashtoon belt, is now the joint responsibility of the US and Pakistan military. There's lots of talk about financial aid, military upsurges, engaging Pakistan's civil and military leadership and nation building through increased diplomatic ties etc. There are promises of huge amounts of US dollars being pumped into Pakistan to manage (through brute force if needed) the restive Khyber. With an impoverished economy, the obligations to comply are self-evident. The US calls the shots. Pakistan pulls the trigger.
Déjà Vu: Circular History
Isn't this a case of US policy to Afghanistan being directed through Pakistan another instance of déjà vu? Think Afghan Mujahideen vs the Soviets - it was to all effects America's war too, chanelled through Pakistan. Whilst it is acknowledged that the restive areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the tribal Pashtoon belt are important, the press-release of the AfPak/PakAf strategy doesn't really talk about engaging with the leadership in Pashtoon areas. It focuses mainly on the establishment - the military and the weak governments in Kabul and Islamabad.
Does anybody believe that the military campaign in the Malakand Division and the displacement now of about 2.5 million people, that the US (renting out the Pakistan army) will break the Pashtoon spirit? The Taliban came from somewhere, someone trained and armed them and they have drawn their recruits from amongst the disaffected and unemployed in the tribal areas. But the Taliban and the Pashtoons are not the same. The sad part is that from deep within the Pashtoon areas, the Taliban have risen from apparent obscurity and have shaken the notion of what it is to be Pashtoon by means of violent break with our cultural past. Two and a half million people displaced, so far (and likely to increase), scattered and broken and living on the plains in tents are not Taliban.
There's a lot at stake here and one can see why some may blame the Americans if the Taliban are not broken soon. The track record doesn't make one very optimistic. American involvement in Afghanistan puts us all in the situation that we find ourselves in today. Afghanistan and Pakistan need roads, and electricity, they need clean water and development so that people can go back to their villages and live a decent life. Disengage with people's long term needs by destroying their lives and livelihoods and keeping them in camps makes them vulnerable to the messages of swift justice, revolution and order of the Taliban. If the US doesn't deliver and displaced people are sent back to the tribal areas, then the human time bomb ticks on.
History is a great teacher if we look back and are prepared to learn. The Brits, the Russians and the Americans have all been caught up in fighting protracted wars with the Pashtoons, so Pakistan should know better. The difference between the aforementioned examples and the Pakistan military operations are that the former were/are fighting in foreign climes. This is Pakistan's own backyard and the perception is that Pakistan is doing Americas dirty work. Also crucially, for the Pakistan army the situation is even more critical - warfare weaponry and techniques have changed and arial bombing by the technologically superior is met with suicide blasts by those on the ground. Of course, both hit the innocent - ordinary civilians - women; children; menfolk. This is where I'm most saddened.
I wish the world could see it from another perspective. Pashtoons are tired of the wars in Afghanistan; tired of great games played out between the Russians, the US and earlier British Imperial forces. Tired of the war on terror, and tired of being associated with the Taliban. Tired with the hopeless lack of investment by successive governments on the receiving end of US aid to build up utility, education, communication and road infrastructures. Tired of being exposed to third-rate schooling options. Tired of being considered backwards and treated as so, and tired of being muted and constantly ignored.