U.S. Must Make Effort to Understand Conflict


By:  Jim Cooper
Date: Jan. 9, 2008
Location: Unknown


By U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper

The Tennessean

I went to college with Benazir Bhutto. Everyone called her "Pinkie" at Oxford in the mid-1970s. She was a glamorous dictator's daughter with a sports car and fashionable Western clothes. She could have starred in Hollywood as easily as Islamabad.

My sympathies go to her 19-year-old son, Bilawal, who is now at Oxford, for having inherited his mother's political party ... and probably her fate.

It is very difficult for Americans to even imagine Pakistan, a country that is both friendly and nightmarish. We don't cope well with dualism, ambiguity or treachery.

Today, Pakistan has more people than Russia and is much more troublesome. The Pakistan-India border is the most volatile in the world, with angry nuclear powers on both sides.

Pakistan's top scientist, A.Q. Khan, is an international outlaw for selling atomic weapons to North Korea and Libya. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has not allowed anyone to interview Khan, despite $10 billion in U.S. aid in recent years. Pakistan's military has always run the country, whether openly or behind the scenes, and won't surrender Khan or his nuclear missiles.

Tribal loyalties paramount

Pakistan also has been protecting Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, as well as Mullah Omar and the Taliban. Musharraf replies that neither he, nor anyone else, can govern the South Waziristan region. He may be right. Maps are meaningless there; only tribal loyalties count. Every warlord seems to believe: "Me against my brother, my family against our neighbors and my tribe against the world."

If you were Russia's Vladimir Putin, wouldn't you think it poetic justice to undermine U.S. influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan - and in the same, covert way that our CIA helped the mujaheddin beat the Red Army?

How can we understand Pakistan when neither U.S. nor Pakistani leaders tell the truth about our relationship? We praise democracy but prize the support of Pakistan's latest dictator, even when he invokes martial law. Musharraf arrests a few terrorists for us, but only to strengthen his hand at home. Musharraf's rivals, even Bhutto, offer little improvement.

I think that we should disengage militarily from the entire region, not suddenly or imprudently but intelligently. Our enemies are eager to bog America down in Southwest Asia, all the way from Beirut to Kashmir. They know our patience is short and that their weapons are effective: suicide bombers, IEDs, radical mullahs and madrassas. With our troops already overstretched and U.S. popularity at all-time lows, we need a new approach.

America needs to develop what the British called "Arabists," experts on the language and culture of the region. We have not even harnessed the talents of Pakistani-Americans, much less leaned Pashto or Urdu ourselves. Without sharp eyes and ears in Southwest Asia, we are blingd and deaf. And because we cannot see our ally's split personality, we are funding both sides of these multiple conflicts. Our troops should not be caught in the crossfire.

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