Walking in a desert, concentrating on the mirage, the wanderer looses sight of what he had set out to do. He walks away from his destination lured by the mirage, embracing fiction than fact. Like the wanderer, the focus of United States foreign policies seemed to have drifted from the path to the mirage. Rather than eliminating the world from all evils, it has prolonged the terror of evilness. Instead of concentrating on making the world a safe place, it has declared regions as “war-zones” that were in peace before.
Is the world a safer place today? The presidential candidates were asked this question in their foreign policy debate, and both of them generally thought that it was. I tend to disagree. Indeed, the U.S. has more enemies now than they have friends in that region. What is ironic is that most of it has been a result of pursuing a poorly constructed and insensitive foreign policy. The policies are so not because United States doesn’t have the expertise to construct them but because they have forgotten what the policy was to be made for.
The case of Pakistan is a blatant example. North West Pakistan is home to a proud people — the Pathans. The tribes have been organized so even before the conquest of Alexander the Great and have always ruled according to their values, norms and customs. Well known for their hot headedness and fierce sentiments of protecting their clan, they have long memories. An insult today might result in retaliation between descendants 50 years later. Pathans have had a strong sense of hospitality. History has shown examples of the tribesmen for giving up their lives to defend the people seeking refuge with them.
The same graciousness was extended to Al-Qaeda when they sought refuge in the mountains of the North West Pakistan. When they are asked to hand them over by the Pakistani government most times they refuse, not because they initially liked Al-Qaeda, just because their customs demand protection of a guest. When their houses are bombed and their children die, then they like Al-Qaeda.
This war’s ability to push away some people, who were neutral in the beginning towards Al-Qaeda and extremism, is in my opinion the biggest flaw in strategy.
Do they like foreign troops coming in, conducting undercover operations, and drones violating their airspace? No, for they are proud and hot headed. In fact, history reminds us that these people have not been ruled even by the colonists. A more effective strategy would be based on diplomacy, trying to get them on board and making them realize what the extremists are doing to the world. Understanding their customs, values and norms is the only way to win their trust and support.
The threat is growing from all channels. Barack Obama says Al-Qaeda is regrouping, but this is misleading. The habit of simplifying and calling every militant group in the region Al-Qaeda takes United States a step further away from solving this problem. Some groups fight or carry out attacks just for money; many suicide bombers are not religious but complete the act for the checks sent to their families after they blow themselves up. Some are seeking revenge while others believe that the U.S. is trying to invade Pakistan and they get agitated every time their country’s sovereignty is violated.
United States has to realize that one cannot kill all the people that are potential threats to the peace of the world. Aggression is going to give birth to more militants. Every time a bomb is dropped in the north of Pakistan, additional people are driven to militancy.
The best strategy to win these people over is to educate them. Joe Biden remarked that 7,000 Madrassahs have opened in this region. He advocates replacing them with schools. His line of thinking is correct. His solution is not. This statement would be interpreted in Pakistan as a statement against religious education. Madrassahs are schools that provide religious education; it does not have to be the extremist version. Just like schools in the United States, the culture in some schools might be more conducive to drugs or crime. It does not mean that all schools are similar. We need to upgrade the madrassahs. We need to teach science, math and social sciences alongside religious education so that the people these schools produce can get jobs and have something constructive to do. Madrassahs should be “reformed” not “replaced.”
During these presidential and vice presidential debates, I felt that these wars are also somewhat about pride now. Palin mentioned how a pullout from Iraq would mean a “white flag of surrender.” She said that this is not something our troops need to hear. Whatever the reason the U.S. started the war, the decision to continue is now being based on the morale of the soldiers if we left. More weight should be given to the countless people who might lose their lives if the U.S. troop presence continues.
United States needs to step back and rethink what it is doing. Obama’s stand on diplomacy with Iran should be extended to the tribal regions of Pakistan.
“One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Rehan Zahid is first year student at the LBJ School interested in economic and social policy. He has an undergraduate degree in economics from the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan.