The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been much criticized for its apparent inaction and/or lack of control of the border that it shares with Afghanistan. It has been charged by Pakistan’s allies and by the NATO forces in Afghanistan that the problems of the Taliban insurgence and the al-Qaeda resurgence are actually a Pakistani problem, not an Afghan one. The 2,400-kilometre border shared by these two countries, controlled by tribal leaders who do not recognize the imaginary line separating them, is an impossible battlefield for NATO forces when the rules of com- bat state that these forces are forbidden from following the enemy into the allied territories of Pakistan.
This porous and mountainous terrain has been home to tribes who have inhabited the area for centuries and is easi- ly travelled by them. Family, marriage and liaisons know no borders for these mountainous people, and the lands on both sides of the border have become an education ground for jihadists and a launch pad for attacks against Afghanistan. But are the charges of ineptitude or disregard levelled at Pakistan justified? Is President Musharraf turning a blind eye to the harbouring of the Taliban forces on his side of the border, and is he incapable of taking control of the situation and dismantling the organizational infrastruc- ture of the terrorism training that has sprung up since 9/11? Or is it possible that Musharraf is legitimately sincere in his efforts but the political reality of the Pakistani parliament and the limited public support for overthrowing the Taliban and throwing out al-Qaeda and its sympathizers are hinder- ing whatever inroads he makes?
It is a given that the efforts to rebuild Afghanistan and eradicate the extreme Islamist terror cells will be a long struggle without the concerted efforts of Pakistan. Some madrassas are Islamic religious schools teaching a particular brand of Islam, interpreting the religion in a violent way, and have become the breeding ground for recruitment by al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is estimated that there may be thousands of these schools existing along the Pakistan- Afghanistan border; their students are often recruited from the lower classes, children from the Pashtun tribes, peasant children and Pakistani children who do not have access to any other schooling. The extreme ideology that would be viewed by many Muslims and Pakistanis as fanaticism and that is taught in madrassas is likely shaping the philosophies of these young minds. It takes very little to connect the dots and determine where this ideology will lead.
NATO forces " and these include Canadian forces " are valiant in their attempts to rebuild and reshape Afghanistan in part by defeating the renewed Taliban forces and breaking their ever-increasing stranglehold on the areas in the northwest and at the border near Kandahar. But the madras- sas continue to take in, mould and finally produce the young minds need- ed by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The interpretation of Islam in the madras- sas generates the future suicide bombers who will kill as many inno- cent Afghan civilians and fellow Muslims as they will harm NATO forces in the region.
Only with Pakistan’s inter- vention can the tide be stemmed. To be fair to the Musharraf administration, long before the events of September 2001, his government and military moved against extremist elements in the regions with arrests, curfews, raids and imprison- ment. And it is important to understand that in the collective war against the Soviets when they invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan was an ally of the West helping the mujahedeen and other resistance groups encouraged and armed by the West. Pakistan had an interest in the way Afghan geography and politics got sorted out, and while borders on maps are important, many tribal and family linkages span centuries and terri- tories not limited by map lines drawn elsewhere by other people.
When one considers that one-fifth of Pakistan’s parliament comprises Islamic purists and, according to a recent poll, only 30 percent of Pakistan’s popu- lation supports the US-led war on terror, it is not hard to understand that western- inspired ”œfast food” instant solutions to the challenges of the border regions are both unlikely and a little naive.
The goal of rebuilding and renew- ing Afghanistan is laudable, and all allied forces, including Canada’s, involved in the NATO-led mission are literally putting life and limb on the line in order to further the cause and improve the current situation for Afghans. The over 140 kilometres of road built, the schools opened and wells dug under Canadian protection, combined with activities in areas less vulnerable to Taliban attack in other Afghan provinces speak to the only lifeline the democratically elected government in Kabul, however imper- fect, actually has. To abdicate now would be to hand Afghanistan over to endless tribal and warlord violence, making the return of a Taliban- al-Qaeda junta almost inevitable. There would be no greater dishonour to the Canadian and other allied lives, not to mention to those Afghans who died, lost in defence of a new begin- ning, then for this to occur.
But hard realism relative to the task ahead is also called for. Canada and the allies understand that Pakistan is the key to advancing the regional development and stability goals because of its prox- imity to Afghanistan, understanding of the region and sincere desire for its peo- ple to live in peace and without fear. Canada’s purpose in Afghanistan is threefold: to defend our national inter- ests; to support universal values of humanitarian, democratic and basic human rights and laws; and to help Afghanistan stabilize, strengthen its governance and, in the most basic terms, improve the lives of the Afghan people. But these objectives cannot be accomplished without cooperation with and by Pakistan.
This is essential to routing out the Taliban forces on the border and to securing the region for the safety of all fighters and peacekeepers. This ultimate collaboration is crucial and requires par- ticipation from all involved in all aspects of the conflict. Canada must be prepared to engage with Pakistan on all fronts " militarily, developmentally and eco- nomically. The efforts of our men and women in Afghanistan, dozens of whom have given the ulti- mate sacrifice, should not, in the end, be discounted as a result of a lack of engagement with the ally most able to understand and counter the enemy.
The recent suicide attack on the Pakistani military in the country’s north, killing 42 sol- diers, ostensibly in retaliation for the October bombing of a madrassa by the Pakistani Armed Forces, is proof that the militant al-Qaeda-linked jihadists are put- ting their strength on public dis- play and making it clear that they are prepared and ready to attack Pakistan’s military. While President Musharraf’s unfortunate dis- missal of Canadian casualties to date was both ill informed and ill advised " and a blot on the larger Canada-Pakistan relationship " it is clear that Pakistani forces are taking their share of risks and casualties in the border regions. The trib- al pro-Taliban forces on the border are attempting to exploit the perceived dete- rioration of Musharraf’s public populari- ty and are using this as a window of opportunity by attempting to expose the military vulnerability of the army.
Is Canada able to do more in assisting Pakistan in its efforts? More to the point, should Canada do more? There is a depth in the relationship here that we should embrace. Pakistan is a serious partner in the Commonwealth.
While Islamist parties who are pro- Taliban are important coalition players in the Pakistani parliament, the Pakistani administration has been step- ping up its activities of a forward anti- terrorist nature in the region. And if it is true, as was suggested during a recent visit to Canada of senior Pakistani parlia- mentarians, that Pakistan offered to fence and mine its side of the border regions many months ago, and neither NATO nor Afghanistan has responded formally, then clearly Pakistan has a case to make against any one-sided view of its comportment on the issue.
It is hard to overestimate the gap between Pakistan’s view of its own efforts and that of the allied forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s government faces a difficult and easily destabilized political context of massive poverty, a perception of broad corruption at the bureaucratic level and the radicaliza- tion and marginalization of large parts of its population. Its demographic pyramid, with over half its population under 35, and half also illiterate, repre- sents a huge challenge for economic and social development. Recent num- bers in economic growth and some progress on infrastructure suggest some credit is due the Pakistani gov- ernment " but the demand for resources far outstrips those available.
Moreover, with both the unstable regions in the border area and the fear of hostilities in Kashmir, Pakistan has far too much of its overall GDP com- mitted to defence complement and hardware. But, in the face of the larger Indian neighbour and hostilities in the past, it is not hard to understand why. While India’s democratic government and the Pakistani administration have worked diligently on reconciliation, progress has been slow " making any major diversion of capital pools to social and economic development difficult. Hence, the parts of the instability tied to poverty and illiteracy are hard to dimin- ish. All the more reason for Canada, which now has a strategic and tactical interest in the region, to engage more fully. A case has been made by some experts that with Pakistan and India, a more compelling investment by Canada in cooperation, economic and trade net- works and military and strategic cooper- ation would generate more mutual benefit than any endless and marginal China engagement; China is less inter- ested in democracy, the normative rule of law or trade relations that benefit any- one other than itself.
There are many links between Canada and Pakistan. Senior mili- tary officers often have exchanged training visits between our two coun- tries. There has been a rapid growth of the Canadian communities of Pakistani origin. There are important economic industrial and academic ties. Our polit- ical cultures and economic circum- stances are very different, but our parliamentary political structures bear some similarity.
In order to address clear evidence that parts of the Pakistani border regions are being used by the Taliban for recov- ery, resupply and planning of redeploy- ments against Canadian, Afghan and other coalition forces in Afghanistan, we need a more intense engagement by Canadian diplomatic, political and mili- tary leadership and a more open dialogue and calling to account on both sides. While there may very well be two sides to the argument, the truth is that as long as Pakistani and Canadian soldiers are dying at the hands of linked-up terrorists on both sides of the border, the present level of practical cooperation and problem-solving is simply not working.
Certainly, whether the deployment is diplomatic, whether it is a mix of economic, development or trade mis- sions, or whether there are other formal and more informal preventive measures that can be jointly and severally consid- ered or put into effect, we have reached a point where the broader definition of success by the Canadian Forces in the regions will be hypothecated in some considerable measure on the capacity for normalization and stabilization on the Pakistani side of the border. In thi,s Pakistani officials " military, police and intelligence " must be engaged. If they are prevented by internal political or security exigencies from being overt allies, and if other less overt options are neither suggested nor put into play in defence of stability in the region and to prevent incursions into Afghan territory by rearmed and rested Taliban forces and other fellow travellers, Canada has some broader decisions to embrace about the Canada-Pakistan relationship.
The fact that the Pakistani border is not the only one over which forces of darkness infiltrate Afghan territory is no excuse for failing to raise the priority of Canada-Pakistan cooperation. Pakistan has been an ally and collaborator with Canada in the past " and can be an important partner in the region and in the larger Commonwealth family to which we belong. But it cannot happen with wishful thinking, Foreign Affairs officials’ avoidance of the tough issues or an insensitivity to Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and domestic and regional fears and aspirations. We are now dealing with the lives of Canadians deployed to the region in defence of our own national security and core values. If this is not a justification for a fundamental focus from various perspectives on the Canada- Pakistan relationship, opportunities and warts included, then there will never be any such justification at all.