This morning, my friend Eiynah posed the question I posted below. Unsurprisingly, my thoughts on the subject exceeded 140 characters.
I had been back from Afghanistan for almost a year when my nation killed Osama bin Laden. The story broke on a Sunday night, which I regarded as the height of rudeness considering what an epic weekend would’ve ensued in military towns across the nation. Perhaps that was one of the planning considerations. Few soldiers in my battalion were remotely surprised to learn that bin Laden had been hiding in Pakistan; that was where all our enemies went to rest, to hide, and to prepare.
Nevertheless, finding America’s most wanted criminal and the subject of history’s grandest manhunt well inside Pakistani borders made it nearly impossible to ignore the most blindingly obvious political hypocrisy in lifetime: That the nation who was publicly our most staunch ally in the Global War on Terror was, in fact, perhaps the chief sponsor of our enemies. In scattered and fitful “order”, here are my thoughts on the incident:
- Old News. The Afghan/Pakistan border has long been one of the most volatile and “kinetic” regions in the Afghanistan War. To the severe indignation of Kandahar veterans like myself, the most well-known battles in the war have occurred within sight – and often within range – of Pakistan. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of northwestern Pakistan only ostensibly exist as a part of the Pakistani nation-state. The region effectively serves as the political and social capital of the Taliban. For the military arm of the Taliban, FATA is a logistical, training, and command hub from which the organization supports their operations in Afghanistan. Correspondence and logistical supplies captured by NATO and Afghan security forces are often regularly marked as being of Pakistani origin. During a “clearance” operation in August 2009, my platoon found a cache of medical supplies helpfully accompanied by neatly printed business cards for a physician in Quetta. My point is this: For a very long time, it’s been very clear that a significant portion of the Pakistani government supports what the Taliban aims to accomplish in Afghanistan. For me and nearly all of the Afghanistan War veterans I know, there was no love lost for the Pakistani government, because nothing but contempt existed in the first place.
- Vicarious Jihadists. Pakistan maintains a highly trained, well-equipped modern military. Through the struggle for independence and partition from India, the Pakistani military retained the structure and many of the values of the British military. Furthermore, much of the modern Pakistani officer corps has been educated in the West. The effect of these influences is a secular military serving a fundamentalist government. Many senior leaders in the Pakistani military somehow reconcile the values of a fundamentalist upbringing with lifestyles and politics similar resembling those of some of their more libertine Western peers. Supporting jihad against the faltering “secular” Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is, I speculate, one way they can have their whiskey and their 72 virgins too. A Pakistani infantry officer who enjoyed six months of Atlanta nightlife while attending professional education at Fort Benning is unlikely to be content with reverting to a lifetime of pious self-denial. He’s more likely, I think, to conduct “Vicarious Jihad:” Providing logistical, intelligence, and sometimes operational support to the Godly Young Men fighting infidels in Afghanistan and elsewhere. They provide valuable support to Islamist causes, while not subjecting themselves to Islamist lifestyles. If we accept this characterization of the Pakistani officer corps, it’s unsurprising that bin Laden would find solace and security a few hundred meters from a major Pakistani military base.
- No Rest for the Wicked. Killing Osama bin Laden in his home was great. It was wear he felt safe and immune from the most concerted efforts of the world’s most capable military. Killing him in that place, in that manner, felt like what it must feel like to win a war. Of course, that’s probably as close as my generation of American veterans will ever come to such a sensation. Three years after bin Laden’s body was wrapped, weighted, and discarded into the Indian Ocean, the Afghanistan War is far from “won.” The earth still explodes, dawn still breaks with the persistent thud of helicopters, and soldiers still defend remote outposts, guarding against the Taliban, against the heat, and against their own apathy. I cannot predict how long this will persist, or when the Afghan people will finally know peace and normalcy. However, I firmly believe that the longer NATO maintains the fiction that the Pakistani government and military is an ally in that search for peace, the longer it’ll be until it’s realized. Over the past fourteen years, no branch of the Pakistani government has demonstrated a reliable and substantial commitment to the stability of Afghanistan or to crushing the Islamist terrorist organizations that take refuge within her borders. The fact that Osama bin Laden lived in relative comfort and security deep in a part of Pakistan firmly under Islamabad’s control made this abundantly clear. Further skepticism as to the loyalties and alignment of the Pakistani government is, at this point, an exercise in deliberate self-delusion.
As should be apparent by now, I have strong “feelings” on this subject. The Pakistani government’s collusion with the Taliban has deeply affected me and many of my closest friends. Considering as such, I readily admit that my opinions on the topic are deeply biased, and far from objective. That said, I do believe that bin Laden’s refuge in Pakistan is the most compelling evidence we have to date of the current Pakistani government’s loyalties in the global clash between secularism and Islamism.
Acknowledgements: You can find Eiynah’s fun and engaging blog at NiceMangos.Blogspot.com. She’s also very active on Twitter, using the handle @NiceMangos. She uses a pseudonym for reasons that have #NothingToDoWithIslam.