Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Response to Irfan on the Pakistani Mindset

Last week I wrote a post about my reactions to a Pakistani op-ed, and what I view as the Pakistani mindset. The author of that op-ed, Irfan Shahzad, was good enough to post a response. Unfortunately Irfan's response displayed all the anger and fear one might expect from someone in Pakistan today. My intention was to learn from and understand his perspective, and hopefully help him see the other side as well. I too would be terrified if the Pakistani Taliban had advanced to within 60 miles of the capital, and was openly inviting Osama bin Ladin and talking about imposing sharia on the United States.
My point about the Pakistani mindset is they seem to believe that nothing bad is their fault, it is always the fault of the Indians or the Americans (or both), not a failure of their leadership, or the fault of the militants. Irfan illustrates this point by stating that the United States and NATO allowed bin Ladin into Pakistan. I agree that more troops and a more comprehensive approach would have been better in 2001/2, as does almost every serious policymaker and scholar these days. It is a delusion that was common in Iraq as well, that the United States is all powerful, so if something bad happens (an IED, Osama bin Ladin escaping, a missile killing civilians) it is because the United States wanted it to happen and allowed it to happen.
Irfan, I recognize that you are scared and that bad things are happening. We are scared too, of extremists with nuclear weapons. Our countries need to help each other. I don't think General Patreaus simply stating that the militants are a bigger threat than India will make Pakistanis change their mind, only an honest self reflection of who is really threatening Pakistan can do that.
I will continue to read and interact with Pakistanis, and I hope Irfan and his colleagues will continue with a similar open mind. An invasion of Pakistan--or China, or Tajikistan--is not on the table of discussion. But we do need to work together to concentrate on the real threats facing Pakistan: militants and an incompetent leadership.

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