As is right and proper, the 2nd Presidential Debate of the 2008 US Presidential election campaign included questions on US foreign policy and the use of US military forces in foreign countries. The War on Terror as it is being fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan was a key point in these questions. Each candidate was asked how they would handle with hunting down Al-Qaeda terrorists within Pakistan.
Since I have friends in Pakistan this interested me on a more personal level than it did many of the viewers of the debate. My friends, who are fairly secular and educated would be placed in direct peril if the government of Pakistan collapsed due to the rising unrest, insurgency, and terrorism that could result from an increased and expanded US and / or NATO campaign within Pakistan.
So let us discuss Pakistan’s fate at the hands of each of the US presidential candidates. Each candidate has a different approach to the question. Each approach will have a different impact on the nation of Pakistan and its peoples.
Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue al Qaeda terrorists who maintain bases there, or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?
Sen. John McCain’s answer:
We need to help the Pakistani government go into Waziristan, where I visited, a very rough country, and — and get the support of the people, and get them to work with us and turn against the cruel Taliban and others.
And by working and coordinating our efforts together, not threatening to attack them, but working with them, and where necessary use force, but talk softly, but carry a big stick.
McCain wants to work with the Pakistani government and military to remove Al-Qaeda. More importantly he seems to want to work with the people in Waziristani region to convince them to help remove Al-Qaeda. This means that Pakistan gets to keep its sovereignty – and probably its government – intact. It also probably means that the Pakistani military will bear the brunt of the attacks into the Waziristani region of Pakistan.
From a purely American-centric point of view I find Sen. McCain’s plan to be unsatisfying. I can also find several flaws with this methodology for dealing with Al-Qaeda.
Firstly, there’s no positive proof that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s regime is friendly enough towards the US to consider aiding us in this struggle. Secondly, McCain’s plan hinges on successfully winning “the hearts and minds” of the Waristanis.
Sen. Barack Obama’s answer:
What I’ve said is we’re going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our nonmilitary aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants.
And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al-Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.
Obama wants also wants to work with the Pakistani government and military to remove Al-Qaeda – when it suits our purposes to do so. He makes no mention of- or allusion to working with the people in the Waziristani region to further this effort. This means that US forces will bear the brunt of the attacks into the Waziristani region of Pakistan.
From a purely American-centric point of view I find Sen. Obama’s idea very emotionally appealing; our dead and bereaved from 9/11 deserve to be avenged. I can find several grievous flaws in his plan however.
Firstly, Zardari’s regime is already quite unfriendly to the US and Pakistani troops have already fired upon US / NATO forces within and near the borders of Pakistan; Obama’s plan would most likely escalate that violence into open warfare. Secondly, Obama’s plan would require that US forces launch unsupported attack into Waziristan. This is an action that the Soviets and the Pakistanis themselves have failed at accomplishing.
From Pakistan’s point of view…
I would have to say that Pakistan would fare better with Sen. McCain as President of the United States of America than with Sen. Obama in that role. In point of fact I think Pakistan would do much better with McCain than they would with Obama.
McCain’s plan is a cooperative effort with the Pakistani government and the people of the Waziristani region. By involving all parties it would mitigate the potential for disaster to be the Pakistani government and it’s people.
Obama’s plan seems to focus on using financial aid to convince Zardari’s regime to aid our forces, or at least ignore our encroachments into their territory. This would likely result in an increase of violence and terrorism in Pakistan if Zardari’s regime could even be convinced in the first place. Alternatively Obama’s plan could place Pakistan in open warfare against the US and at odds with Waziristan. Either is a recipe for disaster within Pakistan.