[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/02/04/pakistan.NATO.trucks/art.checkpoint.afp.gi.jpg caption="Pakistani policemen at a border check point last month."]
Arsalan Iftikhar | BIO
The word Pakistan literally means ‘land of the pure.' Sadly, there has been nothing ‘pure’ about the continued downward political spiral of this nuclear-armed, third-world fledgling democracy of 172 million people over the last several years.
From the December 2007 political assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in the garrison city of Rawalpindi to the September 2008 terrorist attacks at the Islamabad Marriott hotel (which killed over 54 people, including the Czech Ambassador to Pakistan); it comes as little surprise to any expert on the region that one of our major regional allies in the ‘war on terror’ is now teetering on the brink of political disaster.
Especially in light of the most recent tragedies like the March 2009 Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team and the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks on the Taj and Oberoi hotels (which killed over 173 people in eight locations); Pakistan has once again infamously proven itself to continue being a focal point for our global realpolitik for the foreseeable future.
Wendy Chamberlin was the United States Ambassador to Pakistan on September 11, 2001. A career diplomat and former Ambassador to Laos, since that infamous day, Ambassador Chamberlin has had the personal ear of both former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto and soft military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.
In an extensive sit-down interview, Ambassador Chamberlin offered her personal views on how American policy toward Pakistan can both improve stability for the people of Pakistan and protect the national security of the United States.
“The objective is stability,” begins Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin; as we sit together in her office. “I almost feel like a broken record here. I have always said that we will be successful in this broader, longer-term objective when we are seen to be allied with the best interests of the people in the region…”
“It’s very clear that we have been relying too heavily on the military for so-called ‘assistance’ and that does not work,” she continued. Ambassador Chamberlin then highlighted the fact that military actions alone are always “an ineffective way of delivering aid to the people…”
“So, I think one of the top concerns for Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke [and President Obama] within Pakistan and Afghanistan is to re-design our assistance [and development] program[s] there so that it actually delivers results to the people,” she said.
Ambassador Chamberlin highlighted the sorrowful state of police forces in Pakistan: “Neither in Afghanistan, nor in Pakistan, do they have local community police that protect people…In these countries; the rule of law does not protect the people…”
She further highlighted the importance of a successful ‘police force’ by pivoting to the current political situation in Pakistan by stating that, “…When people do not feel protected, they put their faith into God’s hands…And this exploited, frankly, some of the rhetoric and extremist ideology of the militants who claim that their driving objective is shariah law [or Islamic law]…”
This is where the Swat valley comes into play.
Recently, Swat came into the global news cycle when the government of Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire deal with local Taliban groups which will lead to the enforcement of shariah law in the restless Swat valley. According to BBC World News, Chief Minister of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Ameer Hussain Hoti announced a bill had been signed that would implement a new "order of justice" in the Malakand division; which includes Swat and its neighboring valleys.
On the recent shariah law ‘compromise’ in the Swat valley, Ambassador Chamberlin says that, “I think that is more of a reflection of the fact that the army and the police were unable to contain the violence brought by the extremists [in the Swat Valley]…I think it was unfortunate and ‘sold-out’ the people of the region…”
The ambassador agrees that it is a “…misrepresented and distorted [version of] shariah law” and that the local extremists have “invented their own extremist interpretation of it, which is very dangerous…”
“In the local election of just a year ago, the people [of Swat] went to the ballot box in what everyone agrees was a fairly ‘free-and-fair’ election…And what did they do? They voted the religious parties out of office…The majority voted for the Awami National Party, a secular Pasthun party…”
However, shortly thereafter, that is when the terrorism began in Swat.
“Just as soon as that happened, the extremists moved in, slit throats of the Awami National Party officials, murdered policemen in their stations, slaughtered the military, kidnapped wealthy people, blew up schools because little girls went there…They terrorized the region,” Ambassador Chamberlin lamented.
“This was in complete contradiction to what the people of the region had voted for in a fair-and-free election…And the terrorists won…So my view [is that] caving in…is capitulation…” she concluded.
Former national security adviser Stephen Hadley once said: “Pakistan is both an ally in the war on terror, and in some sense, a battleground of the war on terror.” For an oft-forgotten and perpetually misunderstood place like Pakistan, the political transition from a tin-pot military dictator to an opportunistic (and former jailbird) husband of an assassinated prime minister is probably going to be filled with many political minefields; both figurative and literal. Add some irrational actors to the political mix; namely Al-Qaeda (and their Pakistani franchisees), and you have all the global ingredients for a third-world geopolitical flashpoint.
From an ambassador’s view of Pakistan, there can be no long-term peace and prosperity for over 172 million of its citizens without an impenetrable ‘rule of law’ system and increased developmental aid towards the impoverished nation. By increasing literacy rates, women’s political participation and the protection of religious minorities, the sixth most-populated country in the world can recalibrate itself towards one day actually living up to the lofty global standards that comes with ominously naming your country the ‘land of the pure’.
Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of www.TheMuslimGuy.com and contributing editor for Islamica Magazine in Washington.