S. Azmat Hassan, a former Pakistani diplomat, is now a professor at Seton Hall University. He blogs about the U.S. Secretary of State’s recent trip to South Asia.
U.S.-Pakistan relations have witnessed many ups and downs in the past decades. This is not an infrequent phenomenon in bilateral relations. A perfect congruence of interests between any two states even neighbors — say, the US and Mexico — is well-nigh impossible. So the Pakistanis appreciated the fact that Hillary Clinton was spending three days in their midst. In the past weeks, they have been at the receiving end of horrific suicide attacks from the Pakistani Taliban, which have claimed the lives of more than 200 army and police personnel, as well as innocent men, women and children. These attacks even included a foray into the heavily guarded Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, which shook the Pakistani army. The Pakistani Taliban had hoped to forestall the Army’s long awaited assault on their bases in the tribal areas of South Waziristan, but their efforts failed. The Army launched the assault a few weeks ago.
Clinton’s diplomatic talents were on full display as she conducted herself among a cross section of the Pakistani nation reeling from terrorist outrages. She must have gauged that most Pakistanis support the Army’s actions to destroy the military power of the Pakistani Taliban in the forbidding wastes of South Waziristan. The U.S. leaders have pronounced themselves “impressed” by the Pakistani counter-terrorism operations in that area. The home town of Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, has been captured, and he is in hiding. He is a marked man. As I have stated before, there is much riding on this Army operation to militarily degrade the Mehsud militia.
Simultaneously, the Pakistani leadership must take effective action against violent extremists in Southern Punjab who appear to have linked up with the Pakistani Taliban and remnants of al-Qaeda in the remote regions bordering Afghanistan. What was refreshing was Clinton’s affirmation that U.S.-Pakistan relations were too important to be confined only to the counter-terrorism sphere. U.S. help and that of the Friends of Pakistan group which contains many wealthy countries, could be crucial in advancing Pakistan’s socioeconomic development.
Violent extremism will only abate through the accelerated provision of education and employment opportunities. Unemployed youth with no other means of subsistence have to be made stakeholders. They will then join civil society as productive members instead of being recruited as suicide bombers.
Clinton pointedly reminded Pakistanis in her various meetings that the economic inequality between a small rich minority and a large deprived majority is a recipe for violence and unrest. I hope that her frank advice will be heeded by the Pakistani establishment.
Clinton also reassured Pakistanis that the U.S. will not abandon Pakistan this time. Both countries have a huge stake in ridding the region of fanatical obscurantists who want to drag South Asia into the Dark Ages. Let’s hope she means what she says.