It has been quite a long time since we have been able to write about good things happening in Pakistan. Yet, the recent arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s #2, and two Taliban "governors" of Afghan provinces is more than a stroke of good luck. It shows an increasing degree of cooperation between the United States and the Pakistani intelligence forces. It is difficult to think of a more strategically important country than Pakistan and having a relationship of cooperation with them is, arguably, the single most important foreign policy objective of any American administration.
The arrests of senior leaders are important in themselves, of course. Yes, there are those waiting to take their place, but whenever a senior leader, be it a manager at a company or a senior official in government or, in this case, the leader of a terrorist organization, there are several people wanting to take the place that is vacant. There will be a power struggle, maybe for a week, maybe for a few months. Additionally, those aspiring leaders and their underlings have to constantly be looking over their shoulders: Whoever told the Americans and Pakistanis where they could find these Taliban officials is still out there, still capable of turning in new leaders.
The long-term cooperation of Pakistan is critical for a variety of other reasons. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is porous, so while we may succeed in our military offensives in Afghanistan, it doesn’t matter if the Al-Qaeda terrorists just skip through the mountains into a safe haven in Pakistan. As well, the border between Pakistan and India is the exact opposite of the border between Canada and America. It is long and dangerous and armed. Militants with a particular grudge against India exist in Pakistan, and vice-versa, always looking for an opportunity to cause strife. Additionally, militants with no particular grudge against India, militants whose venom is directed at the U.S., they too know that they can further their cause by increasing tensions with India, which increases the power of the Pakistani military and intelligence services within their own country. Last but not least, of all the countries that possess nuclear weapons, the only one that could conceivably be involved in a plot to turn over such a weapon to militant terrorists, or whose government could conceivably be taken over by militants, is Pakistan. Keeping Pakistan stable is a priority concern.
It is difficult to assess how much credit President Obama gets for any of this. These plans and projects could have been going on for some time at the CIA or other governmental agencies that are pretty far removed from political interference. I know that Obama’s envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is one of the most talented diplomats to ever serve the United States and it was a stroke of genius to appoint him. I know, too, that Taliban attacks within Pakistan made that country’s government more likely to listen to American entreaties. Finally, we know that all institutions are in a sense a shadow of the man or woman who leads them. The Obama administration, and the Department of State under the leadership of Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, are different from their predecessors, less imbued with the nonsense about "American exceptionalism," less hostile to the idea of multi-lateral cooperation, and that such differences make cooperation with difficult countries like Pakistan more likely. According to the Washington Post, the "turning point" in Pakistani cooperation came when President Obama wrote a letter in November to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari that promised U.S. efforts to ease tensions between Pakistan and India as well as more U.S. assistance to Pakistan.
Enjoy the headlines "New level of cooperation emerging in struggle against Afghan Taliban" while they last. Anyone who has read anything about that part of the world knows how fleeting the good news can be. Still, those who question everything President Obama does will have a hard time with these recent successes, but I can scarcely think of a more significant accomplishment that to be earning the cooperation of the Pakistani government, and especially its security forces.