Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Crisis in Pakistan: Working with China and Russia

Part 5 of a 6 part essay on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and how to combat it

In addition to trying to set up a Marshall Plan for Pakistan, the United States should also strive to work together with other regional powers, such as China and Russia, to put more forceful pressure on Pakistan and to jointly try to counter the Taliban. It is in interest of all three countries to prevent the Taliban from toppling the Pakistani government. A major Taliban victory in Pakistan may spur on Muslim extremist groups in China, who are mainly Uyghurs fighting for an independent nation in Xinjiang,[1] a region that has been independent from China for most of history and has been part of modern China for barely 60 years.[2] To this point, Muslim extremism in China has been relatively low-key, serving more as an excuse for Chinese crackdowns in the region than as a legitimate threat to Chinese security.[3] However, a major Taliban victory could provide momentum and encouragement to Uyghur Muslim extremists, and should Taliban militants manage to take control of the Chinese border with Pakistan, they could send support through to Xinjiang – the part of China that borders Pakistan – and could help the Uyghur Muslim extremists become a formidable force. In addition, a civil war in Pakistan could lead to refugees pouring into China from Pakistan. China does not even want to entertain such possibilities, and so should be willing to work with the United States to stop the Taliban. As Pakistan’s steady ally since the Cold War, China should have a fair ability to compel Pakistan to counter the Taliban.

Although perhaps it should not be as worried as China, Russia should nevertheless be concerned about the growth of the Taliban and the possibility of the collapse of the Pakistani government. Muslim extremists in Chechnya and other Russian-controlled Caucasian regions could be encouraged by a major Taliban victory. In addition, the destabilization of Pakistan by the Taliban could lead to a further destabilization of Afghanistan by Afghani Taliban, which could cause refugee flows and headaches for the neighboring Central Asian states, which Russia would like to retain as its sphere of influence. Indeed, Russian troops stationed on the Tajikistan border could get caught up in a mess in neighboring Afghanistan.

The United States should reach out to China and Russia on the basis of having a common interest in defeating the Taliban and try to facilitate cooperation and joint action in the region to stop the Taliban. For starters, the United States, China, and Russia should put pressure on India to ease tensions with Pakistan that have been especially high since the Mumbai attacks. As India’s steady ally since the Cold War, Russia should have a fair amount of influence over India, and surely the last thing India wants is for a radical Muslim group to take over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons. Getting India to do as little as tone down its rhetoric and assure Pakistan it has no intentions of war and wants friendship and cooperation could help diffuse tensions. Getting India to restart talks on Kashmir would have an even greater effect at lowering tensions. If tensions between India and Pakistan could be reduced, then the Pakistani Army would feel more comfortable about moving troops away from the Indian border (where most of them are now stationed) to Pakistan’s northwest to fight the Taliban.

The United States should also try to get an alternate supply route to Afghanistan through Russia and the Central Asian states. The United States could make the point to Russia that the more powerful the Taliban is in Afghanistan, the more powerful it will be in Pakistan. With the Taliban now in control of most of Northwestern Pakistan, it is able to threaten the current supply routes into Afghanistan, which pass through Pakistan. With the help of Russia, who has considerable influence over the Central Asian states, the United States would probably be able to get a new supply route through Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan into Afghanistan, or perhaps through some other route in the same general region.

The United States should also try to get China and Russia to apply joint diplomatic, rhetorical, and possibly economic pressure on Pakistan. The combined weight of these three powers may be more effective than unilateral U.S. pressure in compelling Pakistan into action against the Taliban. China and the United States in particular could orchestrate joint economic sanctions or incentives to try to put more pressure on the Pakistani government.

Most importantly, the United States, China, and Russia, along with India, should go about sharing intelligence to try to pinpoint the location and status of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the four should also consider devising a coordinated strategy to eliminate such weapons or confront a new Pakistani regime if the worst should befall the current Pakistani government. The last things any of these countries want are more unaccounted-for nuclear weapons, particularly when they or their allies could be potential targets.

[1] http://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/directive-08142008114700.html
[2] http://muslimvillage.com/story.php?id=2713
[3] http://www.atimes.com/china/CK15Ad01.html

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