Imagining Pakistan policy on the U.S.-Mexico border

Imagining Pakistan policy on the U.S.-Mexico border

Let’s re-contextualize America’s continuing problems on the porous Aghanistan-Pakistan border, the 2,600 km line established in 1893. Both sides are largely inhabited by ethnic Pashtuns. They are about 60 percent of the population in Afghanistan, slightly more in the opposite Pakistani province.

Then consider for a moment the slightly longer frontier between the United States and Mexico established 45 years earlier in 1848.

This second border is similar to the first in the cultural commonality on either side. In Texas, California and Arizona, about a third of the population is Latino, mostly immigrants from Mexico or their descendents. In the state of New Mexico, half the population is in this category.

I’m not suggesting that ethnic-religious links in either geography exclude other important sources of identity, including loyalty to respective states and laws. As a native of California, I have witnessed first-hand the benefits deriving from rich cultural ties across the border. Surely Pakistan and Afghanistan are similarly enriched.

It does complicate things, however, when the subject is policing or military action. Loyalties are blurred by family and clan, institutions are more easily infiltrated. All the more so when the conflict involves a party from away, as is the case in Pakistan.

Think of all the names you’ve heard associated with violence (killing at least 40,000 Pakistani civilians) in the larger war which was the subject of a just-concluded Istanbul summit: Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and recently the Haqqani Network.

Now let’s go to the cartels behind the horrific war (25,000 dead) in the western hemisphere: the Sinaloa Federation, Knights Templar, the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. My analogies are imperfect. The first case involves violent militancies gravitating toward the drug trade to fund operations; in the second we have drug cartels doing the opposite. Both, however, are nasty and well-armed.

As with terrorists operating across the east-west Pakistan-Afghan frontier, the Mexican cartels are moving north. The violent Mexican cartels operate now in 195 U.S. cities. In September, one carried out an assassination in Texas. More recently the U.S. Justice Department busted an alleged plot by Iran to deploy a Mexican cartel to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Now let’s imagine that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Mexico City demanding the notoriously divided and allegedly corrupt federal police in Mexico crack down or eliminate Los Zetas, the cartel figured in the Iran-Saudi plot. Imagine she also demanded the Mexicans bring Los Zetas to the negotiating table to discuss a comprehensive plan to end drug violence in North America.

I think we’d be scratching our heads over her likelihood of success.

But read the allegations the Americans have made about Pakistan’s notoriously divided Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Read Clinton’s new “Fight, Talk, Build” strategy just unveiled in Kabul. Clinton wants renewed strikes by Pakistan on the Haqqani Network AND she wants ISI to deliver the same group to negotiations on the future of Afghanistan