Monday, January 19, 2009

Pakistan: Obama's Biggest Challenge

Pakistan poses a dilemma for Barack Obama's Afghanistan focus

As Barack Obama prepares to take office tomorrow, he must be aware that there is a great deal of work ahead of him.

A significant portion of that work will be related to his new focus on Afghanistan and, by extension, matters pertaining to Pakistan.

Taliban fighters and other insurgents have used a largely-uncontrolled border between the two countries to operate out of bases in Pakistan. Obama has already announced that he would allow American forces to pursue insurgent fighters into Pakistan. But there are far more important matters related to Pakistan to be dealt with.

Clearly, part of Obama's approach to Pakistan will have to deal with nuclear weapons.

Of all the (officially) democratic countries in the world right now, Pakistan may be most vulnerable to takeover by Islamic militants. Allowing such individuals to get their hands on nuclear weapons is by any account a nightmare scenario, especially considering reports that Al Qaeda has attempted to acquire submarines within the past six years.

Neil Joeck of Livermore Laboratories has suggested that Obama may institute a policy requiring the reduction of American nuclear weapons to 1,000 units. But in order to deal with the threat that Pakistan's nuclear weapons stockpile, Obama would have to negotiate a peace treaty between Pakistan and India that deals decisively not only with mutual nuclear disarmament, but also building a sturdy and just peace between the two countries.

According to Joeck, Pakistan maintains their nuclear stockpiles as a deterrent not only against India mounting a nuclear attack against Pakistan, but also in order to deter a conventional attack.

Considering that Pakistan has moved troops out of its north western region in response to recent tensions between the two countries, the war in Afghanistan would reap an obvious dividend from peace between the two countries.

A clear obstacle to such a peace accord is the matter of Kashmir. Tariq Amin-Kahn notes that there are few means by which a just peace could be achieved between India and Pakistan without resolving that controversy to the satisfaction of both countries.

Pakistan could not accept Indian hegemony in Kashmir.

One obvious short-term solution is for India and Pakistan to negotiate an agreement of mutual demobilization from Kashmir.

Amin-Kahn and The Real News' Paul Jay seem to look to Obama to negotiate such an agreement between India and Pakistan. But as a fellow member of the Commonwealth, Canada is actually much better positioned to help barter such a deal.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and National Defence Minister Peter MacKay have ruminated about negotiating a deal involving the sharing of terrorism-related military intelligence between the two countries. Negotiating a mutual demobilization from Kashmir would be an ambitious but worthwhile project for Canada's diplomats to pursue.

The idea should not be for Canadian diplomats to replace an effort by American diplomats to negotiate such a settlement, but rather to work as a partner with Barack Obama in an initiative modelled after the mission diplomacy that has successfully negotiated agreements such as the landmine ban.

The work involved would be arduous, but in the end rewarding. That is more than enough reason for the Canadian government to be a leading partner in helping Barack Obama tackle his biggest challenge.

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