Raging at Rawalpindi

American leaders are furious with Pakistan’s military in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing. But twisting arms will only backfire.

The United States has long complained that Pakistan's military and intelligence services are playing a double game when it comes to terrorism and extremism: publicly promising cooperation-and indeed delivering some-while privately supporting America's enemies. They point to Pakistan's apparent reluctance to take on groups like the Haqqaani network, a Taliban affiliate that launches attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan, and the Quetta Shura, Taliban leaders based in Baluchistan. In the eyes of the United States, the Pakistan army has not been the most dependable international ally, a sentiment that is reciprocated by the Pakistanis. And now, many American officials are hoping that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden will give them the leverage to force the Pakistani security establishment to choose sides once and for all.

If only it were that simple.

Killing bin Laden has indeed succeeded at putting pressure on the Pakistani army, but not to the effect that Washington may have wished. The truth is that Pakistanis are angrier about the United States' ability to launch a special-operations raid right under their noses than they are that bin Laden was found on their soil-and the military is bearing the brunt of the criticism inside Pakistan. Text-message jokes about the army are making the rounds, parliament is angrily voicing embarrassing questions about the military's lack of preparedness, and the chattering classes are tossing ceaseless insults. But it's the United States that now has the most to lose. The Pakistani military is destined to remain an important institution in Pakistan's otherwise dysfunctional polity, and Washington has more to gain by reforming it cooperatively than by casting it aside.

Pakistan's history and geography has always dictated the need for a large military. It is surrounded by multiple major powers and conflict zones: Afghanistan to the west, rising India to the east, and China to the north, making Pakistan a key locus of super power interests and rivalries. It is necessarily wary about its own security. And the army has always seen itself as the national institution par excellence, an organization explicitly of the people and for the people. Indeed, recruitment patterns show that the army is increasingly representative of the country as a whole: in an otherwise fractured country, that is reason enough to justify its outsized presence on the national stage.

For the most part, the Pakistani military has earned its reputation as an effective military force. But it also overreached in trying to take over civil administration under general-cum-president Pervez Musharraf. And it has been poor at political engineering. The army under Musharraf had penetrated the ranks of the civilian bureaucracy, taking over education and training institutions and essentially running certain ministries. After assuming command as army chief, Kayani ordered all army officers serving in government to either resign from the military or to return to it full time.

At the time of the May 1 raid, the Pakistani military had just recently restored its pride of place as the most respected institution in the country. It had slipped in public confidence after it allowed the Pakistani Taliban to take over parts of Malakand and Swat in 2006, but in the past four years, the army, under its new chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has focused on burnishing its credentials and improving the institution's professionalism and capacity to fight. Both had been compromised under Musharraf's autocratic rule.

In the face of a rising tide of homegrown terrorism and insurgency, the army also shifted gears and its training from being India-centric to being more agile and prepared for low-intensity conflict, using some of the counterinsurgency (COIN) principles that the United States army learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Within the past two years, it revamped the training at its military academy, infantry school, staff, college, and the national defense university to focus on how to fight asymmetric war against its own people. And it has moved some 150,000 troops to fight terror groups on its western border, incurring the wrath of a domestic insurgent group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This was a major shift in thinking for a force that had in earlier years used its top spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, to foment insurgency in neighboring countries and support militancy against Afghanistan and India. It was a shift that was in tune with Washington's priorities in the region.

That's not to say that the military has been unimpeachable. It is still too involved in the country's economy, with major holdings in banking, real estate, and transportation. Especially as the national economy has deteriorated, the military has had incentives to involve itself in civilian decision-making. Further, Pakistan continues to countenance the use of its territory by Afghan Taliban groups that fight the U.S.-led coalition inside Afghanistan. Its inability or unwillingness to take on these Afghan groups in their Pakistani sanctuaries is a constant irritant in its relationship with the United States.

But the Pakistani military apparently recognizes the value of its ties with the U.S. military -- and not just the $16 billion it has received in security-related aid and reimbursements since 2001. A measure of the importance attached to American military training by the Pakistani military is the fact that a number of officers sent to the United States have been promoted before their return to Pakistan, if not immediately afterwards. Clearly, a lot of thought is going into the selection of the individuals being sent to the United States for specialized training. Some 100 of them will be in the United States this year alone.

Washington would be wise to use that cultural affinity -- as well as the fact that the Pakistani army depends on the United States to maintain its weapons systems and supply spare parts -- as leverage to change the shape of their long-term collaboration. Both sides need to explicitly agree on the nature of their relationship and identify and determine the reasons for their disagreements so there are no residual suspicions. A written agreement would provide maximum certainty. But the trust that is needed to sustain this relationship has to be earned by both sides. That will take time.

Determining the role of the Pakistani intelligence should, no doubt, also be on the American agenda. The ISI is an integral part of the Pakistan military, and the current head, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, is a close confidant of Kayani. It would be a mistake to assume that Pasha is working at cross purposes with the military.

But Washington can do plenty to immediately prove its good faith to Pakistan's most important public institution. It should share any links it can substantiate between the army and al Qaeda in general, and bin Laden in particular. It could emphasize that the United States is prepared to work together with Pakistan to find other al Qaeda leaders in other towns in the vicinity of Abbottabad, where they are likely to be located (given the reliance on courier communications of al Qaeda central). It could work to strengthen the capacity of Pakistan's civilian police institutions, which are closer to the ground and could play a key role in fighting militancy.

Of course, the United States is within its rights to lay out the options clearly and the implications of non-cooperation. Americans are angry at what they see as Pakistan's duplicity in the face of terror. But punishment is not a policy. No matter what the United States does, Pakistan's military will maintain its outsized role in the country's public life, and any agreement has to be in its interests for it to stick. Fortunately, there is much overlap between Washington's and Islamabad's interests in the region, from a stable Afghanistan and Pakistan to normalization of Pakistan's relations with India.

Before anything else, however, the Pakistani army should be given time to resolve its internal debates, tempting though it may be to ratchet up criticism and pressure after its public humiliation on May 1. If not, then a break with Pakistan may be unavoidable. And if that happens, it's likely the United States that will find itself friendless at a time when it needs allies more that ever.

Ishara S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images


Rediscovering Congo

Two decades in, the world wakes up to a tragedy. So what are we going to do about it?

These are strange, exhilarating times to be working on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the first time since full-fledged war broke out in the central African country in 1996, the American public seems to be waking up to the brutality of the conflict there. Over the past year, there has been a flurry of activity inside and outside the Beltway -- in congressional hearings, Oprah shows, and Broadway theater. The country's ongoing rape epidemic is finally getting front-page treatment. Congress passed a bill specifically on the Congo, and lawmakers and corporate boards in California, Pittsburgh, and universities around the country may soon follow suit.

For those of us who have been writing about or working in Congo for over a decade, this attention is anachronistic. Past is the height of the war, when nine African countries slugged it out through the country's jungles, savannahs, and highlands, splitting the country into half a dozen fiefdoms. Since 2003, the country has been unified; troops from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Angola have (largely) withdrawn. Elections were held in 2006, confirming Joseph Kabila -- who had taken over after his father's assassination in 2001 -- as president.

Despite the peace deal, violence has escalated in recent years in the eastern Kivus region -- along the border with Rwanda and Burundi -- as the government has tried to root out remaining armed groups through brutal counterinsurgency campaigns. While conflict has become confined to a smaller area and is less regional, it is still incredibly vicious. A study released this week in a U.S. medical journalconcludes that more than 400,000 women are being raped a year, with between 17 percent to 40 percent of women in the east reporting sexual assault during their lifetime.

But the violence in eastern Congo is sadly not new. So why this sudden flurry of attention? The novelty is the grassroots mobilization around the issue in the United States. For years, the sheer complexity of the conflict -- more than 50 different Congolese armed groups have seen the light of day in the past decade, fighting for a host of reasons -- has been the bane of reporters and activists alike. How can you make someone care about a conflict you can't explain? In 2006, even the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof attempted to justify why he wasn't writing much about the Congo: "I grant that the suffering is greater in Congo. But our compass is also moved by human evil, and that is greater in Darfur." Good guys vs. bad guys make for an easier story. It has always been difficult to reduce the Congolese conflict to such simple binaries.

But the needle began moving back toward Congo in 2007, when John Prendergast founded the Enough Project. Prendergast, a former National Security Council director, felt stymied by the limitations of his work with the International Crisis Group (which aimed to influence high-level policymakers). "I knew that unless Americans started putting pressure on their elected officials, nothing was going to change," he told me. And in order to rally those grassroots, his new organization had to boil the conflicts in Africa -- starting with Sudan and now including the Congo and Uganda -- down to a more simple narrative and focus on the naked suffering.

Instead of trying to explain the convoluted politics of the conflict, Enough Project focused on two themes: sexual violence and conflict minerals. Weaving these two together, they explained the conflict in a more readily digestible fashion, at the same time linking it to American consumers and their use of electronics containing Congolese tin, tungsten, and tantalum. They crafted slogans like, "Don't want your cell phone to fuel war in the Congo? Tell Obama!"

The Enough Project was not alone. Also in 2007, Vagina Monologues founder Eve Ensler launched a campaign to stop the "femicide" in Congo, culminating last month in the opening of City of Joy, a shelter and training facility in the eastern Congolese city of Bukavu for rape survivors. The crisis attracted bipartisan support, with former senators Russ Feingold and Sam Brownback traveling several times to the region, and even Barack Obama, then a freshman senator, sponsoring a Congo-focused bill. Lisa Shannon, a photography producer from Portland, Oregon, was galvanized when she saw a description of the conflict on Oprah and founded A Thousand Sisters, which has raised over $11 million in support of Congolese women. In 2009, these efforts were joined by actor Ben Affleck, who founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, and over the past few years a stream of other celebrities have become involved in Congo, including Ryan Gosling, Angelina Jolie, Robin Wright Penn, and Javier Bardem.

The new study on rape, published in the American Journal of Public Health, will no doubt bring additional attention to the problem, though this attention might have been more useful in 2006 or 2007, when the crimes documented in the study were taking place.

Some are cynical about these efforts. Indeed, the mention of celebrity activism can provoke eye-rolling and smirks in policy circles -- my usual haunts. They argue that this kind of knee-jerk mobilization leads to the dumbing-down of issues, dangerous simplification, and the confusion of what is important with what is glamorous. And there is indeed a danger that a simplistic understanding of the conflict will lead to simplistic policies. But there is no doubt that these grassroots endeavors -- Tweeting, Facebooking, and online petitioning -- have succeeded where more academic efforts have failed for decades: bringing the Congo to D.C.'s attention. The grassroots campaigners, while perhaps not very Congo-savvy, tend to be much more politically astute than their critics allow.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the conflict mineral debate. Last year, President Obama signed legislation -- as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act -- that requires companies to report what they are doing to avoid trading in conflict minerals from the Congo. The regulations, which will be monitored by the Securities and Exchange Commission, will go into effect later this year. Companies can still trade in conflict minerals, but they have to make public exactly what they are doing to carry out due diligence along their supply chains. "This law then relies on consumers, investors and other businesses in the supply chain to use that information to pressure these companies," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), one of the authors of the measure. 

The California state legislature is also working to pass legislation that would block the state from buying from suppliers who violate the SEC regulations or trade in conflict minerals. Several universities -- including my own Yale University -- are considering following suit.

The industry has gotten the message. Taking pre-emptive action, the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition -- which represents all major companies in the sector -- has effectively stopped importing minerals from the Congo.

There's a good chance that pressure on the conflict minerals could bring about some positive change, if it's carried out right.

Minerals were not the initial cause of the Congolese conflict in 1996 -- state collapse, the Rwandan genocide, and local power struggles had more to do with that. But those looking for silver bullets to solve the conflict will never find them. Perfect should not be the enemy of the good, and minerals are a good place to start.

Altogether, the Congolese trade in gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum totals between $300 million and $1.4 billion a year, and most of those minerals are "taxed" by soldiers at gunpoint at some point along their journey. That's a lot of money in a country where 80 percent of the population makes less than $2 a day.

In an ideal world, here is how international pressure would work: The global minerals trade is highly integrated, so a demand shock from the United States -- the largest consumer of electronics -- would have serious repercussions in the Congo. Congolese business associations, unable to shift their product, would start to panic and put pressure on President Kabila to demilitarize mining areas and begin certifying non-conflict minerals. At the same time, the government would get more serious about pushing rebel groups out of mining areas as well.

The real world is a bit messier. The first part of the equation has worked: As of April 1, U.S.-based companies are boycotting minerals from the Congo, saying they cannot distinguish "clean" from "conflict" minerals. Following suit, the Malaysia Smelting Corporation, the largest smelter of Congolese tin, is considering halting new purchases, and exports from the Congolese trade hubs of Goma and Bukavu are grinding to a halt. The problem is that the Congolese government has not yet reacted. It appears that it is more important for Kabila to placate his commanders -- many of whom are former rebels -- than to promote trade.

Also, even if the government demilitarizes the trade routes, someone will need to certify that the minerals are clean. At the moment, the trade routes -- from the thousands of pick-and-shovel pits to the border crossing -- are mired in a fog of corrupt bureaucracy, with no reliable way of telling where which sack of tin comes from and whether it was taxed by someone with an AK-47.

This is where the U.S. government in particular has failed. It is not enough just to legislate from on high and expect the situation to right itself. The Congo supplies less than 5 percent of tin and around 20 percent of tantalum to the world market, and without encouragement companies might shy away from the reputational hazards the Congolese trade brings with it. A sustained boycott of U.S. companies could put tens of thousands of miners out of work and push some of the trade toward India or China, where businesses care much less about social responsibility.

The end of this story is still unwritten. If donors can invest heavily in traceability schemes, reassuring investors while holding them to account, this initiative could make a significant difference. But if donors do not follow up, the conflict minerals initiative will go into the sizeable dust bin of failed international initiatives to rescue the Congo.

U.S. policy toward the Congo is full of such half-measures. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country in 2009 and promised to help "banish sexual violence into the dark past," mobilizing various different bureaus and agencies in Washington, but there has been little concrete action other than $17 million toward care for victims and the U.S. army providing basic training for several thousand of the Congo's 150,000 troops. The US government's policy is a mixture of admirable initiatives, but without an overarching strategy.

This is a bit surprising. Five years ago, Senator Obama co-sponsored legislation calling for the appointment of a special envoy to the Congo to provide much-needed leadership. Once in the White House, however, his own administration has staunchly resisted implementing this policy. State Department officials in private suggest that Foggy Bottom is reluctant to create parallel chains of command that would compete with their ambassadors in the region and their usual lines of reporting in Washington, although this has not prevented the proliferation of envoys for other countries and issues.

The Congo is headed toward elections at the end of the year. These polls could well be more contentious than the last, in 2006, when the incumbent Kabila was favored to win. Kabila's popularity has sagged, and he may struggle to win free and fair elections. This, in turn, raises the specter of electoral violence and political confrontation.

The Congo harbors one of the world's gravest humanitarian crises -- one that has been largely confronted with apathy. Grassroots activists -- from soccer moms to college students -- have finally broken this apathy, raising awareness about the Congo's plight. But now it is up to politicians and diplomats to turn awareness into intelligent policy.