September 18, 2008

New Pakistan policy risky – but necessary

This article appeared on

Pushing Pakistan might work but could cause the government to fall

American forces have expanded the war in Afghanistan to include cross border operations into neighboring Pakistan. This represents an escalation of the risks the United States is prepared to take in its war against the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Since July, American forces have increased in number and size the raids into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of North and South Waziristan, areas used by the Taliban and al-Qaeda as safe havens once thought immune from attack. Most of these raids consisted of Hellfire missile strikes launched from Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles operated by both the U.S. Air Force and the CIA; at least one raid included a ground incursion by U.S. special operations forces and CIA operatives.

At the same time, the United States is gradually increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan and urging its NATO allies to do the same. This “quiet surge” as described by the Bush Administration is in response to increased Taliban attacks on U.S. and NATO units in Afghanistan over the last six months.

With the situation improving in Iraq, American forces can – and should - now concentrate on the original battleground in the offensive against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. However, as long as there is a safe haven for these groups’ fighters across the border in neighboring Pakistan, stepped up operations limited to the sovereign territory of Afghanistan can only do so much. The solution must include denying the Taliban the ability to use Pakistan as an operations, logistics and training base.

Denying the Taliban use of Pakistani territory should be the responsibility of the Pakistan government. To be fair, Pakistan has at times deployed troops into the lawless frontier regions. Each time they have been met with stiff resistance and suffered surprisingly significant casualties. The Pakistan armed forces are very professional – they well understand the level of force required to get the job done; they just seem unwilling to do it.

One must also consider the internal dynamics of Pakistan when either calling for newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari to take action or taking unilateral action across the border. There is a fair amount of sympathy in the population in general and the armed forces in particular for the Taliban and al-Qaeda – the Taliban was created by Pakistan’s intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate.

The ISI was also the primary funnel for American and Saudi money and weapons to the Afghan mujahidin and the Arab volunteers who later formed al-Qaeda, in the fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980’s. Those bonds run deep. American demands that Zardari commit large numbers of troops to fight the Taliban, al-Qaeda and their Pushtun hosts in the border areas may cause a crisis in popular support for the new government. After all, there is little support in Pakistan for the United States and its war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. A failed government in Islamabad would serve only the extremist agenda.

It is interesting – and telling – that the Pakistani government which accepts up to $100 million every month from the United States to reimburse the Pakistani military for its efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, is willing to order its troops to fire on American forces. It is willing to try to prevent American forces from entering Pakistan, yet seems to be unwilling to prevent Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters from crossing the border seemingly at will.

The war cannot be won unless the flow of men and materiel in and out of Pakistan is stopped – it’s that simple. What is not simple is how to stop it. Pakistan does not want American forces to conduct cross border raids from Afghanistan into its territory, but will not stop the Taliban from doing essentially doing the same thing in reverse.

There is little choice here. American forces must strike the Taliban and al-Qaeda wherever they are – at times that will be in Pakistan. The trick will be to do it in such a way that we don’t cause the fall of the new government.

See my earlier pieces I did for on this subject: