Wednesday, July 25, 2007

U.S. Strategy in Pakistan Criticized

Cross-posted at the Agonist.

This McClatchy article quotes a number of experts who take issue with the Bush administration's proposals for dealing with Islamic extremists along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border:

The White House is...threatening U.S. strikes in the region, where bin Laden and his closest followers are believed to have fled after the administration decided against sending U.S. forces to block their escape from Afghanistan in December 2001.

"There are no options off the table," Frances Fragos Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser, said on Fox News last Sunday.

Some U.S. military and diplomatic officials and many independent experts, however, warn that military intervention could fuel greater instability, anti-U.S. hatred and opposition to the Pakistani regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

"Military force will further complicate things," said Hassan Abbas, a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government who served as a mid-level police officer in the region.

Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, which includes the top U.S. intelligence analysts, told a House of Representatives panel on July 11 that there is "some risk" that U.S. military intervention in the tribal areas could spread anti-Musharraf unrest to other parts of Pakistan.

Sporadic U.S. airstrikes in the region, which has resisted subjugation for centuries, have failed to cripple al-Qaida and claimed the lives of civilian Pashtuns, the ethnic group whose tribal code includes a strong tradition of vengeance.

The fact is, this area is populated by a people who are militantly Islamic, who are sympathetic to or are members of the Taliban, who are somewhat sympathetic to al Qaeda, who detest Musharraf and his military government, and who hate us above all else. They have successfully resisted incursions by the Pakistani military into their territory, have responded to provocations with attacks of their own into other Pakistan and Afghan provinces, and are in a positition to further destabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are also armed to the teeth. It is extremely unlikely that anything but the most limited and carefully calibrated airstrikes or covert operations into these provinces by American forces will do enough damage to Taliban/al Qaeda networks to justify the damage that these aroused tribes could inflict in return on our interests. We don't have the military capability to conduct more powerful operations, and even if we did such operations would only enrage the Pashtun more. Subduing these militants would require invasion and occupation of their territories, and anyone insane enough to carry out just such an occupation would find themselves fighting an unending and violent guerilla war.

The unfortunate fact is we are in no real position to stop the Pashtun from providing aid to the Taliban or al Qaeda. Even pinpoint airstrikes could do more harm than good, given our military forces inability or unwillingness to distinguish between civilians and fighters. This does not mean that we should allow al Qaeda to roam freely throughout the region. If at all possible we should not hesitate to swoop down in the dead of night and kill or capture high value al Qaeda operatives. (We should also have more troops in Afghanistan reinforcing the border regions with Pakistan, but don't count on that happening until the Iraq war begins to wind down.) But above all else we must tread with the utmost delicacy in this region. Of course, delicacy and restraint are not hallmarks of the Bush administration, whose hawks seem to believe that everything can be solved by one more bombing.

1 comment:

adam said...

I also think aid to Pakistan ought to be tied to the job they do in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Right now we are just giving them money no matter how disappointing the results are. But a "hammer and anvil" approach with Pakistani forces pushing militants into the Afghan border region with a heavier American/NATO force waiting for them there is the best route. As you say, more airstrikes that kill civilians will just strengthen them even more.