Going after al Qaeda in Pakistan
Reports last week in the New York Times and the Washington Post about CIA operations against al Qaeda inside Pakistan — with or without the permission of the Pakistan government — have got everybody asking what exactly is going on. Let’s rewind and look at what the United States asked for immediately after 9/11 when it demanded President Pervez Musharraf’s cooperation in hunting down al Qaeda.
In his book “In the Line of Fire”, Musharraf says the Americans presented him with a list of demands on Sept. 13, 2001 which included a requirement Pakistan “provide the United States with blanket overflight and landing rights to conduct all neccessary military and intelligence operations”. Musharraf says that though he agreed to cooperate with the United States, this particular request was turned down.
That begs the question of just how the Americans responded to the rejection. Did the world’s sole superpower, who in Musharraf’s own words had just threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if it did not cooperate, simply say “Ok fine. Sorry to trouble you” or words to that effect? Or did the Americans think even then that al Qaeda and Taliban militants would flee from Afghanistan into Pakistan and extract a promise to let the CIA go after them? In other words who knew what, when?
The question is interesting in the context of the U.S. presidential election, with Barack Obama saying he would be willing to go after al Qaeda inside Pakistan and John McCain accusing him of inexperience for threatening to invade a U.S. ally — comments that are attracting a fierce debate among U.S. bloggers.
A blog called World War 4 Report calls Obama’s comments “alarmingly bellicose”. On the other side of the debate, Juan Cole challenges McCain’s own record on U.S. Pakistan policy, accusing him of being an enthusiastic supporter of the Islamist mujahideen who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s – a movement that spawned al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Commenting on the reports of CIA operations inside Pakistan, the Seminal asks how Americans would feel if Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, set up shop in the United States and struck a secret deal with George W. Bush allowing them to target suspected Islamists there. A Pakistani who commented on my last post on U.S. policy towards Pakistan was more sanguine. Writing about Obama’s threat to go after al Qaeda in Pakistan, he wrote: “Here is a guy who is truthful and is playing no games. We in Pakistan can live joyfully with the likes of him. No double-speak and therefore no contradictions.”
Lots of questions then. Should America be going after al Qaeda aggressively inside Pakistan? Is Obama just being honest, stating a policy that is already being carried out by the CIA, albeit in secret? Have your say by posting a comment here.