How will Obama tackle militants in Pakistan?

March 29, 2009

Read President Barack Obama’s speech on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he said a year ago and it’s hard to see how much further forward we are in understanding exactly how he intends to uproot Islamist militants inside Pakistan.

Last year, Obama said that ”If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.” Last week, he said that, ”Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.  And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”

The United States has already stepped up attacks by drone missiles on suspected militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas since Obama took office, despite official protests by Pakistan, which says they are counterproductive since they cause civilian casualties and encourage people to support the insurgents.

The Pakistani protests began to look rather hollow after media reports that the drones were taking off from a base inside Pakistan. But that may have missed the point. The question of where the drones are based is perhaps less important than the distrust between the U.S. and Pakistani militaries on sharing intelligence about militant targets.

General Ashfaq Kayani, now head of the Pakistan Army, tells a rather revealing story about this. He is quoted in Brian Cloughley’s book “War, Coups and Terror” as describing the case of a tribesman with a performing monkey who gathered an audience of turban-clad, rifle-bearing men around him in a village in 2005. The U.S. controllers of the drone mistook the event for a weapons-training session or military briefing and dropped a missile, killing many in the audience (he doesn’t say what happened to the monkey). “This, said the General, was an example of lack of cultural understanding,” writes Cloughley.

“The monkey incident, and other attacks by the U.S. within Pakistan,” adds Cloughley, “have convinced the population of North West Frontier Province and a disturbing number of other citizens, including many in uniform, that there is nothing to be gained by supporting the United States, which they consider to be overbearing and imperceptive in its engagement with the country.”

So has intelligence-sharing moved on since then?  If the United States wanted to be sure of hitting the right targets, it could ask the Pakistani military to help it guide the drones and then assess, on looking through the remote camera, whether they were on course.  Or as Foreign Minister Mahmood  Qureshi said last month, it could give Pakistan drones to carry out the task itself.

But intelligence-sharing is not easy at the best of times between different national armies. It’s particularly tough when you don’t trust your allies. Senior U.S. military officers say they believe elements in Pakistan’s Inter-Services intelligence, or ISI, provide support to Taliban or al Qaeda militants. Has Obama worked out how to square that circle? As yet, we don’t know.

The other big question is over where the United States intends to target the Islamists. U.S. officials have begun saying publicly that the Afghan Taliban are based in Quetta in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan — quite different from the tribal areas where both the Pakistan Army and the U.S. drone missiles have been concentrated until now.  “Quetta appears to be the headquarters for the leaders of the Taliban and some of the worst people in the world,” special envoy Richard Holbrooke said in an interview with the BBC.

Does that mean the United States is preparing to expand its drone missile attacks into Baluchistan as the New York Times suggested? We don’t know for sure, although some analysts have suggested the NYT report might have been deliberately leaked to put pressure Pakistan to do more to tackle the Taliban in Baluchistan.

NPR last week quoted Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies as saying that, ”the main traditional center of Taliban activity is … in the Baluchi area. It is, at this point in time, by far the most effective threat to NATO and U.S. and Afghan forces.”

But ordering drone strikes in Baluchistan, writes former Pakistan ambassador Akbar Ahmed in the Huffington Post, is “not a good idea. The colonial British assiduously prevented the Baluch tribe of Baluchistan and Pashtun tribes of Southern Afghanistan and Pakistani agencies like North and South Waziristan from ever teaming up against them. I can predict that with the first drone strike in Baluchistan, America will ensure that this occurrs. As a result, the Taliban will gain new supporters and vast strategic depth.”

Pakistan already faces a separate insurgency in Baluchistan by Baluchis angered by what they see as the domination of the country by Punjabis who have failed to give them a fair share of the revenues from the resource-rich province. It is quite separate from the Taliban, although -complicating the picture further – Pakistani officials complain that the Baluchistan insurgency is supported by India — a charge India denies.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari – who prides himself on his ability to unite Pakistan’s disparate regions - his family originally came from Baluchistan while the Pakistan People’s Party of his late wife Benazir Bhutto has its roots in Sindh province - has promised to try to address the grievances of the people of Baluchistan.  That’s hardly in line with a stepped-up military campaign, whether by the Pakistan Army or by U.S. drone missile attacks.

So what does Obama plan to do about the Afghan Taliban, who according to his own officials operate openly in Quetta?

Pakistan has traditionally resisted going after the Afghan Taliban, arguing that they are primarily interested in regaining power in Afghanistan and do not present a global threat in the same way as does al Qaeda — an assessment always hard to judge given the close links between the two. According to this argument, if the Taliban could be persuaded to sever ties with al Qaeda, they could be included in any eventual political settlement in Afghanistan.

Obama appeared to rule this out on Friday when he talked of ”an uncompromising core of the Taliban” which would allow al Qaeda back into Afghanistan.  “They must be met with force, and they must be defeated.”  How exactly will they be met with force? We don’t know.

There is still much to learn about Obama’s plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. administration itself will probably refine it as it goes along. But watching what happens in Baluchistan is as good a place to start as any. My guess is that for all the talk of bringing in Iran into a regional solution for Afghanistan, developments in Baluchistan could turn out to be more significant.


Glad you came back on topic. Indian posters have a bad habit of talking about nonsense.
- Posted by Aamir Ali
–With your analysis as wild as Mehsud as an Indian agent, who is talking non-sense. B. Mehsud is volunteering for Pakistan against India–Did I hear anything from Pakistan? Keeping quiet for Mehsud offer is taken as yes. Why is that Pakistan army is so hand in glove with terrorists–Pak Army-LeT in Kargil and now with Taliban.

@Americans are in recession because of crooked Wall Street and unnecessary waste of trillion dollars in Iraq. If they volunteer to send some money to Pakistan, that’s their choice.
-True about recession. But they are feeding you any way. You also have no choice that’s why you devise ways to invite aid and spend on promoting, rather than stopping terrorism. You are running towards the cliff and now along it and unless you turn, you will fall.

@The problem with civilian project is that unless you have security, they simply become a target and pressure tactic to be used against the govt, such as burning girls schools.
Hence Pakistan also needs to buy guns, tanks and planes from China to deal with threats, be they Taliban or Indians who violate Pakistani airspace.”"
–Thanks for the confession. Money is not for your protection against India but against terrorism and protecting civilian projects does not need planes and tanks, or does it? So as I said as responsible citizen ask your govt to spend the money against not for terrorism. Get your army guys trained from The Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Mizoram, India. US guys go there. That will be better use of the money. We were after all one, before Pak divide into 2 and now….

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

“Get your army guys trained from The Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Mizoram, India.”

Man i really laughed on this one,
Indian Army Jungle warfare training academy
Tarzan Brigade

I watched “Tango-Charlie” your guys jungles are really messed up man. I would hate to be roasted by some bodo or ULFA millitants.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive


Since you rehashed and re-worded your old post, I will rehash and re-word my old answer:

1. A statement by Baitullah Mehsud during Indo-Pak crisis shows that he a clever commander with regard to his constituency. In reality he has been taking money and arms from Afghanistan and committing violence inside Pakistan. The six Indian consulates in Afghanistan play a major role in this regard.

2. Americans voluntarily offer military and civilian aid to Pakistan since 2001. Between 1989 and 2001 they offered nothing. So its about what Americans want.

3. Please read before commenting. Civilian projects such as schools, bridges, roads, etc. can be targets for terrorists and foreign powers. We noted how Indian media was talking about bombing Skardu bridge during recent Mumbai crisis. Thats why you need all sorts of weaponry to safeguard against all sorts of threats.

Additionally we are not interested in your garbage school in Mizoram, whose graduates can’t stamp out insurgencies going on for 20+ years in various parts of India.


@Umair, Aamir Ali

You Paki’s talk a really tough game when it comes to India ,the U.S. and politics. When it comes to religious terrorism, you Pakis are complacent, mute and on many levels, to outsiders in Pakistan, quietly sympathize with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The world has not seen one Pakistani hold a protest sign against the Extremist Islamic Organizations in Pakistan.

Quit feeding us dung and vomit as you explain away the LeT, JuD as social organizations helping orphans and old people, just stop it, the world is tired of BS.

No citizens of Pakistan have changed their hearts against Extremist Islam, that same extremist Islam, which just killed 20 in Lahore and many more to come.

When will the average Pakistani face extremist militant Islam head-on and do the right thing?

The world generally does not believe average Pakistani’s care to fight extremist Islam, even after losing family members, police, army people and many innocents.

How many Pakistani’s must die? How many children are Pakistani’s willing to sacrifice to Militant Islam to that it may pervert their minds to do Terrorism on Pakistan and kill their fellow muslims?

Is this what Pakistan has become? afraid, complacent, sympathetic to terrorists and still blaming the killings on non-muslims, even after muslims themselves pull the trigger or suicide vest and are even caught in most cases?

On a more delightful note, I was just watching BBC, and India is the only country on the Earth, which is going to have a positive economic growth, while the World Economy is to retract and go backwards.

Pakistan in a million years, will never achieve what India has and will for the future, if it carries on, in its present course.

Pakistan’s current situation is the fault of the collective actions and thoughts of its citizens.

Just remember, I have yet to see mass upheaval and protests against Extremist Islam in Pakistan. We have yet to see anything even remotely resembling this. I doubt we will from a country of Extremist Islam Cowards and Extremist Islam Sympathizers. Please start the anti-extremist Islam movement in your Mosques, show leadership.

God Bless Mukhtara Mai and Suleman Maniya,Goteborg,Sweden

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Global watcher
Dont you lecture us Pakistanis on human rights morality and demacracy while your great incredible India has 25 % of population consisting of Dalit low caste hindus living a miserable life in poverty, while you are still fighting hunger, TB and AIDS rampant in India like Sub-Saharan Africa.
Someone really need to show you the mirror. and yes, the BBC never reported Indian presence in G20 summit in London, dont tell me India registeringn strong economic growth.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

And yeah I forgot to shed some light on millitant hinduism, those goons VHP, RSS, BJP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena who burnt Australian missionaries, killed christians in Orrissa, massacred muslims in Gujrat. Would yo ulike to come up with some explanantion of the communal strife that India is known internationally? If India is a secular country, why is it refered to sometimes as Hindustan? (Land of the hindus).
Rise up against millitant hinduism Global watcher, it will dent image as a modern progressive country.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive t-article&id=7

Lineage of Extremism in Pakistani Society

A must read.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

@I watched “Tango-Charlie” your guys jungles are really messed up man. I would hate to be roasted by some bodo or ULFA millitants.

Let us refresh your memory as a sortie: “Ask your Pakistani army of 1965 and Gem Niazi of 1971—they all know Indian Army is too hot to handle.” OVER.
Now about counterinsurgency training, I am talking about real life not movies—you are too absorbed with Indian movies. Just get your guys trained and kill the monster babies you created in Af-pak-oops-Pak-Af. Don’t worry about NE militants—it takes an Indian to kill certain terrorists. If you need more information about CIJWS—check with Aamir—he has been there since he found the school garbage.
Sorry Umair: I did not know that I am talking to someone who tarzan jumps and monkey crawl for buying milk across the street as a routine.

Aamir: Taliban is giving you free poppy for hallucination into fabricating conspiracy theory. Was it hand-delivered by Mehsud to check the effect?

And both of you how many such training schools Pakistan has or any army Unit fit for training? Reports said ZERO, so as a neighbor was concerned. We vote for your IMF money and will support you for wiping out the terrorism also. I just saw pathetic state of security of Pakistan—terrorist walking away from the middle of the cities after grilling and swallowing 6 Paki police guys and another attack the same month, and the classic kneel down by your army in SWAT. Felt you need guerilla warfare tarining and we have and were one bros—just old bonds made me suggest this to you.

Motto of CIJWS is “fight the guerrilla as a guerrilla”.
Motto of Pak Army: Kneel down to Taliban or other guerilla, better on all fours.

The Counter Insurgency Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) is Indian Army chief Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Sam Manekshaw’s idea. CIJWS was hailed as, “the most amazing military training facility anywhere,” by a U.S. Green Beret sent to the school for a training program that included urban terrorism. CIJWS has emerged as a primer anti-terrorism training institute since its official establishment in 1970, and has trained over 159,000 soldiers, including 1,500 soldiers from 26 countries as diverse as US, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Nepal Malaysia, Indonesia. Chinese are expected soon as are many from other parts of the world. Pakistani Army in 1971 had the first hand experience of the trainees of the school. Now these are all facts.
This is open for any crap (discussion is misfit here) from either of you.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

@Umair, while the Indians provide valid links, you provide links to more ISI and Pak propaganda, you like to pass off as valid info.

Quite laughable.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Umair wrote:
@I watched “Tango-Charlie” your guys jungles are really messed up man. I would hate to be roasted by some bodo or ULFA millitants.

So you judge an army from their movies ?

You hate to get roasted by ULFA, you sure will love to get beheaded by Talibans for wearing a salwar not hiking above ankles.

You guys have lost your sanity.

Posted by punjabiyaar | Report as abusive

Umair/ Aamir,

You come from the land where the Police/ Military after winning a battel FIRE IN THE AIR to express happiness…. really cool… most professional forces do not do this gesture. This goes to show how closely you guys are linked to Talibans….

After all Taliban also pledged its support to Pakistan when they faced a military strike from India. So the world know who trains who in Pakistan.

Posted by Tushar | Report as abusive

Look Rajeev
Dont take it too seriously, I was trying to be humurous with your jungle warfare comment.

It should be a matter of honour for you guys if you have such a training school in your country. Just as we Pakistanis are damn proud of our daring SSG-Special Services Group officers. x8

Pakistan army’s elite SSG commandos marching on 23rd march parade.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Look Rajeev
Dont take it too seriously, I was trying to be humurous with your jungle warfare comment.
-posted by Umair:

Umair: I can let the humor fly against The movie but not the serious stuff- so was just entertaining it appropriately.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive


Our police did a better job in defeating terrorists in a few hours than your commandos did in defeating some teenagers in 3 days.


Our police did a better job in defeating terrorists in a few hours than your commandos did in defeating some teenagers in 3 days.
- Posted by Aamir Ali

–”defeating terrorists”—-and what’s your defnition of the defeat—that they walked away in broad day light.

Congratulations for defeating the terrorists!!! you are the future of Pakistan–it was a joke.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive


Which terrorist from the Police academy walked away ? Most of them were killed and some captured in a few hours.

In contrast your bigshot commandos spent 3 days fighting terrorists in Mumbai and ultimately triumphed because of their exhaustion.


Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see