In Pakistan, making sense of the “do more” mantra

May 19, 2010

damadola2White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones and CIA director Leon Panetta are visiting Pakistan to step up pressure on militant groups following this month’s failed car-bombing in New York’s Times Square. But what specifically do they want from Pakistan in what has now become a familiar “do more” mantra from the U.S. administration?  That, as yet, is not entirely clear.

The Washington Post and the New York Times quoted unnamed administration officials as saying Jones and Panetta would press Pakistan to step up its military action against Pakistani and Afghan Taliban militants based in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“Officials say the administration has been pleased so far with Pakistani cooperation in the investigation (into the failed Times Square bombing), which has focused on any role insurgent groups there might have played in helping to train and otherwise assist bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad,” the Washington Post reported. ”But officials said that Jones and Panetta intend to reiterate to the Pakistanis the importance that the administration places on more aggressive military action against groups allied with al Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.”

The New York Times quoted a senior administration official as saying that General Jones would not threaten the Pakistanis, but would convey the risks to the country’s relationship with the United States if a deadly terrorist attack originated there. He planned to prod them to take tougher steps against the Taliban and other insurgent groups, the newspaper quoted the official as saying.

“While General Jones’s specific requests were not clear,” according to the newspaper, “the senior administration official said he might ask Pakistan’s military to push harder into North Waziristan, the main base for the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and other militant groups.”

“There is creeping frustration,” it quoted the administration official as saying.  “Some people are asking, ‘Why are they not going into North Waziristan?’ ” Among the other possible American requests, it said, were more intense surveillance of suspected terrorists and allowing more American military advisers to operate in Pakistan. The United States is also proposing to open a new consulate in Quetta, in southwestern Pakistan, where the C.I.A. would likely have a sizable presence.

The Pakistan Army says it is already stretched fighting in other parts of the tribal areas and is reluctant to rush into a new offensive in North Waziristan until it has consolidated its gains elsewhere.  It launched a major operation in South Waziristan last year, and is now engaged in heavy fighting in Orakzai to the north after clearing out other tribal areas.  As a result it is slowly tightening a noose around North Waziristan.  (The Long War Journal has a good map showing where Orakzai is in relation to North Waziristan.)

The army’s view on North Waziristan seems to have won some sympathy from the U.S. military, whose recent language on Pakistan has tended to be more conciliatory than that of non-military officials in the U.S. administration.  “They have a plan, and they have been executing this plan the way that he (Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani) originally first laid this out to some of us over 18 months ago,” U.S. General David Petraeus told the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There’s a bit of misperception that the Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps have not conducted operations in North Waziristan. In fact they have,” he added. ”… what the army leadership has pointed out — is that there won’t be a bulldozer-like operation, there wouldn’t be a D-Day kind of affair as they carried out in eastern South Waziristan and as they’ve carried out to a degree in Orakzai and some of the agencies. Rather, what they would have is a series of targeted operations that indeed they have carried out, and that over time as they would be able to consolidate the gains in these other areas they would be able to expand the security umbrella into North Waziristan as well.”

In a Washington-datelined article,  Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper quoted an unnamed official as saying the Americans were not asking for an offensive in North Waziristan.

Before flying out of Washington on Monday night, the newspaper said, General Jones spoke with Pakistan’s Ambassador Husain Haqqani and discussed with him the outlines of a message they were carrying from President Barack Obama. The basic concept was the same as that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who warned that Pakistani would face “very severe consequences” if an attack on the United States, planned on the Pakistani soil, were to succeed.

“But the tone of the new message is different. Instead of threatening Pakistanis with severe consequences, the two senior officials are telling their Pakistani interlocutors that if an attack planned in Pakistan succeeded, no U.S. administration will be able to control the American public opinion. To avoid such a situation, they are offering to work with the Pakistanis for stamping out the groups that recruit overseas Pakistanis and other Muslims for carrying out terrorist attacks,” it said.

“There’s no threat, no do-mores or if-nots,” it quoted an official familiar with the new U.S. approach as saying. “The message is: Let’s take our cooperation to the next level and work together to obliterate this threat.”

Echoing a point made by the New York Times,  Dawn also said the Americans were worried about how Shahzad was apparently able to make contact with people in Pakistan and then travel to North Waziristan and back without drawing the attention of Pakistani intelligence services.

So will the visit lead to better intelligence-sharing? More surveillance? More equipment – including helicopters – to help the Pakistanis to fight in the tribal areas?  None of those are a game-changer. But then again, as Bruce Riedel argues here, U.S. options on Pakistan are fairly limited. Perhaps more limited than those who would like a quick solution care to imagine.

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