Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Much has been made of this week’s New York Times article accusing the Bush administration of allowing al Qaeda to rebuild in Pakistan’s tribal areas after it was chased out of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, not least because the White House took its eye off the ball as it turned its attention to Iraq.
“The United States faces a threat from al Qaeda today that is comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001,” the newspaper quotes Seth Jones, a Pentagon consultant and a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, as saying. ”The base of operations has moved only a short distance, roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia.”
Unsurprisingly, the article has been seized upon by the Obama campaign as evidence of the wisdom of the policies of Senator Barack Obama, who has argued that the real threat to the United States lay in Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than Iraq, and stirred controversy by saying 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”.
But what was surprising to me reading the article was how cautious the Bush administration was in its handling of Pakistan, in contrast to its pre-invasion approach to Iraq. The hunt for al Qaeda in Pakistan, the newspaper says, ”was often undermined by bitter disagreements within the Bush administration and within the C.I.A., including about whether American commandos should launch ground raids inside the tribal areas”. Rather than send in ground troops, the Counterterrorist Center at C.I.A. headquarters preferred to carry out raids remotely, usiing missile strikes by Predator drones.