Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
A former lieutenant-colonel in the Australian army and a senior adviser to U.S. General David Petraeus, he helped shape the “surge” policy that is widely credited with pulling Iraq back from the brink of chaos. He has just written a book entitled “The Accidental Guerrilla: fighting small wars in the midst of a big one” which closely examines insurgencies from Thailand and Indonesia to Afghanistan and Iraq, including what it takes to contain and quell them.
Far from being gung-ho or militaristic, Kilcullen takes an analytical approach, putting a heavy emphasis on the need for cultural and linguistic understanding. Without a deep appreciation of history, politics and anthropology, defeat is all but guaranteed in complex foreign lands even for the world’s mightiest of armies, he argues.
Which is why it was particularly notable what he said at a book launch in London this week.
The U.S. military has about 1.6 million personnel all told, from frontline troops to cooks and drivers. But there are just 6,000 foreign service officers in the U.S. State Department, he said. That’s about 260 soldiers to each diplomat, a far higher ratio than in any other major military in the world, according to Kilcullen.
An overwhelming majority of Americans support President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, according to a Gallup poll this week. It said 65 percent approved the measure, with support among Republicans hitting 75 percent, making it one of the rare policy decisions where a president gets greater backing from those who identify with an opposing political party than his own.
And in a still greater boost for his young presidency, 77 percent of those who voted for the surge said they would also approve if Obama decided to send another 13,000 troops to Afghanistan as many expect after a regional policy review.
Pakistan and its nuclear weapons are back in the centre of the U.S. foreign policy frame as a steady stream of reports from think tanks and newspapers build the case for President-elect Barack Obama to recognise and act urgently with regard to the potential threat from the troubled state.
The New York Times Magazine in an extensive article headlined Obama’s Worst Pakistan Nighmare says the biggest fear is not Islamist militants taking control of the border regions. It’s what happens if the country’s nuclear arsenal falls into the wrong hands. And it then takes a trip to the Chaklala garrison where the headquarters of Strategic Plans Division, the branch of the Pakistani government charged with protecting its growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, are located and led by Khalid Kidwai, a former army general.
It seems that everyone is talking about shoes these days, so much so that I expect the expression “to throw a shoe” will soon acquire a meaning far broader than the original incident.
According to The News in a report from Rawalpindi, “the episode of hurling shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush remained talk of the town, as people belonging to different walks of life expressed their extreme excitement over the incident and praised the ‘brave act’ of the Iraqi journalist. ‘The News’ interviewed a number of people who were all praise for Iraqi journalist Muntazar al-Zaidi…” it said.
The shoe-throwing has also fired the imagination of the Pakistan blogosphere, providing a perhaps welcome respite to discussion about the extent of Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai attacks. Changing up Pakistan (CHUP) has matched up a YouTube video of Bush in Baghdad with footage of protesters hitting a former chief minister of Sindh province with a sandal.
Does the financial crisis mark the beginning of the end of American global dominance? And if so, what would the decline of American power mean for Afghanistan and Pakistan? It’s early days yet, but here are a few themes that are emerging from the maelstrom.
If you put aside the many arguments over whether the Americans were, or were not, guilty of latter-day imperialism, you can find consensus on two main points: that the U.S. model of free-market capitalism has been sorely challenged by the financial crisis; and that America’s reputation as a military superpower has been tarnished by its less-than-successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Update – Since filing this blog, Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has said he is pulling out of the peace deal with the government after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands on the Afghan border. So were the sceptics right all along? And what does this mean for the government’s new strategy?
On the same subject, here is an interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor comparing Pakistan’s policy to that of the United States in Iraq. “Americans can hardly complain that Pakistan is on the verge of a deal with jihadists,” it says. “The US has already done a similar deal with Iraqi Sunni terrorists. In both cases, a prime goal is simply to isolate Al Qaeda.”
The United States, beginning with President George W. Bush himself, has this past two weeks trained its crosshairs on Pakistan, warning that another Sept. 11, if it were to happen, would most likely not be plotted out of Iraq, Afghanistan or even Iran, but Pakistan.
Like the steady drumbeat that has often preceded major moves by the administration, the threat from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, considered the home of the top ranks of al Qaeda, has been articulated from the White House, at Congressional hearings and abroad.