Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
There has been much hesitation in the world’s media about how to label U.S. military action inside Pakistan’s borders, including a reported ground raid and a series of missile strikes. Do you call it an “invasion”? Or use the more innocuous-sounding “intervention”? In an editorial, the Washington Post gives it a name which is rather striking in its directness. It calls it quite simply, The War in Pakistan.
President George W. Bush’s reported decision in July to step up attacks by U.S. forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the newspaper says, was both necessary and long overdue. It acknowledges there is a risk the strikes might prompt a breach between the U.S. and Pakistani armies, or destabilize the new civilian government in Pakistan. But, it says, ”no risk to Pakistan’s political system or its U.S. relations is greater than that of a second 9/11 staged from the tribal territories. U.S. missile and commando attacks must be backed by the best intelligence and must minimize civilian casualties. But they must continue.”
Others are lining up to condemn the new U.S. strategy in Pakistan.
“The Americans are probably right in claiming that Al-Qaeda and the Taleban have regrouped and using bases in Pakistan to launch cross-border raids into Afghanistan,” says Saudi-based Arab News. “They are certainly right in thinking that there will be no peace in Afghanistan while that remains the case. But they have to let the Pakistanis deal with this. If they continue the raids, they risk not merely losing what dwindling support they have in Pakistan but, far worse, alienating the country so thoroughly than no government even vaguely sympathetic to the US and the West can survive there.”
Pakistan’s Daily Times takes this argument further by suggesting that if public opinion turns even more against the United States, “the country will become more vulnerable to Al Qaeda and we will face unpredictable odds. According to nuclear theory, Pakistan is a nuclear power and cannot be attacked. If the US attacks Pakistani territory, battles with the Pakistan army, stops military assistance to Pakistan, and thus ends up making Al Qaeda supreme in Pakistan, the nuclear theory might then apply to Al Qaeda.”
Following up on yesterday’s post about U.S. military action in Pakistan, I see the New York Times is reporting that President George W. Bush secretly approved orders in July allowing American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government.
The new orders, it says, relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without permission.
Pakistani officials say U.S.-led helicopter-borne troops launched a ground assault on a Pakistani village near the Afghan border on Wednesday, killing 20 people. The raid, in the South Waziristan tribal area, was the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S.-led troops since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The resignation of President Pervez Musharraf has, as expected, unleashed a new power struggle within Pakistan’s fractious coalition. Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and widower of Benazir Bhutto, has staked a claim to the presidency, setting him on a collision course with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) sees Zardari’s candidacy as an attempt to garner more power and delay the restoration of judges sacked by Musharraf last November. PML (N) officials are already saying the row could break up the six-month-old coalition cobbled together after elections in February.
So will there be a fight to the finish between Zardari and Sharif that will drag Pakistan deeper into the mire? Or are the two men simply manoeuvring themselves into the best position they can find in the post-Musharraf era?
Last week the Canadians were soul-searching about their presence in Afghanistan after three female aid workers, two of them Canadian, were killed in an ambush. ”(The) Canadian deaths in Afghanistan underscore the most troubling aspect of the West’s strategy there,” said the Toronto Star. “Put simply, it isn’t working.”
Now it is the turn of the French to ask the same questions after the deaths of 10 French soldiers in a battle with Taliban fighters: What is happening in Afghanistan? Or, for some, what are we doing there?
Given how little many people in the west seem to know about Pakistan — at most that it has nuclear weapons and, possibly, Osama bin Laden; rarely that it has 165 million people (not too far off three times the population of Britain) with individual day-to-day challenges of earning a living and bringing up children like anywhere else – it’s encouraging to see the range of debate in the U.S. blogosphere after President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation.
Here are just a few that caught my eye, in no particular order, and with apologies in advance to anyone I’ve mislabelled as U.S.-based:
As far as a strategy for Afghanistan is concerned, it’s a long shot. Bring peace to India and Pakistan and not only will that stabilise Pakistan but it will also ease tensions in Afghanistan. Indeed it’s such a long shot that it has not been considered as a serious policy option. That was until last month’s bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.
A spate of allegations that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was involved in the bombing has forced India-Pakistan rivalry back onto centre-stage. This is not just about India and Pakistan, or so the argument goes. Their rivalry is undermining U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban since the ISI is maintaining links with Islamist militants to counter Indian influence in the region. And Pakistan’s denial of involvement in the embassy attack has done little to quell the speculation.
Why now? Until this week, the ISI was an acronym for Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, that was little known outside of South Asia. Now it’s all over the American media as the organisation accused of secretly helping Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the country it works for is a crucial ally in the U.S. battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The New York Times led the charge by reporting that the CIA had confronted Pakistan over what it called deepening ties between members of the ISI and militant groups responsible for a surge in violence in Afghanistan. It followed it up with a story quoting U.S. government officials blaming the ISI for an attack last month on the Indian embassy in Kabul. The Washington Post and TIME, amongst others, ran similar stories.
With both U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain calling for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, there have been a slew of articles arguing this will at best not work and, at worst, fuel the insurgency.
The Financial Times quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former U.S. national security adviser and prominent supporter of Barack Obama, as saying the United States risks repeating the defeat suffered by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. “It is important for U.S. policy in general and for Obama more specifically to recognise that simply putting more troops into Afghanistan is not the entire solution,” he is quoted as saying.
In a country facing the triple challenges of economic crisis, political instability and Islamist militancy, the impact on individuals can be easy to overlook. Amnesty International has tried to redress part of this by publishing a report about the hundreds of people it says have disappeared in Pakistan as a result of counter-terrorism measures.
It urges the coalition government elected in February to act immediately to resolve all cases of enforced disappearance. “We don’t know if those subjected to enforced disappearances are guilty or innocent, but it is their fundamental right to be charged and tried properly in a court of law,” says Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific director.