Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Americans vote for Afghan troop surge, but Afghans differ

Photo

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.

What’s the reason for this support for American boots on the ground ? Is Afghanistan really the good war in a way that Iraq was not?

One clue could be found in another poll that Gallup did before the latest one. It showed that a majority of Americans believed that the war was going very or moderately badly for the United States in Afghanistan, continuing a trend that began in mid-2008. And fully 70 percent of those polled felt that the Taliban would re-take control if U.S. forces were withdrawn. So they likely view the decision to send more troops as unfortunate but necessary.

The curious tale of America’s Predators in Pakistan

Photo

America’s deadly Predator unmanned planes won’t go away from the skies above Pakistan’s troubled northwest, and the controversy over whether these aircraft operate from Pakistani soil only gets more intense.

Following a U.S. senator disclosure that the drones, which have wrecked such havoc and are the cause of much popular anger against the United States, were being flown from within the country, Pakistan’s The News conducted its own investigation.

Afghanistan’s military challenge

Photo

Herschel Smith at the Captain’s Journal has picked up on a presentation about the increasing sophistication of Taliban fighting, which he thinks ”should be considered the most important thing to come out of Afghanistan in the past two years.”  It’s very focused on the approach he says the U.S. military needs to adopt in response, but worth a read even by those not interested in army tactics.

The conclusion is striking:

“Iraq has allowed us to become tactically sloppy as the majority of fighters there are unorganized and poorly trained.  This is not the case in Afghanistan.  The enemy combatants here will exploit any mistake made by coalition forces with catastrophic results.  Complacency and laziness will result in mass causalities.”

Holbrooke in Pakistan: a sea change?

Photo

With Richard Holbrooke very much keeping his own counsel about his maiden visit to Pakistan, it’s been hard to assess quite how much change is to be expected from President Barack Obama’s new special envoy.

But a couple of early op-eds suggest that the change might be quite substantial. 

Afghanistan: the Great Name Game

Photo

Afghanistan is beginning to accumulate cliches. If it’s not “Obama’s Vietnam”, then it’s the “graveyard of empires”.  (The British press, never one to be bamboozled by the big picture, says it’s the end of bully beef for the troops.)

It is perhaps a measure of how little people really know about Afghanistan after more than seven years of war that such a complex conflict has to be simplified into labels.  Afghanistan’s history of defeating the British in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th century certainly lends itself to dramatic comparisons. But they are not entirely accurate. Britain’s failed Afghan campaign in 1838 was not the graveyard of the British empire — it went on to defeat the Sikhs and rule India for another 100 years.  And the Soviet Union’s disastrous occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 may simply have accompanied rather than precipitated the collapse of an empire that had been rotting from within years before Soviet troops reached Kabul. 

Afghan supply routes face setbacks in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan

Photo

U.S. efforts to improve supplies for its troops in Afghanistan just had a double setback after militants in northwest Pakistan severed the main supply route for western forces and Kyrgyzstan’s president said the United States must close its military base there.

Militants blew up a bridge on the Khyber Pass, cutting the supply route to western forces in Afghanistan and underscoring the need for the United States to seek alternative supply lines. The U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through Pakistan but has been looking at using other transit routes through Central Asia. Although Washington has been sketchy on the details of its plans, its Manas military airbase near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek has so far provided important logistical support for its operations in Afghanistan.  During a visit to Moscow, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure of the base, opened after the 9/11 attacks.  Bakiyev made the announcement after securing a $2 billion loan and a further $150 million in aid from Russia.

What does Pakistan want from U.S. envoy Holbrooke ?

Photo

Former Pakistan ambassador to London and Washington Maleeha
Lodhi has given a taste of what Richard Holbrooke can expect when
he makes his maiden visit to Islamabad next week in his new role as
President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and
Afghanistan.

She may have owed her diplomatic career to General Pervez Musharraf,  but being an ex-official does not mean she has lost touch.

The scramble for Central Asia

Photo

Central Asia is much in demand these days, whether as a transit route for U.S. and NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan or for its rich resources, including oil and gas.

So it’s worth noting that India has been hosting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as its guest of honour at its Republic Day celebrations while signing a bunch of trade deals in the process. According to reports in the Indian media, including in the Business Standardthe Week and the Times of India,  India is seeking supplies of uranium for its nuclear plants and access to Kazakhstan’s oil and gas and in return would be expected to support Kakazhstan’s bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation. (India’s state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) said on Saturday it had signed a deal to explore for oil and gas in Kazakhstan.)

Brinkmanship in South Asia

Photo

Pakistan said two Indian Air Force planes violated Pakistani airspace on Saturday, one along the Line of Control in  Kashmir and the other near Lahore  in Pakistan proper. Pakistani officials said Pakistani jets on patrol chased the Indians away and that the Indian Air Force, upon being contacted later, told them it had happened accidentally.

  The Indian Air Force, though, has told the media that none of its planes had violated Pakistani airspace.  There has been no official response from the Indian government.

America’s expanding war in Pakistan

Photo

U.S. military operations crossed another threshold in Pakistan this week when a Predator ‘drone’ aircraft fired missiles into Bannu area in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), away from the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas where it has conducted raids with impunity.

Attacking the self-governing and semi-autonomous FATA on the Afghan border, considered a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban,  is one thing. Targeting the North West Frontier Province, or settled areas as Pakistanis call it, is quite another.

  •