One of the most interesting things in Bob Woodward’s re-telling of the Afghan war strategy in his book “Obama’s Wars” is the approach toward Pakistan. It seems the Obama administration figured out pretty early on in its review that Pakistan was going to be the central batttleground, for this is where the main threat to America came from.
Indeed, the mission in Afghanistan was doomed so long as al Qaeda and the Taliban were sheltered in the mountains of northwest Pakistan straddling the Afghan border. The question was how do you deal with Pakistan?
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stocks rose on Friday as stronger-than expected economic data from China and the United States boosted confidence in the global economic recovery.
U.S. Treasury prices slipped as investors turned to stocks and the dollar held steady after dropping to an eight-month low against a basket of currencies the previous day.
Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars” is making waves for laying bare the policy divisions and the personality clashes within the administration over the U.S. President’s Afghan policy. The author, according to the excerpts published by the New York Times and the Washington Post ahead of the book’s release next week, exposes the colliding egos of senior political and military figures in even more stark detail than Rolling Stone‘s profile of General Stanley McChrystal that cost the U.S. commander his job.
But what may turn out to be even more explosive in the theatre where America’s longest war is being waged is the revelation that the CIA is running a 3,000-strong Afghan army to carry out clandestine operations in not just Afghanistan, but more importantly over the border in Pakistan. The idea that an Afghan army is fighting al Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistan is not something that Islamabad can tolerate easily. Or at least the public disclosure of it.
A furious debate has raged for several months now whether it makes sense for the United States to throw tens of thousands of soldiers at a handful of al Qaeda that remain in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, nine years after launching the global war on terrorism.
CIA director Leon Panetta told ABC News in June thatal-Qaeda’s presencein Afghanistan was now “relatively small … I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100.” And in nextdoor Pakistan, arguably the more dangerous long-term threat, there were about 300 al Qaeda leaders and fighters, officials separately estimated.
While Pakistan’s devastating floods may have set back the army’s campaign against militants, the US drone war in the northwest is unabated. Indeed America may have just stepped up the deadly attacks, if the first 12 days of this month are any indication. At least nine attacks have already been carried out in what may well turn out to the most active month since the U.S. military began drone strikes against members of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan in 2004. On Sunday there was a fresh air strike in North Waziristan in which five suspected militants were killed, intelligence officials said.
The most active month recorded so far was January 2010, with the US launching 11 strikes in Pakistan in the aftermath of the suicide attack on a US combat outpost in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer, according to the Long War Journal which tracks the drone campaign.
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Trade between India and China is booming but diplomatic ties have become increasingly fraught over an unsettled border, the disputed Kashmir region and the competing global aspirations of the world’s most populous nations.
China is seeking to expand its influence in South Asia and could use India’s “soft underbelly” of Kashmir to box it in, a newspaper quoted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as saying, a rare public criticism of his giant neighbor.
For all the talk of seeking a political settlement of the Afghan war with the involvement of the Taliban, it has not been clear even broadly what a final deal will look like. Will the Taliban, who control or exercise influence over large parts of the country, take charge in Kabul ? Will the United States simply and fully withdraw all its forces from the country? What happens to President Hamid Karzai who has been actively seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamists ? What about the regional powers, not just Pakistan which obviously will play a central role because of its ties to the Taliban, but also Iran and India, both with rising stakes there along with the Russians and the Chinese to a lesser extent ?
Selig Harrison, director of the Asia programme at the Center for International Policy, explores some of these questions in a must-read piece in Foreign Policy headlined “How to leave Afghanistan without Losing.”
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has once again spoken of the danger of hardline Islamists exploiting the misery of the flood-affected to promote their cause, which must be cause for worry for security forces in not just Pakistan but over the border in Afghanistan as well, fed by the same militant fervour. Zardari called it the ” ideal hope of the radical” that the floods would discredit Pakistan’s government and warned that some of these extremist groups aimed to scoop up orphaned children and “create them into robots.”
Such fears, though, didn’t stop Zardari from proceeding on a heavily criticised foreign tour just as the flooding was getting worse, even though that was exactly the sort of thing that would fuel public anger and hand the initiative to the Islamist groups.
Pakistan’s catastrophic flood continues to boggle the mind, both in terms of the human tragedy and the damage it has inflicted on a fragile, unstable country. One official has likened the disaster to the cyclone that devastated what was once East Pakistan, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to its secession and the birth of Bangladesh.
Not even that spectre, raised by Pakistan’s ambassador to Britain, can however dent the steadfast hostility between India and Pakistan. For a full three weeks as the floods worked their way through the spine of Pakistan from the turbulent northwest to Sindh in the south, Islamabad made frantic appeals to the international community not to ignore the slow-moving disaster, and instead help it with emergency aid, funds. But next-door India, best-placed to mount a relief effort probably more because of the geography than any special skill at emergency relief, was kept at arm’s length. An Indian aid offer of $5 million, which itself came after some hesitation and is at best modest,was lying on the table for days before Pakistan accepted it. ”There are a lot of sensitivities between India and Pakistan … but we are considering it very seriously,” a Pakistani embassy spokesman told our reporter in New Delhi earlier this week. Things appeared to have moved faster only after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani expressing sympathy and reminding him of the offer of aid. Millions of Pakistans meanwhile continued to struggle for food.