Posts Tagged ‘pakistan taliban’
Following the siege on Pakistan’s naval airbase in Karachi, the voices calling for isolating or punishing Pakistan are growing ever louder. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.
From what has been revealed thus far, it is probably true that the militants penetrated the high-security naval facility with insider information; and perhaps even assistance from ex-servicemen or serving military personnel. This pattern of jihadist activity supported by elements of the Pakistani state is deeply troubling and all too familiar, given the recent killing of Osama bin Laden by American forces less than two miles from a prestigious military academy and sixty miles from the capital. The incident is also worrying because it illustrates that jihadists seem increasingly bent on targeting crucial parts of the Pakistani state, which raises questions about the security of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
Despite all this, those calling for the United States to isolate Pakistan, cut off assistance, or strong-arm Pakistan into ‘neutralizing’ its nuclear arsenal (whatever that means), are wrong. Like it or not, history has shown us that sanctions and isolation towards Pakistan only exacerbate mistrust, increase anti-Americanism and deepen Islamabad’s insecurity and consequent reliance on jihadist groups.
Furthermore, as others have argued, the jihadist strategy in Pakistan is designed to create the perception that the country’s security forces are unable to protect an increasingly failed state, thereby prompting the United States to increase its own military footprint in the country and increase pressure on Islamabad. This would further fan the flames of anti-Americanism, fill the ranks of jihadist groups and commit Washington to yet another quagmire. The United States should not take the bait, even if some hotheads inadvertently are.
A more nuanced strategy for the US in Pakistan needs to begin with a firm grasp of Washington’s interests in Pakistan and South Asia more generally. Washington not only wants to avoid Pakistan serving as a base for terrorist groups to attack the US or an actor in further illicit WMD proliferation, but sees its future economic and political development and further cooperation with India as a crucial part of a stable South Asian region. Realizing these interests requires an approach that achieves balance in geographic focus, time horizon and dimension. If the elements of the strategy outlined below seem trite, that is because they are. Most reports on US-Pakistan relations (see for example here and here) contain roughly the same recommendations, and there is a risk that they oversimplify complex policy problems and complicated ground realities. They are nonetheless worth noting to ensure the right mindset moving forward.
Simply put, the strategy the US should pursue in Pakistan has three parts: contain extremism; construct a long-term relationship with Pakistan; and create the space for regional peace and development.
First, the US should help Pakistan contain extremism to ensure that it does not act as a breeding ground for terrorist attacks in the US, cause a collapse or severe disruption of the Pakistani state, undermine the security of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal, or stoke tensions and potential conflict with India. Given the divisions within the Pakistani state, divergent interests and deep distrust between the US and Pakistan, and the dominance of anti-Americanism in the country, this will likely be pursued through a range of alternatives, including military assistance, information-sharing, targeted drone strikes and and other covert or clandestine operations.
Second, the seeds must be sown for a broader long-term partnership between the US and Pakistan to promote trust and to further the interests of both countries. Potential avenues for cooperation should include new initiatives such as an agreement in US Congress to grant preferential market access to Pakistani textiles, increasing IMET program opportunities for Pakistani military officers, and reforming the way US assistance is disbursed and the programs it targets so that is is more transparent and effective.
Third, since the roots of jihadist extremism lie in Pakistan’s insecurities vis-a-vis other countries in its neighborhood (eg. the potential threat of a two front war with India and Afghanistan), any sustainable solution needs to have a strong regional component. That includes trying to foster peace between India and Pakistan, continuing to forge a strong partnership with India, and encouraging greater regional economic cooperation.
Perhaps most critically, even as it draws down from Afghanistan, Washington must ensure that the Afghan security forces are adequately equipped, and that political reform is sufficiently broad-based, in order to prevent civil war or the return of a Taliban-dominated state that could further destabilize Pakistan and lead to conflict between New Delhi and Islamabad. While policymakers are quick to point out that spending billions of dollars a month in Afghanistan is not sustainable for the United States, they should also remember that neglecting Afghanistan is not a sustainable solution either, since that approach in the 1980s turned the country into a breeding ground for terrorism and led to September 11. And while it is easy to be pessimistic about Afghanistan, there is growing evidence that pursuing negotiation may be a workable option, and that Afghans are feeling more positive about their country than they did in past.
In David Ignatius’ new work of fiction, Bloodmoney, the director general of Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Mohammed Malik, muses about how Americans’ specialty is lying to themselves. The seething resentment toward Pakistan and the knee-jerk aversion to further resource commitments in the AfPak region in Washington may prevent the United States from pursuing a multi-dimensional, long-term strategy in Pakistan today. But US policymakers should not mislead themselves into thinking that anything short of such an approach will fix a fraught US-Pakistan relationship and lead to a more stable South Asia tomorrow.
Christine Fair has a decent article out quibbling with the claims of those opposed to U.S. drone airstrikes in Pakistan.
The data so often cited by counterinsurgency experts and drone opponents like David Kilcullen and Andrew M. Exum, Ms. Fair argues, is bogus and lacks independent verification since the only publicly available civilian casualty figures come from the Pakistani Taliban, who then feed it to the story-hungry Pakistani press.
No one has independently verified the Taliban’s reports — journalists cannot travel to FATA to confirm the deaths, and the CIA will not even acknowledge the drone program exists, much less discuss its results. But high-level Pakistani officials have conceded to me that very few civilians have been killed by drones and their innocence is often debatable. U.S. officials who are knowledgeable of the program report similar findings. In fact, since January 1 there has not been one confirmed civilian casualty from drone strikes in FATA.
She also claims that drone opponents conflate drone attacks in Pakistan (which are meticulously pre-planned, intelligence-led attacks) with air strikes in Afghanistan (where troops call for air support and sometimes get firepower much greater than they actually need), and confuse different kinds of air strikes within Afghanistan.
And while admitting that these drone strikes do have the potential to inflict collateral damage, Ms. Fair argues (quite rightly, in my view), that it is the least bad option compared to relying entirely on the Pakistanis, who have no police in FATA to arrest terrorists, and whose army, now in its 13th month of sustained combat, has done little to sap insurgent strength despite massive civilian displacement. Besides, the Pakistani government’s opposition to drones may just be an act of political theatre:
Pakistan’s government makes a big show of opposing the strikes, but it’s not much more than political theater. In fact, the United States secured permission to launch strikes from then President Pervez Musharraf in 2006 — Musharraf was adamant at the time that the strikes be confined to the FATA and they have been. Musharraf also warned U.S. President George W. Bush beforehand that Pakistani military and civilian officials alike would protest the strikes, out of domestic political necessity — it was nothing personal. Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Barack Obama have inherited this combination of operating agreements and kabuki politics.
All this may be right, but what matters more to drone opponents, as Andrew Exum rightly counters, is not what the CIA or the Pakistani government says behind closed doors, but what Pakistani civilians perceive, since they are most likely to be radicalized (or become “accidental guerillas”, in Kilcullen-speak).
In this regard, both Mr. Exum and Ms. Fair agree to a certain extent on the solution. Ms. Fair urges the Obama administration to quit denying the fact that it is conducting drone strikes and provide evidence about what they have produced thus far, and conduct a cost-benefit assessment of the policy. Mr. Exum calls for a policy aimed at convincing Pakistani civilians that the policy works, rather than Americans, as well as better data on what they think (though this, as Ms. Fair notes, is quite difficult). Ms. Fair concludes powerfully:
Until the U.S. government owns these attacks and presents information about their outcomes, at best unreliable and at worst fabricated civilian casualties figures will dominate the drone debate.