Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

With some time having elapsed since Bhutto’s assassination where we can consider the implications of Pakistani politics, it is good to rehearse where the U.S. stands in the global war on extremist militants.  Regarding Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, I commented:

I have said before that ”counterinsurgency in Pakistan begins in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan / Afghanistan border. Unless and until we devote the troops and effect the force projection to let the people in these AOs know that we are serious about the campaign, there will be no success.”  I have advocated more troops in the Afghanistan campaign for the simple reason that not only must we win in Afghanistan, we have an unmitigated opportunity to kill Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan where we are not dealing with issues of sovereignty of Pakistan.  In other words, we have the best of all possible worlds in the current campaign in Afghanistan (similar to the campaign in Iraq, although this is waning somewhat due to Iraqi sovereignty).  We can fight international jihadists with the full approval of the administration and for the most part without the overhead of issues of national sovereignty.

This campaign, once shown to be successful, can then be expanded into Pakistan with the tacit approval of the Pakistani government (i.e., small incursions and concealed operations, expanded to larger operations if the need and approval were forthcoming).  Here is where the administration of Pakistan is important.  Musharraf is likely an American ally only to the extent that he believed Richard Armitage when it was said to him that the U.S. would enjoy his cooperation or Pakistan would be “bombed back to the stone age” (the words as reported by Musharraf himself).  Bhutto, on the other hand, would have been a willing participant in the global war on religious militancy, and is said to have desired international assistance in the Pakistan counterinsurgency campaign: “If Bhutto returns to power this week, Gauhar predicts the U.S. will finally get what Musharraf has refused it: “She will allow NATO boots on the ground in our tribal areas and a chance to neuter our nuclear weapons.”

In the days following the assassination, many have weighed in on Bhutto’s financial indiscretions and other examples of malfeasance as Prime Minister.  One of the most significant critiques has come from the always interesting Ralph Peters at the New York Post.  He is even more frank and forthcoming on his feelings in a recent commentary for The Australian.

For the next several days you’re going to read and hear a great deal of pious nonsense in the wake of the assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Her country is better off without her. She may serve Pakistan better after her death than she did in life.

We don’t need to have sympathy with her Islamist assassin and the extremists behind him to recognise that Bhutto was corrupt, divisive, dishonest and utterly devoid of genuine concern for her country.

She was a splendid con, persuading otherwise cynical Western politicians and hard-headed journalists that she was not only a brave woman crusading in the Islamic wilderness but also a thoroughbred democrat.

In fact, Bhutto was a frivolously wealthy feudal landlord amid bleak poverty. The scion of a thieving political dynasty, she was always more concerned with power than with the wellbeing of the average Pakistani.

Her program remained one of old-school patronage, not increased productivity or social decency.

Educated in expensive Western schools, she permitted Pakistan’s feeble education system to rot, opening the door to Islamists and their religious schools.

During her years as prime minister, Pakistan went backwards, not forwards. Her husband looted shamelessly and ended up fleeing the country, pursued by the courts. The Islamist threat, which she artfully played both ways, spread like cancer.

Peters ends his scathing rebuke of Bhutto and those who lament her passing by observing that “A creature of insatiable ambition, Bhutto will become a martyr. In death, she may pay back some of the enormous debt she owes her country.”

Perhaps.  But a careful reading of my analysis proves that it is entirely pragmatic.  I have long said regarding the parliamentary system in Iraq that one serious flaw in the preliminary stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the naive belief in the healing powers of democracy.  Democracy is itself produced by a society, and produces nothing.  It is a deliverance of people and their value system, not vice versa.  Said in another way, it cannot effect change.  It is itself an affect or product.  Given Iraqi history and culture, there might have been no good options, but democracy does not seem to have helped.

This same belief in the powers of democracy has caused the U.S. administration to support Bhutto, and Ralph Peters is correct in his diagnosis of her abilities to conjure up an image of peace and stability in Pakistan with the American elite.  However, involvement in the politics of Pakistan should not cloud the analysis, and has not entered into mine.  From the perspective of an American commentator and analyst, the primary concern should be the strategic interests of America, both short term and long term.  Democracy should be supported in Pakistan only to the extent that it is a catalyst of peace and stability and thus in the strategic interests of the U.S.  As to its benefits to long term stability, I have my doubts, but there is no short term advantage.

For my previous analysis, democracy in Pakistan and malfeasance of previous administrations didn’t fit into the equation.  Bhutto, it seems, would have allowed incursions of U.S. troops into Pakistan, and even further – NATO boots on the ground, formally and officially.  It seems difficult to fake this, as it was a major plank in her platform.  The situation in Pakistan is difficult and tenuous, and may devolve into chaos.  But assuming the restoration of stability at some point, the U.S. administration should see this as a gracious and providential warning shot over the bow.

The campaign in Afghanistan remains the first front of the counterinsurgency campaign in Pakistan.  Karachi, with a population of over 14 million people, and Lahore, with a population of over 10 million people, are larger than Fallujah by a factor 20 to 30.  Counterinsurgency in these cities would cost the U.S. armed forces on the order of tens of thousands of dead and more than one hundred thousand wounded – prohibitive to say the least.  But given that Pakistan is a nuclear state with assets that could fall into jihadist hands, the salient question is how to proceed short of such an awful campaign.

Again, the answer is in Afghanistan, where the campaign there is inextricably tied to counterinsurgency in Pakistan.

President Bush held an emergency meeting of his top foreign policy aides yesterday to discuss the deepening crisis in Pakistan, as administration officials and others explored whether Thursday’s assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto marks the beginning of a new Islamic extremist offensive that could spread beyond Pakistan and undermine the U.S. war effort in neighboring Afghanistan.

U.S. officials fear that a renewed campaign by Islamic militants aimed at the Pakistani government, and based along the border with Afghanistan, would complicate U.S. policy in the region by effectively merging the six-year-old war in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s growing turbulence.

“The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably tied,” said J. Alexander Thier, a former United Nations official in Afghanistan who is now at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

U.S. military officers and other defense experts do not anticipate an immediate impact on U.S. operations in Afghanistan. But they are concerned that continued instability eventually will spill over and intensify the fighting in Afghanistan, which has spiked in recent months as the Taliban has strengthened and expanded its operations.

Unrest in Pakistan and increasing fuel prices have already boosted the cost of food in Afghanistan, making it more likely that hungry Afghans will be lured by payments from the Taliban to participate in attacks, a U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said.

In a secure videoconference yesterday linking officials in Washington, Islamabad and Crawford, Tex., Bush received briefings from CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson, said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe. Bush then discussed Bhutto’s assassination and U.S. efforts to stabilize Pakistan with his top foreign policy advisers, including Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, as well as Adm. William J. Fallon of Central Command and Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. intelligence and Defense Department sources said there is increasing evidence that the assassination of Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, was carried out by al-Qaeda or its allies inside Pakistan. The intelligence officials said that in recent weeks their colleagues had passed along warnings to the Pakistani government that al-Qaeda-related groups were planning suicide attacks on Pakistani politicians.

The U.S. and Pakistani governments are focusing on Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, as a possible suspect. A senior U.S. official said that the Bush administration is paying attention to a list provided by Pakistan’s interior ministry indicating that Mehsud’s targets include former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, former interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, and several other cabinet officials and moderate Islamist leaders. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a hit list, but we take it very seriously,” the official said. “All moderates [in Pakistan] are now under threat from this terrorism.”

Mehsud told the BBC earlier this month that the Pakistani government’s actions forced him to react with a “defensive jihad.”

After signing a condolence book for Bhutto at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, Rice said the United States is in contact with “all” of the parties in Pakistan and stressed that the Jan. 8 elections should not be postponed. “Obviously, it’s just very important that the democratic process go forward,” she told reporters.

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan warned U.S. citizens Thursday to keep a low profile and avoid public gatherings. A Pentagon official said plans to evacuate Americans from the country are being reviewed.

“We’ve really got a new situation here in western Pakistan,” said Army Col. Thomas F. Lynch III, who has served in Afghanistan and with Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for Pakistan and the Middle East. He said the assassination marks a “critical new phase” in jihadist operations in Pakistan and predicted that the coming months would bring concentrated attacks on other prominent Pakistanis.

“The Taliban . . . are indeed a growing element of the domestic political stew” in Pakistan, said John Blackton, who served as a U.S. official in Afghanistan in the 1970s and again 20 years later. He noted that Pakistani military intelligence created the Taliban in Afghanistan.

How the United States responds will hinge largely on the actions of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, in whom U.S. officials have mixed confidence. If there is indeed a new challenge by Islamic militants emerging in Pakistan, then the United States will have to do whatever it can to support Musharraf, the U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said.

“Pakistan must take drastic action against the Taliban in its midst or we will face the prospect of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of al-Qaeda — a threat far more dangerous and real than Hussein’s arsenal ever was,” he said, referring to the deposed Saddam Hussein.

U.S. officials are concerned about the affect of Pakistan on the campaign in Afghanistan, but seeing things clearly requires looking in the opposite direction.  Settling scores with al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan is much easier than it will be in Pakistan.  The stakes are huge, and the notion of incorporating the Taliban into the government in Afghanistan (as the British advocate in order to create ‘peace’) seems so far removed from realistic regional needs that it is incredible that the idea was ever proffered.  The British want to make peace with the jihadists, but when reality strikes an ugly chord with the assassination of an opponent of jihad in Pakistan, we are reminded of the specter of nuclear weapons in major American cities, and the smoke clears and the room of mirrors is broken – along with our illusions of peace with the jihadists.

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    As far as I could see, Ralph Peters’ opinion on Benazir Bhutto was, and still is, unanimously shared, regardless of one’s political opinion.

    Then you wrote:

    “I have long said regarding the parliamentary system in Iraq that one serious flaw in the preliminary stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the naive belief in the healing powers of democracy. Democracy is itself produced by a society, and produces nothing. It is a deliverance of people and their value system, not vice versa. Said in another way, it cannot effect change. It is itself an affect or product. Given Iraqi history and culture, there might have been no good options, but democracy does not seem to have helped.”

    Just in case you might ignore it, you might be pleased to know that your opinion is shared by F. Gregory Gause III, Associate Professor of political science at the University of Vermont, who dared express similar views in an article on the war in Iraq, titled “Can Democracy Stop Terrorism,” he published in the September/October 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs.

    I provide, below, the link directing to this article, for the record:
    http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20050901faessay84506/f-gregory-gause-iii/can-democracy-stop-terrorism.html

    A relatively minor difference with your opinion, perhaps, is that Gregory Gause held that installing democracy in Iraq would inescapably foster terrorism in this country, given, as you suggest it, its long record of authoritarian regimes that succeeded one upon the other. But weren’t we all talking about “terrorism” rather than “insurgency” or “social unrest” in those earlier times.

    I couldn’t but notice this convergence of views since I happened to share Gregory Gause’s opinion, already.

    I seize the opportunity of this comment to wish to you and all your dear ones, and to the Captain’s Journal, a Happy New Year.

  • Brian H

    Democracy may not be sufficient, but eventually it is essential. The questions of “when” and “how” are crucial, but there are many ways to skin a cat. The mish-mash “bottom-up” process may intersect productively with the more formal attempts to rule from the center in Iraq, but the learning process is ongoing, and real.

    I suggest study of Bueno de Mesquita’s data and analyses, which distinguish between regimes by the size of the “ruling coalition” of persons and forces, and by the size and nature of the “Selectorate” which is the next layer out and forms the pool for the ruling groups. Tyrannies have ruling coalitions which systematically parasitize the Public Goods produced by the country, but as the beneficiary pool widens, eventually a democratic system becomes the best payoff regimen for all concerned, and the Selectorate expands to encompass the whole population. This is a sliding scale, with no on-off switches in sight.

    To simplify, Islamists see the Moslem male population as the Selectorate, and the cabal of clerics and warlord-military bosses as the ruling coalition, with no role whatsoever for the “public will”, since Allah has spoken about how things should go. Breaking this mindset moves in the democratic direction on the sliding scale, but there are plenty of alternatives, such as an SH-type dictatorship, or socialist / communist party rule, etc.

    And as far as “fostering terrorism”, sometimes you just have to grasp the bloody nettle like a man and face and fight the wannabe theocrats.


You are currently reading "Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied", entry #858 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Featured,Pakistan and was published January 1st, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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