From Whence Cometh Pakistan?

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 12 months ago

The Captain’s Journal admires Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and he can consider us to be in his corner.  But we would be willing to bet that his position on Pakistan is “swing and a miss – full count now.”  So where are we?  Gates said Thursday that he has “real concern” about a sharp rise in attacks by insurgent forces in eastern Afghanistan and says it reflects infiltration of fighters from Pakistan.

Gates was asked at a Pentagon news conference what he thought of a report by a senior U.S. general in Afghanistan on Tuesday that insurgent attacks in the east have increased by 40 percent this year.

“It is a matter of concern — real concern,” Gates replied.

“It’s an issue that clearly we have to pursue with the Pakistani government,” he added.

The defense secretary said one reason for the jump in insurgent attacks in that part of Afghanistan is that fighters have been able to cross the border without facing sufficient pressure by Pakistani troops.

“It actually was not bad until a few months ago,” he said, when the Pakistani government began negotiating peace or ceasefire deals with a variety of militant groups in areas bordering Afghanistan.

“The pressure was taken off these people,” as a result of such deals, he added. And that has meant fighters are freer to cross the border and create problems for us,” Gates said.

In Truth or Consequences: Closing the Pakistan Border, TCJ is ahead of the game.  We have already acquiesced to the fact that we aren’t going to get much help from Pakistan.  We have pointed out that the Iraqi borders were problematic too, especially with Syria.  But the insurgency is defeated, or almost so, and while more difficult, it is not impossible to fight a transnational insurgency in a singular battle space.  It requires force projection, something that Gates doesn’t believe we have for Afghanistan as long as Operation Iraqi Freedom is ongoing.  Gates is in a bit of a spot.  But we have no trust in Pakistan, while Gates still places his eggs in their basket.  What do we know that he doesn’t?

It’s not what we know, it’s a matter of listening and gaining perspective.  The Asia Times gives us a glimpse into internal Pakistani politics and culture.

Washington saw the writing on the wall immediately after the February polls when former premier Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League won more seats than was expected. The anticipation had been that the US-friendly Pakistan People’s Party, headed by former premier Benazir Bhutto until her assassination last December, would romp home.

Amid the political uncertainty that this result caused, allied with terror attacks in the country, the military delayed operations in the tribal areas. The military’s position was hardened when on June 10 the US attacked militants in Pakistan’s Mohmand Agency but killed several Pakistani security forces.

Washington’s plan, which had been in the making for two years, is now in ruins, that is, the ideal of a compliant elected government, an accommodating military and a friendly president (Pervez Musharraf) acting in unison to further the US’s interests.

The crux is, while America was playing its game, so too was al-Qaeda. Through terror attacks, al-Qaeda was able to disrupt the economy, and by targeting the security forces, al-Qaeda created splits and fear in the armed forces, to the extent that they thought twice about dancing to the US’s tune.

Unlike Musharraf, when he wore two hats, of the president and of army chief, the new head of the military, professional soldier General Ashfaq Kiani, had to listen to the chatter of his men and the intelligence community at grand dinners.

What he heard was disturbing. Soldiers from the North-West Frontier Province region were completely in favor of the Taliban, while those from the countryside of Punjab – the decisive majority in the armed forces – felt guilty about fighting the Taliban and reckoned it was the wrong war. Therefore, Kiani decided it was necessary to support peace talks with the militants to create some breathing space for his men.

At the same time, the dynamics in the war theater have changed, providing Pakistan with more options and more room to play in its Afghan policy. Pakistan’s former ally in Afghanistan, the Taliban, are no longer irrelevant; they have emerged as the single-largest Pashtun opposition group.

The Pakistani people have rejected the U.S.-led war on terror.  The Pakistani Army doesn’t want to fight the Taliban, and it isn’t just about fear or cowardice.  They believe it’s the “wrong war.”  Military defeat of the Taliban will occur primarily in Afghanistan rather than Pakistan, and it will occur mainly at the hands of U.S. forces, or not at all.  All is not lost.  We have pointed out before based on the Taliban’s own words that “If NATO remains strong in Afghanistan, it will put pressure on Pakistan. If NATO remains weaker in Afghanistan, it will dare [encourage] Pakistan to support the Taliban.”

Afghanistan is now and will remain the central point for the fight against the Taliban, and it behooves us to deploy forces and engage the fight as quickly as possible.  TIme is of the essence.

Prior: Pashtun Rejection of the Global War on Terror


  1. On June 27, 2008 at 9:56 am, Warbucks said:

    I read the Pushtun as a noble people caught up in the vicious economics and endless recycling of power of the poppies and its attendant illicit riches. The Pushtun seek to preserve their 5,000 year old culture. They have seen economies come and go, they have seen governments come and go, they have seen armies threaten and leave.

    The depth of vast fortunes created by the opium trade, the dependable cash flow of the annual harvest, corrupts everything in its path and is as hard to manage as the flood waters of the great Mississippi River, with fingers that reach deeply into our own culture. They grow, harvest, package and ship; we consume.

    By summer of the first year of the next administration, the Pashtun will likely be faced with new choices regardless of who wins the US Presidential election. If the Pashtun can not resolve a cooperative anti-terrorist posture with its hosting governments, or with this administration, the next administration, Democratic or Republican, will likely unleash a war on the scale they can not yet comprehend.

    President Bush is their path of least resistance, but the Pashtun fail to understand him. McCain and Obama , either, will likely bring a General Sherman’s march to the sea upon them, if they can not find the wisdom to cooperate now. McCain will work to win, Obama has said he would act in the Frontier if Pakistan fails to act on good intelligence, and Obama will want to get the job done and done fast so he will use the level of power needed to do it.

    When you are rolling in money and control the golden goose, new wisdom is hard to receive.

  2. On June 27, 2008 at 10:36 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    I agree concerning the endless rearrangement of powers in this region and the necessity to stay alive in all of these situations. I take a different view concerning the Pashtun, though. I don’t call noble a people who can send their elders out to rape young women in front of their tribe when they committed the horror of actually walking with a male to their garden or somewhere else. Honor rapes and honor killings don’t signify a noble people.

    That’s okay. We can work with ignoble people, and have done so before. Either way, I don’t think it’s up to us. As the article points out, the Pashtun have rejected the GWOT.

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You are currently reading "From Whence Cometh Pakistan?", entry #1172 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Pakistan,Taliban and was published June 26th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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