The Pakistan Border and Covert Operations

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 12 months ago

An unusually clear-headed letter appeared in Pakistan’s The Post concerning the Pakistan-Afghan border, ending with the following observation.

Ordinarily, coalition partners should not be concerned about border issues when they have a common objective and Former Ambassador Zafar Hilaly made a valid point that the enemy neither respects nor recognises borders, and yet the nation quibbles about border violations. The fact that militancy found a willing stronghold within the tribal belt shows how easily these people surrendered their ‘sovereignty’ to the enemy. Those who vow to defend our territorial integrity against the ‘Farangi’ invader forfeited the right when the first Taliban crossed over to Pakistan after 2001. But someone needs to clean up this mess and it is preferable to have Pakistan at the helm only because our national pride will not permit otherwise. If Pakistan can convince the Americans that they can sort out their side of the border, they must then convince this nation to let them.

For the last four years Pakistan has been gaming the campaign against extremists in order to continue to procure money from the U.S. They shoot at empty buildings, pretend to engage the Taliban fighters, and then “make agreements” with them through jirgas. Although the recent bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad has been called Pakistan’s 9/11, The Captain’s Journal is still skeptical. It is more than just the Pashtuns who have given up their right to defend Pakistan from U.S. incursions. The Pakistan Army’s gaming of operations against the Taliban for U.S. dollars has also lost them the credibility to conduct real operations against the Taliban or complain when the U.S. does.

The U.S. must take whatever action deemed appropriate by CENTCOM and its new head General Petraeus. But regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we do not advocate treating the campaign as a counterterrorism campaign against high value targets. Special forces, we have claimed, cannot win a counterinsurgency. This requires infantry. Steve Coll of The New Yorker recently made an analogous observation concerning covert policy.

On television shows and in the movies, we romanticize covert action of this kind as bold and daring, but military history suggests that it is usually of very limited strategic value. It is usually most effective, as it was during the Second World War, when it serves as a kind of extension or multiplier of a successful overt policy. This may have been the case, too, with the covert action arm of the “surge,” which Bob Woodward has highlighted in his recent book. But covert action fails, as at the Bay of Pigs, when frustrated and desperate Presidents seize on secret war as a substitute for a successful declared or open policy that also involves diplomacy, economic measures, and so forth. The problem with covert U.S. raids in the Pakistani tribal territories today is not that they are unjustified—the Taliban and Al Qaeda are vicious adversaries, and they pose what the national-security lawyers call a “clear and present danger” to the United States and to Pakistan. The problem is that in the attenuating months of the Bush Administration, covert policy has dominated U.S. policy, and often controlled it—and it obviously isn’t working.

As an editorial note, we don’t necessarily agree with Woodward’s characterization of anything concerning Operation Iraqi Freedom. Also, Coll’s assessment that more diplomacy and money are needed in order to consider our actions “policy” is amusing. Diplomacy and money – along with covert special forces and CIA operations – have been the cornerstone of our policy in Pakistan from the beginning.


You are currently reading "The Pakistan Border and Covert Operations", entry #1311 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Pakistan,Policy,Terrorism,The Long War and was published September 22nd, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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