THE PAKISTAN-AFGHANISTAN CONUNDRUM: SOME ALTERNATIVES
"Mr Obama’s desire for Pakistan’s help on Afghanistan conflicts with a long-standing strategy by elements in Pakistan’s intelligence services, who are seeking to curb Indian influence in Afghanistan by backing militants. The weak government of Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, is locked in a fresh battle with the judiciary. Pakistan’s generals dictate security policy.
Mr Obama’s gamble of sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan hinged on the assumption that Pakistan would broaden an offensive against its own militants to target Afghan fighters in North Waziristan. Obama’s Wars, a new book by veteran US journalist Bob Woodward, suggests that the president sees the Pakistan “safe haven” as the main barrier to progress in Afghanistan.
The hoped-for offensive has not materialised. Pakistan’s army says it is too thinly stretched and security officials fear fresh terror attacks in large cities. The shooting last weekend of Mohammad Farooq Khan, an Islamic scholar and critic of suicide bombings, was a reminder that Pakistanis pay a far higher price for extremist violence than those in the west. The army’s reluctance to launch big operations in North Waziristan also partly reflects its long-standing reliance on Afghan militants as proxies".
Matthew Green, "Pakistan's tribal areas upset US plans," 8 October 2010, in www.ft.com.
"It is scarcely a secret that the United States is fighting an air war in Pakistan on at least four different levels. It is using unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to support U.S. forces in “hot pursuit” in the border area. It is using them to attack Taliban and other insurgent forces near the border to limit their capability to operate in Afghanistan....
One has to be very careful about unclassified statistics, but the Long War Journal reports that the number of strikes against cadres in Pakistan is very limited. It reports only one strike a year in 2004 and 2005, three in 2006, five in 2007, thirty-five in 2008, fifty-five in 2009 and seventy-seven in the first nine months of 2010. This rise in strike numbers is a kind “surge,” but it adds up to all of 175 strikes over the entire war, and these strikes (65 percent) have been concentrated in North Waziristan where the Pakistani army has been unwilling or unable to act, and almost all of the other 35 percent have been in areas in South Waziristan where the Pakistani Army and Air Force cannot bring anything like the same intelligence, targeting and precision-strike assets to bear.
There is certainly a steady rise in strikes, but talking about it as “intense combat” is absurd. Wired says the U.S. Air Force (USAF) reported it flew a peak of 19,500 close-air-support sorties in the Iraq War in 2007, and has flown 4,620 so far in 2010. Wired reports that the USAF has said it flew an average of over two thousand a month in Afghanistan in 2009, and over two thousand five hundred a month in 2010. The total number of UCAV strikes in Pakistan over the entire war is a fraction of the air strikes per month in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a tiny number by the standards of any previous air war.
It is also important to stress that UCAVs are simply the tip of the spear. The UCAV strikes against the insurgent and terrorist networks are the result of one of the most massive and sophisticated targeting efforts in history. They are targeted as a result of the use of virtually every intelligence asset America has from satellites to manned aircraft to human intelligence, and the use of unarmed unmanned combat vehicles. They are subject to careful review to minimize civilian losses, and they still manage to be extremely effective. If one looks at the estimates in the Long War Journal, the seventy-seven UCAV sorties flown through September 2010 killed eighteen senior insurgent leaders, including nine with at least some links to Al-Qaeda....
Moreover, any land operation that crosses the border and becomes public, and even the most limited helicopter attacks, become a political crisis. Flying manned U.S. fighter aircraft into Pakistan could push Pakistan into shutting down all of its cooperation, and would inevitably inflict much higher casualties. High-speed jet fighters can’t linger over a target for hours to verify a target in order to do as much as possible to strike at a time that ensures civilian casualties are kept to a minimum. Even if Pakistani land forces did take over the job, we have already seen in Swat and South Waziristan that they would have to fight their way in and the end result would be far more Pakistani casualties—and at least ten times more civilians killed and thousands or ten of thousands displaced".
Anthony Cordesman, "Commentary: Attack of the Drones," 4 October 2010, in www.nationalinterest.org.
The news out in the past ten calendar days is that the Americans, due to warnings of a possible Al-Qaeda inspired and or linked terrorist attack in Western Europe, along the lines of the Bombay, Hotel bombing of November 2008, has launched a series of expedited,'drone' attacks on the Northwestern frontier provinces of Pakistan, bordering on Afghanistan. With rumors that upward of ten, if not 'tens', of German passport holders of Oriental origins were killed (on this see: "Europe terror alert fulled by German militants," 5 October 2010, in www.reuters.com), in one such attack. The rationale being that the borderlands between the two countries is not only serves as bases for the Afghan / Pakistan Taliban, but, no have been expanded to include training camps `a la what Al-Qaeda once possessed in Afghanistan circa 2000-2001. With all this in mind, as well as both the inability & unwillingness of the Pakistani state apparatus to control these areas, that one contemplates the overall dilemma of the Western (mainly Anglo-American) policy in the area. The current policy of endeavoring to bribe Pakistan into complying with Western needs and aims does not appear to be working, or if so, only intermittently at the very best. And, there are few signs, at least in the short-term of any improvement in the state of affairs. Consequently, one commences to approach what the late, American strategist, Mr. Herman Kahn, once called: 'thinking the unthinkable'. Which in the case of the Afghan-Pakistan conundrum, means some form of direct military intervention. In conjunction with an increase of drone attacks on targets in Pakistan close to the level launched in Iraqi in 2007. Which would be an increase of close to a factor of ten. In the case of the former, the only viable options would be parachute drops of regiment-size (3,000) forces into the areas in question to wide-out as quickly as possible any training camps and associated bases of both Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements. With perhaps the sequence of events being that the number of drone attacks being increased first, and if needed thereafter direct military intervention on the selected targets. A policy that while not in the least pleasant to contemplate, much less put into effect, especially as withdrawing forces in such circumstances is infinitely more complicated then introducing them. On the other hand, it could very well be, that a single American 'surgical' strike, on Pakistani territory will suffice to force the government in Pakistan to endeavor to try to re-establish control of its border with Afghanistan. Of course this could be quite illusory, as there are many reasons why the government has never cared to properly police these 'tribal' areas. Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that a policy of faute de mieux, and muddling through is not working very well, and that it would appear that things have reached a pass where alternative methods, however unpleasant may perhaps appear to be necessary.