Sunday, June 15, 2008

Escalation in Pakistan?

This is quite an interesting combination of stories:

Afghan President Karzai Threatens To Send Troops Into Pakistan by Jason Straziuso Huffington Post 06/15/08

Get Osama Bin Laden before I leave office, orders George W Bush Sunday Times 06/15/08 (caution: The Times is a Rupert Murdoch property and some of their foreign policy stories can be way off base)

U.S. is uneasy as Pakistan bargains with militants By Laura King Los Angeles Times 06/15/08.

I can believe that this administration is making a renewed push to kill or capture Bin Laden, or at least to be able to claim they've done so before the November election. I just wish they had felt a higher sense of urgency at what still seems to have been the most likely chance to capture him and/or do maximum damage to his Al Qa'ida organization, the Battle of Tora Bora in early 2002.

The fight against Al Qa'ida is not identical to the war in Afghanistan. And starting a war with nuclear-armed Pakistan, the country that has been the world's worst nuclear proliferator, doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The Afghanistan War lost it's sense years ago. Widening it to Pakistan just invites more problems.

I'm guessing Karzai's threat to invade Pakistan is nothing but hot air. The guy has virtually no domestic power base. He won't remain long in power after NATO withdraws (the US is officially part of the NATO force now).

It shouldn't necessarily be bad news for the US that Pakistan is holding peace negotiations with "Taliban" forces. Juan Cole frequently points out that the American press seems to use the "Taliban" description broadly. But the forces in question are Pashtun militants led by Pashtun warlords, not necessarily a direct continuation of the ultra-fundamentalist Sunni Taliban movement that ruled Afghanistan before the US invasion in 2001.

If a peace agreement between Pakistan and Pashtun militants meant that Pakistan really would concentrate more attention on locating and neutralizing Al Qa'ida forces, that would be a good thing.

It was at least possible in 2001 that an invasion and installation of a new government in Afghanistan could lead to effective measures against Al Qa'ida. At this point, with the US regularly bombing Pashtun areas in Afghanistan and generating greater and greater hatred of the foreign forces, the ever-increasing US troops presence probably works directly against our interest in locating and neutralizing Al Qa'ida.

I defended Barack Obama's response on a hypothetical question of whether he would strike inside Pakistan if there were solid intelligence on Bin Laden's location. As a hypothetical question, it's easy to construct a scenario where that would be okay and have mostly benefits for the US with no downside.

Reality is more complicated. Laura King reports on the recent US air strike in Pakistan:

The state of hair-trigger tension along the [Afghanistan-Pakistan] frontier was evident in a chaotic clash last week in which Pakistan says 11 of its troops were killed by American airstrikes. The U.S. military, which did not acknowledge responsibility for the deaths, released video that it said showed the strikes were in response to insurgent fire directed at U.S.-backed Afghan forces. The U.S. military is investigating the incident.
We shouldn't kid ourselves. Firing missiles into other country's territories generally makes people in that country very unhappy. It can lead to a wider war.

We also occasionally fire missiles and blow up villagers in Somalia. And we're running a proxy war there backing Ethiopian occupiers who swiftly made themselves hated.

The notion that we can create security for the United States based on involving ourselves in an endless series of endless wars to try to liberate/democratize/whatever various governments in Islamic countries where few Americans even speak the language much less have any real knowledge of the culture and social dynamics there is a terrible illusion. A terribly destructive illusion.

In the case of Pakistan, our government should be thinking a lot more than they apparently are about the risks an even more hostile Pakistani government could mean to US interests, above all in nuclear nonproliferation. The negotiations with the Pashtun warlords seem to be aimed at least in part at isolating the most radical violent Islamists. King writes:

"Overall, the perception is that this is a war we should not be fighting," said Rustum Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan. "Are we supposed to let our own territory burn because NATO would be unhappy if we make peace arrangements there?"

In the last year, Pakistan suffered a series of suicide attacks by Islamic militants, at a pace that averaged more than one a week. The attacks were often aimed at government and security installations, but killed and wounded hundreds of civilians as well.

The pervasive sense of insecurity in cities and towns eroded the already flagging popularity of U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan's military campaign against Islamic militants, with its steady toll of troop casualties and the occasional humiliating mass surrender of government forces, also sapped army morale.

Since parliamentary elections in February brought the new ruling coalition to power, suicide bombings have trailed off but not halted. This month, a bomb exploded outside the Danish Embassy in the capital, Islamabad, killing six people. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.
US problems with Pakistan would be placed in a vastly improved context if there could be a mutually agreeable settlement between India and Pakistan over the disputed province of Kashmir, officially part of India. It's a high-profile grievance among Muslims, but virtually unknown in the US.

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