Friday, December 05, 2008

Afghanistan and Pakistan

TX Hammes wrote about the Afghanistan War before the Presidential election (The Good War? Small Wars Journal 09/15/08):

We entered Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda’s operating forces and eliminate its training bases. We successfully eliminated the bases and hurt Al Qaeda badly. One reason often given for our presence in Afghanistan is that we must stabilize it as a nation so that Al Qaeda can never use it as a terrorist base again. Unfortunately, Al Qaeda has moved its forces and its bases into Pakistan. The subsequent conflict inside Pakistan is contributing to increasing instability in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and has greatly increased the strain on the Pakistani government.

Before we rush more troops into Afghanistan, we must answer basic questions about our strategy for the region and how our efforts in Afghanistan support that strategy. Good tactics and more troops are not a substitute for a strategy – and in fact can significantly raise the cost of a bad strategy. [my emphasis]
Some of the constant reports in the US press about the "instability" is Pakistan may be exaggerated. Pakistan just transitioned from years of military rule to a democracy, corrupt and plutocratic as it may be in practice. And that transition, with the competitive partisan campaign that accompanied the election, seems to be mainly what people mean about Pakistan's "instability". Although I also wouldn't want to dismiss the risks, by any means.

But Hammes' basic point still applies. Stay or go, escalate or hold steady, the Obama administration needs to come up with a definite new strategy in Afghanistan. Not just send in more troops and call it a Surge.

Joschka Fischer in his weekly column Terror in Mumbai: Pakistan wird zum Risikofaktor Die Zeit Online 01.12.2008 warns that "erweist sich Pakistan zunehmend als Zentrum eines drohenden politischen Orkans, dessen Folgen ohne eine neue internationale Zusammenarbeit kaum noch beherrschbar sein werden - dies vor allem vor dem Hintergrund, dass Pakistan eine Nuklearmacht ist." (Pakistan is increasingly looking a center of a threatening political hurricane whose repercussions can hardly be mastered without new international cooperation - all this before the background that Pakistan is a nuclear power.) By that he means that the problems of Pakistan present a challenge to the whole international community, not just the incoming Obama administration.

Fischer thinks it's unlikely that the Pakistani government as such had anything to do with the Mumbai attacks, since that would contradict Pakistan's current policy of counterinsurgency against the Pakistani "Taliban" and assisting the US with the Afghanistan War. He doesn't rule out the possibility that rogue elements in the Pakistani interlligence service, the ISI, could have played some part in the Mumbai attack.

What's particularly interesting in Fischer's column is that he places the Mumbai attacks against the background of the current world economic crisis, although he says that the attack itself has no essential basis in the economic crisis.

But, he writes, "Die gegenwärtige globale Krise wird aus guten Gründen mit der Weltwirtschaftskrise von 1929 verglichen." (The current global crisis is compared to the world economic crisis of 1929 with good reason.)

That crisis lead by various pathways to the Second World War. Fischer notes that the balance of nuclear terror between the two major nuclear powers, Russia and the United States, largely rules out such a worldwide conflagration at the present moment. But the same cannot be said of many parts of the world where local rivalries are bitter and intense even without the economic crisis. Including the tensions between the nuclear powers India and Pakistan.

Fischer also thinks that there are serious problems in Pakistan, though he talks more cautiosly about "structural instability", by which he presumably means the military's habit of taking over periodically. He writes:

Besides increasing its military presence on the Pakistani border, India could also attempt to follow the current example of the USA. The United States at the moment attacks terrorists and their networks at them moment on Pakistani soil. Should India also reclaim this right for itself [i.e., attack targets in Pakistan], the two nuclear powers India and Pakistan would immediately be on the verge of a hot war.

Pakistan is developing more and more to be the biggest risk factor in world politics: poor, underdeveloped, structurally unstable, with a population of more than 170 million people, a hotbed of Islamic terrorists and radicals and at the same time a nuclear power. If this country goes out of control, it's not only India that would have a very serious problem.

It may be that no power in the world is in the position to effect the solution to the Pakistani knot, not even the USA. Should the nuclear power Pakistan eventually become a failed state, there will be only losers. Taking this huge risk into account, the Pakistani challenge is becominig a key political test for a new common effort of the international community. I don't envy President Obama.
This is another remdinder of the far-reaching implications that reckless American policies can have. It's true, the US is current firing rockets, dropping bombs and running the occasional ground operation in Pakistan, as well as similar actions Syria and Somalia, and maybe Iran. There are probably Indian politicians and military officers who would be glad to follow the American example.

If the US is going to be fighting a war inside Pakistan, we shouldn't do it by gradual mission creep, which is what Cheney and Bush - and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will be staying in his position for a while - have been doing in Pakistan.

The maximum effectiveness in hitting Bin Laden's Al Qa'ida group came in 2001-2. Now we're fighting a war against Afghani and Pakistani insurgents. If the mission creep continues, we could wind up turning Pakistan into a failed (nuclear) state. And how long will a nuclear-armed Pakistan be willing to allow the US to carry out a war within its own borders against its own citizens? Pakistan really does have "weapons of mass destruction".

Continuing the Cheney policy of war by mission creep in Afghanistan is a really bad option.

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