Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gates visits Pakistan, Osama bin Laden takes credit for bungled Detroit bombing attempt

Robert Gates, Obama's Republican Secretary of Defense, has been visiting India and Pakistan, with the latter being less than thrilled with his performance as their guest. Meanwhile, a tape has surfaced of Osama Bin Laden claiming responsibility for the attempted Christmas bomb attack on a plane landing in Detroit.

Al Jazeera reports on the tape in Bin Laden warns US of more attacks 01/24/10, with an audio of the Arabic original itself. But I'm very skeptical of the extent to which Bin Laden's Al Qa'ida group exercises even that much direction over terrorist cells in Yemen or elsewhere. Given how pathetic the Detroit attempt was, it must be some kind of desperation that makes Bin Laden want to take any kind of credit for it. In any case, to talk about Al Qa'ida as a worldwide force of super-terrorists and a threat comparable to the nuclear-armed Soviet Union, which was the main justification for the Long War when we called it the Cold War, is nuts.

Juan Cole analyzes the Gates visit to Pakistan in Gates Strikes out In Pakistan; Obama's AfPak Policies in Disarray 01/24/10. From Pakistan's point of view, the Afghanistan War is a sideshow to their long-running conflict with India over Kashmir. Gates also apparently slipped up and admitted the Xe/Blackwater mercenaries are performing military operations inside Pakistan. And some Pakistanis thought Gates was even giving approval to India to launch military operations against Pakistan - both countries are nuclear powers - in the even of another terrorist attack like that in Mumbai (Bombay) in 2008.

Cole sums it up this way:

The message his mission inadvertently sent was that the US is now increasingly tilting to India and wants to put it in charge of Afghanistan security; that Pakistan is isolated; that he is pressuring Pakistan to take on further counter-insurgency operations against Taliban in the Northwest, which the country flatly lacks the resources to do; and that Pakistani conspiracy theories about Blackwater were perfectly correct and he had admitted it.
The central role that the Pakistan-India conflict plays is one of the major weaknesses of the US/NATO Afghanistan War approach. Both India and Pakistan view the Karzai government as pro-Indian. Pakistan's cooperation with NATO against the Taliban insurgent groups in Afghanistan will always be limited so long as they see the Kabul regime as an ally of India against Pakistan:

Gates had one strike against him, since he came to Pakistan from India. Moreover while in New Delhi he clearly was a traveling salesman for the US war materiel industries, who would like to pick up some of the $60 billion India is planning to spend on weapons in the next few years. During the Cold War, the US had mainly supplied Pakistan's military, and had been lukewarm to India, which Washington felt tilted toward Moscow. The current shift of US strategy to wooing India to offset growing Chinese power in Asia is taken by some Pakistanis as a demotion.

Then, he encouraged a greater Indian role in Afghanistan, including, according to the Times of London, possibly in training Afghan police. Pakistan considers Afghanistan its sphere of influence and the last thing it wants is a role for Indian security forces in training (and perhaps shaping the loyalty) of Afghan police. Germany is currently in charge of the police training program, but India is afraid that in the next few years NATO will depart, and that Pakistan will then redeploy its Taliban allies to capture the country for Islamabad's purposes. India is also concerned about significant Chinese investments, as in a big copper mine, in Afghanistan. So New Delhi is considering the police training mission. [my emphasis]
Cole describes Pakistan's recent military role in relation to Afghanistan this way:

To be fair, the Pakistani military committed tens of thousands of troops to these two campaigns, in Swat and South Waziristan, and is in fact attempting to garrison the captured areas so as to prevent the return of the Pakistani Taliban. In the past two years, the Pakistani army has lost over 2,000 soldiers in such fighting against Taliban in the Northwest, a little less than half the troops the US lost in its 6-year Iraq War.

The Pakistani military campaigns of the past year, however, have not targeted those radical groups most active in cross-border raids into Afghanistan-- the Quetta Shura of Mullah Omar's Old Taliban, the Haqqani Network of Siraj Haqqani in North Waziristan, or whatever cells exist in Pakistan of the largely Afghanistan-based Hizb-i Islami (Islamic Party) of Gulbadin Hikmatyar. Washington worries that the effectiveness of its own troop escalation in Afghanistan will be blunted if these three continue to have havens on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. And, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani worries that the US offensive in Afghanistan will push thousands radicals over the border into Pakistan, further destabilizing the country's northwest.
The Haqqani group and warlord Gulbadin Hikmatyar were both considered brave mujaheddin freedom fighters back in the days when the US and the Saudis were actively supporting the Islamic resistance to the Soviet occupation.

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