January 19, 2011

Obamacle Tries to Make Lemonade Out of a Sow's Ear

Hatched by Dafydd

For years during both the George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama presidencies, American military commanders have complained that Pakistan is not fighting hard enough against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces along the Pakistan/Afghanistan "border" -- which is entirely artificial, as the Pashtun and other tribes move back and forth across the menagerie lion with impunity, indeed without even being aware (I suspect) that they have crossed from one country to the other.

Though every region in Pakistan is dangerous, the most deadly is likely the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs), called Agencies:

  • Bajaur
  • Mohmand
  • Khyber
  • Orakzai
  • Kurram
  • North Waziristan
  • South Waziristan

(The FATAs also include six Frontier Regions: Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan [Darazinda], Kohat [Darra Adam Khel], Lakki Marwat, Peshawar, and Tank [Jandola].)

Pakistan Pakistan FATAs

Pakistan (L) and FATAs pullout (R)

Because the FATAs abut Afghanistan, terrorists and insurgents attack Afghans, Americans, or our Coalition partners, then flee back across the "border" and moon American troops, which must perforce come to screeching halt at that crayon mark. Once in Pakistan, the most we can do is lob Hellfire missiles from drone aircraft.

The situation in the FATAs got significantly worse when Pakistan strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf was ousted from power in August, 2008, after seven years of iron-fisted rule. Musharraf had "aligned" Pakistan with the international coalition that fought the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but he was eventually forced to resign after being threatened with impeachment.

He was succeeded by the head of the Pakistan People's Party, President Asif Ali Zardari -- widower of Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007, likely by al-Qaeda and possibly on orders of Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's left-hand man. Since assuming the Barnacle Throne, or whatever they call it, Zardari has prosecuted the war against the terrorists with a notable lack of zeal.

And even more recently, Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (N for Nawaz faction) -- long suspected of having cozy ties with terrorists -- has yet again become a rising star in Pakistan. Correspondingly, the prospects of that country fighting a full-on war to expunge the Taliban, the ocean in which the fish of al-Qaeda swim, has sunk even lower.

The current strategy appears bizarre: The Pakistan army has fought against the Taliban in six of the FATAs; but they have by and large ignored North Waziristan. Not surprisingly, a motley crew of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and assorted other nuts, fruits, and flakes has collected there, sludge always finding the lowest level:

Pakistani Army operations in the other six of seven tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan have helped drive fighters from Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militant groups into North Waziristan, the one tribal area that Pakistan has not yet assaulted.

And now, in an almost freakish claim, "senior United States intelligence and counterinsurgency officials" are saying that the existence of a safe haven along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is a good thing:

A growing number of senior United States intelligence and counterinsurgency officials say that by bunching up there, insurgents are ultimately making it easier for American drone strikes to hit them from afar.

American officials are loath to talk about this silver lining to the storm cloud that they have long described building up in the tribal area of North Waziristan, where the insurgents run a virtual mini-state the size of Rhode Island. This is because they do not want to undermine the Obama administration’s urgent public pleas for Pakistan to order troops into the area, or to give Pakistan an excuse for inaction.

“We cannot succeed in Afghanistan without shutting down those safe havens,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week, underscoring a major conclusion of the White House’s strategic review of Afghanistan policy last month.

But as long as the safe havens exist, they provide a rich hunting ground, however inadvertent it may be.

It's an amazing bit of rhetorical gymnastics. While these anonymous intelligence and counterinsurgency stratgists admit it would be better if Pakistan actually stepped up and destroyed the terrorists -- you think? -- they nevertheless continue making excuses and trying to minimize the embarassment of a presidential administration that has fecklessly and only half-heartedly fought against those who struck the United States ten years ago. (And the embarassment of the Zardari administration, as well.)

How's this for rationalization:

A senior counterterrorism official concurred, saying: “We’ve seen in the past what happens when terrorists are given a de facto safe haven. It tends to turn out ugly for both Pakistan and the United States. It’s absolutely critical that Pakistan stay focused on rooting out militants in North Waziristan....”

But half a dozen senior intelligence, counterterrorism and military officials interviewed in the past several days said a bright side had unexpectedly emerged from Pakistan’s delay. Pounding the militants consolidated in the North Waziristan enclave with airstrikes will leave the insurgents in a weakened state if the Pakistani offensive comes later this year, the officials said.

“In some ways, it’s to our benefit to keep them bottled up, mostly in North Waziristan,” said a senior intelligence official, who like others interviewed agreed to speak candidly about the Pakistan strategy if he was not identified. “This is not intentional. That wasn’t the design to bottle them up. That’s just where they are, and they’re there for a reason. They don’t have a lot of options.”

The claim might have some merit under two conditions:

  • First, if we had a real plan for taking advantage of this "bunching up" of terrorists, something a bit more robust and lethal than Predator drone attacks that kill three or four of them at a time and often miss the actual commanders. Alas, President B.O. has no stomach for the fight, and indeed is sticking to his timetable for pulling all our troops out of Afghanistan starting in June 2011. The odds that he would send American troops directly into Pakistan (as he suggested during his presidential campaign) is nil.
  • Second, if those advancing the claim were confident enough about it that they were willing to use their names. Alas, nobody is willing to go on record saying it's a good thing that Pakistan is leaving the terrorist haven of North Waziristan unmolested... and I suspect we all know the reason why they won't.

By contrast, those who say it's a rotten thing that Pakistan is shying away from North Waziristan are willing to show their faces, are much more highly placed, and are legion. For example:

All the more reason proponents of Pakistani action say time is of the essence. “I’ve been very clear in my conversations with General Kayani over the last year or so that there needs to be a focus, from my perspective, on North Waziristan,” [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Admiral [Michael] Mullen told reporters in Islamabad last month. “That’s where Al Qaeda leadership resides, that’s where the Haqqani network, in particular, is headquartered, and the Haqqanis are leading the way and coming across the border and killing American and allied forces. And that has got to cease.”

Admittedly, North Waziristan is the hardest Taliban/al-Qaeda nut to swallow. But as noted above, that's all the more reason to swallow hard and crack it.

And wouldn't it be nice if we had a president with enough leadership that he could not only persuade our supposed allies to step up, but also step up himself and cancel the troop withdrawal. We could certainly use the extra forces to move into North Waziristan and deny the terrorists their safe haven.

Then we might obliterate the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and we might even break the back of the terrorist Haqqani network, which enjoys widespread support within Pakistani security and intelligence forces themselves, since Haqqani often launches terrorist attacks against Afghans perceived as supporting the United States. In June of last year, the Pakistani Army and Intelligence heads, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, held power-sharing talks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, offering to incorporate Haqqani into the Afghanistan government after the U.S. leaves:

Washington has watched with some nervousness as General Kayani and Pakistan’s spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, shuttle between Islamabad and Kabul, telling Mr. Karzai that they agree with his assessment that the United States cannot win in Afghanistan, and that a postwar Afghanistan should incorporate the Haqqani network, a longtime Pakistani asset. In a sign of the shift in momentum, the two Pakistani officials were next scheduled to visit Kabul on Monday, according to Afghan TV.

The Haqqani network has its base in North Waziristan, another reason Pakistan has avoided attacking that Tribal Area:

But there have long been suspicions among Afghan, American and other Western officials that the Pakistanis were holding the Haqqanis in reserve for just such a moment, as a lever to shape the outcome of the war in its favor.

On repeated occasions, Pakistan has used the Haqqani fighters to hit Indian targets inside Afghanistan, according to American intelligence officials. The Haqqanis have also hit American ones, a possible signal from the Pakistanis to the Americans that it is in their interest, too, to embrace a deal.

Evidently, Pakistan considers the eventual behind-the-scenes control of Afghanistan after we withdraw a much more important war -- of conquest -- than the minor war of mere national defense in their own tribal areas. Sadly but not shockingly, even some members of the Obama administration seem willing to allow Pakistan and the Haqqani terrorist network to carve up Afghanistan:

Some officials in the Obama administration have not ruled out incorporating the Haqqani network in an Afghan settlement, though they stress that President Obama’s policy calls for Al Qaeda to be separated from the network. American officials are skeptical that that can be accomplished.

Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, said on a visit to Islamabad last weekend that it was “hard to imagine” the Haqqani network in an Afghan arrangement, but added, “Who knows?”

"Realists" like the late Richard Holbrooke may go and come, but the urge to appease abides.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 19, 2011, at the time of 1:18 AM

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