Af-Pak: A Losing Strategy
U.S. aggression in Afghanistan and Pakistan is fraught with harms and hitches, but is now reaching a point that threatens the American relations with Pakistani leadership, ties that have been allowing such broad application of American will in the region. From the Wall Street Journal yesterday:
Pakistan has privately demanded the Central Intelligence Agency suspend drone strikes against militants on its territory, one of the U.S.’s most effective weapons against al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, officials said.
Pakistan has also asked the U.S. to reduce the number of U.S. intelligence and Special Operations personnel in the country, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
The U.S. drone program, secretly sanctioned by the Pakistani government, is at least arguably effective in the short term, killing top al Qaeda and Taliban operatives. But it is extremely counterproductive in the long term. As Anatol Lieven, in his new book Pakistan: A Hard Country, writes:
Drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas have killed many Taleban and Al Qaeda leaders, but they have not noticeably impaired the Afghan Taleban’s ability to go on fighting effectively, while causing outrage among Pakistanis – especially because of the very large numbers of women and children who have also been killed by the attacks.
Consider also U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson in a 2009 cable leaked by Wikileaks:
Increased unilateral operations in these areas risk destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis in Pakistan without finally achieving the goal.
The drone attacks seem to be counterproductive in a geo-strategic way, but also in a “hearts-and-minds” way, which should not be understated. Back in December, a group of Pakistanis, “Victims of U.S. drone attacks” hit the streets in protest over “significant numbers of civilian casualties from the [drone] strikes” and to announce a lawsuit against the CIA. There is also evidence that the true number of innocents killed has been hidden. That massive civilian casualties, like a March 17 attack that reportedly killed at least 40 civilians, have a negative effect on the perception of America should not be a surprise. But they also motivate new terrorists and help explain why an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis sympathize with the Taliban. It is definitely a sign we are losing the battle if the population hates us, the military leadership is fed up with us, and our actions generally destabilize an already dangerous country.
As mentioned in the WSJ article, the U.S. has additionally – and very secretly – deployed forces within Pakistan. Drone attacks have notoriously presented a sketchy legal issue of sovereignty, but sending U.S. soldiers across the border into Pakistan (as well as covert CIA operatives like Raymond Davis) without seeking official authorization from Congress and not bothering to tell the American people, makes the Libyan intervention look like tea and crumpets. Lieven writes that ground forces are “likely to provoke mass anger” and “risks outright mutiny in the Pakistani army.”
The problems in Pakistan are mounting, and the principle cause of that has been our war in Afghanistan. Lieven sums it up well:
No conceivable short-term gains in the Western campaign in Afghanistan or the ‘war on terror’ could compensate for the vastly increased threats to the region and the world that would stem from Pakistan’s collapse…
…it has been above all the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan which has been responsible for increasing Islamist insurgency and terrorism in Pakistan since 2001…Concern for the effects of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan on the situation in Pakistan is one of the strongest arguments for bringing that presence to an end as soon as this can honourably be achieved, and against conducting more wars against Muslim states under any circumstances whatsoever.
He then quotes a senior Pakistani diplomat:
The US needs to be negotiating with the Taliban, those Taliban with no links to al-Qaida. We need a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan and it will have to be negotiated with all the parties…The Afghan government is already talking to all the stakeholders, the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Mullah Omar. The Americans have been setting ridiculous preconditions for talks. You can’t lay down such preconditions when you are losing.
Unfortunately, such a peaceful and pragmatic settlement doesn’t seem in the cards under Obama, nor under any of the even more hawkish GOP contenders — and it all adds up to a recipe for insecurity and unending wars.