Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Is Pakistan-US Military Confrontation Inevitable?
"The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan," said Pakistan's General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in his strongest statement yet on the latest US military incursion in FATA. General Kayani, named by Time magazine among the 100 most influential people of the world, was commenting today on a cross-border raid last week allegedly by US-led coalition troops based in neighboring Afghanistan in which 15 Pakistanis were killed. "Such reckless actions only help the militants and further fuel the militancy in the area," he was quoted as saying.
The U.S. is "running out of time" to win the war in Afghanistan, and sending in more troops will not guarantee victory, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, warned Congress on Wednesday. Mullen said he is convinced the Afghanistan war can be won but said the U.S. urgently needs to improve its nation-building initiatives and its cross-border strategy with Pakistan, according to CNN.
It is clear that there is growing resentment and impatience on both the US and Pakistani sides. Military leaders Kayani and Mullen seem to be indicating that the US and Pakistan are heading toward an unnecessary military confrontation. But is it inevitable?
To understand the Pakistani position, let me refer the readers to what Gary Leupp, a history professor at Tufts University has to say. According to him, Pakistan has provided more assistance to the United States than any other nation as it pursues its goals in southwest Asia. No country has been more dramatically destabilized as the price of its cooperation.
“But not only does the U.S. political class take this disastrous compliance for granted, it wants to further emphasize Islamabad’s irrelevance by attacking the border area at will,” he writes.
The US dilemma is captured well in what Admiral Mullen told Congress today. Mullen stressed that Afghanistan can't be referenced without "speaking of Pakistan," where, he said, the militant groups collaborate and communicate better, launch more sophisticated attacks, employ foreign fighters and use civilians as human shields.
"In my view, these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them," he said, adding that he plans "to commission a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region, one that covers both sides of the border.
"I have pressed hard on my counterparts in Pakistan to do more against extremists and to let us do more to help them," he said.
The conflict is exacerbated, he said, by the "poor and struggling Afghan economy" as well as the drug trade and "significant political uncertainty in Pakistan." These factors present a "complex, difficult struggle."
This is a moment of great urgency for the political leadership on both sides to avoid an accidental conflict that could spiral out of control. No military can succeed without political support. For Pakistan, it means that the Pakistani people have to support their military to fight and win against the Taliban insurgents, who have launched a campaign of murder and mayhem on the streets of Pakistan. Pakistani political leadership must accept responsibility to counter the anti-American attitudes and convince the people that they must support the war against the Taliban as their own war, not America's war. On the US side, the political class in Washington, including Bush, McCain and Obama, need to stop taking Pakistan's compliance for granted, and to prevent further destabilization of Pakistan as a nation-state. Al-Qaeda and Taliban thrive on chaos, and a military conflict between US and Pakistan will lead to tremendous chaos in the entire region. Ultimately, if US and Pakistan go to war with each other instead of fighting the insurgents, Al-Qaeda and Taliban will be the big winners. Though it is a remote possibility, US-Pakistan military confrontation could even lead to a nuclear exchange, if Pakistanis feel that their existence as a nation is threatened by the US. Such a disastrous possibility must not be ignored.
The political leaders in Washington and Islamabad need to take a deep breath, and work quickly to reduce tension and frustration among the military brass on both sides. In the meanwhile, both sides must avoid publicly venting their frustrations by inflammatory rhetoric.