Friday, February 20, 2009
FATA Raid Charades Endanger Pakistan and World
Is there a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on US Predator strikes inside Pakistan? Has Pakistan assured United States that any Pakistani protests against US drone attacks are meant for public consumption inside Pakistan? Are the reports of mistrust between US and Pakistani military a figment of of the US media imagination to defame Pakistani military? Has the policy of secrecy recently been violated by Dianne Feinstein when she revealed that the Predator drones attacking in FATA are flown from a Pakistani airfield? Do Pakistanis believe the farce of Pakistani government's public statements of protest, anger and dismay at the US policy? Are there any lines agreed between US and Pakistan differentiating direct ground incursion by US special forces and Predator attacks from the sky?
Let's try and answer the above questions by examining the events on the ground.
In September, 2008, a team of US Navy Seals was dropped by helicopter in the area of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan. There was a reported firefight between the US commandos and Pakistani soldiers on the ground. It was followed by an air strike which killed several Pakistani soldiers and civilians that the US said were militants.
The Angoor Adda raid by the US Navy Seals brought a stern warning to the US from Pakistani military. "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 Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in a strong statement after the incident.
The US commando raid was a surprise to Pakistanis and Kayani's warning was genuine. It was conveyed to the United States by Pakistan loudly and clearly in both public and private. As expected, it was heeded by the Americans. Since the September 2008 incursion by the US Navy Seals, there have not been any more reported ground attacks in FATA by American commandos.
However, the Predator strikes inside FATA and Pakistan's public protests present a different story. The frequency of Predator air-strikes on suspected Taliban and Al-Qaida targets has dramatically increased recently. Hardly a day goes by without reports of such strikes by US drones operated by the CIA. And Pakistani government led by Zardari routinely protests strikes by US armed drones that reportedly take off from Shamsi airfield near Jacobabad in Pakistan, as visible on Google Earth until very recently.
Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the American drones knows that these machines fly low and slow making them easy targets for any military with a minimally sophisticated air defense system. Even if one disregards the Feinstein revelation and assumes that such contraptions fly out of Afghanistan, Pakistani military is clearly conveying the message that such drone strikes are deliberately tolerated by choosing not to shoot them down. In fact, it is easy to conclude that Pakistani military not only knows but approves Predator missions in FATA. And people who suggest that CIA does not trust Pakistani military and does not share information about drone flights and strikes are either being deliberately disingenuous or just smoking Afghan poppy.
Why is this game of Charades being played by US and Pakistan? Who are they fooling? Measured by the flagging support for war on terror, they are certainly not fooling the people of Pakistan. And the situation next door is not any better. Rising casualties of Afghan civilians are turning the Afghan people against the US military and the Karzai government and strengthening support for the Taliban. After seven years of US presence, many Afghans now believe that the Taliban offered them a much better sense of security and law and order when they ruled the nation until 2001. Last October, Christian Science Monitor reported on how the Taliban handled complaints from villagers near Kabul about a gang of thieves. The Taliban's parallel government in Logar Province – less than 40 miles from Kabul, the capital – tried and convicted the men, tarred their faces, paraded them around, and threatened to chop off their hands if they were caught stealing in the future. The thieves never bothered the locals again.
A serious but unintended and extremely dangerous consequence of the US air strikes in FATA is that the militants are moving further inland from FATA in to Pakistan's settled area such as Swat and threatening to destabilize the entire country. A destabilized, nuclear-armed Pakistan will be far more dangerous to the US, the region and the world than anything we have seen in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The Obama response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is to order more Predator strikes and thousands of more US troops. This assumes that the problems are mainly the lack of firepower and of troop strength. But it's likely to have the opposite effect. More Predator strikes and more troops mean more fighting which will lead to more American and Afghan civilian casualties. And it will only increase the public opposition to the US presence there, and make the entire region a much more powerful magnet to draw more global Jihadists from around the world. These "holy warriors" love nothing better than to kill the American soldiers and achieve "martyrdom" for themselves.
It is clear from the developments over the last several months that the US needs a complete overhaul of both its overall strategy and tactics. Just the planned troops surge alone will not suffice. There has to be a comprehensive new strategy for political dialog, reconstruction and smart counterinsurgency tactics in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
WorldFocus on Afghanistan
Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Obama's South Asia Policy
Military Occupation of Kashmir
Bruce Riedel Interview
Clues to Obama's South Asia Policy