Monday, August 4, 2008

US Policy Options with Pakistan

With deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan in recent weeks and months, there has been mounting frustration with Pakistan by the US government officials, congressmen, military generals and the media over the Gilani government's handling of FATA, Afghanistan and the ISI. This understandable frustration has often been expressed by threats to cut off aid to Pakistan, increasing US predator attacks in FATA, talk of hot pursuit of the militants across the Pakistan-Afghan border and the hints of full-scale invasion of Pakistani territory by US and NATO forces. Let's take a look at these threats and examine what are the US options in Pakistan.

Cut-off US Aid to Pakistan:
A cut-off of US aid to Pakistan would be far more costly to the US than the amount of aid it hands out. Much is made of the fact that the US has given Pakistan over $10b in aid since 911. What has Pakistan done with it? It is then asked, why has Pakistan not succeeded in ending the insurgency by the Taliban? The fact is that Pakistanis have been far more efficient in the use of funds than the Americans, the British or NATO on the Afghan side of the border or in Iraq. The cut-off of aid would only strengthen Islamists and make moderate Pakistanis less likely to cooperate with the US.

Under President Musharraf, Pakistanis deployed tens of thousands of troops in FATA, lost hundreds of lives and captured or killed hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including dozens of key leaders. Most of these militants had been pushed into Pakistan by the US bombing and invasion of Afghanistan. In the absence of Pakistani efforts on its side of the border, the Afghans and their Pushtoon kinsmen in Pakistan would probably have overrun the foreign forces in most of Afghanistan by now and restricted them to a Baghdad-like "Green Zone", unable to venture out into the country.

Targeted Predator Attacks:
Whether done by the US or Pakistan, predator attacks have limited value by themselves. They sometimes kill a few militants here and there, but the resulting civilian casualties play in favor of militants in a revenge-based tribal culture of FATA. If such attacks are done strategically to restore the power of the traditional elders, then there is a greater chance of success. It requires a much better understanding and clever use of the current dynamics in FATA, where the the Taliban militants have replaced the jirga system of the tribal elders and assumed the role of de facto government.

Direct US/NATO action in FATA:
If, instead of using Pakistanis as their proxy, the Americans choose to make it their own war on the Pakistani side of the border, they'll soon discover that it will be far more costly and much less effective in terms of dollars and casualties than the current situation. Such an invasion will turn moderate Pakistanis against the United States and radicalize a large majority of the country's population of 165m people. Foreign forces have a long history of heavy losses and defeats in FATA, a region inhabited by fiercely independent frontiersmen of Pakistan's tribal belt. While a massive bombing and direct invasion of FATA will temporarily pacify the situation, the required long-term occupation would definitely cost many times more than $1b a year on Pakistan's side or the current $2b a month on the Afghan side. And it will lead to major uprising and destabilization inside nuclear-armed Pakistan with severe long-term consequence for the entire region and the world. The cost of dealing with such a major upheaval is hard to assess. It should be noted that the US is currently spending about $10.3b a month in Iraq.

It is, indeed, a very difficult situation between US and Pakistan, a situation that requires carefully considered actions rather than angry rhetoric or belligerent threats. This situation can easily spiral out of control, unless sanity prevails on both sides. The only way out of this crisis is for the two cold war allies and their various agencies (including the military leaders and spy agencies) to find a way to work together toward the common goal of ridding the region of terrorism. The US can help encourage and establish clarity in the current political situation in Pakistan. The US must also understand Pakistan's concerns relative to the growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistanis must see the war against the insurgents as their own war and fight it vigorously and cleverly.


Anonymous said...

Well..Imagine an attack on US homeland, then re-imagine the scenario.The cost calculator will be thrown out of the window. btw..
The best strategy for US is to keep Pak happy by aiding Pak with funds to keep country stable economically and militarily. Pak army is never gonna clamp down on militant groups that are their strategic assets.
My thoughts on military strategies are:
-> Strengthen Afghan intelligence agencies.They have done a great job of finding Kabul embassy plot before the attack which was followed upon by other intel agencies. Based on their intel, US special forces could mount raids across the border on specific inputs. Drones could be used for mass targets like meetings of terror leaders.
-> Conduct 'false flag' operations and create suspicions among TTP and other militant groups and if possible the ISI.This was done to great effect by Soviet Union.I think this is currently on, in small-scale.
-> Hire mercenaries from India and Nepal on the guise of security jobs on a large scale for Afghanistan military operations.There are retired(age 40) highly-trained crack NSG commandos doing 5star hotel gate security jobs in India like Taj.This was done in case of Iraq.
->Strengthen Afghan intelligence agencies.They have done a great job of finding Kabul embassy plot beforehand. US special forces could mount raids across the border on specific inputs. Drones could be used for mass targets like meetings of terror leaders.

If Afghanistan situation deteriorates further and US troops incur mass causalities,there will be political pressureto go gloves-off in NWFP-FATA.
I think Pres.Bush is nervous about Pak and don't want to be pioneer of another mess like Iraq.I guess he will play safe and the ball will be in Obama's court.

Invasion of Pakistan is beyond US military capability as of now.Chinese will be extremely unhappy too since it takes out its proxy for India.It would be interesting to know how much of this Pak-Afghan border mess will affect Beijing Olympics.

Riaz Haq said...

I agree that all bets are off if there is a 911 style attack on US homeland. No US president can resist the pressure for massive revenge/retaliation regardless of the long term implications.

The strategies you suggest are really tactics that can not succeed unless there is a real strategy behind such tactics. As President Clinton put it, "You can not jail or kill all terrorists." The strategy should be to cut off support, funding and recruiting by the Taliban and Al-Qaida. This can only be accomplished by winning the hearts ands minds of the people of the region. Unfortunately, the US policy has miserably failed on this front. As reported recently in Newsweek, many Afghans openly curse Karzai and the Americans and want the Taliban back. Their kinsmen in FATA seem to agree with these sentiments. This must change for any US tactics to work. What is needed is greater focus on non-military assistance, reconstruction, job creation, an substantial decrease in innocent civilian casualties in US attacks, end to poppy production, etc. At the same time, Pakistanis must be persuaded, not threatened, to cooperate with the US military and CIA.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Asia Times Op Ed by Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar on Chinese & Russian envoys' visits to Pakistan:

The back-to-back visits to Pakistan this week by China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and the Russian president's special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, are rich in political symbolism and strategic content.

The consultations came at a time when Pakistan is reeling under pressure from the United States, the future of Afghanistan remains complicated and regional security is in flux.

The timing of the consultations will draw attention - since they were sandwiched between the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Chicago on May 20-21 and the forthcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Beijing on June 6-7. Afghanistan is a burning issue for both international groupings.
Yang underscored that China will unwaveringly pursue the policy of further strengthening its friendship with Pakistan and is willing to work together to deepen practical cooperation and strengthen the strategic coordination and elevate the partnership to new heights.

Xinhua news agency reported that China and Pakistan have agreed to "strengthen multilateral coordination and to safeguard the common interests of both sides." The reference seems to be to Pakistan's role in the SCO, whose forthcoming summit in Beijing will be attended by Zardari.

While Yang's official visit had a broad-ranging agenda, Kabulov's consultations were focused and purposive. He came to Islamabad primarily to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the forthcoming visit to Pakistan by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kabulov is Moscow's ace diplomatic troubleshooter on Afghanistan. The Pakistani accounts quoted him as saying to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani that "enormous commonalities" existed between Russia and Pakistan on regional issues and bilateral cooperation. Clearly, the reference is to the situation surrounding the Afghan problem, where both Russia and Pakistan have been seeking a bigger role while the US selectively engages them for specific roles.

Putin's visit to Pakistan, which is expected "soon", will be the first by a Russian head of state in the six-decade long history of relations between the two countries. It will consolidate the remarkable makeover in the two countries' relations in the past two to three years.

The fact that Putin picked Pakistan to be one of his first visits abroad after taking over as president in the Kremlin itself testifies to the "mood swing" in the geopolitics of the region. Many trends need to be factored in here.

Russia is gearing up to play an effective role in world affairs. Its assertive stance on Syria and Iran can be expected to extend to Pakistan and Central Asia. Russia kept its participation over the NATO summit on a low-key and saw to it that none of the Central Asian leaders who were invited - from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - attended either. Meanwhile, Moscow also hosted a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Putin is undertaking visits to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan during the week ahead and is virtually launching his Eurasian project.
The utter failure of the US strategy in Afghanistan stands exposed in terms of its exceptionalism and the stark absence of a regional consensus. Yang and Kabulov could and should have been the US's best allies in urging Pakistan to work with the international community for an enduring peace in Afghanistan. The paradox is that even in the prevailing situation of high volatility in the US's relations with Russia and China they might well have done that, but without Washington's bidding.