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.


Anonymous said...

Nuclear "exchange" scenario would be a wet dream for US policy makers given the messy dilemma they are in. I think Pak would be nuts to contemplate a nuclear strike (on US bases in Afghanistan)in retaliation for raids by teams of US Special Forces or Reapers. These are just hollow saber-rattling.Pak nuclear arsenal given by their n-tests and intentions are 5-20KT(fission only) range as against megatons warheads in their thousands with US.Only noises are going to be made, if Pak has the courage to face US, they only need a quarter of the courage to face Taliban which they don't have. Next US administration whether a McClain or Obama is going to turn the screws tight on ambivalence of Pak military for cracking down on Taliban. NYT states in recent article that bajour operations and all were all a stunt and nothing really happened on the ground and that Taliban and Army are hand in hand playing double game. US is not that stupid since Robert Gates and all have even directly liaisoned with some of the elements that they are fighting now.

libertarian said...

This looks like endgame. Bush has signed off on this.

This has a very ugly look to it. The US/ISAF has a critical dependency on supplies coming through Karachi. The Pakistan Army has already started choking those lines. Both sides do not look like backing down. For the US to take on Al Qaeda _and_ and Pakistan Army in FATA is madness. But the option of backing down is also gone. While there will not be a full-scale invasion, Special Ops folks will certainly be there in materially significant numbers. Wonder what Kayani means: will the Pakistani Army engage US Special Ops? Scary thought.

Zardari and the current "democractic dispensation" are toast: collateral damage.

Riaz Haq said...

It seems that, in your blind hatred of Pakistan, you fail to understand human nature. You also do not understand the gravity of the situation. Your talk of courage to deal with Taliban vs US is just meaningless. It is more a matter of pride and willingness based on popular approval rather than courage. Wars start and disasters happen because of massive miscalculations by human beings. History is filled with examples of such disasters. People may claim to be rational, but at the core, humans are motivated more by emotions and gut rather than elaborate calculations. That is why the mere existence of WMD is in itself a major threat to the human race.

Riaz Haq said...

Neither the Pak military, nor the US forces can defeat the Taliban insurgency without the political support of the people of Pakistan. Anybody who knows anything about FATA knows the terrain and the local culture favor the local Taliban tribesmen. If the US and Pak do go to war with each other, the biggest winners will be Al-Qaeda and Taliban. These Islamic extremists will have defeated their major opposition and have a free reign to impose their dark vision on the whole region. India and China will not be able to escape the consequences of such a development. It will raise the specter of a much longer lasting and very bloody conflict for the people of the entire region.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe US is any position to take on with its misadventures. In some news NATO has already backed out from supporting American strikes within Pakistan and have told America that it will be on its own there.

And seriously America needs to revisit its sane mind - imagine a US soldier being caught there right in Pakistan? Or wait - maybe that is what America will ever want :)

America fails to understand that with each violation of Pakistan's sovereignty its calling for more disapproval of Pakistani public who has for good already started to stay clear of supporting Taliban in every manner.

libertarian said...

Neither the Pak military, nor the US forces can defeat the Taliban insurgency without the political support of the people of Pakistan.

Looks like Nawaz Sharif got his excuse to pull the rug from under Zardari. The fool does not understand he's cutting his nose to spite his face.

Riaz Haq said...

Unfortunately, both Zardari and Sharif have a history of being reckless and inept. In addition to the serious Taliban insurgency, the irresponsible behavior of Pakistani politicians is a huge problem for Pakistanis. I hope I am wrong but I see dark clouds on the horizon.

Anonymous said...

Whether Pak public like it or not is not the issue.Unacceptability of a safe haven for world's terrorism is the issue.If Pak is serious about sovereignty, it should reign in the terrorists.If pak military can't/won't reign in terrorists that uses FATA/NWFP as launchpads and resting areas for strike across the border, there has to be consequences.NATO washing off its hands makes no effect. NATO countries (except US,UK and France) are lame countries who are very touchy about causalities, they love to hide in southern Afghanistan doing nothing and showing their high-tech wares. All the "sacrifices" pak is now making has no evidence..since those fighting areas are off limits to everyone. Pak army claims that they killed 100 militants but Taliban(who usually don't lie about causalities) asserts that there is no personnel loss from their side. So as NYT states correctly there whole operation by FC is a drama for "entertaining the Americans". But the bad news for Pak is that Americans have now seen through the game.

Riaz Haq said...

It seems you don't understand the basic fact that the military of any country, US, India or Pakistan, can not succeed without political support of the people of the country. In fact, military action often proves counterproductive if the people see it as unjust or unfair.

If US accepts your advice to go for a purely military solution in FATA, it will backfire and make the problem of insurgency far worse that it is now. All of the big stuff and supplies to the US troops flow from Karachi port through Pakistani territory to Afghanistan which is landlocked. If the Pakistanis choke off supplies to US troops, it'll be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to sustain US troops there. The US has to tread with care, as should Pakistan, to prevent the situation spiraling out of control.

Anonymous said...

The Bush administartion is acting in desperation to find their prize from the "war on terror"it appears they dont value innocent lives anymore...

Anonymous said...

^^Yes, that is true though. I no longer trust the Bush's administration's zest for fighting terror. The BBC documentary about liquid explosives plot alleges that Bush admin tried to rush arrest of people under surveillance by MI5/6 by arresting Rauf in Multan,Pakistan(who of course escaped from ISI custody). It is alleged by senior British intel officers that Bush admin dont want to taint his presidency by possibility of another 9/11 scale attack and thus botched up MI5's careful gathering of evidence. Even in case of Pak, the CIA-Pentagon were saying out loud for 5 or more years that Musharaf is double-dealing. Only now when things turned from bad to worse in Afghanistan that, they are waking up. I now doubt whether Bush admin even seriously care about security of ppl of America.

Riaz Haq said...

B. Raman (Former RAW intelligence official and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai) writes in recent issue of OUTLOOK as follows:

(Informed sources) say that it is correct that Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari had been kept in the picture by officials of the Bush administration, including President George Bush himself, about the new rules of engagement approved by Bush in July before the visit of Gilani to Washington DC. Under these new rules of engagement, the US has been allowed to step up aerial attacks on suspected terrorist hide-outs in Pakistani territory by the Predator pilotless planes and undertake ground operations through special forces within a depth of not more than five kms if warranted by precise intelligence without informing the Pakistan Army beforehand. According to them, these rules of engagement also lay down that ground operations would be undertaken in such a manner as not to involve an accidental confrontation with the Pakistani security forces. As against three Predator strikes and no ground strike during the whole of last year when Pervez Musharraf was the President and the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), there have already been 12 Predator strikes and one ground strike since the Gilani government came to office on March 18, 2008

These sources say that Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), was also briefed on these new rules of engagement during his meeting with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board a US aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea on August 27, 2008. However, Kayani has strongly denied this. A press release of the Inter-Services Press Office issued on September 10,2008, quoted Kayani as saying as follows while commenting on media reports: "The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all costs and no external force will be allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

Ofcourse confrontation is inevitable as their defence ministry has shown the desire. There will occur some clash which is their ultimate motive for the U.S force stay in Afghanistan. However may be Nato not standby U.S in the fight. Certainly some fighting will take place.

Unknown said...

who does trust bush, I'm American and I don't like him. I think trying to predict what u.s. intelligence(if there such a thing) is going to do is impossible. But they have heat of their own to worry about nobody in this country wants another war with no results. the military complex is being forced to find a new way to assert itself in the new emerging world. the tactics of old has proven to be destructive. this is a non-military endeavor. provide security and people would not be forced to choose extremism.
i think people are jumping the gun on a possible Pakistan and American conflict. hey we have two wars we're trying to get out of a third is out of the question. now I'm not forgetting that in normal cowboy fashion bush has adopted drones over diplomacy. but many in America feel that was an unwise decision, one of many.
Also no matter what Pakistan's government does is only going to impress a certain group of that country. look at those who supported Musharraf and hated Bhutto and vice versa but both has given tremendously to their country. so no matter what decisions the new government makes, its opponents will use every failing to reclaim power and and continue this endless dance. much like in American Democrats vs. Republicans except with violence. so i ask you does any one leader ever have unanimous favor. The answer is always no, so the real question is, how does Pakistan make it a Pakistani war, and how to get America off its back.
Now Zardari who's used all his political strength to ensure his election. must back up what he says. but lets say he makes the most practical decision. still to a number of the population that will still be wrong. forget actually fighting extremists, how can Pakistan be expected to grow if it can't contain this mindless infighting.
But this is the constant test of government. to find that balance between both oppositions. its just that unfortunitly for this new government it has to happen sooner than later.

Unknown said...

Indeed, the rhetoric on a possible US-Pakistan armed conflict is highly speculative. Skirmishes are a more likely eventuality. Neither of the two countries can afford anything that takes their focus away from the real issue. All said, it is sadly evident that the prime minister and president of Pakistan are fully sold on the new rules of engagement. Getting Musharraf to pack up and supporting a joke of a democratic setup fall neatly into place to impose a more comprehensive (read intrusive) strategy. Pakistan's political elite's signature "condemnation" of the US forces incursions sound way too hollow to spare the least of attention.

Riaz Haq said...

US-Pakistan relations in crisis after NATO attacks and kills at least 24 Pakistani soldiers, according to Reuters:

NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations, already deeply frayed, further into crisis.

Pakistan retaliated by shutting down vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, used for sending in just under a third of the alliance's supplies.

The attack is the worst single incident of its kind since Pakistan uneasily allied itself with Washington in the days immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets.
"Close air support was called in, in the development of the tactical situation, and it is what highly likely caused the Pakistan casualties," said General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

He added that he could not confirm the number of casualties, but ISAF is investigating the "tragic development."

"We are aware that Pakistani soldiers perished. We don't know the size, the magnitude," he said.

The Pakistani government and military brimmed with fury.

"This is an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty," said Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. "We will not let any harm come to Pakistan's sovereignty and solidarity."

The Foreign Office said it would take up the matter "in the strongest terms" with NATO and the United States.

The powerful Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, said in a statement issued by the Pakistani military that "all necessary steps be under taken for an effective response to this irresponsible act.

"A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression."

Two military officials said that up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the outposts, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military said 24 troops were killed and 13 wounded.
A similar incident on Sept 30, 2010, which killed two Pakistani troops, led to the closure of one of NATO's supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days.

NATO apologized for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by the Pakistani forces for a militant attack.

U.S.-Pakistan relations were already reeling from a tumultuous year that saw the bin Laden raid, the jailing of a CIA contractor, and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

The United States has long suspected Pakistan of continuing to secretly support Taliban militant groups to secure influence in Afghanistan after most NATO troops leave in 2014. Saturday's incident will give Pakistan the argument that NATO is now attacking it directly.

"I think we should go to the United Nations Security Council against this," said retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, former chief of security in the tribal areas. "So far, Pakistan is being blamed for all that is happening in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's point of view has not been shown in the international media."

Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately "things will get back to normal."

Paul Beaver, a British security analyst, said relations were so bad that this incident might have no noticeable impact.

"I'm not sure U.S.-Pakistan relations could sink much lower than they are now," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

US Council on Foreign Relation elevates risk of conflict with Pakistan in 2012, according to AFP:

WASHINGTON: A conflict with Pakistan, the euro crisis, and a political instability in Saudi Arabia and have emerged as top potential threats facing the United States in 2012, an influential think-tank said Friday.

The Council on Foreign Relation’s Center for Preventive Action anonymously surveyed US officials and experts to compile an annual list of the most plausible conflicts for the United States in the new year.

The 2012 list elevated several contingencies to the top tier of risks: a US conflict with Pakistan prompted by an attack or counter-terrorism operation; an intensified euro crisis, which could plunge the United States back into recession; and a Saudi instability, which would threaten global oil supplies.

Threats that remained at the top of the list from last year included a potential incident between the United States and China, internal instability in Pakistan, intensified nuclear crises with Iran or North Korea, and a spillover of drug-related violence from Mexico.

Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who focuses on conflict resolution, said that the survey was designed to fill a gap as the US government has a poor record forecasting future instability and conflict.

“It is a perennial problem to get policymakers to focus on future challenges when dealing with the tyranny of the inbox,” Zenko said, referring to the overwhelming flow of messages.

“But in an age of austerity it has never been more important to forecast, prevent or mitigate plausible contingencies that could result in an expensive and long-lasting US military involvement,” he said.

The survey elevated the risk of conflict with Pakistan amid high tensions in 2011 following the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden. But the think-tank removed the potential for military escalation between Pakistan and arch-rival India from the top tier of risks.

The survey also added Bahrain as a “tier-two” risk to the United States, citing fears that growing instability in the Sunni-ruled kingdom could spur fresh military action by Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Other risks that were downgraded or removed from last year included:

- Intensified military conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.

- Renewed military conflict between Russia and Georgia.

- Violent instability in Thailand.

- Violent instability in Myanmar.

- A succession crisis in Zimbabwe.