Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Pakistan Problem

From Hitchens:
Recent accounts of murderous violence in the capital cities of two of our allies, India and Afghanistan, make it appear overwhelmingly probable that the bombs were not the work of local or homegrown "insurgents" but were orchestrated by agents of the Pakistani ISI. This is a fantastically unacceptable state of affairs, which needs to be given its right name of state-sponsored terrorism. Meanwhile, and on Pakistani soil and under the very noses of its army and the ISI, the city of Quetta and the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas are becoming the incubating ground of a reorganized and protected al-Qaida. Sen. Barack Obama has, if anything, been the more militant of the two presidential candidates in stressing the danger here and the need to act without too much sentiment about our so-called Islamabad ally. He began using this rhetoric when it was much simpler to counterpose the "good" war in Afghanistan with the "bad" one in Iraq. Never mind that now; he is committed in advance to a serious projection of American power into the heartland of our deadliest enemy. And that, I think, is another reason why so many people are reluctant to employ truthful descriptions for the emerging Afghan-Pakistan confrontation: American liberals can't quite face the fact that if their man does win in November, and if he has meant a single serious word he's ever said, it means more war, and more bitter and protracted war at that—not less.
There are a few problems with confronting Pakistan:
  1. Operations in Afghanistan become close to untenable if we lose the logistical route through Baluchistan.

  2. Despite the latent hostility, we still get lots of juicy intelligence from the ISI.

  3. We simply don't have the resources to conduct operations in a hostile Pakistan and in Afghanistan and finish up Iraq properly.

  4. It's nice to be the voice of sweet reason whenever Pakistan decides that it might like to take its frustrations out on India.

  5. There's that little matter of the nuclear weapons.
Now it's certainly possible that we can conduct a cold war against certain elements in Pakistan, especially in Waziristan and the rest of the Northwest Frontier Provinces, without actually precipitating a full-scale rupture of relations or, even worse, a hot war. But today we have this little tidbit:
Pakistan's military has ordered its forces to open fire if U.S. troops launch another air or ground raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman said Tuesday.
Maybe this is just more posturing by the Pak government for domestic consumption. Maybe not. We're on very dangerous ground here.

But before we contemplate the details of a rupture in US-Pakistani relations, we first need to ask ourselves a couple of difficult questions:
  • Are Al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan a genuine threat to US/Western security? It's certainly undesirable to give terrorists bases to train but I'm stumped on how a bunch of camps in the NWFP actually provides any meaningful logistical support for operations in the US or Europe. Given that we now know what Al Qaeda is capable of, and we know how they get funded, and we mostly know how they stage into our territory, I'm not so sure that the safe havens pose the existential threat that they did prior to 9/11/01.

  • Do we really need to midwife a stable, democratic Afghanistan? It's surely very handy having burgeoning democracies on both sides of Iran. And we certainly have a moral obligation to Afghanistan under the Pottery Barn Doctrine. But frankly, the place was profoundly broken before we blew the crap out of it and we've been more than generous in trying to put them back on their feet. And while Iraq is an area of vital US interest because of that ooey black stuff under their land, Afghanistan is still just a pile of rocks.
It's entirely possible that, despite my objections above, the answer to the two questions posed is "yes." But we should understand what the consequences of answering "no" to either of them really are. Nobody's talking about that because conventional wisdom has taken over and put us on autopilot. Maybe it's time to wake up and re-evaluate.

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