Posts Tagged ‘US attacks inside Pakistan’

A Bitter Harvest in Afghanistan

October 2, 2008

Bush’s Other Failed War

By DEEPAK TRIPATHI | Counterpunch, Sep 30, 2008

The audacity of recent attacks by the Taleban and their Al-Qaeda allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan has caused alarm in the region and beyond. The bombings of the Indian embassy in Kabul in June 2008 and the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on September 20 have been devastating. Large swathes of Pakistan’s frontier provide militant groups with sanctuaries, from where they launch attacks in both countries. The targets are chosen with precision and the campaign of violence has spread to India. A few days before the Islamabad bombing, a series of explosions in the Indian capital, Delhi, killed and maimed scores of shoppers at several locations. There have also been attacks in other Indian cities in recent months.

These events have caused tension between the Bush administration and Pakistan, America’s main ally in the ‘war on terror’. On more than one occasion, U.S. helicopters carrying troops have attempted to land inside Pakistani territory, without authorization. Pakistani troops have fired on them and the helicopters have had to retreat. The anti-U.S. sentiment has rarely been so strong in the region. The authorities in Pakistan cannot afford to allow American troops on their country’s soil. The authorities in India, with a Muslim minority nearly as large as the entire population of Pakistan, struggle to decide how far to move towards imposing draconian measures. How have things come to such a pass?

The origins of today’s crisis rest in the past. For almost half a century after the Second World War, the United States had been at the forefront in efforts to contain communism. By December 1991, the Soviet empire had collapsed and America was in search of a new role. America’s proxy war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan had ended. Billions of dollars worth of weaponry was left in the devastated country. The strategic importance of Afghanistan had diminished for the United States. The army of Islamic groups, financed and equipped by America, turned bitter. In their eyes, it was a deliberate act of abandonment.

The American economy had suffered years of decline, to which vast military expenditure on foreign wars had contributed. There were new opportunities to achieve economic renaissance at home and reshape the international order abroad. Bill Clinton, who won the presidency in November 1992, was keen to seize these opportunities.

However, there was a problem. Following the breakup of the Soviet state, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus had found themselves with almost all long-range nuclear weapons. Smaller tactical arms were scattered all over the territory of the defunct state. Every republic except Kyrgyzstan had inherited them. One nuclear state had suddenly become many. Unless these weapons were dismantled and Russia was helped to transform itself into a democracy in control of the ex-Soviet nuclear arsenal, the world would be a dangerous place.

When Clinton assumed the presidency in January 1993, America had already liberated Kuwait after brief Iraqi occupation. Clinton moved on to his agenda to stabilize the former USSR and rebuild the American economy. He was aware that a conservative takeover in Russia could start a new arms race and sink his plan for American renaissance. Clinton told his advisers to help Boris Yeltsin, the Russian president, in the transformation of his country. The focus of Clinton’s policy was to be investment in Russia.

One of its consequences was a move from Afghanistan, left in a Hobbesian ‘state of nature’ – war of all against all. The policy to rescue Russia continued until the end of the Clinton presidency. In the darkest period of Russia’s economic crisis, Yeltsin was forced to default on repayment of foreign debt and devalue the Russian currency in 1998. Clinton pushed the International Monetary Fund to support a recovery program. Within two years, Russia’s income from oil sales had risen substantially, helped by an increase in the world prices. The crisis had subsided.

It was in late1994 that a little-known Islamic militia, described as the Taleban, came to prominence in southern Afghanistan, amid the destruction of what was left of the Afghan state. The country was split into numerous fiefdoms run by rival warlords. Afghan and foreign Mujahideen had spent years fighting the Soviet Union and its client regime in Kabul. Now, they had nothing to do. Foreign money had dried up. Weapons were plentiful and America had walked away.

Murder, rape, looting and plundering became the way of life for these fighters, as Pakistan’s rival agencies tolerated or collaborated with the Taleban to impose a brutal regime in Afghanistan. The civilian government of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the most important U.S. ally in the region, were the staunchest supporters of the Taleban regime, which gave sanctuary to Al-Qaeda. America had, in effect, handed over Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia, which represents the most totalitarian brand of Sunni Islam. Its junior partner was Pakistan.

The 9/11 attacks prompted the United States to return to Afghanistan to overthrow the Taleban regime and destroy Al-Qaeda. Overthrowing the Taleban regime was the easy task. But the stabilization and reconstruction effort has suffered a calamitous failure. The Taleban and Al-Qaeda are regrouped and reinforced. Their top leaders continue to elude capture. Afghans at first welcomed their liberation from the Taleban. They are now very resentful of the Americans and their use of overwhelming force, resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties.

Afghanistan has been at the center of great power games for centuries. But outsiders have always failed to tame the spirit of resistance of its people. At the peak of their dominance, the British and Russian empires played the Great Game. In the Cold War, it was between America and the Soviet Union. Today, as the United States, the only hyperpower in the world, tries to reshape the Afghan state, it finds the new game as difficult as ever.

As the turbulent presidency of George W. Bush comes to a close, it leaves a legacy of two wars, with colossal economic and human costs. And America needs a president who knows how to extinguish the fires of war abroad and how to lead his own country into a period of renaissance once again.

Deepak Tripathi, former BBC correspondent in Afghanistan, is the author of a study of the Cold War. Its finding were published in DIALECTICS OF THE AFGHANISTAN CONFLICT, a short monograph, by the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, in March 2008. The full study is to be published as a book. He is currently writing a book on the presidency of George W. Bush. More about his works can be found on

POLITICS-US: Vested Interests Drove New Pakistan Policy

September 18, 2008

Analysis by Gareth Porter | Inter-Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Sep 17 – The George W. Bush administration’s decision to launch commando raids and step up missiles strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda figures in the tribal areas of Pakistan followed what appears to have been the most contentious policy process over the use of force in Bush’s eight-year presidency.

That decision has stirred such strong opposition from the Pakistani military and government that it is now being revisited. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Pakistan Tuesday for the second time in three weeks, and U.S. officials and sources just told Reuters that any future raids would be approved on a mission-by-mission basis by a top U.S. administration official.

The policy was the result of strong pressure from the U.S. command in Afghanistan and lobbying by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the CIA’s operations directorate (DO), both of which had direct institutional interests in operations that coincided with their mandate.

State Department and some Pentagon officials had managed to delay the proposed military escalation in Pakistan for a year by arguing that it would be based on nearly nonexistent intelligence and would only increase support for the Islamic extremists in that country.

But officials of SOCOM and the CIA prevailed in the end, apparently because Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney believed they could not afford to be seen as doing nothing about bin Laden and al Qaeda in the administration’s final months.

SOCOM had a strong institutional interest in a major new operation in Pakistan.

The Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEALS had been allowed by the Pakistani military to accompany its forces on raids in the tribal area in 2002 and 2003 but not to operate on their own. And even that extremely limited role was ended by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in 2003, which frustrated SOCOM officials.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose antagonism toward the CIA was legendary, had wanted SOCOM to take over the hunt for bin Laden. And in 2006, SOCOM’s Joint Special Operations Command branch in Afghanistan pressed Rumsfeld to approve a commando operation in Pakistan aimed at capturing a high-ranking al Qaeda operative.

SOCOM had the support of the U.S. command in Afghanistan, which was arguing that the war in Afghanistan could not be won as long as the Taliban had a safe haven in Pakistan from which to launch attacks. The top U.S. commander, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, worked with SOCOM and DO officers in Afghanistan to assemble the evidence of Pakistan’s cooperation with the Taliban. .

Despite concerns that such an operation could cause a massive reaction in Pakistan against the U.S. war on al Qaeda, Rumsfeld gave in to the pressure in early November 2006 and approved the operation, according to an account in the New York Times Jun. 30. But within days, Rumsfeld was out as defence secretary, and the operation was put on hold.

Nevertheless Bush and Cheney, who had been repeating that Musharraf had things under control in the frontier area, soon realised that they would be politically vulnerable to charges that they weren’t doing anything about bin Laden.

The July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was the signal for the CIA’s DO to step up its own lobbying for control over a Pakistan operation, based on the Afghan model — CIA officers training and arming a local militia while identifying targets for strikes from the air.

In a Washington Post column only two weeks after the NIE’s conclusions were made public, David Ignatius quoted former CIA official Hank Crumpton, who had run the CIA operation in Afghanistan after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, on the proposed DO operation: “We either do it now, or we do it after the next attack.”

That either-or logic and the sense of political vulnerability in the White House was the key advantage of the advocates of a new war in Pakistan. Last November, the New York Times reported that the Defence Department had drafted an order based on the SOCOM proposal for training of local tribal forces and for new authority for “covert” commando operations in Pakistan’s frontier provinces.

But the previous experience with missile strikes against al Qaeda targets using predator drones and the facts on the ground provided plenty of ammunition to those who opposed the escalation. It showed that the proposed actions would have little or no impact on either the Taliban or al Qaeda in Pakistan, and would bring destabilising political blowback.

In January 2006, the CIA had launched a missile strike on a residential compound in Damadola, near the Afghan border, on the basis of erroneous intelligence that Ayman al-Zawahiri would be there. The destruction killed as many 25 people, according to local residents interviewed by The Telegraph, including 14 members of one family.

Some 8,000 tribesmen in the Damadola area protested the killing, and in Karachi tens of thousands more rallied against the United States, shouting “Death to America!”

Musharraf later claimed that the dead included four high-ranking al Qaeda officials, including al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law. The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported last week, however, that U.S. and Pakistani officials now admit that only local villagers were killed in the strike.

It was well known within the counter-terrorism community that the U.S. search for al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan was severely limited by the absence of actionable intelligence. For years, the U.S. military had depended almost entirely on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, despite its well-established ties with the Taliban and even al Qaeda.

One of the counter-terrorism officials without a direct organisational stake in the issue, State Department counterterrorism chief Gen. Dell L. Dailey, bluntly summed up the situation to reporters last January. “We don’t have enough information about what’s going on there,” he said. “Not on al Qaeda, not on foreign fighters, not on the Taliban.”

A senior U.S. official quoted by the Post last February was even more scathing on that subject, saying “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.”

Meanwhile, the Pakistani military, reacting to the U.S. aim of a more aggressive U.S. military role in the tribal areas, repeatedly rejected the U.S. military proposal for training Frontier Corps units.

The U.S. command in Afghanistan and SOCOM increased the pressure for escalation early last summer by enlisting visiting members of Congress in support of the plan. Texas Republican Congressmen Michael McCaul, who had visited Afghanistan and Pakistan, declared on his return that was “imperative that U.S. forces be allowed to pursue the Taliban and al Qaeda in tribal areas inside Pakistan.”

In late July, according to The Times of London, Bush signed a secret national security presidential directive (NSPD) which authorised operations by special operations forces without the permission of Pakistan.

The Bush decision ignored the disconnect between the aims of the new war and the realities on the ground in Pakistan. Commando raids and missile strikes against mid-level or low-level Taliban or al Qaeda operatives, carried out in a sea of angry Pashtuns, will not stem the flow of fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan or weaken al Qaeda. But they will certainly provoke reactions from the tribal population that can tilt the affected areas even further toward the Islamic radicals.

At least some military leaders without an institutional interest in the outcome understood that the proposed escalation was likely to backfire. One senior military officer told the Los Angeles Times last month that he had been forced by the “fragility of the current government in Islamabad,” to ask whether “you do more long-term harm if you act very, very aggressively militarily”.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.


The New World Geopolitical Order: End of Act I

September 16, 2008

Immanuel Wallerstein, Commentary No. 241, Sept. 15, 2008

It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the agreement on September 9 between Nicolas Sarkozy of France in his capacity as current president of the European Union (EU) and Dmitri Medvedev, President of Russia. It marks the definitive end of Act I of the new world geopolitical order.

What was decided? The Russians agreed to withdraw all their troops from what are called “central Georgian areas” or “Georgia proper,” that is, those parts of Georgia the Russians recognize as Georgia. These troops are being replaced by 200 monitors from the EU. This is done on guarantees by the EU that there will be no use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The issue of Russian recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has been left entirely open. Sarkozy and the EU’s Foreign Minister, Javier Solana, “hope” that Russia will agree in the future to allow EU monitors into these two areas. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said they had made no such promise and that “all future monitoring arrangements would require ratification by the Abhaz and South Ossetian governments.” Lavrov said that Russian troops would remain in the two areas “for the foreseeable future.” And the secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, Alexander Lomaia, while applauding the clear deadlines for Russian withdrawal from Georgia proper, did note that “the bad news is that [the agreement] doesn’t refer to [Georgian] territorial integrity.”

This accord was reached between Europe and Russia, and the United States played no diplomatic role whatsoever. Medvedev charged the United States with having given its blessing to the original Georgian action of entering South Ossetia. He said that, by contrast, the Europeans are “our natural partners, our key partners.” Georgia’s president received the strong encouragement of John McCain, and Vice-President Cheney flew there to say that the United States was giving $1 billion in aid for Georgian reconstruction. But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, explaining why this aid would not include military aid and why there would be no economic sanctions against Russia, said that “if we act too precipitously, we could be the ones who are isolated.”

So, what is the bottom line? Russia has gotten more or less what it wanted in Georgia. Its “irrevocable” recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia could well be something it might trade in the future for a basic turn-around in Georgia’s relations with Russia. If not, not. The fact is that Europe believes it needs to come to terms with Russia, and has ruled out renewing what the Chinese call “the European civil war.”

The United States finds it has no real cards to play. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, it finds itself publicly rebuffed by its closest allies. In Iraq, Prime Minister al-Maliki is being a very tough negotiator about the continued presence of U.S. troops, and it is not impossible, barring further major U.S. concessions, that the current agreements that terminate on December 31 will simply run out.

In Afghanistan, President Karzai is so exasperated with the bombing missions of U.S. special troops that he has demanded “a review of the presence of U.S. and NATO troops in the country,” in what CBS News calls a “harshly worded statement.” The immediate provocation was an air raid in Azizabad that the U.S. army said had few casualties and attacked a Taliban group. The Afghans insisted there were no Taliban there and a large number of civilians were killed. When UN officials and others gave credence to the Afghan version, the senior U.S. general in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, back-tracked on the U.S. position and called for a further high-level U.S. investigation by a general who would come from the United States.

And in Pakistan, President Bush authorized U.S. hot pursuit of Taliban from Afghanistan into Pakistan against the advice of the National Intelligence Council who said it would carry “a high risk of further destabilizing the Pakistani military and government.” The incursion brought what the New York Times called “an unusually strong statement” by the chief of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who said his forces would defend Pakistan’s sovereignty “at all costs.” Since the U. S. government has been looking on Gen. Kayani as its strong supporter in Pakistan, this is not exactly what the United States has been hoping to hear.

So, ignored in Georgia and under attack by its closest allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the United States is somewhat unhappily entering the realities of the post-Cold War world, in which it has to play by new rules that it seems to find rather unpalatable.

Meanwhile, as an ironic but not unimportant footnote, on September 10, a major development in particle physics was celebrated in Geneva when the European laboratory called CERN achieved a scientific breakthrough after 14 years of work and $8 billion in expense. This was such a major moment in world science that their U.S. counterparts at the Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois opened the champagne bottles at 4:38 in the morning to celebrate. Nonetheless, Pier Oddone, the director of the Fermilab, admitted this was a “bittersweet moment.” Until 1993, the United States ruled particle physics. That year, the U.S. Congress, flush with the self-confidence of having “won” the cold war, believed it was too expensive – and no longer geopolitically necessary – to build the kind of supercollider needed for this new advance in particle physics. The Europeans made a different kind of decision, and the United States now finds itself in second place here too.

I call this the end of Act I because it has sealed the reality of a true multilateral geopolitical arena. Of course, there are still further acts to come. And any faithful playgoer know that Act I merely establishes who are the actors. It is in Act II that we see what really happens. And then there’s Act III, the denouement.

Pakistan’s new president Zardari is a clone of Musharraf

September 15, 2008

Eric Margolis | Edmonton Sun, Sep 14, 2008

The inauguration this week of Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the slain Benazir Bhutto, should have brought some hope and direction to embattled Pakistan.

It did not. A sense of weary deja vu hung over the event.

Zardari’s first major policy statement was a vow to continue waging the so-called “war on terror” in northwest Pakistan. His choice of the Bush administration’s terminology was a clear message to Washington that he intends to pursue the hated policies of disgraced former U.S.-backed dictator, Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan will continue to dance to Washington’s tune.

In fact, Zardari seems set to inherit the ills of Musharraf’s failed regime. Pakistan is bankrupt, with only 60 days of foreign exchange left to import fuel and food. Half its 165 million people subsist on under $2 daily.

Infusions of $11.2 billion in U.S. aid since 2001, and tens of millions in covert payments, rented the grudging services of Pakistan’s armed and security forces, and halfhearted co-operation of its government.

But 90% of Pakistanis oppose the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, which they, like most Europeans, see as a modern colonial war to secure U.S. domination of Central Asia’s energy. They despised Musharraf for sending 120,000 Pakistani troops to fight pro-Taliban Pashtun tribesmen in northwest Pakistan, killing thousands of civilians in the process, and for enabling the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

Now, Zardari, who was helped into power with Washington’s financial and political support, appears set on the same course. Considering only 26% of voters support him, Zardari is heading for major trouble.

Zardari’s refusal to reinstate justices of Pakistan’s supreme court purged by Musharraf is a slap in the face of democracy and further evidence of his fear of indictment over serious corruption accusations that dog him. Widely known as “Mr 10%” from when he was minister of public contracts, Zardari denies any wrongdoing, insisting these charges were politically motivated.

Plans by the U.S. to launch ground attacks inside Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal zone (known as FATA) have ignited a new crisis. Zardari apparently has approved more U.S. raids against his own people. But Pakistan’s powerful chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, says the nation’s 650,000-man armed forces will not tolerate U.S. violation of its borders. The stage is set for possible head-on clashes between Pakistani and U.S. troops.

Whether Canada will be drawn into fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas is uncertain. The Harper government’s former defence minister rashly called for Canadian troops to invade Pakistan.


Truck convoys, upon which the U.S. and NATO depend for fuel, water, and munitions, face increasing attacks by Pakistani pro-Taliban groups as they make their way up to the fabled Khyber Pass.

A vicious cycle is now at play. The U.S. pays Pakistan’s armed forces to attack pro-Taliban tribesmen along the border, and aid the U.S. war in Afghanistan. U.S. and Pakistani warplanes bomb Pashtun villages in FATA.

Furious Pashtuns retaliate by staging bombing attacks against government targets (aka “terrorism”). The government and U.S. launch more attacks as Pakistanis demand their government stop killing its own people.

Musharraf was detested as an American stooge. If Zardari continues Mush’s failed policies, he also will meet the same fate.

The U.S. is about to kick yet another hornets’ nest by ground attacks on Pakistan. Unable to crush growing national resistance to the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan and secure planned pipeline routes, the frustrated Bush White House is launching a new conflict when it lacks the soldiers or money to subdue Afghanistan.

Spreading the Afghan War into Pakistan is perilous and foolhardy. It threatens to destabilize and tear apart fragile Pakistan, just as the U.S. has dismembered Iraq. A fragmented Pakistan could tempt India to intervene. Both are nuclear armed.

Asif Zardari is sitting atop a ticking bomb. He needs some new thinking. So do his western patrons, who urgently must end the futile Afghan War before it blows Pakistan apart.

Danger in South Asia

September 13, 2008

Conn Hallinan | Foreign Policy In Focus, September 10, 2008

If most Americans think Iran and Georgia are the two most volatile flashpoints in the world, one can hardly blame them. The possibility that the Bush administration might strike at Tehran’s nuclear facilities has been hinted about for the past two years, and the White House’s pronouncements on Russia seem like Cold War déjà vu.

But accelerating tensions between India and Pakistan, coupled with Washington’s increasing focus on Afghanistan, might just make South Asia the most dangerous place in the world right now, a region where entirely too many people are thinking the unthinkable.

Pakistan in the Middle

At the heart of this crisis is a beleaguered Pakistan, wracked internally by economic crisis and deep political divisions. Islamabad is simultaneously fearful of New Dehli’s burgeoning military power and pressured by Washington’s growing alarm over the deteriorating situation in Kabul.

When the Indian government accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) of being behind the recent bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, it revealed what journalist J. Sri Raman calls a “secret war” between the two nations’ intelligence agencies. The Indians charge the ISI with being behind a string of bombings in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Jaipur, while the Pakistanis accuse India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Intelligence Wing (RAW), of encouraging a separatist movement in Baluchistan and undermining Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan.

The two countries have fought three wars since the 1947 partition, and came perilously close to going nuclear during the Kargil incident in 1999. In the latter flare-up, separatist guerrillas backed by the Pakistani Army attacked Indian troops in Kashmir, leading to a bitter 11-week war.

Elements in both countries have long considered “the unthinkable” — nuclear war — quite thinkable. When Pakistan-sponsored Kashmiri separatists attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001, it set off a round of Armageddon saber-rattling.

Pakistan’s General Mirza Aslam Beg, former Pakistani army chief, said that Pakistan “can make a first strike, and a second strike, or even a third.”

The talk on the Indian side was no less hair-raising. George Fernandes, India’s defense minister at the time, said that “India can survive a nuclear attack, but Pakistan cannot.”
A U.S. intelligence analysis of a war between India and Pakistan found it would kill up to 12 million people immediately and injure seven million more.

Deal, No Deal

The Bush administration has ratcheted up the tension with its proposed nuclear deal with India. Under the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement, the United States would supply India with nuclear fuel for its civilian program, although India refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The deal would allow India to divert its own meager domestic uranium supplies to its nuclear weapons industry. Although civilian factories in this industry will be open to inspections, the ones that India deems “military” would remain off-limits.

In a July letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, Pakistan warned that the 1-2-3 Agreement “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.” It would also likely unravel the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

India has a “no first-use” policy. But Pakistan refuses to sign such a pledge, in large part due to the superiority of the Indian military, a superiority that grows day by day. India will import over $30 billion in arms over the next five years, including modern fighter planes, helicopters, tanks, and warships. The Indian air force is currently the world’s fourth largest.

Pakistan simply can’t match those figures. Its economy is smaller, and it has been hard hit by rising fuel and food prices.

Afghan Challenge

Pakistan’s newly elected and deeply divided government is also confronting intense U.S. pressure to halt the cross-border movement of Taliban fighters into Afghanistan.

“The situation on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border presents a clear and present danger to Afghanistan, Pakistan, the West in general, and the United States in particular,” U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden told Congress in March.

But Islamabad has been increasingly unwilling to play spear-carrier for the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the Guardian that it is “unacceptable that while giving peace to the world we make our own country into a killing field.”

The United States has sent dozens of armed robots across the Pakistan border to attack Taliban leaders, many times killing civilians in the process. According to Pakistani officials, U.S. helicopter-borne commandos crossed the border on September 3 and killed up to 20 people.
The current Pakistani government was elected on a platform of making peace with the Taliban, and, in any case, attempts by the Pakistani army to occupy the frontier have failed disastrously. That is hardly surprising. As British General Andrew Skeen noted during the colonial period, “When planning a military expedition into Pashtun tribal areas, the first thing you must plan is your retreat.”

Even Washington’s allies recognize that the increasingly strident calls by Washington and the Afghan government to close off infiltration from Pakistan are impossible. “You cannot seal borders,” says British Defense Minister Des Browne. “We could not seal 26 miles of border between the north and south of Ireland with 40,000 troops.” The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is over 1,000 miles, much of it consisting of formidable mountains.

While the White House and NATO are pushing for a military solution in Afghanistan, a recent study by the RAND Corporation, a think tank associated with the U.S. Navy, found “There is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended.”

Some in Pakistan’s current government seem to have reached the same conclusion. “We have to talk to the Taliban,” says Asif Ahmed, a member of parliament from the secular Pakistan People’s Party, the largest vote getter in the last election. “There is no peace in Pakistan or Afghanistan without it.”

Many Pakistanis worry that war in the tribal areas could ignite a movement among Pashtuns on both sides of the border for an independent “Pashtunistan.” Pashtuns make up 15%-20% of Pakistan’s 165 million people.

Islamabad also worries about increasing Indian influence among Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun groups, and the possibility that Pakistan could lose its “strategic depth” in the region, a place to fall back to if they are overwhelmed by an Indian conventional attack.

Kashmir Flashpoint

The United States has long tried to rope India into its efforts to offset growing Chinese power in Asia. Washington has stepped up arms sales to New Delhi, increased joint military training, and is willing to help India increase its stockpile of nuclear weapons. But an India powerful enough to help offset China looks very threatening from Islamabad’s point of view.

The most immediate flashpoint is Kashmir, where Indian troops have killed more than two dozen people and injured hundreds. A miscalculation by either side could be disastrous. The flight time for nuclear-armed missiles between the two countries is from three to five minutes.

Every few years the U.S. military conducts “war games” that play out a war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Every game ends the same: nuclear war. “It is a scary scenario,” Col. Mike Pasquarett, who runs the games at the U.S. War College, told the Wall Street Journal.

Rather than escalating another war, arming India, and pressuring Pakistan, the United States should be pushing for the de-nuclearization of South Asia, peace talks with the Taliban, and a stand-down in Afghanistan.

Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.

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