Belmont Club

The War Where?

The White House says that Pakistan is unwilling to take on “Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“The Pakistan military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan,” the White House concludes, referring to the Pakistani tribal region that U.S. officials say is being used as a staging ground for attacks on troops in Afghanistan, as well as to plot attacks on targets in Europe.

The administration has responded by stepping up US attacks in to Pakistan. But its unilateral action against al-Qaeda has caused outrage in Pakistan. NATO supply lines have been attacked and looted. The AP says American military gear, computers and field manuals are openly on sale in bazaars.

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Attacks on NATO supply lines through Pakistan have increased since the US has gone after militants in Pakistan. The New York Times quoted truck drivers who say they have not been provided with security escorts by the Pakistani government.  Even though truckers have been killed in the attacks, Pakistani law enforcement said the protection of their citizens was none of the state’s business.

“This is a private business and they have their own security,” said Mir Waiz Niaz, senior superintendent of police in Islamabad. “The government gives advice on security and gives advice on where they can place their terminals, but the security is up to the private contractors.”

What was state business up until recently was the training and arming of militants to attack India. The Washington Times quoted Pervez Musharraf, the former President of Pakistan as saying it created terror groups in order to wrest back Kashmir, and that “support continued even as the Musharraf government pocketed billions of dollars in U.S. reimbursement for its efforts in the war against extremists.”

The state of relations between Pakistan and the “good Taliban” remains a contentious issue.  However, despite these problems, the White House believed there was no need to adjust current strategy, according to the sources of the Wall Street Journal. For their part, the Pakistanis seemed unwilling to publicly alter theirs. Why should they when  they had Washington over a barrel. Despite being unwilling to take on al-Qaeda Islamabad was outraged that someone might actually do what they were unwilling to do. The New York Times article continued described the feeling in Islamabad:

The Pakistani Army was “hopping mad” about the NATO helicopter strikes, and believed that a “red line was deliberately crossed,” said Mushahid Hussain, a political analyst.

The attack was being equated in military circles with an attack in 2008 when American Special Forces soldiers crossed into Pakistan, and relations were momentarily frozen, he said.

This time, the Pakistani Army had hit back and said: “We have this leverage, and the supplies can be stopped.”

The press has been reliably informed that the supplies are being stopped by “militants” so the Pakistani Army must be misinformed. The problem facing President Obama is that the “war in Afghanistan” is largely taking place in Pakistan, which disconnects his definitions of strategy, victory and scheduled withdrawals from the actual problem. The Washington Times reported the puzzlement of Reagan-era Secretary of State George Schultz who said:

“You’re out of your mind,” he said at a question-and-answer forum, when asked his opinion of the president’s drawdown date. “How can you say that ‘if I haven’t won by six or nine months from now, I’m leaving?’

Schultz may have failed to consider that President Obama’s policy answers may have nothing to do with the relevant question. “Winning” is now without the modifiers of where, when, who or how. But it will surely happen.  In the meantime, one pressing problem is that the AF-PAK theater has become a staging ground for attacks on Western Europe and possibly the United States. The UK’s Daily Telegraph reports that the French foreign ministry has warned its citizens to be careful in Britain where a terror attack is now “highly likely”. But the British downplayed the warning, say that that the French only believe it is likely because it is.

“The French saying an attack is highly likely is true because that is where our threat level is,” said a spokeswoman for London’s Counter Terrorism Command.

On Sunday the UK and the US both warned of an increased risk of terrorist attacks in Europe, with security officials saying al Qaeda might seek to launch attacks emulating the 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistan-based gunmen that killed 166 people.

Even as Pakistan edges operationally closer to events in Western Europe, the question of dealing with it has been muddled further. The Obama administration is defusing the problem with Pakistan by doing what it does best: apologize. Reuters says that “The U.S. ambassador to Islamabad apologized to Pakistan on Wednesday for a NATO incursion in which U.S. helicopters killed two Pakistani soldiers, saying it was a ‘terrible accident.’ An embassy statement said a joint investigation showed U.S. helicopters had mistaken the soldiers for insurgents they had been pursuing.” But it is not clear whether the apology will now cause Pakistan to swing into action against the militants or whether it will simply use its good offices to ensure that pilferage and attacks on NATO convoys return to the normal levels.

The can has been kicked down the road once more. It’s not clear whether that works, but at least it is better than facing the facts.

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