Thursday, July 24, 2008

Is Afghanistan destined to be Obama's Iraq?

Just asking.
Not my line but Ron Beasley's at cernig's place.
I picked up the meme when Brzezinski more or less mentioned it in FT. Now Juan Cole expands on the idea, pointing out that Obama's pronouncements have already pissed off the wrong people in Pakistan and stirring up an already muddy diplomatic swamp.

Obama's aggressive stance, on the other hand, could be counterproductive. The Illinois senator had praised the Pakistani elections of last February, issuing a statement the next day saying, "Yesterday, a moderate majority of the Pakistani people made their voices heard, and chose a new direction." He criticized the Bush administration, saying U.S. interests would be better served by "advancing the interests of the Pakistani people, not just Pakistan's president."

Yet the parties elected in February in Pakistan
are precisely the ones demanding negotiations with the tribes and militants of the northwest, rather than frontal military assaults. Indeed, it is the Bush administration that has pushed for military strikes in the FATA areas. Obama will have to decide whether he wants to risk undermining the elected government and perhaps increasing the power of the military by continuing to insist loudly and publicly on unilateral U.S. attacks on Pakistani territory.

This is the kind of pitfall that can snag a US Senator accustomed to lofty rhetoric that C-SPAN might cover but most constituents will not notice. On the world stage, however, there are no "constituents."

Like Beasley I hope Obama is just "being tough" for the sake of the election. After all, the words of a Senator do not carry the same weight as the same words from a US president (thank the Lord). And as Cernig points out in the comments, he may be softening up the situation with the expectation of coming back later with more, uh, persuasive tools. Dangerous, indeed.


John Maszka said...

Senator Obama is a dangerous man. Moving the war on terror to Pakistan could have disastrous consequences on both the political stability in the region, and in the broader balance of power. Scholars such as Richard Betts accurately point out that beyond Iran or North Korea, “Pakistan may harbor the greatest potential danger of all.” With the current instability in Pakistan, Betts points to the danger that a pro-Taliban government would pose in a nuclear Pakistan. This is no minor point to be made. While the Shi’a in Iran are highly unlikely to proliferate WMD to their Sunni enemies, the Pakistanis harbor no such enmity toward Sunni terrorist organizations. Should a pro-Taliban or other similar type of government come to power in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda’s chances of gaining access to nuclear weapons would dramatically increase overnight.

There are, of course, two sides to every argument; and this argument is no exception. On the one hand, some insist that American forces are needed in order to maintain political stability and to prevent such a government from rising to power. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a deliberate attack against Pakistan’s state sovereignty will only further enrage its radical population, and serve to radicalize its moderates. I offer the following in support of this latter argument:

Pakistan has approximately 160 million people; better than half of the population of the entire Arab world. Pakistan also has some of the deepest underlying ethnic fissures in the region, which could lead to long-term disintegration of the state if exacerbated. Even with an impressive growth in GDP (second only to China in all of Asia), it could be decades before wide-spread poverty is alleviated and a stable middle class is established in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the absence of a deeply embedded democratic system in Pakistan presents perhaps the greatest danger to stability. In this country, upon which the facade of democracy has been thrust by outside forces and the current regime came to power by coup, the army fulfills the role of “referee within the political boxing ring.” However, this referee demonstrates a “strong personal interest in the outcome of many of the fights and a strong tendency to make up the rules as he goes along.” The Pakistani army “also has a long record of either joining in the fight on one side or the other, or clubbing both boxers to the ground and taking the prize himself” (Lieven, 2006:43).

Pakistan’s army is also unusually large. Thathiah Ravi (2006:119, 121) observes that the army has “outgrown its watchdog role to become the master of this nation state.” Ravi attributes America’s less than dependable alliance with Pakistan to the nature of its army. “Occasionally, it perceives the Pakistan Army as an inescapable ally and at other times as a threat to regional peace and [a] non-proliferation regime.” According to Ravi, India and Afghanistan blame the conflict in Kashmir and the Durand line on the Pakistan Army, accusing it of “inciting, abetting and encouraging terrorism from its soil.” Ravi also blames the “flagrant violations in nuclear proliferation by Pakistan, both as an originator and as a conduit for China and North Korea” on the Pakistan Army, because of its support for terrorists.

The point to be made is that the stability of Pakistan depends upon maintaining the delicate balance of power both within the state of Pakistan, and in the broader region. Pakistan is not an island, it has alliances and enemies. Moving American troops into Pakistan will no doubt not only serve to radicalize its population and fuel the popular call for Jihad, it could also spark a proxy war with China that could have long-lasting economic repercussions. Focusing on the more immediate impact American troops would have on the Pakistani population; let’s consider a few past encounters:

On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid.

On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the US, attacked a madrassah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced that the US military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault against Islam.
On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with an iron hand.” The point to be driven home is that the attack on the madrassah was kept as quiet as possible, while the suicide bombing was publicized as a tragedy, and one more reason to maintain the war on terror.

Last year trouble escalated when the Pakistani government laid siege to the Red Mosque and more than 100 people were killed. “Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid ... the retaliations began.” Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting center. Guerrilla attacks that demonstrated a shocking degree of organization and speed-not to mention strategic cunning revealed that they were orchestrated by none other than al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri; a fact confirmed by Pakistani and Taliban officials. One such attack occurred on July 15, 2007, when a suicide bomber killed 24 Pakistani troops and injured some 30 others in the village of Daznaray (20 miles to the north of Miran Shah, in North Waziristan). Musharraf ordered thousands of troops into the region to attempt to restore order. But radical groups swore to retaliate against the government for its siege of the mosque and its cooperation with the United States.

A July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concludes that “al Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan- and more centrally organized than it has been at any time since 9/11.” The NIE reports that al-Qaeda now enjoys sanctuary in Bajaur and North Waziristan, from which they operate “a complex command, control, training and recruitment base” with an “intact hierarchy of top leadership and operational lieutenants.”

In September 2006 Musharraf signed a peace deal with Pashtun tribal elders in North Waziristan. The deal gave pro-Taliban militants full control of security in the area. Al Qaeda provides funding, training and ideological inspiration, while Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Tribal leaders supply the manpower. These forces are so strong that last year Musharraf sent well over 100,000 trained Pakistani soldiers against them, but they were not able to prevail against them.

The question remains, what does America do when Pakistan no longer has a Musharraf to bridge the gap? While Musharraf claims that President Bush has assured him of Pakistan’s sovereignty, Senator Obama obviously has no intention of honoring such an assurance. As it is, the Pakistanis do just enough to avoid jeopardizing U.S. support. Musharraf, who is caught between Pakistan’s dependence on American aid and loyalty to the Pakistani people, denies being George Bush’s hand-puppet. Musharraf insists that he is “200 percent certain” that the United States will not unilaterally decide to attack terrorists on Pakistani soil. What happens when we begin to do just that?

Hoots said...

I'm publishing what you left, Mr. Maszka, because it is well written and looks sensible to me. Obviously this is a cut-&-paste from somewhere else, and looking at the swarm of "blogs" listed at your profile you have a big garden from which to pick.

That second from the top, the group blog to which I will not link, is clearly an Obama smear site, larded with Islamophobia. Not the kind of place with which you as a scholar should associate. Just my opinion, FWIW. You seem to have too much on the ball to be in that crowd.

Your take on Pakistan jibes with all I have read. It is, as you say, "[a] country, upon which the facade of democracy has been thrust by outside forces and the current regime..." And I was reading this morning that the Pashtun regions along the Afghan-Pak border are administratively more like North American Indian Reservations than territory effectively governed by either power. Hence, a perfect hiding place for you-know-who and his bunch. Reminds me of movies of the Old West depicting places under national authority only on paper.

Incidentally, your work would be much easier to ingest if it had a quick-to-scan outline or summary (abstract?) at the beginning. IR tends to be dry enough without an avalanche of argument, data and references.

Thanks for stopping by.