Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pakistan

Shakil Afridi: The Man We Left Behind

Lost in the headlines out of the Middle East was this amazing interview Fox News conducted with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani medical doctor who helped the United States confirm Osama bin Laden’s compound. Even though Pakistani authorities said they were unaware of bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad, a town that hosts Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, they arrested Afridi, accusing him of treason. How one can commit treason without betraying state secrets is something that someone ought to ask the Pakistani government.

At any rate, after his arrest, Afridi says he was interrogated and tortured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He relates:

“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies….’ It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI […] Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received largely in military aid since 9/11.

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Lost in the headlines out of the Middle East was this amazing interview Fox News conducted with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani medical doctor who helped the United States confirm Osama bin Laden’s compound. Even though Pakistani authorities said they were unaware of bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad, a town that hosts Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, they arrested Afridi, accusing him of treason. How one can commit treason without betraying state secrets is something that someone ought to ask the Pakistani government.

At any rate, after his arrest, Afridi says he was interrogated and tortured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He relates:

“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies….’ It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI […] Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received largely in military aid since 9/11.

The Obama administration continues to work with Pakistan as a partner, and U.S. officials continue to consult with the ISI, even as that organization funds terrorist groups like the Haqqani network. Once again, it appears, Obama does not fully conceive the nature of U.S. enemies, the ideology that motivates them, and the idea that money and concessions cannot buy them off.

As for Afridi, let us hope that one day, a U.S. president will welcome him to the White House and pin upon him the Medal of Freedom he so richly deserves.

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Obama “Leads from Behind” on Designating Haqqani Network

By now a pattern has emerged in President Obama’s foreign policy: Inclined to “lead from behind,” the cool, unexcitable and cerebral chief executive normally hesitates and agonizes before taking decisive action, then, when pushed to do so by allies, aides, or by Congress, or all three, he claims credit for having been tough all along. The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was an exception–the president was, by all indicators, more unwavering than his senior advisers–but the decision to intervene in Libya certainly falls into this category as does the decision to keep Guantanamo open and the decision to impose a tough new round of sanctions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry. The latter sanctions were compelled by virtually unanimous votes of Congress after the president spent the first three years of his administration trying to reach out to Tehran.

Now the pattern is being repeated with regard to the Haqqani Network. For the past two years, despite strong arguments to do so from both U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Afghanistan, the administration has refused to add the Haqqani Network to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, presumably for fear of offending Pakistan which provides sanctuary and other support to the Haqqanis. Then in early August Congress passed legislation giving the administration 30 days to either list the Haqqanis or explain why not. And lo and behold the White House has finally decided to designate the Haqqanis, which will make it easier to go after that organization’s finances.

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By now a pattern has emerged in President Obama’s foreign policy: Inclined to “lead from behind,” the cool, unexcitable and cerebral chief executive normally hesitates and agonizes before taking decisive action, then, when pushed to do so by allies, aides, or by Congress, or all three, he claims credit for having been tough all along. The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was an exception–the president was, by all indicators, more unwavering than his senior advisers–but the decision to intervene in Libya certainly falls into this category as does the decision to keep Guantanamo open and the decision to impose a tough new round of sanctions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry. The latter sanctions were compelled by virtually unanimous votes of Congress after the president spent the first three years of his administration trying to reach out to Tehran.

Now the pattern is being repeated with regard to the Haqqani Network. For the past two years, despite strong arguments to do so from both U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Afghanistan, the administration has refused to add the Haqqani Network to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, presumably for fear of offending Pakistan which provides sanctuary and other support to the Haqqanis. Then in early August Congress passed legislation giving the administration 30 days to either list the Haqqanis or explain why not. And lo and behold the White House has finally decided to designate the Haqqanis, which will make it easier to go after that organization’s finances.

The only mystery now is how much time it will take–how much pressure will have to build both externally and internally–before the president will take serious action to help end the bloodletting in Syria. France is taking the lead here, most recently with the news that it is providing aid to five revolutionary councils which control areas with about 700,000 people living there. This flatly contradicts one of the administration’s excuses for inaction–the claim that, unlike in Libya, the rebels in Syria do not control contiguous territory. It is only a matter of time, I expect, before greater U.S. aid along the French lines will be forthcoming. And, rest assured, it cannot be long before the president is claiming credit for doing what he was dragged most unwillingly into doing.

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Pakistani Taliban Threaten Nuke Facility

There is nothing the Pakistani government would like more than a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will jump at the chance to fill the vacuum, much as Iran’s Qods Force and associated militias moved to fill the space in Iraq left by the departing U.S. presence.

Pakistani leaders will never stop supporting the Taliban. After the 1971 secession of Bangladesh, the ISI concluded that radical interpretations of Islam were all that could hold the relatively artificial nation of Pakistan together. The rise of ethnic identity (well, at least among the non-Punjabis) risked creating fissures which could tear the country apart. Perhaps today their paranoia does not match with the reality, but old habits die hard.

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There is nothing the Pakistani government would like more than a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will jump at the chance to fill the vacuum, much as Iran’s Qods Force and associated militias moved to fill the space in Iraq left by the departing U.S. presence.

Pakistani leaders will never stop supporting the Taliban. After the 1971 secession of Bangladesh, the ISI concluded that radical interpretations of Islam were all that could hold the relatively artificial nation of Pakistan together. The rise of ethnic identity (well, at least among the non-Punjabis) risked creating fissures which could tear the country apart. Perhaps today their paranoia does not match with the reality, but old habits die hard.

After the Pakistani government signed a deal with the Pakistani Taliban to allow the Taliban to administer Islamic law in certain tribal districts, Taliban presence in the neighboring Swat district nearly doubled. The Pakistani Army responded when a Taliban column marched on Buner, just 60 miles from Islamabad but, just as they sheltered Usama Bin Laden, the ISI continues to treat the Pakistani Taliban with kid gloves.

The situation is becoming more dangerous. According to the Pakistani press, the Pakistani Taliban are increasingly threatening Pakistan’s nuclear sites. According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune:

LAHORE. It could be the first-ever security threat to a nuclear facility in Pakistan, and the Army and security forces are taking no risks. Following ‘serious’ security threats from the homegrown Taliban, the Army and Punjab police have deployed heavy forces at one of Pakistan’s largest nuclear facilities in Dera Ghazi Khan (DG Khan), credible sources told The Express Tribune. Besides the deployment inside and around the nuclear installation, three divisions in South Punjab have also been asked to launch a crackdown against banned outfits, sources added. “DG Khan houses one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country, and has faced the first-ever serious security threat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” said a high ranking military officer currently serving at the installation.

The U.S. election may revolve on the economy, but sometimes problems ignored metastasize. An emboldened Pakistan will be detrimental to U.S. interests. Abandoning the fight against Islamist radicalism is not an option, nor is allowing state failure in Pakistan. President Obama and Governor Romney may not want to talk Pakistan, but Pakistan might easily provide the crisis which will define Obama’s next term or the next presidency. It would be good to hear a real debate on how to address and, if possible, head off grave and growing threats to Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure.

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Blasphemy Laws Embarrass Pakistan

Almost two weeks ago, Pakistani authorities imprisoned Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Christian girl reportedly with Down’s Syndrome, accusing her of burning a few pages from the Noorani Qaida, a beginner’s guide to Koranic recitation. Her case is now the subject of debate in the Pakistani press. The Express Tribune Online featured a member of the provincial assembly criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law. A commentary in The Daily Times, an English-language Lahore paper, declared, “Mentally ill are those who charge an 11-year-old, illiterate girl of blasphemy and then enjoy the sport of watching humans killed just as the Romans used to do in the times of gladiators. The police officials that arrested the little slum dweller and the judges that sent her to jail need to be examined for symptoms of mental derangement.” The Urdu-language press—for example, Karachi’s Ummat Online—however, are rallying to protect the blasphemy laws regardless of their abuse.

The embrace of radical Islamism has been a cynical strategy in Pakistan. In 1971, after Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) won its independence, the Pakistani military made a fateful decision to promote radical Islamism as the glue to hold the country apart. After all, Pakistan was founded as a “land for the Muslims,” but in practice it is impossible to boil identity down to a single variable. Pakistan may have been overwhelmingly Muslim, but Pakistanis were as likely to see themselves as Pastun, Baluch, Bengali, or Punjabi (among others). When the Bengalis went their own way, Islamabad could no longer consider Pashtun and Baluch nationalism to be a mere irritant: It posed an existential threat.

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Almost two weeks ago, Pakistani authorities imprisoned Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Christian girl reportedly with Down’s Syndrome, accusing her of burning a few pages from the Noorani Qaida, a beginner’s guide to Koranic recitation. Her case is now the subject of debate in the Pakistani press. The Express Tribune Online featured a member of the provincial assembly criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law. A commentary in The Daily Times, an English-language Lahore paper, declared, “Mentally ill are those who charge an 11-year-old, illiterate girl of blasphemy and then enjoy the sport of watching humans killed just as the Romans used to do in the times of gladiators. The police officials that arrested the little slum dweller and the judges that sent her to jail need to be examined for symptoms of mental derangement.” The Urdu-language press—for example, Karachi’s Ummat Online—however, are rallying to protect the blasphemy laws regardless of their abuse.

The embrace of radical Islamism has been a cynical strategy in Pakistan. In 1971, after Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) won its independence, the Pakistani military made a fateful decision to promote radical Islamism as the glue to hold the country apart. After all, Pakistan was founded as a “land for the Muslims,” but in practice it is impossible to boil identity down to a single variable. Pakistan may have been overwhelmingly Muslim, but Pakistanis were as likely to see themselves as Pastun, Baluch, Bengali, or Punjabi (among others). When the Bengalis went their own way, Islamabad could no longer consider Pashtun and Baluch nationalism to be a mere irritant: It posed an existential threat.

General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was Pakistan’s president and military dictator for a decade, beginning in 1978. While there has always been a condemnation of blasphemy on the books, he specified that it was an offense that should be punishable by either life in prison or by death. Over time and with the general radicalization of Pakistani society, the law has been applied with increasing frequency. Cases now number in the thousands.

There is no doubt that the blasphemy laws are being abused. While Islamists can say that the charge must still be proven in court, the sad fact remains that dozens of those accused have never had their day in court: They are lynched before a verdict can be announced. Some bold Pakistani politicians have acknowledged the obvious: The blasphemy laws are being abused and used to repress and attack religious minorities. However, simply calling for their amendment, let alone repeal, is a virtual death sentence. Both Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab; and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, have been assassinated after demanding reform. Upon their deaths, several Islamist organizations praised their killers.

Pakistan may be a lost cause: Once such religious laws are on the books, they are nearly impossible to excise. Religious conservatives can depict their repeal as anti-Islamic, and all but the boldest moderates are cowed by the recognition that radicals will go outside the political process to impose their will or punish dissent. With the jailing of Masih, Pakistan has reached a new low.

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Guess Who Won’t Leave Afghanistan When We Do

Here’s something you might want to keep in mind while celebrating the U.S.’s pending withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. From Tom Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard:

There is evidence that al Qaeda is already using Afghanistan (once again) to plot attacks against the West.

Earlier this month, for example, Spanish authorities announced that they had broken up a three-man al Qaeda cell that was plotting terrorist attacks on one or more targets. The cell had been trained in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Investigators added that the men had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is headquartered in Pakistan, and had attended the LeT’s training camps inside Afghanistan as well.

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Here’s something you might want to keep in mind while celebrating the U.S.’s pending withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. From Tom Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard:

There is evidence that al Qaeda is already using Afghanistan (once again) to plot attacks against the West.

Earlier this month, for example, Spanish authorities announced that they had broken up a three-man al Qaeda cell that was plotting terrorist attacks on one or more targets. The cell had been trained in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Investigators added that the men had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is headquartered in Pakistan, and had attended the LeT’s training camps inside Afghanistan as well.

After the United States helped push the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s, American indifference to the fate of the that country turned immediately into neglect. A decade later, we went into Afghanistan because the ruling Taliban were hosting and protecting the terrorists behind 9/11. In 2014, we’ll leave Afghanistan—Taliban, al Qaeda plots, and all—because “it’s time for nation building at home” is a catchy slogan.

Must we really learn this lesson again? Mark Twain said famously that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. He was wrong; it repeats itself.

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Report: Precious Little Religious Freedom

Here’s a pretty gruesome story from Pakistan that began circulating yesterday:

At least 11 nurses, including three Christians, were poisoned at Civil Hospital Karachi for eating during Ramadan. During their afternoon break yesterday, the 11 nurses went to the hostel cafeteria for some tea and food. Rita, a Catholic nurse, collapsed first after drinking her tea. Now all the nurses are in the hospital’s intensive care unit, some in very serious conditions.

It was an appropriate day, then, for the State Department to publish its 2011 report on religious freedom around the globe. And the bottom line is that, throughout the Islamic world, as well as in the unreconstructed communist and authoritarian states, there’s precious little of it.

What kind of ranking does religious freedom hold in the conduct of American foreign policy? As of this morning, the State Department’s website had on prominent display the following declaration from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “For the United States, religious freedom is a cherished constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority.” No room for misinterpretation there, then.

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Here’s a pretty gruesome story from Pakistan that began circulating yesterday:

At least 11 nurses, including three Christians, were poisoned at Civil Hospital Karachi for eating during Ramadan. During their afternoon break yesterday, the 11 nurses went to the hostel cafeteria for some tea and food. Rita, a Catholic nurse, collapsed first after drinking her tea. Now all the nurses are in the hospital’s intensive care unit, some in very serious conditions.

It was an appropriate day, then, for the State Department to publish its 2011 report on religious freedom around the globe. And the bottom line is that, throughout the Islamic world, as well as in the unreconstructed communist and authoritarian states, there’s precious little of it.

What kind of ranking does religious freedom hold in the conduct of American foreign policy? As of this morning, the State Department’s website had on prominent display the following declaration from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “For the United States, religious freedom is a cherished constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority.” No room for misinterpretation there, then.

The report does shine much needed light on the serial violators of religious freedom. Pakistan, for example, features prominently in the report’s executive summary, which notes the assassination of two politicians who criticized the country’s draconian blasphemy law – one of them, Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, was the only Christian in the cabinet – and the continuing imprisonment of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is facing a death sentence for blasphemy. Other countries singled out in the executive summary include Iran, where the Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani still faces a death sentence arising from the charge of blasphemy, and where seven leaders of the embattled Baha’i minority remain incarcerated on trumped up accusations of spying for Israel; Indonesia, another state where Christians are being imprisoned under a blasphemy law; China, where Buddhists in Tibet and Uyghur Muslims in the restive province of Xinjiang are subjected to all sorts of discrimination and harassment; and North Korea, where, the report states simply and accurately, “religious freedom does not exist in any form.”

The report also discusses what it terms “a rising tide of anti-Semitism.” In a welcome riposte to those who argue that anything short of an expletive-ridden denunciation of Jews isn’t really anti-Semitism, the report explains that in countries like Egypt and Iran, anti-Semitic agitation works hand-in-hand with opposition to Zionism and Israel. Instructively, the report mentions “Holocaust denial, glorification, and relativism” (my emphasis) as manifestations of anti-Semitism. This last word refers to the execrable habit of Arab propagandists and western leftists of comparing Israeli policies with the Nazi Holocaust.

Still, the report does pull its punches in certain key areas. Reading the section on Afghanistan, you would never know that American and allied troops have been present there for more than a decade, nor that President Obama has still to spell out what the “new chapter” in U.S.-Afghan relations which he promised in May will actually involve, especially once the U.S. withdraws in full by the end of 2014.

In its section on Nigeria, the report buries the enormous threat posed by Boko Haram, an Islamist terror group whose name is Hausa for “western education is a sin.” It asserts that “Boko Haram has likely killed more Muslims than Christians, since its primary bases of operation have existed in the predominately Muslim North.” That statement may be true, but it misses two important points:  firstly, that there is an established global pattern demonstrating that other Muslims are the main victims of Islamist terrorists, and secondly, that Boko Haram sets out to kill Christians along with other members of non-Muslim faiths. The most yawning gap of all concerns Boko Haram’s status here in the United States: the Obama administration is still refusing to designate the group as a terrorist organization, citing its apparent lack of homogeneity as the reason.

Turkey, too, is treated with kid gloves. The report praises the Islamist government of Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan for issuing “a decree facilitating the return of property confiscated from religious community foundations in the past.” However, according to Open Doors, an American organization that monitors the persecution of Christians worldwide, Turkey stands at number 31 on its watch list of 50 countries, hardly evidence of the “improvements” which the report claims have been implemented.

Further afield, the report notes that the “influential” Jewish community in Venezuela numbers 9,000, but fails to mention that its Jewish population has plummeted by 50 percent during the past decade, largely because of the anti-Semitism stoked by the regime of Hugo Chavez. Nor is there any investigation of the claim the Venezuelan authorities required the Jewish community to obtain special sanitary permits for the importation of matzo for the Passover holiday.

In its conclusion, the report says that the “United States was active around the world promoting religious freedom,” before citing a vague list of meetings, conferences, and small grants to local advocates of religious tolerance. None of this will exactly have the tyrants shaking in their boots. And one wonders what the report will have to say in 2013, when we will have a better chance to assess whether the policy of constructive engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has paid off. Or not.

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Channel U.S. Aid to Civil Society in Pakistan

Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute makes an important point in the Wall Street Journal: that, while Pakistan is increasingly in the grip of anti-Western military men and Islamists, there are large sectors of society that are more open to a liberal, pro-Western agenda. These range from the English-speaking elites to ethnic and religious minorities such as the Shi’ites, who are increasingly victimized by Sunni radicals.

I have previously suggested we should eliminate most aid to the Pakistani military, an institution that is actively sponsoring attacks on U.S. troops and our allies in Afghanistan. But that does not mean we should abandon Pakistan. Instead, we should channel our aid to civil society in Pakistan to try to build up a counterweight to the military.

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Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute makes an important point in the Wall Street Journal: that, while Pakistan is increasingly in the grip of anti-Western military men and Islamists, there are large sectors of society that are more open to a liberal, pro-Western agenda. These range from the English-speaking elites to ethnic and religious minorities such as the Shi’ites, who are increasingly victimized by Sunni radicals.

I have previously suggested we should eliminate most aid to the Pakistani military, an institution that is actively sponsoring attacks on U.S. troops and our allies in Afghanistan. But that does not mean we should abandon Pakistan. Instead, we should channel our aid to civil society in Pakistan to try to build up a counterweight to the military.

The situation is far from hopeless. As Dhume notes, “President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling Pakistan Peoples Party broadly stands for religious tolerance and a peaceful South Asia.” The problem is that Zardari has been ineffectual; policy on major issues, especially national security issues, is set by the military, not by the civilians who ostensibly rule.

The U.S. needs to do what it can to change that rather than relying primarily on military-to-military links as we have done ever since 9/11.

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Decline in Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes

The major criticism of drone strikes–the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy especially in Pakistan and Yemen–is that they cause too many civilian casualties, thereby creating more militants than they eliminate. A new study from the New America Foundation disputes that conclusion.

Authors Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland write: “The estimated civilian death rate in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has declined dramatically since 2008, when it was at its peak of almost 50 percent. Today, for the first time, the estimated civilian death rate is at or close to zero.” Their finding is based on analyzing three years’ worth of data in news sources ranging from Reuters and the New York Times to the Express Tribune and Dawn in Pakistan.

Any compilation based on such open-source materials must necessarily be suspect. But then counting casualties from the drone strikes is necessarily an inexact science–Washington has an interest in minimizing the figures while jihadists have an interest in maximizing them. Perhaps there is a better count out there, but I’m not aware of it. If the New America Foundation’s conclusion is accurate, the reduction in collateral damage is a tribute to better technology (e.g., drones that can linger longer over their targets and use better sensors to identify them), better intelligence gathering, and better controls over these strikes.

This is yet another reason why the strikes cannot be stopped–they are the most effective tool to combat Islamist terrorism in areas such as Pakistan and Yemen where U.S. troops are not deployed en masse. Indeed, far from curtailing them, I believe it is imperative to extend the strikes to towns such as Chaman, located near the border with Afghanistan, which is a major staging point for the Taliban–but has been off bounds so far for the drone strikes because it is located outside the tribal areas of Pakistan. That needs to change if the U.S. is going to sufficiently degrade the insurgency to allow U.S. troop numbers to be reduced by 2014 without a catastrophic collapse in security.

The major criticism of drone strikes–the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy especially in Pakistan and Yemen–is that they cause too many civilian casualties, thereby creating more militants than they eliminate. A new study from the New America Foundation disputes that conclusion.

Authors Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland write: “The estimated civilian death rate in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has declined dramatically since 2008, when it was at its peak of almost 50 percent. Today, for the first time, the estimated civilian death rate is at or close to zero.” Their finding is based on analyzing three years’ worth of data in news sources ranging from Reuters and the New York Times to the Express Tribune and Dawn in Pakistan.

Any compilation based on such open-source materials must necessarily be suspect. But then counting casualties from the drone strikes is necessarily an inexact science–Washington has an interest in minimizing the figures while jihadists have an interest in maximizing them. Perhaps there is a better count out there, but I’m not aware of it. If the New America Foundation’s conclusion is accurate, the reduction in collateral damage is a tribute to better technology (e.g., drones that can linger longer over their targets and use better sensors to identify them), better intelligence gathering, and better controls over these strikes.

This is yet another reason why the strikes cannot be stopped–they are the most effective tool to combat Islamist terrorism in areas such as Pakistan and Yemen where U.S. troops are not deployed en masse. Indeed, far from curtailing them, I believe it is imperative to extend the strikes to towns such as Chaman, located near the border with Afghanistan, which is a major staging point for the Taliban–but has been off bounds so far for the drone strikes because it is located outside the tribal areas of Pakistan. That needs to change if the U.S. is going to sufficiently degrade the insurgency to allow U.S. troop numbers to be reduced by 2014 without a catastrophic collapse in security.

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Re: Time to Call Haqqanis Terrorists

Max Boot is correct to call for the designation of the Haqqani Network as a terrorist group, but he does not go far enough in sketching out the implications. The reason why the State Department has not pushed forward with the designation is not only because U.S. diplomats want to maintain the ability to negotiate with the Haqqanis, but because designating the Haqqanis would make it very difficult to avoid listing Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror.

The fact that the Haqqani Network is a terrorist group is irrefutable. The White House may want to drag its feet in pursuit of some diplomatic fiction, but the Congress may not be so tolerant. Already, there is a bill in the House calling for the designation. It may not be such a long shot: Remember, the White House opposed further sanctions on Iran, but the Senate voted 100-0 to impose them anyway. Only after they showed some positive effect did the White House retroactively claim credit.

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Max Boot is correct to call for the designation of the Haqqani Network as a terrorist group, but he does not go far enough in sketching out the implications. The reason why the State Department has not pushed forward with the designation is not only because U.S. diplomats want to maintain the ability to negotiate with the Haqqanis, but because designating the Haqqanis would make it very difficult to avoid listing Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror.

The fact that the Haqqani Network is a terrorist group is irrefutable. The White House may want to drag its feet in pursuit of some diplomatic fiction, but the Congress may not be so tolerant. Already, there is a bill in the House calling for the designation. It may not be such a long shot: Remember, the White House opposed further sanctions on Iran, but the Senate voted 100-0 to impose them anyway. Only after they showed some positive effect did the White House retroactively claim credit.

Negotiating with the Haqqanis—or any terrorist group—is bad policy; it never works. The Haqqanis are not operating to rectify a grievance, but  are conducting terrorism in pursuit of a radical, religious ideology. They do not see compromise as a virtue. Successful diplomacy is not based on fiction, but on reality.

It is for this reason that we need to have a serious discussion about whether or not Pakistan qualifies as a state sponsor of terror. Pakistan not only hosts and supplies the Haqqani Network but, as Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad shows, its powers that be are also complicit with al-Qaeda. Designation of Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror will certainly have implications on logistical routes into Afghanistan, but as Pakistan’s recent about face on trucking American supplies shows, it recognizes its hand is not as strong as it thought. As my colleague Reza Jan argues, it now has interest bills on loans coming due, and Washington wields more power than Islamabad at the International Monetary Fund and other international financial organs.

If we are ever going to get U.S.-Pakistani relations on the right foot, it is essential we deal with the root problem responsible for all the other ill-symptoms. And if that mandates calling a spade a spade, then so be it.

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U.S.-Pakistan Relations Still Bizarre

So it appears the standoff which led to the closing of the NATO supply line through Pakistan in November has finally been resolved. After resisting offering an apology for an incident in which a cross-border firefight led to the deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally delivered language that would satisfy Pakistan. As she said in a statement:

“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”

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So it appears the standoff which led to the closing of the NATO supply line through Pakistan in November has finally been resolved. After resisting offering an apology for an incident in which a cross-border firefight led to the deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally delivered language that would satisfy Pakistan. As she said in a statement:

“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”

That simple statement was, of course, the subject of many months of contentious negotiations. It is hard to blame the administration for finally kowtowing, at least in a limited way, toward Pakistani sensitivities. After all, the closure of the “GLOC” (ground line of communications), even if it did not disrupt NATO operations, was costing us an extra $100 million a month to ferry goods from Central Asia. But this should not make anyone think relations with Pakistan have been restored to normal–a term tough to even apply to our bizarre relationship with this state which claims to be an ally and yet sponsors terrorist groups which regularly kill American soldiers.

Nor should this deal lead us to shy away from taking some of the tough steps–such as using drones to target Taliban and Haqqani leaders inside Pakistan–that will still arouse Pakistani ire and that could lead to a closure of the GLOC once again. If we don’t do more to strike at the insurgent leadership, we will not be able to leave even minimal stability behind in Afghanistan after 2014.

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Pakistani Taliban Pose Mortal Threat

The recent attack by Pakistan Taliban fighters, based in Afghanistan, into Pakistan, where they killed 13 Pakistani soldiers, has not gotten the attention it deserves.

The Pakistani Taliban fighters fled the Swat Valley in Pakistan after a Pakistani army assault beginning in 2009. They found refuge in Kunar and Nuristan provinces–remote areas of eastern Afghanistan where the U.S. Army fought many fierce battles (Sebastian Junger’s book War and his film “Restrepo” are set here) before pulling back. That pullback was undertaken because these frontier regions are not major population centers but, because U.S. forces are no longer there in substantial numbers, various insurgents have been able to filter back in. This should serve as a stark warning of what can happen, on a far larger scale, if the U.S. pulls out prematurely from Afghanistan, either before or after 2014.

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The recent attack by Pakistan Taliban fighters, based in Afghanistan, into Pakistan, where they killed 13 Pakistani soldiers, has not gotten the attention it deserves.

The Pakistani Taliban fighters fled the Swat Valley in Pakistan after a Pakistani army assault beginning in 2009. They found refuge in Kunar and Nuristan provinces–remote areas of eastern Afghanistan where the U.S. Army fought many fierce battles (Sebastian Junger’s book War and his film “Restrepo” are set here) before pulling back. That pullback was undertaken because these frontier regions are not major population centers but, because U.S. forces are no longer there in substantial numbers, various insurgents have been able to filter back in. This should serve as a stark warning of what can happen, on a far larger scale, if the U.S. pulls out prematurely from Afghanistan, either before or after 2014.

The Council on Foreign Relations has just published my Policy Innovation Memorandum suggesting what it will take to secure recent gains in Afghanistan. Among the most important steps that I urge are not cutting funding for the Afghan security forces and not cutting U.S. force levels prematurely. This may be a hard sell for a war-weary nation, but consider the alternative. If the Afghan Taliban come back into power, it seems safe to say their territory will be a staging ground for various multinational terrorists. The most prominent of these groups is al-Qaeda, which remains alive despite all of the losses it has suffered recently. But just as worrisome is the Pakistani Taliban, which poses a mortal threat to the nuclear-armed state of Pakistan.

By maintaining stability in Afghanistan, we also enhance the survival prospects of the shaky Pakistani state. If we pull out completely, the recent raid by the Pakistani Taliban will be a harbinger of terrible things to come.

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Taliban Consign Children to Polio Risk

“Taliban to Kids: Drop Dead.” That would be the headline in the NY Daily News or some other tabloid. The New York Times has a more staid approach: “Taliban Block Vaccinations in Pakistan.” But the news contained therein is no less shocking and contemptible: the Pakistani Taliban are going to block UNICEF-administered polo vaccinations in North Waziristan until the U.S. stops its drone attacks in Pakistan which have been heavily focused on North Waziristan.

The Taliban have some small shred of cover for this move due to the fact that the CIA recruited a doctor undertaking vaccinations to try to locate Osama bin Laden’s hideout. (That doctor, Shakil Afridi, is now languishing in a Pakistani jail for the “crime” of helping to uncover a mass murderer.) This fact, along with many others, underlines how deeply intertwined al-Qaeda is with other Pakistan-based radical groups, from the Pakistani Taliban to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. And it also shows how heartless these groups are.

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“Taliban to Kids: Drop Dead.” That would be the headline in the NY Daily News or some other tabloid. The New York Times has a more staid approach: “Taliban Block Vaccinations in Pakistan.” But the news contained therein is no less shocking and contemptible: the Pakistani Taliban are going to block UNICEF-administered polo vaccinations in North Waziristan until the U.S. stops its drone attacks in Pakistan which have been heavily focused on North Waziristan.

The Taliban have some small shred of cover for this move due to the fact that the CIA recruited a doctor undertaking vaccinations to try to locate Osama bin Laden’s hideout. (That doctor, Shakil Afridi, is now languishing in a Pakistani jail for the “crime” of helping to uncover a mass murderer.) This fact, along with many others, underlines how deeply intertwined al-Qaeda is with other Pakistan-based radical groups, from the Pakistani Taliban to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. And it also shows how heartless these groups are.

The Pakistani Taliban are, in effect, consigning 160,000 children to the risk of getting polio because of their war with the United States. Nothing could make more clear the barbarous nature of such groups–and the need for them to be defeated. Pakistan’s generals should, at the very least, toss and turn a little at night as they think about their own role in fostering and promoting these monsters.

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Unleash Drones Against Our Enemies

Congratulations are due to the CIA, which carried out the strike, and to President Obama, who ordered it (and approved the target personally, as the New York Times has revealed) for the elimination of a major enemy of the United States–Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 commander. Like many of al-Qaeda’s operatives, Libi was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan. He was the effective, day-to-day field commander of al-Qaeda, and his death will no doubt cause serious disruption to whatever operations al-Qaeda Central is involved in. The importance of his elimination is somewhat decreased, however, by the fact that so many of the terrorist organization’s operations have migrated outside of Pakistan, to regional affiliates from Mali to Yemen; Libi’s death probably will not have much impact on their operations.

This highlights the declining utility of targeting al-Qaeda Central: the organization has already been severely hurt by the continuous elimination of its top cadres. Such operations must be maintained to keep the pressure on, but they can no longer be the exclusive focus of counter-terrorism operations. It is good to see the drone campaign being ramped up in Yemen, but there are limits to what strikes from the air can achieve. There is a desperate need to expand lawful authority in such ungoverned areas to keep groups such as al-Qaeda from regenerating themselves. If the U.S. government has a plan to accomplish that in Pakistan, Yemen or other countries, from Mali to Libya, I have not heard of it.

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Congratulations are due to the CIA, which carried out the strike, and to President Obama, who ordered it (and approved the target personally, as the New York Times has revealed) for the elimination of a major enemy of the United States–Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 commander. Like many of al-Qaeda’s operatives, Libi was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan. He was the effective, day-to-day field commander of al-Qaeda, and his death will no doubt cause serious disruption to whatever operations al-Qaeda Central is involved in. The importance of his elimination is somewhat decreased, however, by the fact that so many of the terrorist organization’s operations have migrated outside of Pakistan, to regional affiliates from Mali to Yemen; Libi’s death probably will not have much impact on their operations.

This highlights the declining utility of targeting al-Qaeda Central: the organization has already been severely hurt by the continuous elimination of its top cadres. Such operations must be maintained to keep the pressure on, but they can no longer be the exclusive focus of counter-terrorism operations. It is good to see the drone campaign being ramped up in Yemen, but there are limits to what strikes from the air can achieve. There is a desperate need to expand lawful authority in such ungoverned areas to keep groups such as al-Qaeda from regenerating themselves. If the U.S. government has a plan to accomplish that in Pakistan, Yemen or other countries, from Mali to Libya, I have not heard of it.

Admittedly, it would not be easy to design or implement such a strategy. Much easier, however, would be to expand the drone strikes to a group that has been curiously exempt from such attacks: namely the Taliban. There have been a few drone strikes on the Haqqani Network in and around Waziristan, Pakistan, but none, so far as I am aware, on the Taliban leadership headquartered in Quetta, Pakistan–nor on the operational Taliban hub at Chaman, Pakistan, just across the border from southern Afghanistan. These groups are actively killing Americans all the time–more than al-Qaeda Central can boast of these days. Yet we have not unleashed the CIA and Special Operations Forces to do to them what they have done to al-Qaeda. Why not? Largely because of the sensitivities of the Pakistani government which is an active sponsor of the Taliban and the Haqqanis.

But so what? The Pakistanis have declining leverage over us; they have kept their supply line to Afghanistan closed since last fall and it has not seriously disrupted NATO operations. The administration needs to figure out whether it’s serious about leaving a more stable Afghanistan behind when the bulk of U.S. troops are withdrawn. If it is, it will unleash the Reapers against the Taliban and Haqqanis–not just against al-Qaeda.

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Pakistan Gloats About U.S. Defeat

During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.

While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”

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During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.

While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”

There is an inverse relationship between pretensions of sophistication and the clarity of goals. Decades ago, the concept of victory was simple: To defeat the enemy. But today, diplomats  and Democrats convince themselves that rhetoric can substitute for victory, even with fundamental goals left unmet and the enemy unchastened. Alas, national security will never be built on rhetoric alone.

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U.S. Aid to Pakistan Must Be Monitored

The NATO summit in Chicago has come and gone and still no agreement with Pakistan on reopening the NATO supply line that had been closed last November after a border fight between Pakistan’s troops and a contingent of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. President Zardari had been invited to the meeting on the assumption that an agreement was imminent and that his appearance would be the final push needed to finalize the details. Instead, he showed up and was snubbed by President Obama, who rightly refused to hold a meeting with Zardari until a deal was done. Various news outlets have reported that the two sides remain far apart in how much per truck NATO will have to pay Pakistan: The Pakistanis reportedly want a staggering $5,000 per truck–far more than the cash-strapped Pentagon wants to pay.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has handed down a 33-year prison sentence to the doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. This is adding insult to injury and underlines, for the umpteenth time, that Pakistan is no ally of the U.S. Sometimes it can act in cooperation with the U.S., but even that is increasingly rare these days. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Senate appropriations subcommittee just voted to slash U.S. aid to Pakistan, to $1 billion, roughly half the amount the administration had requested, and even part of that is conditional on the reopening of the supply line.

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The NATO summit in Chicago has come and gone and still no agreement with Pakistan on reopening the NATO supply line that had been closed last November after a border fight between Pakistan’s troops and a contingent of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. President Zardari had been invited to the meeting on the assumption that an agreement was imminent and that his appearance would be the final push needed to finalize the details. Instead, he showed up and was snubbed by President Obama, who rightly refused to hold a meeting with Zardari until a deal was done. Various news outlets have reported that the two sides remain far apart in how much per truck NATO will have to pay Pakistan: The Pakistanis reportedly want a staggering $5,000 per truck–far more than the cash-strapped Pentagon wants to pay.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has handed down a 33-year prison sentence to the doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. This is adding insult to injury and underlines, for the umpteenth time, that Pakistan is no ally of the U.S. Sometimes it can act in cooperation with the U.S., but even that is increasingly rare these days. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Senate appropriations subcommittee just voted to slash U.S. aid to Pakistan, to $1 billion, roughly half the amount the administration had requested, and even part of that is conditional on the reopening of the supply line.

Frankly, it is difficult to see why we are providing any aid to the Pakistan state when it continues to support the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups that are killing Americans and our allies. Perhaps some aid to Pakistan’s civil society is warranted, but it must be carefully monitored to assure that it does not help to subsidize Pakistan’s military. Some level of payments for trans-shipment rights may still be justifiable, but I’m not even sure of that. The Pakistan supply line has been closed since November, and it is not clear it has had much of an impact on NATO military operations.

When I was in Afghanistan a few weeks ago, I found even remote bases well-stocked with the kinds of provisions (e.g., ice cream and eggs) that had been scarce during past supply disruptions. That’s a tribute to the U.S. success in rerouting logistics through the Northern Distribution Network, and yet another reason why we need to think twice before extending any more aid to Islamabad.

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Obama Ignoring CENTCOM on Iran

When history judges President Obama for the schizophrenic debacle that America’s AfPak strategy has become – and it will – his inability to integrate the advice of military leaders will figure prominently:

The president ordered his advisers to start making plans for a U.S. exit. “This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.”… the planning process would be left to those who agreed with the president. Dissenters were not invited. It’s hardly the picture of a harmonious policy process or a “tough-guy” leader in sync with the military that the White House was eager to sell….

Max’s post from earlier this week outlines how Obama put his “own political calculations front and center in making national security policy,” from ignoring his generals on the Afghan surge to shutting them out totally from withdrawal planning. The president, having pushed Afghanistan as “the good war” during the election to deflect from his Iraq defeatism, had to at least make a token gesture at trying to stabilize the country. That political necessity clashed with his genuine desire to withdraw, and the combination resulted in the worst possible policy: more American troops in harm’s way, but not enough to win.

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When history judges President Obama for the schizophrenic debacle that America’s AfPak strategy has become – and it will – his inability to integrate the advice of military leaders will figure prominently:

The president ordered his advisers to start making plans for a U.S. exit. “This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.”… the planning process would be left to those who agreed with the president. Dissenters were not invited. It’s hardly the picture of a harmonious policy process or a “tough-guy” leader in sync with the military that the White House was eager to sell….

Max’s post from earlier this week outlines how Obama put his “own political calculations front and center in making national security policy,” from ignoring his generals on the Afghan surge to shutting them out totally from withdrawal planning. The president, having pushed Afghanistan as “the good war” during the election to deflect from his Iraq defeatism, had to at least make a token gesture at trying to stabilize the country. That political necessity clashed with his genuine desire to withdraw, and the combination resulted in the worst possible policy: more American troops in harm’s way, but not enough to win.

The same fundamental clash, where the president’s electoral considerations are in tension with his underlying instincts and the result is an incoherent policy, are playing out on Iran. Again, one is tempted to suspect symptomatically, the advice and judgments of military commanders in the field are getting ignored.

Monday the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake exposed strong disagreements between Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, and various figures in the administration. Last January Mattis wanted to respond to Iranian naval provocations by moving a third aircraft-carrier group to the Persian Gulf. He was rebuffed. The incident seems to be a microcosm of broader differences between Mattis and the Obama White House on Iran:

The carrier-group rebuff in January was one of several for the commander responsible for East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Working for the Obama administration, Mattis has often found himself the odd man out—particularly when it comes to Iran… Those who have worked with Mattis say his views when it comes to Iran are more in line with those of America’s allies in the Persian Gulf and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than with his own government’s…

The official U.S. national-intelligence estimate on Iran concludes that the country suspended its nuclear weapons work in 2003, but sources close to the general say he believes that Iran has restarted its weapons work and has urged his analysts to disregard the official estimate. While Mattis has largely voiced his dissent about recent U.S. Iran assessments in private, on occasion his displeasure has spilled into the public record.

That bit about developing nuclear weapons undermines the administration’s coordinated media campaign and leakfest on Iran, which is designed to preemptively scapegoat Israel for overreacting and getting Americans killed. It appears to be one of many places where the generals in the field disagree with the president. Given the ineptitude with which this White House has handled Iraq and Afghanistan, the dynamic is far from encouraging.

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Obama Abandons the “Good War”

Throughout President Bush’s second term, the chief foreign policy mantra of the Democratic Party was to claim the United States was wrong not to concentrate its energy on winning the war in Afghanistan. That was the “good war” as opposed to the war supposedly entered on the basis of lies and which couldn’t be won. The surge President Bush ordered in 2007 undermined the talking point about Iraq being unwinnable, but the idea that Afghanistan was being shorted was heard a great deal in 2008 as Barack Obama was elected president. Once in the White House, the new president was forced to come to a decision about what to do in Afghanistan, and by the summer, he made good on his promise to fight the good war there. But along with his pledge to start a surge that could defeat the Taliban was a provision that critics at the time warned could undo all the good that could come of the new plan.

With the president set to announce at the G8 meetings in Chicago the complete end of American combat operations in 2013 whether or not Afghan forces are prepared to step into the breach, a front-page feature in today’s New York Times provides a helpful explanation of the decision. The piece, adapted from a new book by Times reporter David E. Sanger, makes it clear the administration never had fully backed the surge. Indeed, despite his “good war” rhetoric, Obama clearly never believed in the mission there to rid the country of the Taliban and was looking to back out of his commitment from the moment he made it. Having failed to go “all in” for the surge by not providing as many troops in the beginning as the military asked, the president then did not give the generals the opportunity to persuade him to slow down a planned withdrawal that only served to signal the enemy all they had to do was to hold on until the Americans left.

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Throughout President Bush’s second term, the chief foreign policy mantra of the Democratic Party was to claim the United States was wrong not to concentrate its energy on winning the war in Afghanistan. That was the “good war” as opposed to the war supposedly entered on the basis of lies and which couldn’t be won. The surge President Bush ordered in 2007 undermined the talking point about Iraq being unwinnable, but the idea that Afghanistan was being shorted was heard a great deal in 2008 as Barack Obama was elected president. Once in the White House, the new president was forced to come to a decision about what to do in Afghanistan, and by the summer, he made good on his promise to fight the good war there. But along with his pledge to start a surge that could defeat the Taliban was a provision that critics at the time warned could undo all the good that could come of the new plan.

With the president set to announce at the G8 meetings in Chicago the complete end of American combat operations in 2013 whether or not Afghan forces are prepared to step into the breach, a front-page feature in today’s New York Times provides a helpful explanation of the decision. The piece, adapted from a new book by Times reporter David E. Sanger, makes it clear the administration never had fully backed the surge. Indeed, despite his “good war” rhetoric, Obama clearly never believed in the mission there to rid the country of the Taliban and was looking to back out of his commitment from the moment he made it. Having failed to go “all in” for the surge by not providing as many troops in the beginning as the military asked, the president then did not give the generals the opportunity to persuade him to slow down a planned withdrawal that only served to signal the enemy all they had to do was to hold on until the Americans left.

As Sanger writes:

By early 2011, Mr. Obama had seen enough. He told his staff to arrange a speedy, orderly exit from Afghanistan. This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.

The key decisions had essentially been made already when Gen. David H. Petraeus, in his last months as commander in Afghanistan, arrived in Washington with a set of options for the president that called for a slow withdrawal of surge troops. He wanted to keep as many troops as possible in Afghanistan through the next fighting season, with a steep drop to follow. Mr. Obama concluded that the Pentagon had not internalized that the goal was not to defeat the Taliban. He said he “believed that we had a more limited set of objectives that could be accomplished by bringing the military out at a faster clip,” an aide reported.

Given the difficulties in fighting in Afghanistan for more than a decade and the enormous shortcomings of our local allies, especially President Hamid Karzai, fatigue with the war is understandable. But in light of the revelations about the president’s decision-making process, it is now apparent that the administration lacked the one thing any country needs in war: a commitment to victory. Without it, the Afghan surge was just a blip on the radar screen and, unlike the Iraqi insurgents who knew President Bush meant business during the U.S. surge in that war, the Taliban were right to discount the possibility that President Obama was just as tough-minded. Even at the outset of the new surge it’s clear now  the president saw it as merely a bloody prelude to a withdrawal with, as Sanger notes, no provision for what would happen if the Taliban start their own surge after the Americans leave.

The administration gives itself credit for having rethought strategy and concentrated instead on the real “good war” — fighting al-Qaeda in Pakistan. But if, as Sanger reports, the administration had concluded that there had never been a coherent U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the same is certainly true of American objectives in Pakistan. In truth, the U.S. has no strategy in Pakistan other than to keep attacking terrorists in the tribal areas with drones, a tactic that is deadly but has no chance of ridding the area of trouble or maintaining Pakistan as an ally in the war against the Islamists. The only thing that recommends this plan is that it requires few American troops and allows the president to adopt the “lead from behind” posture with which he is so comfortable.

President Obama’s 2009 decision to stay the course in Afghanistan and use a surge to fight the Taliban was the sort of responsible action that gave the lie to his detractors’ assertion that he had little understanding of the strategic imperatives of fighting the country’s Islamist foes. But, as we now know, the applause he earned then was largely undeserved. His only real goal was to bug out of Afghanistan but to do so without having lost the country before he ran for re-election in 2012.

The result is a plan that is a disaster in the making which will create a mess that will be all too apparent in the years to come. That’s something he’s willing to live with if he is re-elected. Whether it is one that can be reversed by his successor, either in 2013 or 2017, remains to be seen.

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Time to Take Action in Pakistan

David Ignatius has a good column today pointing out that Pakistan has a lot to answer for in its relationship with al-Qaeda. As he notes: “Osama bin Laden lived in five houses in Pakistan, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives to his terror network, had two children born in public hospitals — and through it all, the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts?” That strains credulity as does the fact that numerous other senior al-Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were able to live in Pakistan for years.

Of course, Pakistan’s links with terrorists hardly end with al-Qaeda. The Pakistani state, and specifically its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, has notoriously close ties with such groups as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban, who are responsible for the deaths of numerous American and Afghan soldiers as well as Afghan civilians, and Lashkar e Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 murder spree in Mumbai and whose founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, now has a $10 million American bounty on his head. Saeed, by the way, lives and travels quite openly in Pakistan; he must know he has nothing to fear from his confederates in the Pakistani security establishment.

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David Ignatius has a good column today pointing out that Pakistan has a lot to answer for in its relationship with al-Qaeda. As he notes: “Osama bin Laden lived in five houses in Pakistan, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives to his terror network, had two children born in public hospitals — and through it all, the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts?” That strains credulity as does the fact that numerous other senior al-Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were able to live in Pakistan for years.

Of course, Pakistan’s links with terrorists hardly end with al-Qaeda. The Pakistani state, and specifically its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, has notoriously close ties with such groups as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban, who are responsible for the deaths of numerous American and Afghan soldiers as well as Afghan civilians, and Lashkar e Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 murder spree in Mumbai and whose founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, now has a $10 million American bounty on his head. Saeed, by the way, lives and travels quite openly in Pakistan; he must know he has nothing to fear from his confederates in the Pakistani security establishment.

Yet why does the U.S. still insist on treating Pakistan as a wayward ally—a difficult friend but a friend nevertheless? It is well past time to wake up from this delusion and start to take actions the Pakistani army may adamantly oppose—such as using drone strikes to target Haqqani and Afghan Taliban leaders living in Pakistan—but that are essential to protect our troops in Afghanistan and our interests in the region.

Instead, we continue to subsidize the very Pakistani state which is making war on us and our friends. As commentator Sarah Chayes noted in an article about Afghanistan (which I took some exception with): “Imagine Washington openly financing North Vietnam in 1970.”

 

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Pakistan’s Guilt for Hosting Bin Laden

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar is a one-man encyclopedia of all things Afghanistan and Pakistan, and probably the best Afghan analyst I have ever met.  He’s also an extremely incisive analyst. Today, he tweets:

Pakistan charges Osama’s widows for illegal entry. Wouldn’t it be better if they’d done this to Osama? Or Mullah Omar and Haqqani leaders?

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My American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar is a one-man encyclopedia of all things Afghanistan and Pakistan, and probably the best Afghan analyst I have ever met.  He’s also an extremely incisive analyst. Today, he tweets:

Pakistan charges Osama’s widows for illegal entry. Wouldn’t it be better if they’d done this to Osama? Or Mullah Omar and Haqqani leaders?

Indeed. And, at the same time, isn’t charging Shikal Afridi, the doctor who confirmed bin Laden’s whereabouts, with treason evidence that Pakistan itself is guilty? After all, if the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, wasn’t shielding bin Laden, then what’s the state secret Afridi exposed?

Pakistan is not an ally. It is as much a rogue actor as the Taliban.

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Time to Target Insurgents in Pakistan

Gen. Jack Keane, one of the architects of the surge in Iraq, is always a font of good sense when it comes to America’s wars. Thus, it is worth listening—and acting on his advice—when he suggests that our drone strikes in Pakistan be expanded beyond al-Qaeda targets to focus on the Taliban and related insurgent groups. The Washington Times quotes him as follows: “If we don’t start targeting the Taliban leadership now … the risk is much too high in terms of our ability to sustain the successes that we’ve had. We cannot let that Afghan Taliban leadership that lives in Pakistan continue to preside over this war and recruit and provide resources.”

He is absolutely right, and it is imperative to follow his advice even at the risk of further blowback from Pakistan, because there is no other way to achieve any degree of success in Afghanistan while pulling back as quickly as the Obama administration wants to do—namely a switch from combat to advising in 2013 and a complete pull-out in 2014. Even with stepped up drone strikes, the Obama timeline is probably a prescription for disaster and defeat. But if we at least do more to target the insurgent leadership which enjoys safe havens in Pakistan, our forces can somewhat increase their odds of success notwithstanding the rapid collapse of political will in the White House to prosecute this war to a successful conclusion.

 

Gen. Jack Keane, one of the architects of the surge in Iraq, is always a font of good sense when it comes to America’s wars. Thus, it is worth listening—and acting on his advice—when he suggests that our drone strikes in Pakistan be expanded beyond al-Qaeda targets to focus on the Taliban and related insurgent groups. The Washington Times quotes him as follows: “If we don’t start targeting the Taliban leadership now … the risk is much too high in terms of our ability to sustain the successes that we’ve had. We cannot let that Afghan Taliban leadership that lives in Pakistan continue to preside over this war and recruit and provide resources.”

He is absolutely right, and it is imperative to follow his advice even at the risk of further blowback from Pakistan, because there is no other way to achieve any degree of success in Afghanistan while pulling back as quickly as the Obama administration wants to do—namely a switch from combat to advising in 2013 and a complete pull-out in 2014. Even with stepped up drone strikes, the Obama timeline is probably a prescription for disaster and defeat. But if we at least do more to target the insurgent leadership which enjoys safe havens in Pakistan, our forces can somewhat increase their odds of success notwithstanding the rapid collapse of political will in the White House to prosecute this war to a successful conclusion.

 

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