Pakistan's doomsday scenario

Pakistan's doomsday scenario

IN PERSPECTIVE

At first, it might seem a mere play on words, but the debate about the viability of the AfPak concept is more serious than a discussion of geopolitical vocabulary. The notion that the problems of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir should be embraced by a single “Afghanistan-Pakistan” strategy was launched after the first visit to the region by President Obama’s new super-envoy Richard Holbrooke.
His view was that it is one war, though with many fronts. This was greeted with enthusiasm by leading journals such as ‘The Financial Times’ and ‘The Economist’. However, following the recent round of discussions with the Pakistan military and government, the UK government has decided to drop the term as being counterproductive and even dangerous.
The term AfPak is to be dropped discreetly from policy documents at the MoD, Foreign Office and Cabinet Office. “It hasn’t been of any help – least of all to the Pakistan military command,” a source said. The British decision has the approval of General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief and the key figure in the fight against the Taliban, and therefore in the fight to hold Pakistan together.
Britain is now to beef up its team of intelligence and security advisers in Pakistan, as per the Richard Norton-Taylor and Declan Walsh report in ‘The Guardian’. Britain’s approach has been welcomed by General Kayani, say British officials, because he wants to avoid the position his predecessor, General Musharraf, was forced into, in supporting the global ‘war on terror’. It made him look as if he was fighting for America, and was America’s man. Kayani wants to be seen as “putting Pakistan’s interests and security first,” said a British adviser.
The news from the southern end of the Swat valley is a reminder of just how dire the situation on the ground there now is. Latest reports tell of heavy fighting round Mingora, from which residents had been told to flee by the local administration. The fighting marks the breakdown of the deal over the Swat valley early this year, whereby the Taliban were allowed to bring in their local sharia courts and system of government in return for a ceasefire, while the Pakistan army withdrew. The Taliban haven’t given up their weapons yet. This led to heavy fighting last week in Buner district.
Both the Obama and Brown administrations have taken a realist approach to the growing crisis. But they have very little time to put a realistic concept of operations together, as Ahmed Rashid, most pungent of all Pakistan’s analysts, argues in ‘The Washington Post’:
“The Taliban offensive in northern Pakistan has the potential to become a nationwide movement within a few months. The army and the civilian government still lack a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy as well as a plan to deal with the 1 million refugees who have fled the fighting. Every government official I have met with says the country is bankrupt and that there is no money to fight the insurgency, let alone deal with the refugees.”

Nuclear arsenal

The new US national security adviser, General James Jones,  has voiced his forebodings. He believes there is now serious risk of at least some of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, such as road convoys of materiel, falling into the hands of Taliban fighters.
So far, the Taliban have not been near the main facilities, which are to the south of Islamabad. But, as Ahmed Rashid explains, time is short. The counterinsurgency doctrine, embraced as the new military orthodoxy by the US overall commander for the region General David Petraeus, requires a lot of forces, strategic patience and deep local knowledge. As Gordon Brown’s recent announcement of his half-initiative for Afghanistan shows, the UK government lacks funds, military numbers and the stamina for doing much more than the bare minimum. As the Taliban know for sure in Helmand, time is running out for the Labour government that commands the British troops, as it surely isn’t for them.
However, Britain’s dropping of the AfPak concept does bring a welcome touch of realism. Britain and its allies, including the US, must do what they can, dividing the battlefield into what is essential and achievable and what is not. It means working for the Afghans and Pakistanis, rather than bossing them about in the name of a higher conflict, because it is their home, their land, and their destiny that is at stake.

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