The secret war in Pakistan

The secret war in Pakistan

The secret war in Pakistan

After the US abandoned Afghanistan following Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Pakistan supported Islamist groups in a bid to secure a pro-Islamabad government in Kabul.

When Bush went into Afghanistan in 2001 with no plan other than to kick out the Taliban, he also threw billions of dollars at Pakistan to help in the “war on terror”.
Islamabad, however, did nothing to root out Islamist radicals near the border with Afghanistan, nor did it spend the $12bn on developing governance.
Instead, the Pakistani government bought equipment such as F-16s to use in a war against India.

Why the Bush administration allowed this to happen by selling them the equipment is beyond imagination.
It became pretty apparent a few years ago that it did not matter what Nato forces did in Afghanistan if the Taliban were allowed to operate freely in Pakistan.
If the Quetta Shura – the Taliban command based in the Pakistani city of Quetta – and other Taliban bases in remote parts of Baluchistan, for example, were not eradicated, then sending more troops to Afghanistan was pointless.
Taliban problem
Withdrawing international forces from Afghanistan also won’t solve the problem, because the Taliban forces would then just return to dig into Afghanistan to oust the current government.

Given what the Taliban allowed to occur when they were last in power this is an unacceptable option for Washington, London and the rest of Nato.
Furthermore, despite all the problems in Afghanistan, the current government is far more popular today with the average Afghan than were the Taliban. The problems are multiple. The civilian government is too weak to take on the Taliban on its own.
Some segments of the Pakistani military actually support the Taliban. They see the Taliban as a way to ensure a friendly government in Kabul, necessary for strategic depth in a war against India.

If the United States was to reduce the power of the Taliban, the situation in Pakistan needed to be addressed. Assassination of Taliban leaders using drones began under Bush and the programme quite rightly accelerated under Obama. So far in 2010 there have been a dozen drone strikes – a large increase on the average for 2009, which was about one per week.
The presence of United States forces on the ground is rightly more contentious. But American forces, as well as British SAS units, have been operating in Pakistan at various points for years.

US-Pak ties
Initially this was without authorisation from the Pakistani government and often because of mistrust between United States and Pakistan forces. But after this most recent attack both Washington and Islamabad have to grudgingly admit that they are working closely with each other.
Islamabad has been loath to admit the extent to which US forces are helping the Pakistani military with counter-insurgency training, never mind the fact that United States forces are at times engaging in operations within Pakistani territory. Given that 80 per cent of Pakistanis reject American assistance in fighting the Taliban, it was perhaps a wise move to keep the issue quiet.

‘War on terror’
Ultimately the “secret war” in Pakistan represents an alternative model to Bush’s very public “war on terror”. Bush used the war on terror as a rhetorical tool to terrorise Americans into supporting a massive, ineffective global war abroad while taking away their civil rights at home.
Obama and his administration have articulated a much more nuanced policy that does not reduce every actor to a “terrorist”. It does not utilise grand rhetoric that elevates “terrorists” to the principal threat facing the United States.
It pushes them into dark corners, where they should be. It attempts to distinguish between al-Qaida and Taliban. It seems to classify Taliban into different groups.

It is a strategy for using American power effectively, rather than blundering into countries with no clear or definable objectives. Most importantly, it is a strategy that goes after the real problems rather than creating new ones, as was the case in Iraq.
It is also one that is backed up with significant amounts of economic and development assistance – $1.5 billion a year for Pakistan alone.
I have no doubt that this “secret war” being waged by the United States with the approval of Islamabad will not be popular with many.
At the end of the day, however, the United States president is elected to keep the American people safe and to expect an administration not to act in the hope that the situation will just fix itself is fantasy.
The New York Times

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