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Reflections on a House Divided

Before Dark

A suggestion for changing the course of the conflict along the Afghan/Pakistani frontier.

“We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism,”
Pakistan’s President Calls for End to Terrorism and Criticizes Intervention by U.S.

"We need at this time to make it clear to foreign countries that Pakistan will not tolerate such actions," said Ahsan Iqbal, a leader of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N  party. "If it continues, then Pakistan can consider pulling out completely from this war on terror."
Pakistan opposition angered by US attacks

It is hard to imagine a more dreadful scenario than one where a nuclear armed Pakistan is united in alliance with,  officially supportive of, or even simply neutral towards  - the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist factions. The current situation in that region - as difficult and dangerous as it is - would pale by comparison. But, we may be heading in that direction - and - by our own doing.

The election that brought a civilian government into power in Pakistan in February of this year also seemed to presage a dire change of circumstances there. The leaders of both major parties in the coalition that originally comprised that government had - when in power previously -  already established reputations for exceptionally high levels of corruption as well as laxity in opposition to  - and even cosiness with - terrorist and insurgent factions both there and in Afghanistan (said coalition coming to an end in August when the Pakistan Muslim League-N party went into opposition - leaving the Pakistan Peoples Party in control of the government). And, in the ensuing months that impression seemed to have been upheld - as the new government reached out to reconcile with the insurgents both at home and in neighbouring areas while also making remarks highly critical of American policy in regards to the struggle against terrorist factions in the region (see note) But then things there seemed to reverse - active hostilities between government forces and terrorist fighters having  started again to rise towards previous levels. Part of this is due, of course, to pressure from the US and other western countries on the new government to take action against terrorists operating against targets in Afghanistan from areas in Pakistan near  the Afghan-Pakistani border. But the importance of the fanatical, impulsive and essentially treacherous nature of many of the terrorist factions, their members and leadership, cannot be underestimated either. They are simply a hard group to get along with.

More recently though these welcome developments seemed to have been undermined. The quantity and cost - in lives - of recent American incursions into Pakistani territory is not the kind of thing that - rationally - one could expect to  be ignored - even by a government that was fundamentally friendly to the US and supportive of its policies - let alone one that had recently seemed on the brink of curtailing, or even ending, military cooperation. And, it is unlikely that even a tacit understanding on the governmental level - to allow such actions - could be long sustained in practice without broader support - particularly within the Pakistani Army.

On the other hand, continued existence of safe areas from which the Taliban and other terrorist factions can launch attacks on targets in Afghanistan with impunity - and then to which they can retreat to for safety - as well as where they can recruit, train and draw other support from generally - is intolerable. Some solution must be arrived at, one that allows American, Afghani and NATO forces to combat these factions more effectively and do so without tipping the political balance in Pakistan against us and towards a renewal of their efforts to develop a workable accord with our enemies.

A suggestion for consideration in that discussion:
reverse the nature of the incursions. I.e. allow and support Pakistani forces in operations - into their own country - based from sites on the Afghanistan side of the border. Besides the obvious - the possibility of reducing or eliminating the need for unauthorized American incursions into Pakistan - this approach may have other advantages. The enemy could be then attacked - unexpectedly - in greater force than that which can be obtained through periodic cross-border raiding - and from directions from which their current defensive preparations may be less suitable for effective resistance. Circumstances of that kind may also provide a solid basis for the  renewal; and development of closer working ties between the Pakistani military and our own best ambassadors - the American Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Airmen. And, at some point it may then become possible for there to be cross border actions involving American, Afghani and NATO forces that are authorized - formally or in reply to requests from local Pakistani commanders. Pakistani units in a hard fight are unlikely to stand firm against offers of assistance. Therefore, instead of losing or reducing the cooperation of Pakistan - as the present course of action threatens to do - or worse, pushing the Pakistani government and military towards greater engagement with the Islamists - we may alternatively cement solid ties with the Pakistani military, connections that would likely go a long way towards moving the country as a whole into our corner. That possibility, along with that of an increase in tactical and strategic opportunities, may make this an attractive alternative to the current approaches.

Note
It may well be  that it was the impression of "laxity [and] even cosiness" towards terrorists and insurgents mentioned above - along with expressions of hostility made towards American policy in regards to combating terrorism in the region generally - that made the efforts towards reconciliation with terrorist and insurgent factions undertaken by the then newly elected  government seem more fundamentally ominous than similar measures taken by former President Musharif previously. The latter's efforts could - as a result of the absence of such impressions and proclamations - be more easily seen as a tactic in a longer term struggle - though one widely viewed as misguided - rather than as indicative of a shift towards neutrality in regards to terrorists operating against targets outside of Pakistan or outright capitulation to the insurgents operating in the tribal areas of Pakistan itself.
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(C) David Aronin 2008