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Wake up Pakistan ! Presently the Muslim societies are in a state of ideological confusion and flux. Materialism, terrorism,...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Islamabad at the Crossroads: By Marvin Weinbaum

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Few question the desirability of finding a political resolution to the Afghan conflict or doubt Pakistan’s pivotal role. The growing divide of opinion in this country is over how best to achieve that outcome. One camp led by our military strategists insists that various political agreements are likely to result from accumulated military successes, sustained by Afghan governance reforms and economic improvements. Visible counterinsurgency gains are expected to gradually wean fighters away from the ranks of the insurgency. The other approach, increasingly voiced in the media, the blogosphere and recent think-tank recommendations,envisions a negotiated deal with Taliban interlocutors that results in national reconciliation. It presumes that a grand bargain can be struck which satisfies Afghanistan’s various ethnic and political constituencies and avoids having the country again become a base camp for international terrorists.

Plainly, neither course can succeed without Pakistan’s cooperation. To go well, a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan requires that Pakistan reverse policies offering sanctuary to the Taliban. This would almost certainly necessitate a greater willingness to use military force against Afghan insurgent strongholds in North Waziristan and Baluchistan. Alternatively, to initiate productive talks, Pakistan would be expected to use its leverage over protected insurgent leaders and allay suspicions in Kabul about Islamabad’s aims. Both approaches present challenges for Pakistan’s military and elected officials, but of the two, their preference is clearly for concluding a political agreement that ends the Afghan conflict rather than a prolonged U.S. military campaign.

As Pakistan sees it, neither an Afghan Taliban defeat nor an outright victory may be in its interest. Where Islamabad had once sought to have a subservient neighbor, it has in recent years been forced to settle for a government in Kabul that is at best not unfriendly. But full support from Pakistan that decisively checks the insurgency could result in a strengthened Afghan government. This is especially worrisome for a Pakistan that is, above all, anxious to ensure a diminished Indian footprint across its Afghan border. Greater cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition could force Pakistan to forfeit the Taliban as a reserve Pashtun force in the event of a post-American, destabilized Afghanistan, and disown favored jihadi groups dedicated to the struggles in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Yet the prospect of a Taliban movement wresting full power in Afghanistan also leaves Islamabad uneasy. Its experiences with Taliban leadership have frequently proven frustrating. For all of their dependence on Pakistan, the Taliban, especially Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura, remain distrustful of their Pakistani handlers in the intelligence services. In the event that the Taliban consolidate power in Afghanistan, they may well resist serving as pliant clients. Moreover, should they succeed militarily, a civil war with non-Pashtun northern militias is probably inevitable. As the Taliban’s patrons, Pakistan could then confront involvement in a proxy conflict with Iran, Russia and India. The Islamabad regime would also have to contend with the influx of millions of Afghan refugees entering Pakistan’s tribal areas. Furthermore, a triumphant Afghan Taliban could energize Pakistan’s own Taliban insurgency, providing it with strategic depth within Afghanistan. Still worse, a restored Taliban regime’s joining forces with Pakistan’s militant Islamists for jihad in Pakistan cannot be ruled out.

Faced with these unattractive alternatives, it is understandable that Pakistan’s policy makers find the prospect of reconciliation among Afghans so appealing. Pakistan’s mounting domestic radicalism and political turmoil also lend a sense of urgency for a settlement that some believe can also contribute to a compromise with Pakistan’s Taliban.At its best, a power-sharing agreement in Kabul is expected to curb India’s influence in the country and dilute Pashtun nationalism and Islamic radicalism. In pressing for negotiations, Pakistan’s ISI portrays the Taliban as moderates prepared for serious compromise following the withdrawal of foreign troops, and ready to disown al-Qaeda. As of this moment, unconvinced of international staying power and eager to find a path to political survival, Kabul is willing to grasp at Pakistan’s straws.

However, Pakistan’s help in launching a serious political process is problematic. Even ISI’s client, the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, is reluctant to soften its terms for negotiations, at least while the insurgency continues to give signs of succeeding. Most uncompromising is the emergence of a younger, more radical generation of Taliban leaders, resulting from an uptick in U.S. drone strikes and special operations raids that have killed a significant number of mid-level field commanders. And were negotiations to begin, many Taliban leaders would prefer to exclude Pakistan, anyway. Perhaps most daunting is Pakistan’s plans for a political resolution, which are contingent on Afghan ethnic minorities participation in a deal that they are likely to see as leading to a Taliban attempt to take over the entire country.

Thus Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has reached an impasse. The country’s policy makers are hard pressed by a frustrated Washington to broaden and intensify operations against militant strongholds and confront the prospect of increased U.S. drone strikes and cross-border ground attacks. All the while, Pakistan’s leaders are trying to reconcile these demands for greater efforts to confront the sources of terrorism with a domestic public that views the United States as a greater threat to Pakistan than the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban or al-Qaeda. Pakistan is perhaps even more severely constricted by its inability to perceive its choices except through the prism of an ever-menacing India.

The viability of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership may hinge on Pakistan’s making the difficult choices that better align our policies on Afghanistan. That may not happen while Pakistan’s view of strategic threats from the region is long term, and the United States’ concerns are more immediate. Clearly, a convergence of national interests cannot occur without a narrowing of their wide trust deficit. Among other requirements, it calls for a better appreciation in Washington of the limits imposed by Islamabad’s perceived security imperatives, and a Pakistani leadership with the courage to question many of the country’s foreign-policy shibboleths. But Pakistan’s ability to resolve its Afghan policy dilemma may depend most of all on a greater certainty about America’s commitment to the region.

Assertions and opinions in this Policy Insight are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy. http://www.mei.edu/content/islamabad-crossroads
http://www.mei.edu/profile/marvin-weinbaum


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Deadly drones and Obama’s secret war in Pakistan 
By Dr Nasir Islam

The targets are located in one of the world’s most inaccessible regions where journalists and NGOs have been denied access

Drones are the weapons of choice in the US’s war against terrorists. Their push-button precision, timeliness, lethal power with zero American casualties are quite seductive. The US’s fleet of drones has grown from a meagre 54 in 2001 to an armada of several thousand Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The Predator drones have state-of-the-art technology, infrared cameras, heat sensors and radar linked to communication satellites. They upload huge quantities of data, feeding instantly to commanders and CIA operators across the globe. Their pilots sit in hidden airbases in Afghanistan or Pakistan and Langley, out of harm’s way. Cruising at 25,000 feet, they can deliver payloads up to 450 pounds with lethal results.

A powerful drone lobby promotes their use. Manufacturers — General Atomics, Aero Vironnement, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman — make fabulous profits. Congress members receive campaign contributions and jobs are created in their constituencies. The president wins kudos for decapitating terrorist leadership. Academics receive rich research contracts.

Persistently elusive victory in Afghanistan, the horrendously high cost of traditional warfare and inaccessible enemy targets make drone strikes increasingly the preferred choice compared to counterinsurgency operations. Drones, deadly for the enemy, suit the casualty-averse American policy makers. They are popular with the US public because they provide a measure of ‘rough justice’, revenge, and symbolise the projection of American power in hostile lands.

Early strikes were carried out against known High Value Targets (HVTs), usually senior al Qaeda leaders. The strike frequency and the casualties remained low. More recently, the strikes are targeting unknown groups of people ‘associated’ with militants. CIA analysts, based on particular behaviour patterns, decide whether a target group is composed of ordinary civilians or militants. The CIA refers to them as ‘signature’ or ‘bulk’ strikes because they target larger groups. Most CIA strikes now are ‘signature’ strikes targeting clusters of people without knowing who they are.

Drone strikes escalated dramatically during the Obama presidency. According to the Long War Journal, of the 292 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, 247 occurred during 2009-2012, while there were only 45 in the Bush-Musharraf years. The Obama administration delegated authority to choose targets, to select attack time and trigger the strike to the CIA. The covert programme gives the US government deniability and absolves it from any violation of international laws or Congressional accountability. Its protagonists however argue that rigorous criteria — imminent threat, infeasibility of capture and certainty of intelligence — are used to trigger attacks. At the end of the day, these rigorous criteria are subjective and depend on the judgment of the operators at the ground level.

According to the New America Foundation (NAF), 70 percent of the drone attacks occurred in North Wazirastan, 25 percent in South Waziristan. Haqqani ‘network’, Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s militia and Maulvi Nazir’s fighters were the most frequent targets. Drone attacks killed some important al Qaeda and some Pakistani Taliban leaders. The NAF puts the total number of militant leaders killed at 43.

The targets are located in one of the world’s most inaccessible regions where journalists and NGOs have been denied access. The Pakistani state has nominal control in many parts of the region. In the absence of field data, the casualty reports in the media are derived from second-hand accounts. The US think tanks then disguise aggregated data from the media in charts and tables to enhance their authenticity. I doubt very much if anyone has been able to actually count the dead or the fresh graves or distinguish combatants from civilians who have been vaporised or strewn around with shattered limbs. Not only the total number of casualties remains contentious, but also the number of civilians killed is highly controversial. The US military tends to underestimate the number of civilian deaths and overestimates the number of combatants killed. The New York Times recently reported that the CIA counts all military age males in the target area as combatant. This could mean that practically no male casualty is counted as a civilian casualty.

Precision strikes are not literally ‘precise’. A Hellfire missile fired from a Predator is not like a clean shot from a sniper’s rifle. It decimates everything and everyone within the blast radius where the temperature can rise up to 5,000 F, leaving a trail of deadly cluster bombs. Drone strikes are as accurate as the intelligence and its interpretation. The human intelligence in the region is unreliable and sometimes intentionally misleading. There have been several spectacular intelligence failures. It took 16 strikes to kill Baitullah Mehsud, and Ilyas Kashmiri’s death was claimed six times. Can a remote operator at a computer terminal distinguish between a jirga and a gathering of combatants? The Datta Khel strike that killed 40-70 civilians in a jirga gathering underscores such concerns. A resident described the aftermath to Reprieve, a British NGO: “The tribal elders could not be identified because the body parts were strewn about. I just collected the pieces of flesh I believed belonged to my father and placed them in a small coffin.”

Most Pakistanis oppose the drone attacks. Politicians repeat the refrain about the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. In the wake of the Salala attack, parliament unanimously demanded the cessation of drone strikes. David Rhodes claimed that the covert programme was established with General Musharraf’s consent in 2004. Ironically, there has been a dramatic increase in drone strikes during the PPP regime. It is perhaps because of a huge network of CIA spies established during this period that came to light after the Raymond Davis affair. Ambassador Patterson’s February 2009 cable indicated that General Kayani was not only fully aware of the strikes but also asked for coverage of South Waziristan during the army operation. In 2009, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s revelation at the Intelligence Select Committee that drones were taking off from Pakistan solicited howls of denial from the Pakistani government. Now we know that the Shamsi Airbase was leased to the UAE and occupied by the Americans and was vacated only after the Salala incident. Jane Mayer (The New Yorker) reported that President Zardari was involved in choosing targets. Rehman Malik boasted to The Wall Street Journal about watching the video of the attack on Baitullah Mehsud. Clearly, the government publicly denounces the drone attacks and privately facilitates them. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s recent statement that we (Pakistan) object to the illegal strikes but not the targets creates more ambiguity rather than clarity about Pakistan’s stand on drone attacks. Drones are now flying from Jalalabad. The Pakistani government has not registered any protest to the Afghan government.

Pakistani policy is inconsistent, hypocritical, and lacks transparency. The Americans are equally opaque and are in denial about civilian deaths. Though the drones offer tactical advantage, they lack strategic benefits. It is dangerous for the US to set an example of using drones as instruments of foreign policy. It is unethical to give an intelligence agency the sole discretionary power to engage in an undeclared secret war with little oversight by Congress. The real problem is that the US and Pakistan have different targeting priorities. The US targets the ‘Taliban’ fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan wants to target groups like the TTP. Absence of trust and conflicting priorities are a serious hurdle in the way of a coordinated strategy against militants on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border.

The writer, a retired professor of governance and public policy at the Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, Canada, can be reached at aghaji@sympatico.ca