As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saving Pakistan

John Kerry is making sense:

Just back from a visit to Pakistan, Sen. John Kerry says the Obama administration's plan for that volatile country, rolled out last month with great fanfare, "is not a real strategy."

"Pakistan is in a moment of peril," Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a session with USA TODAY reporters and editors. "And I believe there is not in place yet an adequate policy or plan to deal with it." [...]

As an example of how he believes counterinsurgency strategy is lacking, Kerry cited the example of a recent Pakistan army operation in Peshawar.

"The army went in, they expended a lot of energy for us, some lives, and you know, nothing came in underneath it — absolutely nothing. So you're going to wind up with a bunch of folks who are going to hate you.

"If the army's going to take the risk of going in there, for God's sake you have the civil component coming in, so you win something for it," Kerry said.

There's only one group in Pakistan with a bottom-up strategy to gain favor inside local communities, and that's the Taliban. They have exploited the general Pakistani anger at the United States and in particular at the drone attacks, to rally support for their cause. They now operate just miles from the capital in the Swat Valley, and Islamist extremism is certainly on the rise. I don't completely agree with the US intelligence officials quoted in this report that Pakistan is on course to become an Islamist state - there is a significant civil society component in Pakistan, just witness the protests over restoring the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court - but these opinions cannot totally be ignored:

"It's a disaster in the making on the scale of the Iranian revolution," said a U.S. intelligence official with long experience in Pakistan who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

Pakistan's fragmentation into warlord-run fiefdoms that host al Qaida and other terrorist groups would have grave implications for the security of its nuclear arsenal; for the U.S.-led effort to pacify Afghanistan; and for the security of India, the nearby oil-rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia, the U.S. and its allies.

"Pakistan has 173 million people and 100 nuclear weapons, an army which is bigger than the American army, and the headquarters of al Qaida sitting in two-thirds of the country which the government does not control," said David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army officer, a former State Department adviser and a counterinsurgency consultant to the Obama administration.

"Pakistan isn't Afghanistan, a backward, isolated, landlocked place that outsiders get interested in about once a century," agreed the U.S. intelligence official. "It's a developed state . . . (with) a major Indian Ocean port and ties to the outside world, especially the (Persian) Gulf, that Afghanistan and the Taliban never had."

"The implications of this are disastrous for the U.S.," he added. "The supply lines (from Karachi to U.S. bases) in Kandahar and Kabul from the south and east will be cut, or at least they'll be less secure, and probably sooner rather than later, and that will jeopardize the mission in Afghanistan, especially now that it's getting bigger."

While praising Kerry for saying what everyone refuses to, I can't see many good options for Pakistan. The government won't fight the Taliban and have other interests beyond US national security. The radical elements still collude with the local intelligence services. The drone strikes have both positive and negative effects. And the extremism grows.

It's such a toxic mix that I can't see how you do anything but contain it.

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