The Problem is Pakistan
by Charles Lemos, Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:18:13 PM EDT
This past Sunday in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian counter-insurgency specialist David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House, warned that Pakistan could collapse within months.
The warning comes as the US scrambles to redeploy its military forces and diplomats in an attempt to stem rising violence and anarchy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we're calling the war on terror now," said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House.
"You just can't say that you're not going to worry about al-Qaeda taking control of Pakistan and its nukes," he said.
As the US implements a new strategy in Central Asia so comprehensive that some analysts now dub the cross-border conflict "Obama's war", Dr Kilcullen said time was running out for international efforts to pull both countries back from the brink.
When he unveiled his new "Afpak" policy in Washington last month, the US President, Barack Obama, warned that while al-Qaeda would fill the vacuum if Afghanistan collapsed, the terrorist group was already rooted in Pakistan, plotting more attacks on the US.
"The safety of people round the world is at stake," he said.
Reading the Indian and Pakistani press, the sense I get from the Indian press is that Pakistan refuses to confront the obvious and the sense that I get from the Pakistani press is that India is the problem which only confirms the former. Even as the Baitullah Meshud claim responsibility for recent attacks in Lahore and promise more, Pakistani authorities continue to cast blame on India's intelligence agency, RAW. Too many Pakistani still just don't see the problem. Until the Pakistanis themselves realize in full the scope of their problems, it seems foolhardy to believe that Pakistan is capable of tackling its problems. And this, of course, presents a problem for the United States.
Furthermore while the drone attacks do seem to have disrupted the operations of Al-Qaeda, the Afghani Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban, these groups are adapting and changing tactics. For starters, they are now cooperating to a greater extent and they are also moving away from the border and into the heart of Pakistan. And today as if on cue there is this from the New York Times:
insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.
The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab's capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.
Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.
"I don't think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue," said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be idenfitied because he was discussing threats to the state. "If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab."
As American drone attacks disrupt strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan -- both in retaliation and in search of new havens.
Telltale signs of creeping militancy abound in a belt of towns and villages near here that a reporter visited last week. Militants have gained strength considerably in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan, which is a gateway both to Taliban-controlled areas and the heart of Punjab, the police and local residents say. Many were terrified.
Some villages, just north of here, are so deeply infiltrated by militants that they are already considered no-go zones by their neighbors.
In at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the midsize hub of Multan, barber shops, music stores and Internet cafes offensive to the militants' strict interpretation of Islam have received threats. Traditional ceremonies that include drumming and dancing have been halted in some areas. Hard-line ideologues have addressed large crowds to push their idea of Islamic revolution. Sectarian attacks, dormant here since the 1990s, have erupted once again.
"It's going from bad to worse," said a senior police official in Dera Ghazi Khan. "They are now more active. These are the facts."
American officials agreed. Bruce Riedel, who led the Obama administration's recently completed strategy review of Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the Taliban now had "extensive links into the Punjab."
Again from Dr. Kilcullen:
"In Afghanistan, it's easy to understand, difficult to execute. But in Pakistan, it is very difficult to understand and it's extremely difficult for us to generate any leverage, because Pakistan does not want our help.
"In a sense there is no Pakistan - no single set of opinion. Pakistan has a military and intelligence establishment that refuses to follow the directions of its civilian leadership. They have a tradition of using regional extremist groups as unconventional counterweights against India's regional influence."
I am beginning to realize that Pakistan is a lost cause.