The Games Pakistan Plays

It is gratifying to see the nation's paper of record report on the seemingly bizarre games that Pakistan is playing with its nuclear arsenal.

Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan's nuclear program.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

"Yes," he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan's sensitivity to any discussion about the country's nuclear strategy or security.

Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan's drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.

It should be noted that these reports of Pakistan rushing to add to its nuclear arsenal of some 80 to 100 weapons are not new.

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The Pakistanization of the Afghan War

The Los Angeles Times is reporting in a marked shift for US policy towards Pakistan that the US military has begun flying armed Predator drones inside Pakistan in partnership with the Pakistani military. Furthermore, under this new joint operation Pakistani officers have significant control over targets, flight routes and decisions to launch attacks.

For the U.S. military, the missions represent a broad new role in searching for Islamic militants in Pakistan. For years, that task has been the domain of the CIA, which has flown its own fleet of Predators over the South Asian nation.

Under the new partnership, U.S. military drones will be allowed for the first time to venture beyond the borders of Afghanistan under the direction of Pakistani military officials, who are working with American counterparts at a command center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said the program was aimed at getting Pakistan -- which has frequently protested airstrikes in its territory as a violation of sovereignty -- more directly and deeply engaged in the Predator program.

"This is about building trust," said a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the program has not been publicly acknowledged. "This is about giving them capabilities they do not currently have to help them defeat this radical extreme element that is in their country."

The Pakistanis, however, have yet to use the drones to shoot at suspected militants and are grappling with a cumbersome military chain of command as well as ambivalence over using U.S. equipment to fire on their own people.

The program marks a significant departure from how the war against Taliban insurgents has been fought for most of the last seven years. The heavy U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has been largely powerless to pursue militants who routinely escape across the border into Pakistan.

But the initiative carries serious risks for Pakistan, which is struggling to balance a desire for more control over the drones with a deep reluctance to become complicit in U.S.-operated Predator strikes on its own people.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, on a visit to Washington last week, reiterated his nation's request for its own fleet of Predators. U.S. officials have all but ruled that out, and they described the new, jointly operated flights as an effective compromise.

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Is Pakistan's Civil War a Class War?

The wily and persuasive Pepe Escobar had a column today over at the Asia Times suggesting that Pakistan is now openly being run from Washington. Mr. Escobar is, I think, half-right or perhaps more succinctly put is not too far off in his location. By Washington, Pepe Escobar clearly means the White House and the Defense Department. He's got the city right but the institutions wrong. Pakistan's fate may have been sealed back in November when the country agreed to a $7.6 billion USD bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Pepe Escobar, who is one of a last a dying breed the hard-nosed international correspondent, writes on the elements of class struggle in the current troubles in Swat Valley.

In this complex neo-colonial scenario Pakistan's "Talibanization" - the current craze in Washington - looks and feels more like a diversionary scare tactic. (Please see The Myth of Talibanistan, Asia Times Online, May 1, 2009. ) On the same topic, a report on the Pakistani daily Dawn about the specter of Talibanization of Karachi shows it has more to do with ethnic turbulence between Pashtuns and the Urdu-speaking, Indian-origin majority than about Karachi Pashtuns embracing the Taliban way.

The original Obama administration AfPak strategy, as everyone remembers, was essentially a drone war in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) coupled with a surge in Afghanistan. But the best and the brightest in Washington did not factor in an opportunist Taliban counter-surge.

The wily Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law), led by Sufi Muhammad, managed to regiment Swat valley landless peasants to fight for their rights and "economic redistribution" against the usual wealthy, greedy, feudal landlords who happened to double as local politicians and government officials.

It's as if the very parochial Taliban had been paying attention to what goes on across South America ... Essentially, it was the appropriation of good old class struggle that led to the Taliban getting the upper hand. Islamabad was finally forced to agree on establishing Nizam-e-Adl (Islamic jurisprudence) in the Swat valley.

Mr. Escobar's article is not the first to report some element of economic strife or class struggle in Pakistan's descent into civil war. While much of the world's attention when it comes to Pakistan has been on the situation in the FATA and the Malakand which includes Swat, Karachi has been enduring rolling riots that over the past six months have left hundreds dead. While the media often plays up an ethnic component to these riots, the rioters generally have a few things in common, they are poor and they are quite angry.

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The Pakistani Sinkhole

You cannot buy an Afghan, but you can rent one at very high price. - British Colonial Aphorism

We can't buy the Pakistanis either and renting them has in the past proved useless for Pakistan insists on pursuing a drunken recklessness and a careless ambivalence to its own extistential threats. Yet we continue to pour money down a Pakistani sinkhole. Currently we are considering in the near term providing Pakistan with $400 million in military aid and $500 million in economic aid and in the longer term sending $7.5 billion, over five years, to Pakistan. That it is likely to be approved I do not doubt, but it should not be approved.

Pakistan is not just a failed state but a rogue state with visions of geo-political grandeur in both south and central Asia. The country has long been a sponsor of international terrorism. It was Pakistan that first destabilized Afghanistan in the 1960s. It was Pakistan that provided the support critical in the Sardar Daud Khan coup of 1973 in Afghanistan. Pakistan created, financed and nurtured both Afghani groups like the Hezbi-i-Islam and the Taliban as well as Kashmiri groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba to further its strategic interests in India and Afghanistan.

Geo-politically, Pakistan's strategic plan, formulated by the Pakistani military and its notorious ISI, has been to endow Pakistan with a 'strategic depth' in relation to India, through the installation of a pro-Pakistan and anti-India government in Kabul or failing this to play the internal divisions of Afghanistan off against themselves in an effort to prevent the emergence of an Afghan government that might demand the return of Pashtun lands split off by the British in 1893.

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A Fateful Fortnight

According to Fox News, the commander of US Central Command, General David Petraeus has made some rather blunt comments to unnamed US officials offering a stark assessment of the situation in Pakistan. In General Petraeus' view the next two weeks are critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive.

"The Pakistanis have run out of excuses" and are "finally getting serious" about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.

But Petraeus also said wearily that "we've heard it all before" from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States' next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.

Petraeus made these assessment in talks with lawmakers and Obama administration officials this week, according to individuals familiar with the discussions.

They said Petraeus and senior administration officials believe the Pakistani army, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is "superior" to the civilian government, led by President Ali Zardari, and could conceivably survive even if Zardari's government falls to the Taliban.

Pakistan has indeed run out of excuses but whether it has run out of time remains an open question. The Taliban are a destabilizing threat but it is hard to envision "bearded guys with Kalashnikovs and a nostalgia for the 7th century" toppling the world's sixth largest army, and a very professional one at that, in an open battle. Yet at the same time, this isn't the Battle of the Punjab that the Pakistani army has been prepping for since 1947, the existential threat is an insidious one for which Pakistan may not be fully prepared. It is also an open question whether global policy makers have yet realized that Pakistan is a failed state not because the bearded ones stand at the gates of Buner but rather because the Pakistani elites care more about their own welfare than they do about the survival of the experiment that is Pakistan.

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