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November 30, 2009

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Christian Bleuer has already shot certain aspects of this story full of holes:

http://easterncampaign.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/imaginary-jsoc-blackwater-ops-in-uzbekistan/

However, while the United States did not create these problems, by forcing Pakistan to accede to our agenda, against its own perceived interests and over the objections of a distrustful population, we are making it more likely that these flash points erupt rather than unwind according to a slower, more natural process.

So us being against the Afghan Taliban results in certain elements in the Pakistani military not liking us.

OK, fine. But the history of this particular element of the Pakistani military does not incline me to believe that these people have our best interests at heart, or even the best interests or stability of Pakistan. This element views the use of radicalized jihadist terrorist groups as a natural way to attack India and their own domestic enemies (Baluch, Sindhi, and Pashtun nationalists, leftists, democrats, and anti-military civilians of all stripes). Ever since the national trauma of the 1973 war that resulted in Bangladesh being severed from Pakistan and the ascent of Zia ul-Haq, this element has been increasingly ascendant within Pakistan.

When smart people argue about a pull destabilizing Pakistan, we're not talking about Pakistan falling to TTP fighters or collapsing into civil war or something like that. We are talking about this extremist element within the military becoming once again ascendant within the military and then perhaps the state itself.

How would this happen with a U.S. pullout?

1) A U.S. pullout would lead to large-scale Taliban takeover of much of the south and east, perhaps even the fall of an entire province like Helmand or Kandahar.

2) The Pakistani Taliban would likely be reenergized in their fight against the Pakistani Army. Likewise, it's hard to see the Pakistani Army or government being able to stay in the fight against the TTP if the U.S. decided it wasn't worth it to keep fighting the Afghan Taliban.

3) Likely we would see the Pakistani Army once again return to appeasing the TTP by pulling out of the tribal areas. This could quite possibly lead to a fall in intelligence from Pakistani Army sources on al-Qaeda in the tribal areas, perhaps even an end to our drone strike policy due to either a drop in actionable intelligence from the Pakistanis.

4) Already we are seeing this element of the Pak Army leveraging their bought-and-paid-for allies in the Pakistani media to impinge the civilian government, demagoguing the Kerry-Lugar bill and encouraging the PPP's domestic rivals to try and bring Zardari down. Even if he is succeeded by Sharif, he will owe the military for his position. A coup is also possible.

Result: a progressively more hostile Pakistan, driven to accomodate and appease the Pakistani Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies as opposed to fighting them. Another discredited, abandoned Pakistani civilian government, once again at the mercy of a predatory military. A military whose jihadi faction would be in the ascendant over less radicalized officers.

An American withdrawal would not "unwind" these flashpoints. It would accelerate them. It would abandon the more liberal, pro-civilian, anti-jihadi elements in Pakistan and lend strength to the more militaristic, the more extremist, the anti-Western.

How does this help us or the Pakistanis?

I can't say I was ever enthused by the "stabilize Pakistan" argument; the real question is can Pakistan deny and/or disrupt AQ safe havens within their official borders, and can we make sure the organization can't retreat back into Afghanistan.

"Pakistan today is far less stable than it was when we first invaded...The government is being delegitimized, and faith in democracy rocked."

Hey, at least they're back to attempting it; and I'm a little wary of saying they're "less stable" than under the Musharaff dictatorship, when they're government essentially was the military complex that midwifed international terrorists and jihadists and spread nuclear weapons around to boot.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer...

You will always be able to defeat the logic for a policy that is predicated on multiple interlocking strands of interest and interrelated actors if you insist that a particular part of the rationale, standing alone and examined critically justify the policy on its own, or even merely hold up on its own. None of the interests here stand alone or can be separated from their regional contexts or significance as U.S. interests in combination with other U.S. interests. It is true that stability in Pakistan alone per se is probably not best served by our prolonging a war on its border. But the problem is not simply lending maximum stability to the Pakistani state -- that would be easily enough done if it were the only concern -- but rather it finding a stable-enough equilibrium in the region that 1) allows us to disengage in the medium-short to medium-long timeframe and 2) has a set of features that is acceptable to the U.S. These features have to include in my view a) reasonable confidence that the Kabul gov't does not fall to the Taliban, b) a way to monitor and minimize Salafist/core AQ plotting in Afghanistan, c) assurance of non-discontinuity of command-and-control of Pakistani nuclear weapons, d) minimization of the use by Pakistani of jihadi forces in efforts to maximize influence in Afghanistan [note that this is not a call for the minimization of Pakistani infuence in Afghanistan, which would be counterproductive], and e) promotion of the stability of the Pakistani state -- more or less in that order. Notice where Pakistani state stability falls on the list (whose items and order are of course entirely subject to debate).

All of these things are objectives that any sane regional policy would need to pursue, it would seem to me. They all have to be pursued simultaneously, preferably in some integrated way; we don't have decades in which to pursue them simultaneously. It may well be that some actions we take in pursuit of some of these ends may not be what we would do if we were pursuing just one other of them exclusively. It is nevertheless the case that we pursue them, compensating with secondary means for the harm some of our actions undertaken pursuant to others of the interests may cause to the one in question. This all seems rather elementary to the way in which foreign policy and statecraft are done. While some people say things like "Pakistan is the real problem," or, "We can't destabilize Pakistan," I think its' fair to say they aren't thinking of those things in the most narrow way in which we can read their words; rather that they are expressing concern for the overall regional problem (vis-a-vis the U.S.), which is highly, though not exclusively, related to Pakistan. Even if they do mean what they say in such narrow terms, it really doesn't matter much, because they thereby marginalize themselves, as the complex regional problem persists regardless of anyone's simplistic attempts at reducing its complexity

To paraphrase von in the next post, what is your proposal, and how does it satisfy your view of the requirements of an acceptable solution to the problem of this region for U.S. security and broader interests, however similar or different your view of that problem may be to what I or someone has laid out?

Sorry -- the second "simultaneously" was meant to be "sequentially."

Quibble for Mike --

If we are pursuing them in an "integrated way", wouldn't that imply these policies be simultaneously pursued?

Christian Bleuer has already shot certain aspects of this story full of holes

The Uzbekistan angle is irrelevant to this post and my discussion of the mercenary issue.

OK, fine. But the history of this particular element of the Pakistani military does not incline me to believe that these people have our best interests at heart, or even the best interests or stability of Pakistan.

Oh for sure. They have what they perceive as THEIR best interests at hear, which directly conflict with our own. I also think they're preferred policies are bad for Pakistan in the long run, but we don't run that country. So.

The Pakistani Taliban would likely be reenergized in their fight against the Pakistani Army.

Why?

Likewise, it's hard to see the Pakistani Army or government being able to stay in the fight against the TTP if the U.S. decided it wasn't worth it to keep fighting the Afghan Taliban.

Why? The TTP is a threat to the Pakistani state. I would imagine that is incentive enough. The Pakistani state supports the Afghan Taliban. So why would our cessation of hostilities against their proxy dishearten them from a pressing matter? It would seem to have a good chance to lead to the opposite: more time and energy and resources to dedicate to the fight against the TTP.

A coup is also possible

And it isn't now? Or if we don't withdraw?

An American withdrawal would not "unwind" these flashpoints. It would accelerate them. It would abandon the more liberal, pro-civilian, anti-jihadi elements in Pakistan and lend strength to the more militaristic, the more extremist, the anti-Western.

I completely disagree. Are you suggesting that our war effort has helped the liberal elements? It seems to have had the opposite effect. The liberal elements have been increasingly marginalized. Extremism is on the rise, not the wane. Radicalization: ditto. Thus, I don't see how continuing a policy that is marginalizing liberals will have any effect other than...marginalizing liberals.

We are not helping them now.

"Are you suggesting that our war effort has helped the liberal elements?"

I don't feel confident enough to say the fight against the Taliban was an integral part of it, but democracy is stronger since it started, and the more dangerous factions of the Pakistani state are weaker for it*.

*ATVL in the sense that they are no longer synonymous with the Pakistani government

Why?

I believe the TTP and al-Qaeda are much more closely linked to the Afghan Taliban than you do. I believe these guys share training camps, funding, safe havens, and combatants.

Why? The TTP is a threat to the Pakistani state. I would imagine that is incentive enough. The Pakistani state supports the Afghan Taliban. So why would our cessation of hostilities against their proxy dishearten them from a pressing matter? It would seem to have a good chance to lead to the opposite: more time and energy and resources to dedicate to the fight against the TTP.

If you keep track of the Pakistani nationalist media narrative that is funded and propagated by the jihadi elements in the Pak military, you will know that they view the war against the TTP as Pakistan forced to fight "America's war." They view the TTP as a small coterie of Indian and American mercenaries, at best, and think the vast majority of TTP fighters are really just fighting to defend themselves from an invasion forced on Pakistan (through its corrupt civilian puppets in the Zardari government) by the diabolical Americans, out to destabilize Pakistan in order to seize its nuclear weapons.

If these people gain political power and strength, the fight against the TTP will stop in short order. These people do not view the TTP as a threat --- they view them as natural allies. And yes, their al-Qaeda friends as well.

And it isn't now? Or if we don't withdraw?

Not as long as the U.S. remains committed to a Pakistani civilian government and stays engaged in the region. A withdrawal under fire sends exactly the opposite message.

I completely disagree. Are you suggesting that our war effort has helped the liberal elements? It seems to have had the opposite effect. The liberal elements have been increasingly marginalized. Extremism is on the rise, not the wane. Radicalization: ditto. Thus, I don't see how continuing a policy that is marginalizing liberals will have any effect other than...marginalizing liberals.

Yes, it has. It led directly to the fall of Musharraf and his replacement by an anti-jihadi civilian government. For all its faults, the PPP is the sworn enemy of Islamic extremism.

Moreover, I don't think we are seeing more extremism or radicalization. We are seeing a counteroffensive by jihadi elements in the Army, seeking to take power from the civilians, and a suicide bombing rampage from the TTP in an attempt to intimidate that same civilian government from attacking it. But the Pakistani people still support the Army offensive into Waziristan to crush the TTP. The TTP remains radically unpopular after its brutal reign in Swat was revealed. Radicalism is, overall, on the retreat --- but it is fighting back with enormous savagery. Now is not the time to give in to it.

Moreover, I don't think we are seeing more extremism or radicalization.

The evidence doesn't support your optimism. Poll after poll runs counter to your thesis.

Yes, it has. It led directly to the fall of Musharraf and his replacement by an anti-jihadi civilian government.

Directly? The war effort? I think you overstate the case.

And, for the record, Zardari's approval ratings have been slipping and sliding, all the way down to the low 20s and teens. Meanwhile, there has been a shart uptick in anti-Americanism and, yes, radicalization.

Not as long as the U.S. remains committed to a Pakistani civilian government and stays engaged in the region.

You don't think a coup is even possible? Care to wager?

Further: why is a massive, multi-decade military occupation the only way to "remain committed to a Pakistani civilian government" and "stay engaged in the region?" Are there only two options?

If these people gain political power and strength, the fight against the TTP will stop in short order.

But we are helping them to gain power and strength. Our presence feeds their conspiracy theories and lends credence. Our attacks on Pakistani soil inflame the population. Life in Pakistan has gotten worse since the invasion, and Pakistanis blame us.

Right now, most Pakistanis view the US as the biggest threat they face. Bigger than the TTP. Bigger, even, than India.

That is not a sign that liberalism is waxing, or that our war next door and in Pakistan itself is sapping the potency of the extremists.

"And, for the record, Zardari's approval ratings have been slipping and sliding, all the way down to the low 20s and teens."

Considering we had a chief executive who wasn't doing too much better that long ago, I wouldn't read too much into them; the real question is are they willing to live with him, or trust to elections to replace him.

"Meanwhile, there has been a shart uptick in anti-Americanism and, yes, radicalization."

I'm not necessarily disagreeing; AAR, it's good to start with clear distinctions...

Considering we had a chief executive who wasn't doing too much better that long ago, I wouldn't read too much into them; the real question is are they willing to live with him, or trust to elections to replace him.

I would posit that those numbers are more significant in a politically turbulent environment such as Pakistan, with a history of frequent coups and where increasing numbers of the population (especially the young) are losing faith in democracy (I linked to that story in this post).

Pakistani institutions are hardly as solid or resilient as our own.

Fair enough -- then again, the current democracy's only been up for little over a year.

Point-

No, right. It was meant to read, "They all have to be pursued simultaneously, preferably in some integrated way; we don't have decades in which to pursue them sequentially."

The evidence doesn't support your optimism. Poll after poll runs counter to your thesis.

Link something. Where is your data coming from?

Directly? The war effort? I think you overstate the case.

And, for the record, Zardari's approval ratings have been slipping and sliding, all the way down to the low 20s and teens. Meanwhile, there has been a shart uptick in anti-Americanism and, yes, radicalization.

The war effort combined with U.S. engagement in Pakistan, then. Do you think the Bush Administration would have spent so much energy brokering a return for Bhutto if we didn't have troops in Afghanistan?

And what sharp uptick do you mean? I think you're confusing "uptick" with the fact that anti-Americanism has been extremely high in Pakistan since 2001, up or down 10% based largely on whether there was a major drone attack in the last month or so.

And radicalism? Under Musharraf, Osama bin Laden had a 46% approval rating.

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/09/11/poll.pakistanis/index.html

Now, he is outpolled by yes, the very unpopular Zardari:

http://www.iri.org/mena/pakistan/pdfs/2009_October_1_Survey_of_Pakistan_Public_Opinion_July_15-August_7_2009.pdf

If you note the IRI poll, you would find that inflation is by far Zardari's biggest problem, not American support.

You don't think a coup is even possible? Care to wager?

Further: why is a massive, multi-decade military occupation the only way to "remain committed to a Pakistani civilian government" and "stay engaged in the region?" Are there only two options?

Nothing's impossible, but a coup is far less likely with an involved United States, especially with a U.S. devoted to the stability of Pakistan given its troop presence next door. And yes, historically we are most focused and involved when we have skin in the game in the form of troops.

But we are helping them to gain power and strength.

Do you think the TTP is more powerful with the Pakistani Army having overrun Swat and South Waziristan, or less powerful?

I will respond later when I have more time, but quickly:

Do you think the TTP is more powerful with the Pakistani Army having overrun Swat and South Waziristan, or less powerful?

You choose an interesting starting point. Do you think the TTP is more powerful or less since we invaded Afghanistan and started striking in Pakistani territory?

And what sharp uptick do you mean? I think you're confusing "uptick" with the fact that anti-Americanism has been extremely high in Pakistan since 2001, up or down 10% based largely on whether there was a major drone attack in the last month or so.

So, anti-Americanism has been extremely high since we invaded Afghanistan. Interesting.

historically we are most focused and involved when we have skin in the game in the form of troops

This might be true, but I would say that Pakistan's current strategic importance is such that there need not be troops next door to convince our leaders.

Do you think the Bush Administration would have spent so much energy brokering a return for Bhutto if we didn't have troops in Afghanistan?

I'm not sure of the connection.

"So, anti-Americanism has been extremely high since we invaded Afghanistan. Interesting."

Just FTR, does anybody know what it was before?

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