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Entries in Pakistan (36)


Bombing "Sanctuaries", Now and Then: Mr Henry Kissinger

kissingerMr Henry Kissinger, The Washington Post, 26 February 2009:

Pakistan's leaders must face the fact that continued toleration of the sanctuaries -- or continued impotence with respect to them -- will draw their country ever deeper into an international maelstrom.

Mr Henry Kissinger, interview with Die Zeit, Summer 1976:
The fact is that we were bombing North Vietnamese troops that had invaded Cambodia, that were killing many Americans from these sanctuaries, and we were doing it with the acquiescence of the Cambodian government, which never once protested against it, and which, indeed, encouraged us to do it. I may have a lack of imagination, but I fail to see the moral issue involved and why Cambodian neutrality should apply to only one country.

The Walrus, 26 February 2009:
Civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had enjoyed relatively little support until the bombing began, setting in motion the expansion of the Vietnam War deeper into Cambodia, a coup d’état in 1970, the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately the Cambodian genocide.

UPDATED: "Taliban": Well, They All Look the Same....

This week Josh Mull ("UJ"), both in his guest blog and in his comments, has offered valuable insight into the complexity of local groups and insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I've now discovered an analysis by Steve Hynd ("Cernig"), which I think is an excellent introduction to the political, economic, and social dimensions beyond the label "Taliban". It's reprinted below this report from Al Jazeera:


Taliban: What's in a Name?

Two years into the Iraq war, moderately well read Westerners already knew that the insurgency there wasn't monolithic. Honest reporting repeatedly made clear that Al Qaeda, Sunni militant groups of various varieties and Sadrists didn't see eye to eye and often worked at cross purposes even while all were hostile to America and its allies.

Yet after seven years in Afghanistan, the same cannot be said about Western knowledge of militants in the region. There's a big, amorphous mass called "The Taliban" which is in cahoots with Al Qaeda - and that's about as fine grained as it usually gets.

That was sufficient back in 2001. The American-led coalition invaded to engage Osama bin Laden's group and the Taliban's organized fighters and on the battlefield itself Afghans quickly sorted into those who were either Al Qeada or Taliban, or those who were against them.

But it doesn't cover the current complex situation at all well,which means the West's voters are at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding - and approving or disapproving - their leaders' plans. As Brandon Friedman, a former officer who served in Afghanistan, put it in a recent email:
Instead of fighting organized theocratic government forces and their foreign terrorist guests, we're now arrayed against a Tatooine-esque combination actual foreign terrorists, actual Taliban fighters from two different countries, narco-warlords jockeying for regional power and influence, regular warlords jockeying for regional power and influence, angry Afghan citizens who've grown weary of civilian casualties, angry Afghan civilians who've grown weary of foreign forces and their broken promises, regular Afghan citizens who side with the Taliban out of sheer necessity for survival, angry opium farmers, Pakistani agents, and, finally, the invisible blight of government corruption.

Reducing that complexity to a simple "Us and Them" formula hinders much of the debate about Afghanistan.

So it was pleasant to see, among coverage of recent US missile strikes, a report by Mark Mazzetti, David Sanger and Eric Schmidt of the New York Times which tried to explain the various flavors of Taliban, their motives and their aims. The piece highlighted the difference between the Taliban group that Pakistan is most interested in opposing, Baitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, which is believed responsible for the campaign against Western forces in Afghanistan.

The latter group thinks the former has no business attacking Pakistani security forces or the Pakistani government, pointing to a reciprocal tension between Pakistan and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan. While the Pakistani government is happy to do peace deals with Haqqani's network and less so with Mehsud's, the coalition is more likely to eventually do so with the latter. Meanwhile, Pakistani counter-terror efforts are always going to focus on Mehsud's groups - which isn't all that useful to the West.

We could do with more of this kind of reporting about the region. In particular, we could do with more differentiation on press reports of the four or five main current strains of Taliban of interest to Western efforts in the region. That's the plea recently made by Frederick Kagan, in a short article for the National Review Online reproduced at the American Enterprise Institute:
There is no such thing as "the Taliban" today. Many different groups with different leaders and aims call themselves "Taliban," and many more are called "Taliban" by their enemies. In addition to Mullah Omar's Taliban based in Pakistan and indigenous Taliban forces in Afghanistan, there is an indigenous Pakistani Taliban controlled by Baitullah Mehsud (this group is thought to have been responsible for assassinating Benazir Bhutto). Both are linked with al-Qaeda, and both are dangerous and determined. In other areas, however, "Taliban" groups are primarily disaffected tribesmen who find it more convenient to get help from the Taliban than from other sources.

In general terms, any group that calls itself "Taliban" is identifying itself as against the government in Kabul, the U.S., and U.S. allies. Our job is to understand which groups are truly dangerous, which are irreconcilable with our goals for Afghanistan--and which can be fractured or persuaded to rejoin the Afghan polity. We can't fight them all, and we can't negotiate with them all. Dropping the term "Taliban" and referring to specific groups instead would be a good way to start understanding who is really causing problems.

Mullah Omar's Taliban - the original Afghanistan-ruling Taliban - is nowadays more under the day-to-day direction of Mullah Bradar (or Brehadar), Omar's trusted chief of military operations but it still leans heavily towards the position of Jalaluddin Haqqani's Taliban, which has largely supplanted it as the pre-eminent force in Afghanistan. Both are based in Pakistan but mostly interested in attacking allied forces in Afghanistan and the Afghan government. As one prominent member of Omar's group told Asia Times reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad last September:
It is necessary to understand that there is a sea of difference between the people who call themselves the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Taliban [led by Mehsud] and the Taliban. We have nothing to do with them. In fact, we oppose the policies they adhere to against the Pakistani security forces.

We individually speak to all groups, whether they are Pakistanis, Kashmiris, Arabs, Uzbeks or whosoever, telling them not to create violence in Pakistan, especially in the name of the Taliban.

Journalists in the West could do worse than refer to veteran reporter Anand Gopal's incisive look at the various competing groups of militants in the region, which also include the resurgent Hizb-i-Islami of charismatic fundamentalist Hekmatyar, who like Haqqani used to be one of those favored by both CIA and ISI intelligence agencies. Gopal writes of a "rainbow coalition" arrayed against U.S. troops, which is "competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners."

As Brandon Freidman writes, it's tempting to default to the soundbite term "Taliban" when talking about all these groups and to thus treat them as if they were one monolithic structure. But a more nuanced debate is not only healthy in any democracy, it might pave the way for Western public acceptance of what every military commander has said must eventually happen if there is ever to be real peace - an accord with more moderate groups to reconcile them to mainstream Afghan and Pakistani politics.

Our Daily Drama: What Exactly is Dennis Ross in Charge Of?

ross2Yesterday we brought you the second installment in our running series on the appointment of Dennis Ross to be Not an Envoy but a Special Advisor Advising on Something, Somewhere.

Hours later, State Department spokesman Robert Wood and unnamed journalists starred in the next episode. Like all good soap operas, there were no conclusions, only more cliffhangers:
QUESTION: Have your ace geographers been able to determine what Southwest Asia is and thereby figure out what exactly Dennis Ross’s mandate is?

MR. WOOD: I’m so shocked that you asked that question. Let me give you my best – our best read of this. From our standpoint, the countries that make up areas of the Gulf and Southwest Asia include Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, and those are the countries.

QUESTION: Not – not Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Look, Ambassador Ross will look at the entire region, should he be asked to, including Afghanistan. But this is something that would be worked out. You were – you asked the question yesterday about Ambassador Holbrooke and whether there was going to be some kind of, I don’t know, conflict over who is working in – on that particular issues in that country.

Look, Ambassador Ross and Ambassador Holbrooke will work together where necessary if they need to, if there’s some kind of overlap. But that’s, in essence, the State Department’s geographical breakdown of Southwest Asia.

QUESTION: Okay. So it does not – it is not the same breakdown as the military uses?

MR. WOOD: No, the military uses a different breakdown, but I’d have to refer you to them for their specific breakdown. ...

QUESTION:QUESTION: Okay. But on Iran, like for instance, if someone – if the United States wanted to engage Iran on, for instance, Afghanistan, and you’ve said before from this podium that Afghanistan could play – Iran, sorry, could play a helpful role in Afghanistan – who would be kind of handling that? Would that be the special advisor for Southwest Asia in Iran, or would it be the special advisor for Afghanistan and Pakistan? Because Ambassador Holbrooke has said that he thought Iran could play a helpful role, and that suggests that he might be handling that kind of dialogue.

MR. WOOD: Well, this is—again, this is speculation. You know, we’ll have to see what happens if, indeed, we get to that point about who handles an issue with regard to Iran. It really depends on, you know, a variety of factors. I can’t – it’s hypothetical, so I just can’t give you an answer specifically on that. ...

QUESTION: Yes. You know, I’m a little confused because in your statement to announce Dennis Ross’s appointment as the Southwest Asia person, you referred to two wars in the region. So which is the other war? Iraq – was Afghanistan part of that and then you took it away because of Holbrooke’s complaints or --....Just a wee bit confused here.

MR. WOOD: No, there are two wars that are raging in that region, and I’m talking about the larger region.

QUESTION: But that was included within the Southwest Asia that you demarcated in the statement.

MR. WOOD: Right. Like I said, Afghanistan is one of those issues where you have a lot of individuals who have some interests and equities in dealing with it. And as I said, if we get to a point where there is a need to have both Ambassador Ross and Ambassador Holbrooke engaging on different elements of it, they will. And they will certainly – you know, they’ll do that. But we are very clear in that statement, I think, in terms of where we see wars raging and the need to have appropriate people working on these issues.

QUESTION: Because in the CIA fact book, a book which a lot of people use, Southwest Asia does include Afghanistan....

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s the CIA. I’m giving you – again, I gave you what the State Department’s position is on the region.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like you – it sounds like you have a turf battle brewing, if not already begun. Maybe you should lock Holbrooke and Ross up in a room and fight it out?

MR. WOOD: That’s your characterization. There’s no turf war going on here.

QUESTION: Well, no, Robert, because I believe that originally, Afghanistan was included in this – in Dennis’s (inaudible) here, and it’s interesting that it’s been taken out, so --...So was it removed, though, because – with the wars referring to the war in Afghanistan? I mean, was it removed because --

MR. WOOD: I just spelled this out for you. I don’t have anything more to say on it.

President Obama's State of the Nation: The Overseas Dimension

Related Post: President Obama's State of the Nation - As Good as The West Wing?
Related Post: Curing Cancer, Eating Baconnaise, and Slapping Down Bobby Jindal 
Related Post: Transcript - President Obama’s “State of the Nation” Speech

obama-to-congress1Almost all of President Obama's speech to the joint session of Congress last night was devoted to the US economy; however, there was a small but significant section reiterating the main points of his foreign policy.

Let it be clear: Mr Obama is going to war: "For seven years, we've been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price."

On Iraq, the President gave the standard signal for withdrawal of US combat troops while backing up the media chatter that he is on the verge of announcing a timetable: "I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war."

The big call, however, was for the "Afpak" march, and the rhetoric could have been taken straight from George W. Bush: "We will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism, because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world. We will not allow it."

Obama did return to the Inaugural theme of no choice between safety and ideals: "To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend, because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America." He then repeated that the US "does not torture" and that he would close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, although he added the assurance that his Administration would "seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists".

And for cases like Iran and Syria, Obama's "engagement" was present, even if he did not name those countries: "We cannot shun the negotiating table nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand."

All in all, no surprises in substance. Make no mistake, however: symbolically, Obama just make it known that Afghanistan and Pakistan will take the symbolic place in his Administration that Iraq did for his predecessor. And, just as George W. Bush reduced the issues of the Iraqi people to "Saddam", so a much better-spoken President has set aside the issues of Afghan and Pakistani populations for his attention to "terrorists".

Treading Softly on Iran: Dennis Ross Sneaks into the Administration

rossAl Jazeera English reports the US State Department announcement that "Dennis Ross, a foreign policy veteran, has been appointed special adviser to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, on the Gulf region", which includes Iran, the "broader Middle East", and southwest Asia. The appointment ends a saga running for weeks: it was widely expected that Ross would be appointed as an envoy, probably on the specific case of Iran, at the same time as Richard Holbrooke (Afghanistan/Pakistan) and George Mitchell (Middle East).

Yesterday, however, there wasn't much of a fuss. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were not on hand, as they were for Holbrooke and Clinton; instead, State Department Robert Gibbs made a perfunctory statement. So this morning, there is no headline coverage, and it is a Middle Eastern network, rather than an American media outlet, that has to bring us the news.

The reason? A no-brainer, really. If the Obama Administration wanted meaningful engagement with Iran, Ross couldn't be appointed as the point man, given his involvement with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which has advocated co-ordination with Israel on diplomatic, economic, and then possibly military steps to deal with Tehran. So as the President's Inaugural challenge to shake the unclenched fist was met by some signals from Iran, Ross was put into storage.

He has been brought out now, but with a remit so broad that it threatens to be vague. Now he is not focused on Iran but overlapping with both Holbrooke and Mitchell. There may be some State Department master-plan setting out how Ross, a forceful personality, will work with those two envoys, equally forceful personality, and how he and his staff will in turn work with permanent State Department desks overseeing the Middle Eastern, Persian Gulf, and Southwest Asian regions.

Somehow I doubt it. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, provided he stands in the corner as the processes which are already unfolding --- diplomatic manoeuvres and possibly discussions with Iran, a possible US acceptance of an Israel-Palestine process that includes all parties, and a review which (smaller hope here) might come to some sensible conclusions to limit the American march to trouble in Afghanistan/Pakistan --- continue unhindered.