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Pakistan: wobbles more « Previous | |Next »
May 8, 2009

Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2008 has focused on eliminating the sanctuaries of anti-Western insurgents through joint Pakistan-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations regardless of borders or ethnicity. The discourse of fear of the unnamed "experts" from the military-security apparatus is that Pakistan is a failing state on the eve of another Islamic revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 revolution in Iran is tacitly invoked.

We also have the specter of "Talibanisation", the equation of Taliban with "al Qaeda", and the "Taliban gets Muslim nukes". The worst case scenario is left unsaid-- jihadi atomic bombs regularly going off in American cities.

So the US drone war against Pashtun peasants in in Pakistan's borderlands continues, and there is the new round of military operations in and near the Swat Valley in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) by Pakistan is designed to prevent Pakistan's collapse. The security situation in Pakistan is deteriorating, as the Taliban advances in Buner, with thousands of refugees flee their homes in Swat valley and nearby areas due to the Pakistani's army flattening villages.

Pakistan is at the epicentre of the US's global war on terror and the Obama Administration is demanding that Pakistan "take the fight" to the Taliban forces because they are posing an existential threat not only to Pakistan, but even to the US homeland itself.

LeunigAfghanistan.jpg Leunig

Is this discourse of fear part of Pentagon's PR campaign in its long war to prevent the end of liberal civilization as we know it? Is the "global war on terrorism" in the "arc of instability" being rebranded? The anti-occupation coalition in Afghanistan and Pakistan is branded as "Taliban" who "threaten US national interests in the region and US safety at home".

As Steve Clemons points out at Washington Note it is the US drone attacks that are fueling the growth and popularity of the insurgency -- and so the tactical is undermining the strategic. The Taliban, in response, have been able to successfully combine the public outrage over the drone attacks with an anti-American nationalism that is appealing to a broader array of Pakistani citizens.

One can reasonably ask: what are the US national interests in the region? I have to admit that I am somewhat vague about that. If the situation in Pakistan is a "mortal threat" to the US, and its most vital national security interests are at stake, then what are these undefined interests? What US national interests are under threat if the Taliban take over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan? None. That is when the Taliban nuke card is played.

The fear discourse makes Pakistan, a democratic country allied to the United States, as one of the "biggest threats to U.S. national security" in the world just behind Iran and North Korea. The inference is increased US intervention in Pakistan.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:53 AM | | Comments (16)


Unfortunately Gary the US is so firmly trapped in the disastrous strategic adventure it launched in 2002 that it has no good exit strategy. Like all aggressor nations in the modern era whose ambitions turned out to be over-reach their ability to achieve them, they're faced with either defeat or humiliating withdrawal. Naturally, then, they keep persuading themselves that 'victory' is still possible. The more sophisticated no doubt intend that over time, the purpose of the whole exercise can be incrementally changed a la Iraq so that eventually they can pretend it was all a smashing success and withdraw with honour.

I forget who it was - Yglesias or Hilzoy I think - who recently pointed out how bizarre it is for the US to have to encourage the Pakistani government to resist an insurgency. I mean if the Taliban are truly dedicated to overthrowing the government, wouldn't you expect them to take on the Taliban in their own interests, without any urging from Washington? It bespeaks the fact that the situation is a lot more complex than the decision-makers in the US (or here) comprehend ... a good description of their whole approach to the Muslim world, actually.

The Afgh/Pak region is spinning out of control.

Its complex alright. The bulk of Pakistan's army prepares to fight an Indian invasion while domestic Islamists trained by that same army to kill Indians in Kashmir rampage through the country.

And of course Peter there may well be elements in the army who would be happy to see civil order break down as an excuse to reimpose a military dictatorship.

Tom Engelhardt agrees, in a much more evidence-based piece than my comment at

it looks as if the fear campaign is being programmed in Washington to justify extending the war in Afghanistan into a war inside Pakistan.

the counterinsurgency tactics of the Pakistani army, under pressure from Washington to stop the advance of the Taliban is to flatten villages sending thousands of farmers and villagers fleeing from their homes. I presume the Taliban are sitting the mountains watching the destruction in the valley below.

I'm sure that will endear the villagers in the Swat valley to the Pakistani army.

Pakistan is now being constructed as a country besieged by mostly homegrown terrorists controlled by al Quaida who threaten to grab Pakistan's nukes. Washington cannot count on the Pakistani government to do the right thing by America, which has been so generous in its aid.

thanks for the link to Tom Dispatch. The best critical commentary I've come across so far is by Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque.

I can think of a really good exit strategy for the West- leave!

If you were serious about defeating the Taliban and engendering love for all things Western, you'd be dropping cargo holds of lifestyle on people, rather than bombs.

Imagine a carpet bombing of laptops per child, Ken and Barbie with culturally-appropriate accessory sets, home decor magazines, carpetted dog kennels, wonderbras, hip hop cds, game consoles, fibrelgass garden ornaments, bulk Lean Cuisine and pizza drops, novelty breakfast cereals, truck loads of rice-ready recipe bases. Then let the Taliban try and impose their bent version of Sharia Law.

Alternatively, you could contribute support for civilian infrastructure. But then, we can't manage to do that for ourselves.

As Deep Throat said to Robert Redford: "Follow the money".

Too much "Kath and Kim" lately, Lynn!

Graham Usher in the London Review of Books says that

Safe havens’ for a reinvigorated Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, the tribal areas are seen by the West as the ‘greatest threat’ to its security, as well as being the main cause of Western frustration with Pakistan. The reason is simple: the Pakistan army’s counterinsurgency strategy is not principally directed at the Taliban or even al-Qaida: the main enemy is India.

There is a proxy war in Afghanistan which suggests that peace in Afghanistan rests on peace between India and Pakistan. The road out of Kabul goes through Kashmir.

"Pakistan is at the epicentre of the US's global war on terror"

You, Gary, are helping to destroy the English language.

The Economist Style Guide advises (although its advice is being increasingly ignored in current journalism - even by The Economist itself), that:

"Epicentre means that point on the earth's surface above the centre of an earthquake. To say that Mr Putin was at the epicentre of the dispute suggests that the argument took place underground."

oh dear. it has to be a metaphor then. Can I get away with that?