Note to Pakistan: Winking does not a foreign policy make

From afar, Afghan boys find Predator drones exciting. In “Right at the Edge,” his essential article in the September 7 New York Times magazine about Afghanistan, Dexter Filkins writes:

“The young fighters were chattering excitedly about a missile that had recently destroyed one of their ammunition dumps. An American missile, the kids said. ‘It was a plane without a pilot,’ one of the boys explained through an interpreter. His eyes darted back and forth among his fellows. ‘We saw a flash. And then the building exploded.'”

But it’s a little different when you’re on the receiving end of a drone attack. On September 8, just the other side of the border in the North Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan, we launched a UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) strike on a madrassa and the house of Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani. The obligatory ten to 20 civilians, with, as usual, a heavy representation of women and children, were killed.

Earlier, on September 3, U.S. special operations forces charged straight out of our Bagram base in Afghanistan, crossed the border, and carried out a commando raid in South Waziristan. The number of dead approximated that of the September 8 attack.

An anonymous American official said: “The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable. … Orders have been issued.”

When the subject is missing from a sentence like the last one, you know the speaker mean business. Especially if it’s the Bush administration, to whom winning hearts and minds would be an impressive legacy for a president — if he were Stuart Smalley.

By nature, the hard right is impervious to the argument that our interventions in the Middle East are “just creating more enemies” argument. You don’t fret about the consequences if you have right on your side. Wringing your hands over the possibility of blowback is for wimps.

As for the drones, according to another Times article, “some Pakistani officials have made clear that they prefer the C.I.A.’s Predator aircraft, operating from the skies, as a method of killing Qaeda operatives [to ground operations].”

But what kind of a country, unless it’s being invaded by an army — no matter how much money we funnel into it — invites us to attack it with missiles and Special Forces, thus putting its citizens in harm’s way? Did Pakistan sign an agreement with the United States to allow these attacks by land and air?

In the case of the Special Forces raids, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti reported in the New York Times that “President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government.”

But, as Gareth Porter was the first to discover: “Patrick Lang, former defence intelligence officer for the Middle East at the Defence Intelligence Agency, told IPS he understands the intelligence community issued a ‘pretty clear warning’ [to the administration in opposition to the September 3 raid]. ‘They said, in effect, if you want to see the Pakistani government collapse, go right ahead,’ Lang said.”

Robert Dreyfuss agrees. “There could hardly be a worse strategy. It risks inflaming Pakistani public opinion against the United States and boosts the religious parties. It will make the new Pakistani government look like pawns or puppets of the United States.”

Schmitt and Mazzetti add: “American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks. . . but that they will not ask for its permission.”

“In other words,” Dreyfuss writes, “the Pakistani government is winking at the idea.”

Still, according to Schmitt and Mazzetti, last week’s ground assault drove Pakistan’s military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to venture his first public criticism of America’s policy. “‘The rules of engagement with the coalition forces are well defined’ and foresee Pakistan alone taking action against militants inside its borders.”

Asia Times Online’s Syed Saleem Shahzad expanded on that: “Kiani is making the correct noises, but one has to question his sincerity. This month, Pakistan announced that because of the [September 3 attack], it was stopping NATO supplies at the Torkham border. But not only were NATO supplies allowed to continue into Afghanistan within a few hours, after two attacks on Pakistan by US Predator drones, Pakistan stayed silent.”

Thus Pakistan not only winks at the United States about ground and air attacks, but, after expressing its outrage, winks again.

The military, however, “is said to be fuming” over the recent attacks, according to the Hindu. Shahzad explains. “Pakistan’s corps commanders are clearly not convinced by Kiani’s statements as they are the ones who have to send troops” into the battles the Special Forces have begun. In other words, they know a wink when they see one.

What is Pakistan trying to accomplish by playing both sides against the middle? For starters, of course, it hopes to avoid acting as the aggressor in the frontier areas in order to keep its residents from turning on the state. Also, the Pakistan military doesn’t attack the Taliban because both groups have in common their religion and their hatred of America.

Filkins got a rare admission out of a Taliban warlord in Afghanistan named Namdar.

“What’s going on? I asked the warlord. Why aren’t [the Pakistani army] coming for you?

‘I cannot lie to you,’ Namdar said, smiling at last. ‘The army comes in, and they fire at empty buildings. It is a drama — it is just to entertain.’

Entertain whom? I asked.


But, as Filkins explains, there’s a deeper reason why Pakistan refrains from attacking the Taliban. After the United States invaded in 2001, “India lost no time in setting up consulates throughout Afghanistan and beginning an extensive aid program. According to Pakistani and Western officials, Pakistan’s officer corps remains obsessed by the prospect of Indian domination of Afghanistan should the Americans leave. The Taliban are seen as a counterweight to Indian influence.”

As for Pakistan, winking — whether it’s at us when we launch rockets and raids, or at the Taliban when it does the same — does not a foreign policy make.

As for the United States, taking out terrorists amounts to lancing boils when the problem is systemic. Should the Taliban prevail in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it might be disposed to turn over the care and feeding of its nuclear weapons to al Qaeda-recruited scientists. We need to implement the carrot half of Barack Obama’s plan — massive aid to Pakistan’s civilian sector — pronto.

It would also go a long way toward easing tensions if we leaned on India to give up its designs on Afghanistan. As the recent beneficiary of pressure we put on the Nuclear Supplier Group to agree to a nuclear energy deal with it, India needs to do us a favor and stop meddling in Afghanistan.

For more on the Middle-East. . .

Letters from Afghanistan: Installment 8
Back from Bamyan; the sewing program; village dominance
By Connor O’Steen

Is Azizabad the new My Lai?
By Russ Wellen

Letters from Afghanistan: Installment 7
Poisoning dogs, orphan teamwork, getting poisoned
By Connor O’Steen

What to do — blow myself up or study engineering at Caltech?
By Russ Wellen

2 replies »

  1. Hey Russ,

    GREAT post! Thanks for stating it so clearly.

    I do have one thing to add, though. India is trying to extend influence in Afghanistan in the hope that a stable, non-Taliban government will stop Pakistan from using Taliban as Kashmiri guerrillas. India really can’t afford to leave Afghanistan alone as long as Pakistan insists on contesting Kashmir.

    Once again, great stuff. Thanks.