Policing South of the Border…

A series of Pakistan updates from StrategyPage includes a minor bombshell about US troops / CIA operating inside Pakistan -

May 25, 2005: Pakistani officials say that recent arrests of al Qaeda members has led to a breakthrough in finding out how Islamic terrorists are organized, and operate, in Pakistan. This had led to many more arrests, and paralysis of the terrorist organization inside Pakistan… May 23, 2005: The Pakistani government has admitted what has been widely known for several years: American troops and intelligence agencies have been allowed to operate, discretely, inside Pakistan. Recently, a terrorist leader was killed by a Hellfire missile, fired by a Predator UAV flying in Pakistani air space. American agents have been interrogating terrorism suspects held in Pakistani jails. This cooperation has been kept “secret” because so many Pakistanis find it distasteful. But Islamic terrorists have made themselves so unpopular in Pakistan, that admitting the cooperation has done less damage than expected.

Taste? The issue is actually far more than that… The classic, international test of sovereignty is a monopoly on legal force within your territory. The US isn’t allowed, for ex., to chase a fugitive into Canada – it’s instead supposed to inform & trust Canadian authorities and secure extradition instead.

Allowing US troops/CIA to conduct combat operations within your country is a major, uh, relaxation of the doctrine of force monopoly. In fact, under normal circumstances, such territorial violation – even if targetting someone else entirely – is tantamount to war. For example, this report of a border skirmish gives you an idea of the type of response such an incursion is supposed to receive -

Pakistan cooperates in operations to corner al-Qaida fugitives hiding along the 1,400-mile border but vehemently rejects suggestions that American troops should be allowed to cross into its territory. Pakistani troops opened fire on a joint US-Afghan patrol that strayed across the border on January 30, killing one Afghan soldier, Gen Hussain said. “We warned them ‘You are in Pakistan, please go back’ through a loudhailer, and fired warning shots in the air. They kept going. Thereafter we opened up on them,” he said.

My bet? This feisty story was part of the Pakistani govt’s PR game to preserve this important international norm. Clue #1? Just like Ensign Smith, the perenniel new, 5th guy on a Star Trek away team, it’s the unnamed Afghan who gets killed by the proud Pakistani Border Patrol. Then again, the hunt for Al Qaeda and, for that matter, Pakistan’s infamous Western territories are far from normal circumstances.

4 thoughts on “Policing South of the Border…

  1. Ensign Smith in Star Trek is like the airhead in a horror movie.

    Shouldn’t that be ‘policing east of the border’? ;)

  2. On a recent flight, I sat next to a career military serviceman. He was on his way back to the Afghanistan border. Of course, being Indian-American and interested in South Asian foreign policy, I asked him many questions about working with the Pakistan Army. From what he told me, they were not allowed to operate on the ground inside Pakistan – they had to get the Pak Army guys to chase after the militants on Pak’s side.

    In one story, they mistakenly crossed the border and came close to causing an international incident.

    Drones may be allowed to fly over Pak territory, but ground troops are another, more sensitive, matter. The article suggests that only drones were operating in Pak border territory, with the interrogators operating in the cities and well under the watchful eye of Pakistan’s authority.

    It is much easier to give permission to an American plane flying several thousand feet in the air than it is for a uniformed soldier on the ground.

  3. This post is not particularly clueful. The last comment appears to be much more accurate.

    Neither you nor I have any information that US troops are operating independently inside Pakistan – I suspect they are not, but rather, like in most other countries, US officials who want to pursue or arrest terrorists inside Pakistan must consult with Pakistani authorities who make the actual arrest. In rare cases, US officials may accompany Pakistani police or military in pursuing the terrorists, but they are prohibited by both US and Pakistani law and policy from doing so independently. The article you cite said US authorities operated “discreetly” – not independently – than there’s a huge difference. US authorities operate discreetly, in cooperation with the host government, in most countries of the world.

    Likewise we do not know that the drone was actually flying inside Pakistani territory. Perhaps it was, but if so I imagine it had clearance from Pakistani controllers to be where it was, and if so it probably also at Pakistani authorization to engage the terrorist target.

  4. well, I suppose you’re allowed to disagree with this statement if you must -

    American troops and intelligence agencies have been allowed to operate, discretely, inside Pakistan.

    This implies to me that US troops are running around with guns, shooting them, and killing folks. All more than they’re allowed to do in Germany, Canada, the Phillipines, Mexico, etc.