A slew of interesting updates on Pakistan have popped up in the past few days and I thought Mutineers would enjoy some quick summaries.
First on the docket is an NYT investigative report on the depth / breadth of Bush-administration sanctioned covert ops in Pakistan as well as other countries in the pursuit of Al Qaeda –
WASHINGTON — The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.
These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.
One particular raid described in the NYT piece brings to mind a pivotal scene from Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games –
In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants’ compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission — captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft — in real time in the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.
One of my fav milblogs, StratPage, has a long piece on the state of military affairs within Pakistan and the game of political charades required for strikes like the one described in NYT –
November 10, 2008: In the last three months, there have been over 20 U.S. missile strikes (usually with 107 pound Hellfires launched from Predator or Reaper UAVS) in Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda have tried to respond to each of these attacks with a suicide bombing, but have only managed one such attack for every two or three Hellfire strikes…
…These Hellfire missile attacks are not popular with most Pakistanis, who see these UAV operations as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. At the same time, Pakistan wants the attacks to continue, as the Hellfire missiles have killed dozens of key Taliban and al Qaeda leaders so far this year. This has helped make it possible for the Pakistani army to attack the Taliban and al Qaeda bases in Pakistan, without taking heavy casualties (and the risk of being forced to call off the attacks because of that). But why not give Pakistan the UAVs and missiles and let them do the deed? Not possible, because of the large number of pro-terrorist personnel in Pakistani intelligence. With the U.S. making the attacks, there are no leaks.
The US’s Hellfires are thus the conventional equivalent of a decapitation strike – our hi-tech work from above clears the path for the low tech “clear and hold” operations the Pakistani troops perform aferwards. Not a bad division of labor if you ask me.
One example of a bright spot is the Pakistani’s great and little reported progress in Bajaur –
In the Bajaur district of Pakistan, nearly two thousand Islamic militants have been killed, and over a thousand arrested (about a third of those were foreigners). The Taliban had been sending about a hundred additional fighters a day into Bajaur, mostly from across the border in Afghanistan…In three months of fighting, the Taliban have lost over 5,000 men (dead, wounded, captured, illness, desertion) in Bajaur. The army has lost about one tenth as much, mainly because the army has refused to expose their troops to ambush and the other tactics favored by the Pushtun tribesmen.
All things being equal, there is great hope that the Pakistani army’s success in Bajaur is will “spill over” into other, similarly “less governed” parts of the country.
However, a pretty massive tide is now gathering momentum and threatens the equation. In contrast to Mushie who was capitalistic but not democratic, the new regime is ostensibly democratic but not doing a good job on the capitalism front. Given today’s economic winds, this is not a good posture to adopt –
Pakistan has another serious problem. The new government is seen as anti-business, and this has caused capital flight. That, and the growing global recession, has caused many export businesses to cut back or shut down. Foreign reserves (to pay for imports) are down to about a month’s worth of imports.
Odds are that between global trade + macro economic trends + domestic policies, Pakistan may be forced to declare bankruptcy in 2009 –
The country, a frontline ally in the US-led campaign against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, has been forced to seek 10 billion dollars from western backers to stave of the threat of going bankrupt as early as February 2009.
…Pakistan saw years of rapid growth after Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999, with former Citibank executive-turned-premier Shaukat Aziz overseeing an apparent turnaround in the country’s finances.
…The largely impoverished population of 168 million is suffering from inflation that hit a 30-year-high in June, the last available figure, of 25.33 percent, making staple foods and fuel unaffordable.
…The country is still reeling from the bombing last month of the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, one of the few remaining symbols of foreign investment.
p>So what can we do from over here? For starters, the post-2004 military plan towards Pakistan appears to finally be yielding fruit. Predator airstrikes may not be popular for the crowd camped in front of the US embassy, in press conferences, or within the Pakistani legislature but they do appear to be creating the critical room for action for the Pakistani military on the ground. And it certainly beats the alternative of US troops directly performing “take, clear, hold” operations on Pakisani soil.
The Pakistani economy is a tougher nut to crack. There’s probably some pushing we can do from over here w.r.t. more pro-business economic policy within Pakistan. However, in the long run, the far more resilient action is to incent or “pull” through such policy by more broadly embracing trade and globalization over here.