Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, ashfaq kiyani, Asif Ali Zardari, civilian casualties, Clinton, drone missiles, islam, islamic countries, islamist jihadis, jane perlez, McCain, obama administration, Osama bin laden, pakistan, pakistan airstrikes, pakistan civilians, pakistani taliban, Pervez Musharaff, richard holbrooke, roger hollander, steve weisman, unmanned missiles
Photo-illustration: Everett Bogue / t r u t h o u t)
”Once Obama won the presidency, the game should have changed. The question to ask before going any further was whether the military gains from killing al-Qaeda leaders justified the political reaction from ordinary Pakistanis every time one of the drones killed women, children and wedding guests, which the drones do all too often. No doubt the question has been quietly asked and answered, though only within the White House, and President Obama has decided that whatever the political costs, the military gains count more.”
Wednesday 22 April 2009
by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
In America’s relations with Islamic countries, a peculiar dishonesty reigns. It is all so hush-hush, and often done with a wink and nod, as the rulers of these lands lead Washington to believe one story while telling their own people the opposite. The media reports are hard to forget: Arab nations wanted the Bush administration to invade Iraq. Sunni Arab leaders are urging Israel and the United States to bomb suspected nuclear sites in Shiite Iran. And, from The New York Times last week, “Pakistan Rehearses Its Two-Step on Airstrikes.”
Citing unnamed Pakistani and American officials, the well-placed Jane Perlez reported that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had given the Obama administration the go-ahead for our remotely piloted drones to fire rockets at targets inside the country. Most of the drones, she wrote, take off “with Pakistani assent from a base inside Pakistan.”
Her account, though breathless, was hardly breaking news. Over a year ago, in March 2008, Newsweek reported that then-President Pervez Musharaff had given Washington “virtually unrestricted authority” to launch Predator drones from secret bases near Islamabad and Jacobabad. The Washington Post similarly spoke of a tacit understanding that Washington had with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani to allow US strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban.
What Jane Perlez added was a candid discussion of how President Zardari was talking out of the other side of his mouth as well. He was, she reported, continuing to proclaim publicly “that the drones represent an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty that the government cannot tolerate.” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi went even further, publicly rebuking Washington for the drone strikes, which were – he said – eroding trust between the allies. He said all this while standing next to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to Perlez, Ambassador Holbrooke dismissed the rebuke as something to be expected.
Expected? Perhaps. But who benefits from what Perlez called the diplomatic dance around the drones? More important, who stands to lose?
For Obama, the go-ahead serves to justify his position during the presidential election campaign that the United States should make a priority of striking militarily against al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Candidate Obama said he would do it with or without Pakistani permission, which brought furious condemnation from both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. All three must have known from their advisers that Musharaff had already given his assent, much as candidate John F. Kennedy knew that the Eisenhower administration had already planned to invade Cuba when he called in his debates with Richard Nixon for tough action against Fidel Castro. As with JFK, Obama’s apparently undiplomatic assertion let him stand tall and talk tough, which is politically what he thought he needed to do.
Once Obama won the presidency, the game should have changed. The question to ask before going any further was whether the military gains from killing al-Qaeda leaders justified the political reaction from ordinary Pakistanis every time one of the drones killed women, children and wedding guests, which the drones do all too often. No doubt the question has been quietly asked and answered, though only within the White House, and President Obama has decided that whatever the political costs, the military gains count more.
Next the American brass will likely push for the right to send Special Forces on covert raids into Pakistan, as high-level officials reportedly urged General Musharaff to accept during a meeting in January 2008. Mushareff pointedly refused, but Zardari, who is widely seen in Pakistan as an American puppet, might prove more amenable. And even if Zardari says no, the American military will urge Obama to give the go-ahead for covert raids on his own, as he said he would do during the presidential campaign.
Zardari’s permission for the drones to operate in his country and the Pakistani military’s zeal to have drones of their own do not in any way diminish the huge popular backlash against the weapons. But Islamabad’s refusal to stand openly on the issue puts the onus on Washington, making it easier for Islamist opponents to build a nationalistic, anti-American movement in the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. This is a threat that will keep on growing no matter what happens to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.
Even more telling, the insistence on a secret understanding should in itself have warned Obama that the killer drones had become too hot to handle. Sadly, he failed to take the warning to heart. In his pursuit of a military victory against al-Qaeda, and his insistence that the Zardari government seek a military showdown with the Pakistani Taliban and their Islamist allies, our normally astute president simply cannot see that the remotely piloted Predators only feed an ever-escalating civil war. Killing bin Laden with a drone or commando raid would certainly give many Americans enormous satisfaction and win Obama unending political praise at home. But that is hardly worth the price of losing a nuclear-armed Pakistan to the Islamist jihadis.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.
Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, drone missiles, drone strikes, gareth porter, islamic militants, mccreary, mike mullen, obama administration, pakistan, pakistan insurgency, pakistani civilian casualties, pakistani govenment, pakistani military, pashtun militants, richard holbrooke, roger hollander, Taliban
Published on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 by Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON – The U.S. program of drone aircraft strikes against higher-ranking officials of al Qaeda and allied militant organizations, which has been touted by proponents as having eliminated nine of the 20 top al Qaeda leaders, is actually weakening Pakistan’s defence against the insurgency of the Islamic militants there by killing large numbers of civilians based on faulty intelligence and discrediting the Pakistani military, according to data from the Pakistani government and interviews with senior analysts.
Some evidence indicates, moreover, that the top officials in the Barack Obama administration now see the program more as an incentive for the Pakistani military to take a more aggressive posture toward the militants rather than as an effective tool against the insurgents.
Although the strikes have been sold to the U.S. public as a way to weaken and disrupt al Qaeda, which is an explicitly counter-terrorist objective, al Qaeda is not actually the main threat to U.S. security emanating from Pakistan, according to some analysts. The real threat comes from the broader, rapidly growing insurgency of Islamic militants against the shaky Pakistani government and military, they observe, and the drone strikes are a strategically inappropriate approach to that problem.
“Al Qaeda has very little to do with the militancy in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” said Marvin Weinbaum, former Afghanistan and Pakistan analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence Research at the U.S. Department of State and now scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute.
John McCreary, a senior intelligence analyst for the Defence Intelligence Agency until his retirement in 2006, agrees with Weinbaum’s assessment. “The drone program is supposed to be all about al Qaeda,” he told IPS in an interview, but in fact, “the threat is much larger.”
McCreary observes that the targets in recent months “have been expanded to include Pakistani Pashtun militants.” The administration apparently had dealt with that contradiction by effectively broadening the definition of al Qaeda, according to McCreary
Ambassador James Dobbins, the director of National Security Studies at the Rand Corporation, who maintains contacts with a range of administration national security officials, told IPS in an interview that the drone strikes in Pakistan are aimed “in the short and medium term” at the counter-terrorism objective of preventing attacks on Washington and other capitals.
But as they have shifted to Pakistani Taliban targets, Dobbins said, “To degree the targets are insurgents and are Pakistanis not Arabs it would be correct to assess that they are part of an insurgency.” That raises the question, he said, whether the drone program “is feeding the insurgency and popular support for it.”
The drone program cannot even be expected to be a decisive factor in al Qaeda’s ability to operate, according to McCreary. “All you can do with drones is decapitate leadership,” McCreary told IPS in a recent interview. “Even in relation to al Qaeda’s organizational dynamics, it has only limited, temporary impact.”
McCreary warned that the drone strikes will cause much more serious problems when they increase and expand into new parts of Pakistan as the administration is now seriously considering, according to a New York Times article Apr. 7. “Now al Qaeda is fleeing to other cities, “said McCreary. “The program is escalating and having ripple effects that are incalculable.”
McCreary said one of the longer-term consequences of the attacks is “the public humiliation of the Pakistan Army as a defender of the national patrimony”. That effect of striking Pakistani targets with U.S. aircraft is “the least understood dimension of the attacks, the most discounted and most dangerous”. McCreary said the attacks’ “ensure that successive generations of Pakistani military officers will be viscerally anti-American.”
Administration officials have defended the drone strikes program as necessary to weaken and disrupt al Qaeda to prevent terrorist attacks, and officials have leaked to the media in recent weeks the fact that the program has killed nine of 20 top al Qaeda leaders.
But the Pakistani government leaked data last week to The News in Lahore showing that only 10 drone attacks out of 60 carried out from Jan. 29, 2009 to Apr. 8, 2009 actually hit al Qaeda leaders, while 50 other strikes were based on faulty intelligence and killed a total of 537 civilians but no al Qaeda leaders.
The drone strikes have been even less accurate in their targeting in 2009 than they had been from 2006 through 2008, according to the detailed data from Pakistani authorities. Of 14 drone strikes carried out in those 99 days, only one was successful, killing a senior al Qaeda commander in North Waziristan and its external operations chief. The other 13 strikes had killed 152 people without netting a single al Qaeda leader.
Dobbins, speaking to IPS before the Pakistani data on drone strikes was released, said it was difficult for an outsider to evaluate the benefits of the program but that “we can assess that there is a significant price that is being paid” in terms of the impact on Pakistani opinion toward U.S. efforts to stem the tide of the insurgency.
Dobbins said one of the reasons for the continuing drone attacks, despite the high political price, is that “it is an incentive aimed prodding the Pakistani government.” He said he believes the United States would be happy to trade off the strikes in return for a more effective counterinsurgency campaign by the Pakistani government.
Further bolstering that interpretation of the objective of continued drone strikes is a report, in the same story in The News, that the most recent strike took place only hours after U.S. officials had reportedly received a rejection by Pakistani authorities Apr. 8 of a proposal for joint military operations against militant organizations in the tribal areas from U.S. South Asia envoy Richard Holbrooke and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who were visiting Islamabad.
Other analysts suggest that the program has acquired bureaucratic and political momentum because it a politically important symbol that the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are against al Qaeda and because the United States has no other policy instrument to demonstrate that it is doing something about the growth of Islamic groups that share al Qaeda’s extremist Islamic militancy.
McCreary believes that the program is related to the fear of the Obama administration that it would be unable to get support for operations in Afghanistan if it didn’t focus on al Qaeda. “I think it was a way to link Afghanistan operations to al Qaeda,” he said.
“That suggests to me that the tactic for motivating domestic support is influencing the policy,” said McCreary. The former senior DIA analyst added that the drone strike program “has acquired its own momentum, which is now having immense consequences.”
Weinbaum told IPS in an interview that the drone attacks are being continued, “primarily because we’re enormously frustrated, and they represent the only thing we really have.”
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.
Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service
Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, bin Laden, drone attacks, islamic insurgency, jonathan landay, karachi taliban, mike mullen, obama administration, pakistan, pakistan civilian casualties, pakistan tribal, pakistani military, predator drones, reaper drones, richard holbrooke, roger hollander, Taliban
By Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers, April 7, 2009
U.S. drone attacks “may have hurt more than they have helped,” said a U.S. military official who’s been deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. The official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, called the drone operations a “recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban.”
“They (drone strikes) are counterproductive,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. “My view is they are causing collateral damage, my view is that they are alienating people, my view is that they are working to the advantage of the extremists. We (Pakistan and the U.S.) have agreed to disagree on this.”
Al Qaida, Taliban and other militants who’ve been relocating to Pakistan’s overcrowded and impoverished cities may be harder to find and stop from staging terrorist attacks, the officials said.
Moreover, they said, the strikes by the missile-firing drones are a recruiting boon for extremists because of the unintended civilian casualties that have prompted widespread anger against the U.S.
“Putting these guys on the run forces a lot of good things to happen,” said a senior U.S. defense official who requested anonymity because the drone operations, run by the CIA and the Air Force, are top-secret. “It gives you more targeting opportunities. The downside is that you get a much more dispersed target set and they go to places where we are not operating.”
U.S. drone attacks “may have hurt more than they have helped,” said a U.S. military official who’s been deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. The official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, called the drone operations a “recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban.”
“A significant number of bad actors aren’t where they used to be,” but have moved to “places where we can’t get at them the way we could,” he added.
As a result of the drone attacks, insurgent activities are “more dispersed in Pakistan and focusing on Pakistani targets,” said Christine Fair of the RAND Corp., a policy institute that advises the Pentagon. “So we have shifted the costs.”
President Barack Obama for now has embraced the drone strikes, which U.S. officials said have killed up to one dozen important al Qaida operatives.
“If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them,” Obama said in a March 29 interview with CBS News.
Several U.S. intelligence, military officials and independent experts, however, said that they’re especially worried by an influx of extremists from the tribal areas into the slums of Karachi. The capital of southern Sindh Province, with a population of at least 12 million, is Pakistan’s financial center and main port as well as the entry point for most of the supplies bound for U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Many militants are thought to have taken refuge among Karachi’s estimated 3.5 million Pashtuns, the ethnic group comprising the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their presence is stoking tensions with other groups in the southern city, which has a long history of communal bloodshed and terrorism, including against Western targets.
“The who’s who of extremism is present in Karachi,” said Faisal Ali Subzwari, a Sindh government minister. “There are many areas where police and (paramilitary) Rangers cannot even dare to enter. It is a safe haven for those who want a hiding place.”
Subzwari, whose Mohajir Quami Movement represents immigrants from India and has repeatedly warned of the “Talibanization” of Karachi, said that part of his own constituency is one of these “no-go” areas.
U.S. officials have long identified Karachi as the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban’s fundraising committee, and many top militants were educated at the Binori Mosque, a key center of radical Islamic ideology. A “feeder” network of militant seminaries in Karachi supplies young suicide bombers, they said.
An upheaval in Karachi, home to Pakistan’s stock exchange and other financial institutions, would be catastrophic for a country that has only avoided bankruptcy with a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund emergency credit line. Financial activities, as well as imports and exports for both Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan, could be paralyzed, as could supplies for U.S.-led NATO forces in the region.
Concerns over “blowback” from the drone strikes is fueling a debate in the Obama administration over whether they should be extended from the Federally Administered Tribal Area, the region bordering eastern Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding, to Baluchistan Province, the alleged refuge of the Afghan Taliban leadership, U.S. officials said.
Proponents of the drone strikes cite the killing of key al Qaida operatives and the disruption of the terrorist network’s ability to plot new attacks; opponents, said to include some senior administration officials, fear that the operations are too destabilizing for nuclear-armed Pakistan and are doing nothing to halt the insurgencies tearing through the country and Afghanistan.
“There is no uniform opinion on this,” the senior defense official said. “You have some concerns that they are causing a ripple effect, that the consequences are too large for Pakistan to absorb.”
Several U.S. officials argued that it would be easier for U.S. and Pakistani authorities, including the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, to track down militants who leave the remote border region for the cities. They pointed out that senior al Qaida operatives in U.S. custody were found in Pakistani urban areas.
Critics, however, noted that the ISI and the Pakistani military can’t be relied on to cooperate, because while they’ve turned over foreign militants, some former and current ISI and army officers are believed support Afghan and Pakistani groups.
There’ve been dozens of drone strikes in the past year, the most recent killing 13 people in the tribal region of North Waziristan on Saturday. The next day, a top Pakistani Taliban leader threatened to launch two suicide attacks every week unless the strikes stop. His threat followed a series of suicide bombings in the heartland province of Punjab.
A senior Pakistani official reiterated the government’s opposition to the drone operations after talks Tuesday in Islamabad with Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“They (drone strikes) are counterproductive,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. “My view is they are causing collateral damage, my view is that they are alienating people, my view is that they are working to the advantage of the extremists. We (Pakistan and the U.S.) have agreed to disagree on this.”
CIA and the Air Force operators remotely pilot the missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones, known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs, from the U.S. But the aircraft fly from an airbase in Baluchistan, according to some experts, with the permission of Pakistani military officials who privately back the operations and want U.S. approval to buy drones of their own.
“Obviously, this enjoys high-level (Pakistani) approval,” Fair said.
U.S. military and intelligence officials said that the U.S. drone strikes are only one factor behind the outflow of extremists into other parts of Pakistan.
News reports that the Obama administration is considering extending the attacks to Taliban refuges in Pashtun-dominated northern Baluchistan, including around the provincial capital of Quetta, have also contributed to the movement, they said.
Moreover, they said, some militants have moved into Pakistan’s heartland because of tensions between the groups in the tribal region.
A U.S. intelligence official who’s been deeply involved in the counter-terrorism campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, called the drone operations “a major catalyst” for the movement.
“The UAV strikes have had two unintended consequences,” said the U.S. intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly and because much of the information is classified.
“First, al Qaida and the Taliban have used our use of unmanned aircraft in their propaganda to portray Americans as cowards who are afraid to face their enemies and risk death. In their culture, and in the context of what they portray as a war between Western religions and Islam, that can be a powerful argument,” he said.
“Second and not surprisingly,” he continued, “rather than sit around in the (tribal region) waiting for the next strike, some of the jihadis have moved into Pakistan proper, into Karachi and even into Punjab, where we can’t target them and where they’re in a better position to attack the Pakistani government.”
Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, atlantic council, chuck hagel, gareth porter, john kerry, obama strategy, pakistan, pakistan isi, pakistan military, pakistan tribal region, pakistani militry, Petraeus, preventive war, richard holbrooke, roger hollander, Taliban
Published on Monday, March 30, 2009 by Huffington Post
After the Bush administration went to war based on charges of WMD programs that were later found to have been nonexistent, you would think there would be a strong demand for a thorough examination of the strategic rationale the next time an administration proposes a new war or a major escalation of an existing one.
Yet there has been no public examination of the Obama administration strategic argument that the United States must do whatever is necessary in Afghanistan to ensure that al Qaeda cannot have a safe haven there. The assumption seems to be that that there is no need to inquire about the soundness of that premise, because al Qaeda planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks from Afghanistan.
But the rationale for U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan that seemed obvious in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks no longer applies today. Osama bin Laden and the central al Qaeda organization left Afghanistan in late 2001 for Pakistan, where they have now established an even more secure base than they had in Afghanistan, thanks to the strong organization of Islamic militants in the Northwest tribal region of Pakistan. So the real al Qaeda safe haven problem is not about Afghanistan but about Pakistan.
Instead of candidly acknowledging that the al Qaeda safe haven problem is located in Pakistan, however, Barack Obama’s first major statement on the war in Afghanistan sought to obscure that problem. Obama said, “[W]e have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”
That made it sound like al Qaeda still has a base in Afghanistan. The “White Paper” of his Interagency Policy Group, however, contradicts that formulation. It states the U.S. goal as “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.” Obama’s suggestion that U.S. forces are somehow fighting to defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan marks the first clear instance of playing fast and loose with the facts in order to increase the very weak public support for the war.
If the real problem is ending an al Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan, then going to war in Afghanistan makes sense only if one assumes that al Qaeda is going to be pushed out Pakistan or in danger of being destroyed there. The real question, therefore, is whether there is any realistic possibility that the Pakistan government can shut down al Qaeda’s safe haven.
The honest answer must be that the possibility is vanishingly small — at least for next generation. A report on Pakistan by a panel of experts headed by John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and published by the Atlantic Council last month provides a detailed analysis that suggests why it is so unlikely. It describes a Pakistani army that is demoralized and lacking a viable strategy for dealing with the burgeoning jihadi movement in the Northwest tribal region which has sheltered al Qaeda. It recalls how Pakistan was on the brink of economic collapse last fall, and was forced by the IMF to accept a crippling austerity plan. And it warns that a military takeover is likely if dramatic steps are not taken in the coming year, and that the military leadership is no better prepared than civilian politicians to cope with the country’s problems.
Pakistan is not even on the U.S. side in its war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, as was confirmed by a report in the The New York Times March 25. Despite previous pledges that ISI, the Pakistani military’s intelligence agency, had ended its covert assistance to the Taliban, The Times detaiIs ISI ‘s continuing provision of “money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance” to Taliban commanders fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus conceded in an interviews with PBS that Pakistani assistance to the Taliban is a central problem and that trying to get the Pakistani military to end its support for the Taliban is their highest priority.
But the idea that the Obama administration’s “regional strategy” is going to change a Pakistani strategic fixation on India that has persisted ever since the Pakistani military was created is nothing but wishful thinking. No less an enthusiast for war in Afghanistan than neoconservative military analyst Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute testified at a House subcommittee hearing Thursday that the Pakistani Army actually defines itself in terms of the threat from India and opined that It would require “a multi-generational effort” to change that perspective.
As for closing down al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Pakistan, a report by Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post from Pakistan last September showed that U.S. intelligence had no human assets in the tribal region, and that Pakistani military was doing nothing to change that. CIA Director Leon Panetta’s statement that drone bombing attacks “are probably the most effective weapon we have to try to disrupt al Qaeda right now” is a pretty good indication that there is little chance of the United States rolling up al Qaeda in Pakistan unilaterally.
The war in Afghanistan is being justified, in effect, as a “preventive war,” but the contingency it is supposed to prevent — an al Qaeda base in Afghanistan — is one that that isn’t going to occur, regardless of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In that regard, the rationale for this war is very much like the rationale for the invasion of Iraq, which was that the United States had to prevent the acquisition by Saddam Hussein of a nuclear weapon.
Although the war in Afghanistan cannot solve the al Qaeda problem in Pakistan, it can accelerate the destabilization of Pakistan and strengthening the jihadi movement there. Even air attacks by drone aircraft in Pakistan, which is now settled U.S. policy, create a powerful political backlash in favor of the militants in Pakistan. But once the administration’s “regional” approach to changing Pakistani policy stalls, we can expect growing pressure from the military to resume U.S. Special Operations forces cross-border raids against Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan. And that would certainly lead to more serious destabilizing developments, such as increased ideological splits within the Pakistani military. The National Intelligence Council warned the Bush administration about the near certainty of such consequences last August, as I reported for IPS September 9.
The administration’s rationale for escalating war in Afghanistan does not stand up to careful examination. Not only is Afghanistan not a war of necessity, as it is being portrayed by the administration; it is a war that is very likely to make the terrible mess in Pakistan substantially worse and increase the likelihood of spreading chaos in that country.
© 2009 Huffington Post
Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: adrian hamilton, Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, foreign policy, hillary clinton, Karzai, northern alliance, pakistan, Petraeus, president obama, richard holbrooke, roger hollander, Taliban
Published on Thursday, March 26, 2009 by The Independent/UK
If you’re in a hole stop digging. Denis Healey’s admonition to politicians has been so often quoted that it’s become almost a cliché. But it’s nonetheless true for all that. And nowhere is it more so than in Afghanistan.
The successive delays in the announcement of President Obama’s much vaunted statement of US policy towards the Afghan venture has been treated as yet another example of the fumbling that has become something of a feature of the new administration, in foreign policy as much as home economics. It shouldn’t be. Obama’s reconsideration of his approach to Afghanistan, together with his policy towards Pakistan, is one of the best things that has happened since he gained office.
Obama came in committed to ramping up the US military effort there as the counterbalance to his determination to get the US troops out of Iraq. Afghanistan was the one area of policy where the new President was prepared to follow his predecessor. How far Obama genuinely believed this vision of a battle-to-the-death may be doubted. Since then he’s steadily retreated from that stance on taking office and listening to the advice of his new Special Envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, as well as the urgings of the generals and the hesitations of the State Department.
The turn-around in the White House approach has been truly astonishing. Where once the talk had been all about a General Petraeus-dictated surge that would see expanded US forces seize the strategic high ground, now all the talk is of the need to rebalance programmes from the military to civil assistance. In place of the accusations of sloth and even cowardice among America’s allies, now the talk is less of demanding more troops from Europe than more help with policing, transport and energy.
Instead of talking of the battle in Afghanistan, Holbrooke has returned from his first trip announcing that the US now recognised that the situation in that country could not be divorced from the deteriorating conditions in next door Pakistan. Where initially the Taliban had been rolled up with al-Qa’ida in a ball called the “enemy”, in the last few weeks there has been open discussion of negotiating with so-called “moderate” Taliban.
Most astonishing of all, President Obama, having declared “no, the US is not winning the war”, has even been brave enough to speak out the dreaded “e” word, saying that the US had to consider an exit strategy among its objectives.
What accounts for this change of tack by the US administration – and has certainly caused Richard Holbrooke to tell some harsh truths in the Oval office after his recent visit – is the gradual dawning of the realisation in the White House that Afghanistan is a real mess and quite possibly one that has no solution as far as the West is concerned.
It’s easy for General Petraeus and his supporters in Washington to talk of the Iraqi example and to argue that, with one more push, the war can be won. But Afghanistan isn’t Iraq. There the US was eventually able to use the Shia-Sunni divides and the growing unpopularity of al-Qa’ida’s civilian atrocities to split the Sunni tribal leaders from the foreign terror groups, persuade them to join the fight on the US side and to convince the Shia radicals that a cease-fire was in their interests. The government of Prime Minister al-Maliki proved, somewhat unexpectedly, to have more guts and power than they’d given it credit it for.
In Afghanistan, in contrast, the US forces did not win a clear victory. Rather they, and in particular the air force, enabled the Northern Alliance to march into the Taliban-controlled cities as conquerors, and for the war lords to claim local control as their reward. President Karzai has never been more than a figurehead. That was the reason he was accepted by all parties in the first place.
The geography of the country obviates central control and favours the guerrilla fighter. The presence of a foreign “occupying” force makes it an easy challenge for the unemployed youth. The conjunction of an anti-drugs policy intended to root out poppy growing with a military exercise aimed at wiping out insurgents has fatally sullied both aims. Add to that a porous border which allows the rebels to rearm, regroup and run away and you have all the classic conditions of a war that is basically unwinnable.
Talk to most British military and they know this. Speak to ministers and politicians in this country and they are in total denial. Speak now to officials and experts in Washington, in contrast, and the truth is at last being debated out loud. The difficulty is how to get out of the quagmire.
Almost everything that the allies are doing is making things worse. The more you talk of beefing up Nato, the more it appears as a Western, white force intent on suppressing an indigenous population and the worse the division within what was once the world’s greatest military alliance open up. The more you use drones and air strikes to hit across the border, the greater the local resentment. Try to put backbone into Karzai by insisting that he appoint a strong Prime Minister of your choice – as Washington is now – and you simply unbalance further the confused politics of a fractioned country. Put pressure on the Pakistan government to take control of its tribal areas and you only tag the new president there with the sobriquet of the lapdog of overweening America.
Ultimately there is no future in Afghanistan other than the exit door, any more than there is a chance for the politics of Pakistan or Afghanistan to develop other than through a Western declaration of non-interference. Whether US politics would accept such a step at the moment is doubtful. Listen to Holbrooke and you hear all the old empty talk of forcing the government of Kabul and Islamabad to exercise more central control and calling the Taliban “outriders for al-Qa’ida” as if they were one and the same thing (which they aren’t).
All one can say as the world awaits the US President’s Afghan plan, before the meeting of interested parties called by Mrs Clinton in the Hague on Monday and the Nato summit in a fortnight’s time, is that Obama seems ready to stop digging. And that, at least, is a start.
© 2009 The Independent
Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Uncategorized, War.
Tags: afghani militias, Afghanistan, afghanistan nightmare, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, Barack Obama, caspian, caspian basin oil, democracy, Dick Cheney, hamid karzai, kabul, kandahar, NATO, pashtun, ramzy baroud, richard holbrooke, roger hollander, russian afghanistan campaign, Taliban
(AFP) When Holbrooke met with Karzai in Kabul, he may have just learned of the historic significance of the following day.
By Ramzy Baroud
www.aljazeera.com, February 21, 2009
When U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke met with Afghanistan’s ‘democratically’ installed President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on February 14, he may have just learned of the historic significance of the following day. February 15 commemorates the end of the bloody Russian campaign against Afghanistan (August 1978-February 1989).
But it is unlikely that Holbrooke will absorb the magnitude of that historic lesson. Both he and the new U.S. President Barack Obama are convinced that the missing component for winning the war in Afghanistan is a greater commitment, as in doubling the troops, increasing military spending, and, by way of winning hearts and minds, investing more in developing the country.
That combination, the U.S. administration believes, will eventually sway Afghans from supporting the Taliban, tribal militias, Pashtun nationalists and other groups. The latter is waging a guerilla struggle in various parts of the country, mostly in the south, to oust Karzai’s government and foreign occupation forces. While Kabul was considered an “oasis of calm” – by Jonathan Steele’s account – during the Soviet rule, it’s nowhere close to that depiction under the rule of the U.S. and its NATO allies, who had plenty of time, eight long years, to assert their control, but failed.
In fact, just as Holbrooke sat within Karzai’s heavily guarded presidential palace, roadside bombs were detonating across the country, in Khost, in Kandahar and elsewhere. Several police officers were killed, the latest addition to the hundreds of soldiers and officers who die each year as they desperately defend the few symbols of the central government’s authority. Aside from its shaky control over Kabul, and a few provincial capitals, the central government struggles to maintain the little relevance it still holds.
This deems most of the country a battleground between Afghani militias, seen by a growing number of Afghans as a legitimate resistance force against an illegitimate occupation; that being US and NATO forces.
Unlike the unpopular war in Iraq, Afghanistan was widely viewed in the U.S. as a moral war, based on the logic that since al-Qaeda was responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks, and since the group is hosted by an equally militant Taliban government, both groups must pay. So far, the people of Afghanistan have paid many times over the price expected. Thousands were killed, and an entire generation was scarred by a new civil war, and yet a new foreign military occupation.
While mainstream news consumers are inundated with official commentary and occasional news reports on the challenges awaiting the U.S. in Afghanistan, to secure democracy, freedom and ‘national interests,’ media reports continue to reduce the battle over Afghanistan as one that is concerned with fighting local corruption, instilling human rights and ensuring gender equality.
Little is said of the pertinent reasons behind the war, as such seemingly tedious rhetoric of great games to control the Eurasian landmass – which dates back to the 19th century’s rivalry between British and Russian empires – is more suited for academic discussions that are by no means newsworthy.
But it is perhaps relevant to note that desperate attempts at controlling Afghanistan have failed miserably in the past. If Holbrooke wishes to dig deeper into history, he should learn that the British Empire, which controlled India at the time, was also defeated in Afghanistan in 1842, and again in 1878. Soviet leaders looked for a quick victory as they occupied Kabul in December 1979, only to find themselves engaged in a most bloody war that cost them 15,000 deaths (it goes without saying that the hundreds of thousands of Afghani deaths often go unreported) and an unmitigated defeat.
But, then again, Holbrooke must’ve known of the details of the latter period, for after all, it was his country that armed and financially sustained the mujahideen forces in Afghanistan fearing that the Soviets’ ultimate objective, during the Cold War was challenging US dominance in the region, and eventually the Middle East. Considering the strategically disastrous toppling of the Shah of Iran to the U.S., the world-leading superpower could take no chances.
But since then, Afghanistan has grown in significance from a politically strategic landmass, due to its proximity to warm-waters and regional powers, to an energy strategic landmass, inevitable to the exploitation of Caspian oil.
“I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian,” said former vice-president Dick Cheney in a speech to oil moguls in 1998. In the same year, John Maresca, vice president of international relations of Unocal Corporation commented before a House committee in February 2008 on ways to transfer Caspian basin oil (estimated between 110 to 243bn barrels of crude, worth up to $4 trillion): “(One) option is to build a pipeline south from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. One obvious route south would cross Iran, but this is foreclosed for American companies because of US sanctions legislation. The only other possible route is across Afghanistan.”
Military success in Afghanistan is simply not possible, for numerous logistical, historical and practical reasons. But failure will also come at a price, at least for those who will directly benefit from subduing the rebellious nation.
Former president Bush and his entourage of allies failed to turn Afghanistan into a U.S.-styled democracy, easily exploitable for strategic and economic use. By pressing a military solution in Afghanistan, Obama is not only summoning another failed U.S. imperial experiment – as that in Iraq – but insists on adding his country’s name to those of Britain and Russia, who had better chances of success, but were squarely defeated.
“It’s like fighting sand. No force in the world can get the better of the Afghans,” Oleg Kubanov, a former Russian officer in Afghanistan told Reuters. “It’s their holy land; it doesn’t matter to them if you’re Russian, American. We’re all soldiers to them.”
It would be timely if Holbrooke takes a few hours from his hectic schedule in the region to brush up on Afghanistan’s history, for he surely needs it.
– Ramzy Baroud is a Palestinian-American author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in numerous newspapers and journals worldwide, including the Washington Post, Japan Times, Al Ahram Weekly and Lemonde Diplomatique. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). Read more about him on his website: RamzyBaroud.net.
Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanstan war, afpak, al-Qaeda, Barack Obama, bush administation, denis blair, kabul, Karzai, kyrgyz, NATO, pakistan, paramilitaries, paul rogers, richard holbrooke, Robert Gates, roger hollander, surge, Taliban, warlords
The United States’s strategic predicament in Afghanistan and Pakistan is deepening. What will Barack Obama do?
The United States decision in the closing months of 2008 to send an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan was largely in response to an escalation in Taliban activity that has now lasted through the current winter. Those troops, from the 10th Mountain Division that has repeatedly been deployed in Afghanistan since the start of the war in October 2001, are now installed in Logar and Wardak provinces south of Kabul (see “Afghanistan’s critical moment“, 6 February 2009). President Barack Obama announced on 17 February 2009 that he is deploying 17,000 more US soldiers, many of whom will attempt to limit the free exchange of paramilitaries between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the past two weeks there has been a much greater media focus in the United States on the deterioration in security in Afghanistan, much of it prompted by the decision to send the extra troops. This has even made headlines across the domestic news-channels, occasionally even displacing the dominant concern with the economy; but this rare focus on an international story is accompanied by commentary that tends to underplay impact of more troops on the wider strategic environment. Indeed, one result of the Republican efforts to define a narrative of victory in Iraq around the effects of the 2007-08 “surge” has been an assumption that what “worked” there will have a similar effect in Afghanistan.
This ignores the fact that senior US military commanders remain deeply reluctant to withdraw large numbers of troops from Iraq, not least because they are far from sure that the surge really has had the claimed effect (see Helene Cooper, “Fearing Another Quagmire in Afghanistan“, New York Times, 24 January 2009). Their reluctance also means that the US army and the marine corps remain seriously overstretched, which makes the desire for greater Nato burden-sharing in Afghanistan so strong.
The meeting in Krakow of Nato defence ministers on 19-20 February 2009 has not had the desired result in this respect. The US defence secretary, Robert M Gates, has had reluctantly to accept that increased Nato support in Afghanistan will come only in the form of civil aid and assistance with police and army training (see Matthew Day et al, “US demands for more troops in Afghanistan ignored“, Daily Telegraph, 19 February 2009).
Poland and Britain are the only allies that have appeared to offer much support; but even if both countries agreed to increase their troop levels further (from Britain’s 8,300 and Poland’s 1,000) the numbers would be unlikely to exceed 2,000-3,000. This is far below the figure of 10,000-plus extra troops (in addition to the current reinforcement) that many analysts in Washington believe is necessary if the military situation is to be stabilised and the Taliban surge countered.
A four-way tide
The extent of the current problems in Afghanistan is illustrated in four current developments:
* Washington’s new director of national intelligence, Denis Blair, warns that “Afghanistan’s weak and corrupt government is failing to halt the spread of Taliban control”, and says that “public support for the Taliban and local warlords” is increasing (see Mark Mazzetti, “Intelligence director says global crisis is top threat to U.S.“, International Herald Tribune, 13 February 2009)
* The Pakistani government’s agreement on 16 February 2009 to change the legal system in the Swat region may bring to an end the intense fighting between 12,000 government troops and an estimated 3,000 paramilitaries, but it is also likely to allow an increase in Taliban influence outside of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) next to the border with Afghanistan. This makes it deeply unpopular in Washington. Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy of President Obama to Pakistan and Afghanistan (or what an increasing number of strategists is coming to call “AfPak”) is worried that it could amount to a surrender to the Taliban (see “US concerned over Pakistan deal“, BBC News, 20 February 2009)
* Three government ministries in Kabul were hit on 11 February by simultaneous suicide-attacks. This can be seen as an extension of the “swarm” tactics that have been used by paramilitary groups in several countries (see John Arquilla, “The coming swarm“, New York Times, 14 February 2009). The use of several small units in simultaneous actions has proved to be effective; the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 tied down most of India’s federal counter-terror forces, for example (see “The lessons of Mumbai“, 1 December 2008). The ability of the Taliban to conduct such operations in Kabul is yet another indication of their penetration into the heart of the capital
* The Kyrgyz parliament voted on 19 February to end the US agreement to utilise the Manas air base, which is currently used to tranship 15,000 US troops and 500 tonnes of equipment a month through to Afghanistan. The plan for the Russians to take over the base makes this an even greater setback for the US, even if there may be further negotiations before the evacuation is enforced (see Thom Shanker & Ellen Barry, “U.S. hints at payment to keep Kyrgyz air base open“, International Herald Tribune, 20 February 2009).
A three-way choice
The pressures of the Afghan situation face the Barack Obama administration with three core policy options. The first is to maintain the status quo. The aim would in military terms be to avoid any increase in violence while in political terms accepting the need to make pragmatic deals both with an ineffective government in Kabul and with an array of regional warlords. The United States would in this event reinforce its own troop levels, without expectation of any major injection of fresh forces from its Nato allies. The hoped-for result would be to prevent security in Afghanistan from deteriorating further and thus al-Qaida from re-establishing itself. This would require a decade-long commitment at current levels of engagement.
The second option is to find the means to increase military forces in Afghanistan to well above 100,000 troops – even if this entails an early and risky withdrawal from Iraq. The aim would be to defeat the diverse Taliban and warlord militias, thus subduing violence and facilitating a peaceful transition of security and power. This would require a long-term US military presence, but with the function of enforcing a peace rather than suppressing a war.
The third option is to withdraw in a planned and phased way. The aim would be to minimise further losses and damage in a campaign acknowledged to be essentially unwinnable. The US would in this event be accepting that the western military presence is widely viewed in Afghanistan as a foreign occupation that serves to stimulate violent opposition. This would require a readiness to negotiate and compromise with elements of the Taliban and other militias (much as the Islamabad administration has done in Swat).
The surprise option
What will the Obama administration decide? It is worth remembering that in its broad stance towards the George W Bush administration’s conduct of the “war on terror”, it has as yet shown few signs of new (far less radical) thinking. Indeed, and in contrast to its policies on the domestic economic crisis, the current administration so far represents continuity rather than change. The proposed Afghan troop “surge” is only the most notable example (see (see Charlie Savage, “Obama’s war on terror may resemble Bush’s“, International Herald Tribune, 19 February 2009).
It is likelier, then, that the emerging Afghan policy will be much more in the direction of the first or even second options than the third. The problem for Obama and his colleagues in that event, however, is that neither choice may actually be workable – in part because conditions in Afghanistan have gone too far, in part because the world has passed the point where it is conceivable for western states to occupy countries such as Iraq or Afghanistan.
More immediately, the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be separated from developments in western Pakistan. They are part of the same, “AfPak”, reality. This makes the Swat agreement significant in terms of the Obama administration’s three policy options: for if it does seek a closure in Afghanistan that brings some measure of achievement it will have to extend its war much more fully to Pakistan, with all the dangers that entails. This, at its heart, is the same dilemma that was faced by George W Bush and would have been faced by John McCain if he had won the November 2008 election.
There is, however, at least the potential for a different approach. The infusion of 17,000 troops notwithstanding, a fundamental and long overdue reassessment of Afghanistan policy may yet take place in the coming months. The Obama administration might just have or acquire the capacity, the confidence, the judgment and the resources for a radical change in policy. The door to a surprising outcome is by no means closed.
Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: afghanisan counterinsurgency, Afghanistan, afghanistan end game, afghanistan supply lines, afghanistan surge, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, civilian casualties, David Petraeus, general james jones, hamid karzai, joe biden, joint chiefs, kabul, kandahar, Kyrgyzstan, munich conference, NATO, nato anniversary, nato summit, obama administration, pakistan, pakistani taliban, paul rogers, Pentagon, richard holbrooke, Robert Gates, roger hollander, Taliban, taliban paramilitaries
A relentless Taliban insurgency, reluctant allies, political doubts, competing priorities – the pressure to change United States policy in a key region may prove irresistible.
The difficult global inheritance of the United States administration of Barack Obama is exemplified in the possible loss of the Manas air-base in Kyrgyzstan. This would be a painful event in any circumstance, not least as it may involve the Bishkek government making a deal with Russia that would further signal a changing geopolitical balance in the region. But the troubles the US and its allies are facing in Afghanistan means that this is a particularly bad time to be threatened with a loss of facilities and influence in another part of central Asia.
The latest developments in Afghanistan represent a decisive phase in the ongoing struggle since the Taliban regime was terminated at the end of 2001. The low-level but enduring insurgency in southeast Afghanistan that then ensued left much of the rest of the country relatively stable, until Taliban militia began to make a serious comeback in 2004-05. The response was a build-up of Nato troops in the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), and a separate expansion of United States combat-troops under direct US command.
In the 2005-07 period, a pattern emerged of a developing insurgency whose most intensive periods of violence were in the summer but which tended to be relatively quiet in the winter months. A certain increase of violence in the winter of 2007-08 was a departure from the established cycle, without itself being a definitive break. In the past few days, however, four indicators suggest a real winter escalation in Taliban activity.
The Taliban’s reminder
The first event is the killing of twenty-one police officers and the wounding of eight more in a suicide-attack on 2 February 2009 in Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province. This province has been less prone to violence than the neighbouring provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, but that relative calm is now ending.
The second indicator is the increased number of attacks on convoy-routes through Pakistan into Afghanistan, through which at least 75% of Nato supplies travel. Many of these have been directed at individual trucks, though some have targeted major supply-depots. An operation, also on 2 February, took a different form: it demolished a thirty-metre-span iron bridge, twenty-three kilometres west of the Pakistani city of Peshawar. This has severed the supply-lines along the most important route, which cannot be restored until the bridge can be prepared.
The third factor is mounting evidence that combat-trained paramilitaries who have previously been in Iraq are now seeing Afghanistan as the main focus in the war with the “far enemy” of the United States and are moving there in large numbers, possibly in the thousands (see Sayed Salahuddin, “Afghanistan says foreign fighters coming from Iraq“, International Herald Tribune, 4 February 2009)
The overall number of Taliban fighters active within Afghanistan is estimated at 15,000; this may be a misleading figure in that far larger numbers may by present or inactive, or else based in Pakistan. The significant point is that, according to Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, in some of the conflicts with groups of Taliban paramilitaries last year, as many as 60% of the fighters were foreign (see “Iraq militants ‘in Afghan switch’“, BBC News, 4 February 2009).
This growing internationalisation of the conflict has been underway for some time; it now appears to be accelerating. It is part of and in turn reinforces the view within the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups that they are engaged less in a nationalist endeavour to retake control of Afghanistan, but rather militants in a global campaign.
The fourth feature is that the United States army has taken the unusual step of deploying substantial numbers of additional combat-troops to Afghanistan in the middle of winter, rather than wait until a likely upsurge in conflict from May 2009 onwards. Almost 3,000 troops from the 10th Mountain Division have been deployed to Logar and Wardak provinces south of Kabul; they will be followed by the much larger number – possibly as many as 30,000 – who are likely to be sent to Afghanistan during the rest of 2009 (see Fisnik Abrashi, “NATO: 3,000 US Troops Deploy Near To Afghan Capital“, Associated Press, 27 January 2009)
The investment of new forces is combined with a shift of thinking at senior levels in the Pentagon towards a greater focus on “counterinsurgency”. This is embodied in a new and still secret report from the US joint chiefs-of-staff to President Obama, which recommends “a shift in the military mission in Afghanistan to concentrate solely on combatting the Taliban and al-Qaida”.
An account of the background says:
“The Pentagon is prepared to announce the deployment of 17,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan as early as this week even as President Barack Obama is searching for his own strategy for the war. According to military officials during last week’s meeting with Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon’s ‘tank’, the president specifically asked, ‘What is the end game?’ in the U.S. military’s strategy for Afghanistan. When asked what the answer was, one military official told NBC News, ‘Frankly, we don’t have one.’…” (see Jim Miklaszewski & Courtney Kube, “Secret report recommends military shift in Afghanistan“, NBC News, 4 February 2009).
The moving target
A key indicator of just how complex the conflict has become for the United States and its allies is the attacks on the coalition’s supply-lines. These have been largely secure throughout most years of the current Afghan war, even though much of the territory through which the trucks drove has been controlled by local tribal groups with connections to the Pakistani Taliban. The reason is that the contractors running the trucks have regularly paid “taxes” – in essence, protection-money – to these groups. Some of this money has been passed on to Taliban militia who used it to help finance the insurgency (see Tim Ripley, “Hanging by a thread”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, February 2009 [subscription only]).
This situation – a combination of tacit truce, strategic denial, and convenient subvention of the enemy – has effectively broken down. The contributory reasons include the wider escalation in the conflict over 2008, when much of western Pakistan became a safe haven for Taliban and other militia groups and the widespread use of armed drones to attack presumed Taliban and al-Qaida targets within Pakistan in response inflicted many civilian casualties and infuriated local people. The new vulnerability of supply-lines is a result.
But this is just one aspect of a general decline in security across most of southern and eastern Afghanistan, a matter of intense concern to the young Barack Obama administration. The commitment of the new team in Washington (albeit with some familiar faces still in charge) to a major “surge” in the number of US forces also builds on plans already made under George W Bush, but with a twist: for the purpose is less to seek outright military victory than to exert sufficient force to bring cooperative elements of a weakened Taliban into negotiations.
The argument is neat but flawed, for the addition of foreign troops may also – as a new report by the analyst Gilles Dorronsoro argues – itself provoke increased Afghan resistance (see Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2009). This is a view shared by many British soldiers returning from recent deployments in Afghanistan.
The critical moment
It is not clear how Washington’s analysist will evolve in a fluid military and diplomatic situation, and in circumstances where the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai is coming under severe domestic pressure in an election year. Much much will depend on high-level deliberations around the time of Nato’s sixtieth anniversary summit (hosted jointly by France and Germany) on 3-4 April 2009. The annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, to be held on 6-8 February 2009, may be crucial in influencing its outcome; the seriousness of the US’s concerns at this stage is reflected in the presence of vice-president Joe Biden, national-security adviser General James Jones, the head of US Central Command, General David Petraeus, and the special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke (see Gerhard Spoerl, “Searching for a New World Order“, SpiegelOnline, 30 January 2009).
In both Munich and at the Strasbourg-Kehl summit, a key point of discussion is whether other Nato states will increase their involvement in Afghanistan. Three Nato members are key to this – the Canadians, Dutch and British. These are the only states other than the US that have deployed substantial numbers of troops for combat-roles in southern Afghanistan. The decision by these states over whether to increase their forces will be crucial to influencing other Nato member-states.
At present the signs are that they will not commit to large new deployments. There is little enthusiasm in the Netherlands; the mood in Canada favours progressive disengagement. The fact that Britain has more combat-troops in Afghanistan than any country apart from the United States makes its choice the most significant of the three; and the government of Gordon Brown (anxious, apart from other motives, to be seen to work closely with the Barack Obama administration), has sent a few hundred more soldiers to Afghanistan.
Inside the British army itself, however, there is widespread unease and disenchantment with the country’s role in Afghanistan (though this rarely enters the public domain). It will be very hard for the London government to persuading the military to agree to a serious upgrade of numbers and commitment.
The reluctance of allies, a relentless insurgency, doubts over the Afghan government, pressure from competing priorities – all this adds up to a difficult induction for Barack Obama’s Afghan policy. If it remains committed to an Iraq-style “surge” in Afghanistan, it may need to pursue this policy in the absence of the solid Nato support it needs. Yet this would conflict with the president’s determination to be much more multilateral than his predecessor.
The tensions are multiplying – perhaps enough to ensure a fundamental rethink of United States policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The period around Nato’s sixtieth anniversary may be even more worth watching.
Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001here
In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click
Paul Rogers’s most recent book is Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007) – an analysis of the strategic misjudgments of the post-9/11 era and why a new security paradigm is needed
Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, cia, Colin Powell, Dennis Blair, east timor, east timor massacre, foreign policy, foreign policy appointments, gaza, General Wiranto, george mitchell, hawks, hillary clinton, human rights, indonesian death squads, internatinal treaties, International law, Iran-Contra, Iraq invasion, israel, janet napolitano, jim jones, joe biden, leon panetta, Middle East, nicaragua, obama administration, obama commander-in-chief, pakistan, Palestine, Pentagon, Rahm Emanuel, reagan administation, richard holbrooke, Robert Gates, roger hollander, saddam hussein, sandinistas, scott ritter, self-determination, special envoy, stephen zunes, susan rice, u.s. hegemony, united nations charter, wmds
Most of Obama’s key foreign policy appointments seem more committed to military dominance than international law.
In disc golf, there’s a shot known as “an Obama” — it’s a drive that you expect to veer to the left but keeps hooking right.
In no other area has this metaphor been truer than Barack Obama’s foreign policy and national security appointments. For a man who was elected in part on the promise to not just end the war in Iraq but to “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place,” it’s profoundly disappointing that a majority of his key appointments — Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Dennis Blair, Janet Napolitano, Richard Holbrooke and Jim Jones, among others — have been among those who represent that very mindset.
As president, Obama is ultimately the one in charge, so judgment should not be based upon his appointments alone. Indeed, some of his early decisions regarding foreign policy and national security – such as ordering the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, initiating the necessary steps for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and ending the “global gag rule” on funding for international family-planning programs – have been quite positive.
But it’s still significant that the majority of people appointed to key foreign policy positions, like those in comparable positions in the Bush administration, appear to be more committed to U.S. hegemony than the right of self-determination, human rights and international law.
Supporters of Wars of Conquest
Though far from the only issue of concern, it is the fact that the majority of Obama’s appointees to these key positions were supporters of the invasion of Iraq that is perhaps the most alarming.
Obama’s defenders claim that what is most important in these appointments is not their positions on a particular issue, but their overall competence. Unfortunately, this argument ignores the reality that anybody who actually believed that invading Iraq was a good idea amply demonstrated that they’re unqualified to hold any post dealing with foreign and military policy.
It was not simply a matter of misjudgment. Those who supported the war demonstrated a dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law, and disdain for the United Nations Charter and international treaties which prohibit aggressive war. They demonstrated a willingness to either fabricate a non-existent threat or naively believe transparently false and manipulated intelligence claiming such a threat existed, ignoring a plethora of evidence from weapons inspectors and independent arms control analysts who said that Iraq had already achieved at least qualitative disarmament. Perhaps worst of all, they demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and stupidity in imagining that the United States could get away with an indefinite occupation of a heavily populated Arab country with a strong history of nationalism and resistance to foreign domination.
Nor does it appear that they were simply fooled by the Bush administration’s manufactured claims of an Iraqi threat. For example, Napolitano, after acknowledging that there were not really WMDs in Iraq as she had claimed prior to the invasion, argued that “In my view, there were lots of reasons for taking out Saddam Hussein.” Similarly, Clinton insisted months after the Bush administration acknowledged the absence of WMDs that her vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion “was the right vote” and was one that, she said, “I stand by.”
Clearly, then, despite their much-touted “experience,” these nominees have demonstrated, through their support for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, a profound ignorance of the reality of the Middle East and an arrogant assumption that peace, stability and democratic governance can be created through the application of U.S. military force.
Given that the majority of Democrats in Congress, a larger majority of registered Democrats nationally, and an even larger percentage of those who voted for Obama opposed the decision to invade Iraq, it is particularly disappointing that Obama would choose his vice-president, chief of staff, secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security and special envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq from the right-wing minority who supported the war.
But the Iraq War isn’t the only foreign policy issue where these Obama nominees have demonstrated hawkish proclivities. In previous articles, I have raised concerns regarding the positions of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Below is a list of some additional foreign policy appointees who are troubling …
A Friend of Death Squads Heading Intelligence
One of the most problematic Obama appointees is Admiral Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence. Blair served as the head of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 1999 to May 2002 as East Timor was finally freeing itself from a quarter century of brutal Indonesian occupation. As the highest ranking U.S. military official in the region, he worked to undermine the Clinton administration’s belated efforts to end the repression, promote human rights and support the territory’s right to self-determination. He also fought against Congressional efforts to condition support for the Indonesian military on improving their poor human rights record.
In April 1999, two days after a well-publicized massacre in which dozens of East Timorese civilians seeking refuge in a Catholic church in Liquica were hacked to death by Indonesian-backed death squads, Blair met in Jakarta with General Wiranto, the Indonesian Defense minister and military commander. Instead of pressuring Wiranto to end his support for the death squads, he pledged additional U.S. military assistance, which, according to The Nation magazine, the Indonesian military “took as a green light to proceed with the militia operation.” Two weeks later, and one day after another massacre, Blair phoned Wiranto and, rather than condemn the killings he “told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region.”
Blair’s role in all this is well-known. The Washington Post, for example, reported several months later that “Blair and other U.S. military officials took a forgiving view of the violence surrounding the referendum in East Timor.” I was interviewed on NBC Nightly News at the time and spoke directly to Blair’s meetings earlier that year.
Combined with Obama’s selection of supporters of Morocco’s occupation and repression in Western Sahara and Israel’s occupation and repression in Palestine to other key foreign policy and national security posts, perhaps it is not surprising that he would pick someone who supported Indonesia’s occupation and repression in East Timor. That his pick for DNI would have acquiesced to massacres facilitated by U.S.-backed forces, however, is particularly disturbing.
A Super Hawk at the Pentagon
Obama’s decision to Bush appointee Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense was a shock and a betrayal to his supporters who believed that there would be a change in the Pentagon under an Obama administration.
Gates’ record of militarism and deceit includes his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, where he apparently took part in the cover-up of the Reagan administration’s crimes. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh expressed frustration that Gates – well-known for his “eidetic memory” – curiously could not recall information his subordinates, under oath, had sworn they had told him. The special prosecutor’s final report noted, “The statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid.” Indeed, the best the final report could say was that “a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.”
In addition, Howard Teicher, who served on the National Security Council staff during the Reagan administration, submitted a sworn affidavit that Gates engaged in secret arms transfers to Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1980s in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. During this same period, according to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who served as Gates’ branch chief, Gates was personally involved in the apparent manipulation of intelligence regarding Iran and the Soviet Union in order to back up questionable policies of the Reagan administration.
The quintessential hawk, Gates advocated a U.S. bombing campaign against Nicaragua in 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times, in order to “bring down” that country’s leftist government, arguing that “the only way that we can prevent disaster in Central America” is for the United States to “do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out.” Given there are today a number of Latin American countries under leftist governments more strategically significant than the tiny impoverished Nicaragua with which Gates was once so obsessed, one wonders how, as Obama’s Secretary of Defense, he will advise the new president to deal with these countries.
As he has for most of his career, Gates has been far to the right not only of the American public, but even that of the foreign policy establishment, most of which recognized that Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was of no threat to U.S. national security and that a bombing campaign would be a blatant violation of international law.
Unable to convince his superiors to bomb Nicaragua, Gates became a major supporter of the illegal supplying of arms to the Nicaraguan Contras, a notorious terrorist group responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians. In choosing Gates to head the Defense Department, Obama appears to be giving a signal that his opposition to international terrorism is limited to those who target Americans and their allies, not to terrorism overall.
Another Super-Hawk at NSC
Recently-retired Marine General Jim Jones -– who, like Gates, is a Republican and was a supporter of Senator John McCain in the November election –– has been named as Obama’s National Security Advisor. A pragmatic leader who reportedly opposed the decision to invade Iraq and has questioned the unconditional U.S. support for some of Israel’s more aggressive policies, Jones’ appointment is nonetheless troubling.
As NATO commander earlier this decade, Jones pushed for an expanded NATO role in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Perhaps not coincidentally, he joined the board of directors of Chevron soon after his retirement from the military as well becoming president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, which has called on the U.S. government to engage NATO “on energy security challenges and encourage member countries to support the expansion of its mandate to address energy security.”
Jones opposed any deadline for a withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, which sits on top of the second largest oil reserves in the world, declaring that “I think deadlines can work against us, And I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest.” A passionate supporter of the Vietnam War who apparently supported a U.S. invasion of Laos and Cambodia as well, Jones considered the war’s opponents to essentially be traitors. More recently, he has used rhetoric remarkably similar to that of defenders of that war to call for a dramatic escalation of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that American “credibility” would be at stake if the United States withdrew.
The Nation’s contributing editor Robert Dreyfus, who refers to Jones as Obama’s “most hawkish advisor,” quotes a prominent Washington military analyst noting that “He’s not a strategic thinker,” but he will certainly join other Obama appointees in pushing the administration’s foreign policy to the right.
A Dangerous Pick for Special Envoy
Obama’s choice for special envoy to perhaps the most critical area of U.S. foreign policy – Afghanistan and Pakistan – has gone to a man with perhaps the most sordid history of any of the largely disappointing set of foreign policy and national security appointments.
Richard Holbrooke got his start in the Foreign Service during the 1960s in the notorious pacification programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. In the late 1970s, Holbrooke served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In this position, he played a major role in formulating the Carter administration’s support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the bloody counter-insurgency campaign responsible for the deaths of up to a quarter million civilians. In a particularly notorious episode while heading the State Department’s East Asia division, Holbrooke convinced Carter to release South Korean troops under U.S. command in order to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju against the Chun dictatorship, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. He also convinced President Jimmy Carter to continue its military and economic support for the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.
In the former Yugoslavia, he epitomized the failed U.S. policy toward autocratic rulers that swings between the extremes of appeasement and war. He brokered a peace agreement in Bosnia which allowed the Serbs to hold on to virtually all of the land they had seized and ethnically cleansed in the course of that bloody conflict and imposed a political system based upon sectarian divisions over secular national citizenship. During the 1996 pro-democracy uprising in Serbia, Holbrooke successfully argued that the Clinton administration should back the Milosevic regime in suppressing the movement so to not risk the instability that might result from a victory by Serb democrats. In response to increased Serbian oppression in Kosovo just a couple years later, however, Holbrooke became a vociferous advocate of the 1999 U.S.-led bombing campaign, creating a nationalist reaction that set back the reconstituted pro-democracy movement once again. The young leaders of the pro-democracy movement, which finally succeeded in the nonviolent overthrow of the regime, remain bitterly angry at Holbrooke to this day.
Scott Ritter, the former chief UNSCOM inspector who correctly predicted the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a disastrous outcome for the U.S. invasion, observes that “not only has he demonstrated a lack of comprehension when it comes to the complex reality of Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan), Holbrooke has a history of choosing the military solution over the finesse of diplomacy.” Noting how the Dayton Accords were built on the assumption of a major and indefinite NATO military presence, which would obviously be far more problematic in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Europe, Ritter adds, “This does not bode well for the Obama administration.”
The Mixed Record of Susan Rice
The post of U.S. representative to the United Nations, which is being treated as a cabinet-level post in the Obama administration, is now held by Susan Rice, a protégé of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Perhaps the most impressive intellectual on Obama’s foreign policy team, she was a Rhodes Scholar who studied under Oxford professors Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury at Oxford, strong supporters of international law and the United Nations.
Serving under President Clinton in the National Security Council and later as assistant Secretary of State for Africa, she helped reverse the decades-old policy of support for Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, she received praise from civil society groups in Africa for her support for human rights but also criticism for her strident support for economic liberalization and free trade initiatives.
Though seen by many as one of the most moderate of Obama’s foreign policy team, she – like some of the more hawkish Obama appointees – is also handicapped by her tendency to allow her ideological preconceptions to interfere with her analysis.
Though, unlike most of Obama’s other top foreign policy appointees, she has serious reservations about invading Iraq, she naively bought into many of the myths used to justify it. For example, back in 2002 – years after Iraq had disarmed itself of its chemical and biological weapons and eliminated its nuclear program – she declared, “It’s clear that Iraq poses a major threat” and, despite the success of the UN’s disarmament program, she insisted “It’s clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that’s the path we’re on.”
In February 2003, Colin Powell testified before the United Nations that Iraq had somehow reconstituted its biological and chemical weapons arsenal and its nuclear weapons program and had somehow hidden all this from the hundreds of United Nations inspectors then in Iraq engaged in unfettered inspections. None of this was true and his transparently false claims were immediately challenged by UN officials, arms control specialists, and much of the press and political leadership in Europe and elsewhere. (See my article written in response to his testimony: Mr. Powell, You’re No Adlai Stevenson.)
Rice, however, insisted that Powell had “proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them and I don’t think many informed people doubted that.” In light of such widespread and public skepticism from knowledgeable sources, Rice’s dismissal of all the well-founded criticism was positively Orwellian: those who blindly accepted Powell’s transparently false claims were “well-informed,” while the UN officials, arms control specialists, and others knowledgeable of the reality of the situation were presumably otherwise.
What this means is that Rice will have a serious credibility problem at the United Nations, whose remarkable success at disarming Iraq she summarily dismissed. When Rice speaks out in important debates about international peace and security in the UN Security Council, including possible genuine threats, there will inevitably be some questions as to whether she should be believed. This raises the questions as to why Obama would choose someone with a potentially serious credibility in such a sensitive position just as the United States is trying to restore its influence in the world body.
Some Bright Spots?
There have been some somewhat hopeful appointments as well. One is that of Leon Panetta, former Congressman and the first chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, to direct the CIA. He has been praised for his principled opposition to the abuse of detainees under the Bush administration and his forced resignation from the Nixon Justice Department for opposing the administration’s opposition to school desegregation.
The major concern is that Panetta – a former Republican known as a centrist who tends to seek compromise more than he is one to shake things up – will likely find himself as simply another part of the center-right national team Obama is putting together, especially since he will be serving under DNI director Blair. As The Nation‘s Dreyfus put it, “He’s no match for the hardheaded spooks who run the place, and he’s no match for the military brass who are elbowing their way to more and more control of intelligence spending and priorities.”
On the one hand, when the best that can be said of a nominee for an important national security position is that he opposes school segregation and believes that the U.S. government should not be engaging in torture, it is indicative of just how for down the bar has been lowered. At the same time, Panetta’s appointment is a clear signal that the Obama administration will not tolerate the kind of abuses that occurred under its predecessor.
Another potentially positive appointment is that of George Mitchell as special Middle East envoy. Though a hawkish supporter of right-wing Israeli governments during his days in the Senate, the report of his 2000-2001 commission on Israeli-Palestinian violence was surprisingly balanced and reasonable. Its failures rested in the limitations imposed upon it by the Clinton Administration and the failure of the Bush administration to follow through on its recommendations. The question now is whether Mitchell and President Obama will be willing to effectively challenge Israel’s refusal to withdraw the bulk of its illegal settlements from the occupied West Bank to make a viable Palestinian state possible. (See my article: Is Mitchell Up to the Task?)
Obama as Commander-in-Chief
Even though many of Obama’s key foreign policy appointments are not that different than previous administration, it is important to remember that Barack Obama will be a very different commander-in-chief than George W. Bush.
For one thing, unlike the outgoing president, Obama is non-ideological, very knowledgeable and highly-intelligent. He was quite prescient about the irrationality of invading Iraq, even speaking at an anti-war rally at a time when most Americans supported going to war and – prior to becoming a national figure – he espoused a number of progressive positions ranging on issues ranging from human rights to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In other words, even if Gates does call for bombing Venezuela, Obama is not going to do that. Even if Napolitano comes to him claiming that invading Iran is necessary to defend the homeland, Obama will recognize the folly of such a recommendation. Even if Clinton renews her attacks on the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court, Obama is unlikely to go along with them. Even if Jones argues for sending in the Marines to capture Saudi oil fields, Obama will not take such a recommendation seriously.
It is also quite possible that all this is a shrewd political move on Obama’s part of placing center-right appointees is visible positions to better enable him to pursue a more progressive foreign policy, not unlike Bush using the moderate Colin Powell to sell the Iraq war. Had George McGovern won the 1972 presidential election, he would have likely appointed a number of prominent figures from the hawkish Democratic foreign policy establishment to key positions to assuage skeptics as well, but that does not mean he would have abandoned the core principles which had been the basis of his campaign and his entire political career.
Another reason that an Obama administration will not likely be as far to the right as these appointments may imply is that his electoral base – energized by popular opposition to the Iraq War – is perhaps the most progressive in history when it comes to foreign policy. It is also the most engaged and organized base the party has ever seen. Once the relief of Bush’s departure and the glow of Obama’s inauguration has worn off, he will have to face the millions of people responsible for his election who will expect him to keep his word regarding “change you can believe in.”
Indeed, with a few conscientious exceptions, Democratic officials have rarely led in terms of a more progressive foreign policy. They have generally abandoned hawkish policies only after being forced to do so by popular mobilizations. From Vietnam to Central America to the nuclear arms race to South Africa to Iraq, Democratic leaders initially allied with the Republicans until they recognized their political futures were at stake unless they listened to the rank-and-file Democrats for whom they were dependent for their re-election. Then, and only then, were they willing to change course.
As a result, what may be most important will not be the people that Obama appoints, but the choices we give them.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.
Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, amy goodman, Benazir Bhutto, bob schiefer, carl levin, cia, Democracy Now, face the nation, fata, India, isi, joseph biden, pakistanis, pakstan, predator drones, president obama, richard holbrooke, Robert Gates, robert gibbs, roger hollander, Sahar Shafqat, Taliban, us milliles, Yousaf Raza Gilani, Zardari
www.democracynow.org, January 30, 2009
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Pakistan, where outrage continues to mount over the US military’s first act of war approved by President Obama. Last Friday, unmanned US Predator drones fired missiles at houses in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, killing as many as twenty-two people, including at least three children.
The United States has carried out thirty such drone attacks on alleged al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistani territory since last summer, killing some 250 people, according to a tally by Reuters.
The Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday that US drone attacks were “counterproductive” and ended up uniting local communities with militants. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated Tuesday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that such strikes will continue and that Pakistani officials are aware of US policy on this matter.
AMY GOODMAN: Pakistani officials, however, deny there’s any agreement with the United States to secretly allow drone attacks inside Pakistan. Defense Secretary Gates’s comments on the missile attacks were the first to publicly acknowledge the strikes since last Friday. This is an excerpt of last Friday’s White House press briefing with, well, the new press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
REPORTER: And other US officials have confirmed these Predator drone air strikes, Pakistan. What is it about cannot confirming whether the President was consulted—
ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.
REPORTER: How does that compromise operational security?
ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.
REPORTER: Don’t you think it’s justifiable curiosity, Robert, about the President’s first military action—
ROBERT GIBBS: I think there are many things that you should be justifiably curious about, but I’m not going to get into talking about—
REPORTER: If other members of the US government are confirming this, why is it that you can’t comment?
ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.
AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Joseph Biden also refused to comment Sunday as to whether the United States would notify Pakistan before sending forces into their territory. He was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Last week, an American drone apparently attacked an al-Qaeda force, or what they thought was an al-Qaeda force, in the territorial part of Pakistan, a cross-border operation. It’s my understanding that the President, the previous president, gave our US forces and the CIA permission to go across that border, to go after al-Qaeda if it became necessary on the ground. Does President Obama—will he continue that policy?
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Bob, as you know, I can’t speak to any particular attack. I can’t speak to any particular action. It’s not appropriate for me to do that.
But I can say that the President of the United States said during his campaign and in the debates that if there is an actionable target of a high-level al-Qaeda personnel, that he would not hesitate to use action to deal with that.
But here’s the good news. The good news is that in my last trip—and I’ve been to Pakistan many times and that region many times—there is a great deal more cooperation going on now between the Pakistan military in an area called the FATA, the Federally Administered Territory—Waziristan, North Waziristan—all that area we hear about, that is really sort of ungovernable—not sort of, it’s been ungovernable for the Pakistani government. That’s where the bad guys are hiding. That’s where the al-Qaeda folks are, and some other malcontents.
And so, what we’re doing is we’re in the process of working with the Pakistanis to help train up their counterinsurgency capability of their military, and we’re getting new agreements with them about how to deal with cross-border movements of these folks. So we’re making progress.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Would you have notified them before any of these cross-border movements, because, as you well know, there is a fear that there would be leaks on something like that, and there might be a temptation not to? Exactly what is our policy on that?
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: I always try to be completely candid with you, but I can’t respond to that question. I’m not going to respond to that question.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You’re not going to respond to that question.
AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Biden, being interviewed by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. When we come back from break, we’ll speak with a Pakistani activist and scholar about the first military attack in the Obama administration, the unmanned drone attack in Pakistan. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, prepares to head to the region next week, I’m joined now here in the firehouse studio by Pakistani political scientist Sahar Shafqat.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
SAHAR SHAFQAT: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. What about this unmanned drone attack? Where did it happen? What about the denials, on both sides, of US-Pakistani cooperation?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: The attacks happened in FATA, which is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It’s this no man’s land, literally, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, colonial-era sort of administrative region.
The denials, I think, are part of this drama that is sort of in mutually agreed-upon play that both the US and Pakistan are engaged in, which is the US is going to engage—carry out these drone attacks; the Pakistani government will deny that they had any knowledge and will express outrage for domestic consumption.
But they’re very deeply unpopular, and I should add that they have caused a humanitarian crisis within Pakistan. In Bajaur, for example, it’s estimated that about 300,000 people have fled the region, which is about half the population there. And it’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain where that region is.
SAHAR SHAFQAT: That is in part of FATA, which is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Bajaur is one of the agencies within that.
AMY GOODMAN: Right next to Afghanistan.
SAHAR SHAFQAT: Right next to Afghanistan, yes. It’s a series of about ten or eleven different agencies within this—what Vice President Biden called the no man’s land, this ungovernable land. It’s supposed to have autonomy. And this has been, as I said, a colonial-era legacy, which successive Pakistani governments have more or less respected. This, of course, changed dramatically after 9/11, when the Pakistani government was forced to intervene, because Taliban and al-Qaeda had fled there from Afghanistan, so—which was a radical change in policy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, right now, this latest attack, what do you know about it? We have learned so far that something like twenty-two people were killed, three of them children.
SAHAR SHAFQAT: I don’t know much more than that, much more than what you know. But I will also add that it’s disappointing, from my perspective, and I think from Pakistanis’ perspective, that the new administration, which clearly has recognized that there were terrible mistakes made in the Bush era that have to be now sort of corrected with policy changes, has refused to acknowledge that there were serious mistakes that have been made in the US policy towards Pakistan and has in fact made clearly a decision to continue US policy towards Pakistan.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of Richard Holbrooke, who’s headed to the region now?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: Richard Holbrooke, I think—I mean, there are many sort of reasons to object to his involvement, which, you know, sort of pertain to his past, but I do want to point out one additional thing, which is that he has been named the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Originally, he was supposed to be named envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The Indian government lobbied very fiercely to have that designation removed, because they did not want to be lumped in with Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that, from my view, is unfortunate, because, you know, throughout, for example, Obama’s campaign, he noted that the solution to the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan must involve some kind of solution between India and Pakistan, as well, that India is part of this equation. And I agree with that. And so, it’s disappointing that the sort of official designation for Richard Holbrooke is not going to include India at all in this equation.
AMY GOODMAN: The level of support for President Obama before he became president and now?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: In Pakistan? He was definitely more popular before the attacks on Friday, a week ago. And, in fact, the prime minister of Pakistan had more or less guaranteed to the Pakistani public that when President Obama comes into office, these drone attacks are going to stop. So he has, of course, been extremely embarrassed by this action, and there have already been mass protests against US bombing. And I think a lot of disillusionment has set in, because there were hopes that there would be some kind of policy correction, policy change, and that appears to not be the case at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Sahar Shafqat, what about the attacks on Mumbai and the links to Pakistan?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: Well, you know, again, none of that investigation has been made public, so I can only speculate on who exactly was involved. But to the best of our knowledge, we—I think it’s safe to say that, somehow or the other, the Pakistani security establishment was involved, either indirectly or directly or even through sort of—in a way of having knowledge of it and letting it happen. And again, this—
AMY GOODMAN: What makes you say that?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: You know, the groups that have been alleged to be involved are creations of ISI, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliated social group, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. And just as an example of how the security establishment tends to patronize and help out these groups, when the Jamaat-ud-Dawa was declared by the United Nations as a terrorist organization, the government took a few days to sort of act, and when they eventually seized the assets of this group, they discovered, lo and behold, that all the money had been taken out of the accounts. I don’t think this was an accident. I think this was an opportunity given to this group to sort of, you know, clear out its money and regroup eventually. Unfortunately, the ISI and other security, you know, agencies in Pakistan have always worked against the interests of the people of Pakistan, and I think this is another instance in which they, again, either directly or indirectly have done that.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan, where it is now under Zardari, the husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: The lawyers’ movement is the most hopeful development in Pakistan in the last, I would say, probably couple of decades. Unfortunately, the movement has been weakened since the civilian government took office almost a year ago. And I should note that the United States has remained sort of steadfastly against the restoration of the judiciary and especially of the chief justice. My hope is that now that we have a former constitutional expert as the new US president, that he will see the importance of maintaining the rule of law and of restoring the judiciary.
The latest announcement by the lawyers’ movement leadership is that there will be a long march on March 9th and that there will be a sit-in until the judiciary is restored, until the chief justice is restored. And most recently, one of the major opposition party leaders, Nawaz Sharif, announced that he is going to participate and support this long march fully.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Sahar Shafqat, Pakistani activist and scholar. She specializes in comparative politics, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.