The Panetta/ Pakistan War of Words

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has caused a stir by warning US ally Pakistan that Washington’s ‘patience is wearing thin’ with the support for the Haqqani Network by the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

Pakistani ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, condemned the statement as ‘unhelpul.’

Pakistan’s military has taken on a number militant groups based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including the Taliban Movement of Pakistan (Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan or TTP), popular among some of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. It has also fought supporters of the Hizb-i Islami (Islamic Faction) of Gulbadin Hikmatyar in Bajaur.

But the Pakistani military has studiously avoided conflict with Jalal al-Din Haqqani in North Waziristan, and the US military and intelligence establishments are convinced that elements in the Pakistani military are supported and using the Haqqanis as a way of projecting Pakistani power into Afghanistan. Haqqani was a US ally in the 1980s in the fight against the Soviet Union, but he and his supporters turned against the US after it occupied Afghanistan in the wake of September 11. Since the Haqqani Network has attacked US troops and even the US embassy in Kabul, it is galling to Panetta that a putative ally like Pakistan might be surreptitiously supporting it.

Moreover, the Haqqanis and their Afghan allies are holding more and more territory in the Pashtun areas to the east and the south of the Afghanistan, boding ill for the stability of the country were the US to largely withdraw from Afghanistan in 2013 or 2014. The US wants the security situation addressed by Pakistan on its side of the border before they hand the military mission off to the newly formed Afghanistan army, which no one thinks is ready for primetime.

The real solution to the problem of the Haqqanis and of the small bands of Arab al-Qaeda members who nest in their territories is administrative. Pakistan needs to make the FATA into its fifth formal province and stop trying rule it from Islamabad. The creation of a provincial administration, a provincial legislature, and provincial police drawn from the FATA regions would tamp down the resentments felt by many Pashtuns in the FATA against direct government rule and failure to provide basic services. Provincial officials and security forces would have the motivation to take on the militants.

The Pakistani parliament and judiciary are both involved in disputes with the central government, and parliament is threatening to make the US cease its drone attacks against targets in Pakistan. Before that policy had always been a presidential prerogative. Parliament, angered at military casualties at the hands of the US, may well permanetly cut off the US and NATO from access to Afghanistan via the port of Karachi up through Pakistan.

6 Responses

  1. Once again, thank you for your observations. FATA becoming a province… but aren’t the Pashtuns the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan? Is Afghanistan, as a state, doomed?

    • The Pashtuns are a small minority in Pakistan, like 15%. The dominant group is Punjabis, about 58%, and they are 80% of the army. The Khyber-Pukhtun-Khwa Province represents Pashtuns. But FATA residents, also largely Pashtuns, are ruled as subjects from the capital.

  2. Another project that costs tens of billions of dollars. Peanuts compared to what the government gets in aid from the US. Perfect for a developing country like Pakistan.

  3. When there is something fundamentally wrong with something, you cannot do enough to make it otherwise. You might temporarily deflect or finesse it, but the needs of Reality are relentless and will eventually have satisfaction.

    Taking out AQ and the Taliban as it existed back in 02 was a case when lies and spin were not needed. Since then our actions in the area have become increasingly inappropriate and going contrary to what was appropriate. When messages from various senior officials become mixed its a sure sign of a lack of integrity that cannot be fixed by enforcing a “message.” The US can resist the reality of things in AFPAK for a while, but the pressure will build ever stronger to bend to the truth and reality of things as the Lie-Seeking missile of nemesis looms nearer and nearer.

    In fairness, Obama appears to be trying to surf his way by this reality to somehow assuage the Right-Wing and otherwise govern by consensus. Its what politicians do, and if done well its a way of moving the herd forward. If one is going to say Obama has adopted the wrong strategy you have to squarely face and work through the ramifications of that proposition.

  4. .
    The US thinking, going back to McChrystal, if not McKiernan, or Richards before him, was that the only solution to the resistance fighters crossing the Durand Line from Paktika into safe havens in North Waziristan was for PAKISTAN to seal the border.
    Some 4-star general must have said that very thing at one point; the “military intelligence” echo chamber still cannot get past that paradigm.

    ISI does not simply want to have some nebulous “influence” in Afghanistan; they want to prevent their arch-rival India from establishing strategic military depth there. If that threat is real, then Pakistan MUST respond to that prospect, in some fashion.
    Seems to me that it would be counter to Pakistani interests to seal the border.

    Juxtaposition of this post right above the one on sealing the Arizona-Mexico border raises the question in my mind of why we don’t insist that Mexico seal that border. Silly, huh ? Well, that’s similar to expecting Pakistan to seal their border with Afghanistan.

    Here’s a couple of new paradigms for Secretary Panetta/ General Allen to ponder:
    *** maybe put the Pakistani Army in charge of occupying Paktika Province.
    *** put the US Army in charge of sealing the border. They are the defacto government of Afghanistan; let them man up to protecting their own (actually, their subjects’) sovereignty.
    *** Hire the Haqqani militia to seal the border. Negotiate with them; pay them protection money. In terms of savagery, they are no worse than the folks from the Northern Alliance who we embraced in the opening days of the invasion.
    Or, most outlandish,
    *** start providing development and stability to the Afghans in this area, Khowst, Paktia and Paktika provinces. Out of maybe $120 Billion in aid spent in/on Afghanistan since 2001, very little has gone for the benefit of these people. Many seem to believe that NONE has been spent for their benefit. All they can see in terms of aid programs and infrastructure are things that seem to actually have been done to leverage or enhance kinetic military operations, like paving roads and appointing Tadjiks as their local governors.

    I think that convincing the Pakistanis to realign their national and provincial governance structure in order to benefit 30 million Afghans (sorry, Pashtun Pakistanis) would be a tough job.

    Ultimately, over the long run, we only have 2 choices:
    …..Genocide; or
    …..Liberation from foreign domination (de opresso liber.) To be clear on this option, not only are Americans in Pashtun lands considered foreigners. Afghan Tadjiks and Hazara and Uzbeks in Pashtun lands are also considered foreigners by the locals.

    If we are not willing to kill them all, and we are not, then we will eventually give up and let them alone.

    • When you boil away the never-ending drama and spin, which is impossible given the domestic (US) political scene, it all comes down to your last sentence.

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