Posts Tagged ‘john negroponte’

The Political Playground of Pakistan

February 2, 2009

It’s hard not to notice that Pakistan is the center of a lot of attention now, after Obama has become POTUS. About three days after his assuming office, rep0rts came in that airstrikes ordered ostensibly by an organ of the United States government targeted areas within the north-western border of Pakistan. The idea that these are CIA-controlled drones appears mainly to be an idea of the Pakistani and Indian media, a possibility stated with glee by the latter source and with some consternation by the former.

So far, every one’s following the script, except the rather terse but aggressive stance taken by the Obama administration, mostly via Defense Secy. Robert Gates, that these attacks will continue as necessary, which is a little more peremptory and directly indifferent to Pakistan’s sovereignty than the Bush administration was in general. However, even this indifference is not unexpected, given then-Senator Obama’s assertion that he would pursue aggressive action against those actors in Pakistan against whom the government of Pakistan was “unwilling or unable” to mount a serious offensive.

It will be interesting to note over time if the current US administration does in fact pursue a more public attitude of military incursions within areas that are inside Pakistan’s political boundaries. In essence, Pakistan’s government has, over the last few years, allowed its inaction to give some measure of encouragement to the non-state forces operating in its remote areas, particularly the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. I don’t know what the translation of “federally administered” must be into the local language in those provinces, but I would imagine that at least some of the natives there have found out a way to pun it with “federally fucked.” While some parts of the areas are in fact not that far from Islamabad, the seat of Pakistan’s government, there is certainly much to be doubted in any assertion by the government that they can control critical intelligence information about the area or that they have actual political control over it. Even Pakistan’s most hopeful allies in the Unites States Senate, like John Negroponte, a Deputy Secretary of State and Director of National Intelligence,  have expressed very cautious optimism about what the Pakistani government can achieve to integrate this region into the nation’s economic and political mainstream.

The US engagement in Pakistan is going to be a far more adventurous story, though possibly capturing far less public interest, than its engagement in Afghanistan. The simplest reason for this will be that the US will have minimal ground engagement in these regions for obvious political reasons. This will mean that casualties will be low and so will media attention. The Pakistanis may complain about how any American action in the area only exacerbates terrorism and militant Islamic activity but they can’t raise the most serious objection usually used in such circumstances — that their sovereignty is being transgressed. The state has a very tenuous hold on these areas to begin with and the natives have only a vague idea of allegiance to the Pakistani government. In the end, what the Pakistani government wants is political stability over all else, and the jury is still out in Pakistan, and in the rest of the world, if suppressing cross-border terrorism in the FATA is inimical or helpful to such stability.

American activities in Pakistan, if they gain in intensity over the next few months and years, will turn into a rich mixture of political doublespeak and tactical expediency. The actions in that region affect the fate of the American military support for political change in Afghanistan, no doubt; they also will be watched with keen interest by the Indians who would rather things remain murky on Pakistan’s western front so that they have fewer resources to devote to managing their proxy war on the Indian border. Of course, matters are not quite as simple even from the Indian point of view, because instability in Pakistan, to which the current situation in the FATA will contribute, also pull in Indian resources and energies as India’s political establishment worries about the fall-out of a non-civilian government returning to power in Pakistan, and possibly imposing martial law in order to control the political situation. A militarily strong neighbor is never in the long-term good interests of India because it is bound to be more fundamentalist than a civilian government and more compelled to adopt a hawkish stance towards India.

An American military solution to the FATA problem doesn’t have a good script to follow. This is certainly not early Afghanistan or Iraq because the Americans consider the ruling government an ally, unlike their issue with the Taliban. This is not Vietnam because there is no coherent and united political force to fight against. This is not late Afghanistan or Iraq either, though there are more parallels with this situation — fractured tribal interests filling a power vacuum, because there is a national government in the backdrop whose stability needs to be preserved, for the sake of geo-political sanity.

The playbooks of American interventions in Central America might be of some utility here. The current government of Pakistan has to, in effect, assent to becoming a client of the American intelligence and military forces, and through some combination of active and covert cooperation do serious enough damage to the military capabilities of the FATA natives, that they will either sue for peace or simply cease to be a viable alternative for politicall leadership in the area.