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Pakistan: next in line?

After Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has now turned its belligerent attention towards Pakistan. But opening up a new battlefront, this time in Pakistan, in the run-up to the presidential elections, will prove another quagmire for the Obama administration.

The November 26 attack by NATO on two Pakistani border posts at Salala in Mohmand Agency that killed 24 Pakistan Army soldiers, will have negative repercussions for the United States. This incident, and many like it before, indicate that the US wants to make Pakistan another Afghanistan. Such a plan will be counterproductive in tackling terrorism as the US military intervention in Afghanistan has already boomeranged.

While Pakistan has claimed that NATO forces, which were believed to be US commandos and attack helicopters, was unprovoked, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has ordered an inquiry into the bloody incident. The bloodshed has naturally provoked Pakistani military’s ire for the US as NATO has been fighting America’s ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the US President Barack Obama has admitted that it was not a deliberate strike. Perhaps the US will announce this is ‘collateral damage.’

Even if one accepts it was not a calculated strike, how is it that the most technologically advanced forces of the world’s sole superpower could not differentiate between friends and foes during a skirmish? How come the US intelligence, armed with the most modern gadgetry, has failed to detect the presence of Pakistani forces in the area.

Whatever it was, a planned attack or so-called collateral damage, the ramifications of this latest incident might be more serious for the US than the previous attacks given the tough stance by Pakistan. The anti-America sentiment is growing rapidly in Pakistan. To rub salt in the wounds, Obama’s advisers have suggested that he should not offer an apology on the incident as this could weaken his re-election bid.

History and statistics indicate that the Mohmand incident might have been an unprovoked attack. Although the death toll of Pakistani troops by the US forces in the recent attack is unprecedented, the incident was not unique. American commandos, who came aboard three helicopters, brutally killed 20 civilians, most of them women and children, on September 3, 2008, in a Pakistani village near Afghan border. The US administration apologised to Pakistan. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, at least 392 civilians, including 175 children, have so far been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan by the CIA since 2004. While the legality of such drone attacks is questionable, the number of innocent civilian deaths is enough to increase hatred of America in Pakistan.

Pakistan indeed receives huge amounts in aid from the US, the withdrawal of which could create problems for Islamabad. But the ramifications of opening up a front in Pakistan could be a great diplomatic faux pas for the US.

The US invaded Afghanistan 10 years ago to get rid of the Taliban regime and to ‘democratise’ the landlocked country. The Americans toppled the Taliban, but Afghanistan is still a political quagmire for the US administration.

The costs of war project at Brown University says that Afghanistan is considered an authoritarian regime on the Democracy Index, and is at 1.4 on the Transparency International corruption scale which is the worst in South Asia. Military aggression by the US in Afghanistan has neither brought peace nor eliminated terrorism. Instead, things have gone from bad to worse.

After the recent NATO attack Pakistan has stopped supplies for the security forces in Afghanistan, while the US has complied to Pakistan’s demand of vacating Shamsi air base which has been used by the US to operate/service drones involved in killing the Taliban and Al Qaeda. America has reserves enough for a few weeks but there is always a problem for Washington that supplies from Pakistan could be cut off.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s absence from the Bonn conference in protest against the NATO attack has left the stakeholders scratching their heads. The conference, as expected, ended with nothing but pledges by the west to support Afghanistan in economic and social development, while the real agenda of the meeting – peace and security – could not be fully discussed, owing to Pakistan’s boycott. The message was loud and clear: neither the US nor Afghanistan can think of bringing peace and stability to the region without Pakistan.

The US has indicated that it will stay in Afghanistan even after pulling out of the landlocked country in 2014. It seems to be an eyewash and a plan to keep intact US domination over the region which is rich in natural resources. US hegemony and such acts of belligerence will only add fuel to fire and increase radicalisation and consequently terrorism. Not only this, Washington wants to leave Afghanistan by handing over charge to the pro-India Northern Alliance as its proxy. This strategy is also unlikely to bring peace to the region.

The Pashtuns in Afghanistan make up a big part of the Afghan population. They were, however, left out and alienated after the Taliban were toppled in 2001. It is necessary to take them on board. The costs of war project statistics show that peaceful political measures used in 268 cases against terror groups from 1968 to 2006 proved the most effective, with a 43 percent success rate, followed by intelligence and policing methods at 40 percent. There was only seven percent success when military action was used against terror groups.

Obama needs a battlefront for his election campaign and Pakistan is a perfect place to wage another ‘war’ to keep his vote bank intact and increase his rating. First it was the Raymond Davis affair, then the Abbottabad raid and now mounting pressure and unrelenting harangues on Pakistan with the ‘do more’ mantra.

If the US now opens a new battlefront, this time in Pakistan, the results will be disastrous for both America and the entire region. If the US has failed to achieve results in Afghanistan in 10 years, it cannot seriously expect to win its ‘war on terror’ through blitzkrieg in Pakistan. It is time for a more holistic approach and a more prudent diplomacy and dialogue: in short -  a change in US interventionist foreign policies.

About the author

Shazad Ali is a contributing analyst at Open Briefing, the civil society intelligence agency. He is also a journalist with nearly 20 years experience in print and online journalism. He has been the assistant editor of the Vienna-based journal Perspectives on Terrorism and now serves as a member of its editorial board. 


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