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The New US Narrative on Pakistan

Pakistan Link, Commentary, Ahmad Faruqui, PhD Posted: May 20, 2009

Dansville , CA -- A new US narrative about Afghanistan and Pakistan is likely to emerge following the Washington summit between the presidents of the three countries.

While the three-way meeting was not without precedent, its somber mood was a visible reminder that the war against the extremists was not going well. President Obama, with Presidents Zardari and Karzai standing silently by his side, said: Im pleased that these two men, elected leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, fully appreciate the seriousness of the threat that we face and have reaffirmed their commitment to confronting it.

Realizing that many in Congress are skeptical of growing US involvement in the region, Obama linked the security of the US with that of the two countries. He indicated that the US had embarked on developing a comprehensive new strategy for the region.

But unlike his predecessor, Obama noted that the The road ahead will be difficult. The summit comes at a time when the US media is replete with dire headlines and graphic photographs covering the unfolding tragedy in Swat. This coverage is not limited to the national media but includes the far reaches of local media, both print and electronic.

The image of an extremist takeover in Pakistan that gives the jihadis control of nuclear weapons is now keeping many Americans up at night. Acknowledging these fears, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress recently that the Taliban posed a mortal threat to the Pakistani state, to the US and to the world.

She described as the unthinkable a situation in which the Zardari government was to be toppled by the Taliban, adding then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, and we cant even contemplate that. We cannot let this go on any further. The last sentence is ominous, unprecedented and pregnant with ramifications.

A week prior, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, had issued a blunt warning that Pakistans survival was at stake and that its future would be determined in the next two weeks.

The general said, The Pakistanis have run out of excuses and are finally getting serious about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists. But in the background, there is growing concern in US military circles that the Pakistani army may simply be incapable of defeating the Taliban, despite having superior technology and even if has finally made up its mind to go after the Taliban in earnest.

Despite its large size, which is in excess of half a million troops, the army does not have a glowing track record in fighting conventional wars against India . This has been documented in the copious histories by Brian Cloughley and Shuja Nawaz. And its track record in fighting counter-insurgencies is abysmal.

What will be the script of the new US narrative? It will probably be wrapped around the following elements: jawboning the political and military leadership in Pakistan so that it takes on the good fight, providing counterinsurgency training and military aid (helicopters and night vision equipment but no F-16s or M-1 tanks), delivering economic aid, reconsidering the drone attacks, and deploying special operations forces. A ground invasion of the kind associated with regime change is probably not on the list.

The Washington summit was a classic instance of jawboning. More such measures can be expected.

The Obama administration is moving to boost military and economic aid to Pakistan but it is running into stiff opposition in Congress to providing any aid without establishing concrete benchmarks. To expedite the delivery of aid, the administration is seeking to transfer authority for dispensing the funds to the Defense Department instead of the State Department but this is also running into Congressional resistance.

The US presidential emissary to the region, Richard Holbrooke, is fielding questions that suggest the US is going down a slippery slope as it did in Vietnam. Holbrooke has shot back that unlike the North Vietnamese, the Taliban, in conjunction with Al Qaeda, are the people who carried out 9/11, attacked Mumbai and killed Benazir Bhutto. He has reminded the skeptics that these people have talked openly of wanting to carry out an attack on Washington.

Another key variable is targeted missile attacks carried out by CIA-operated drones. Exploiting human intelligence on the ground, these attacks are launched from 20,000 feet and have been credited with killing militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

After the inauguration of President Obama, the CIA was asked to step up the drone attacks. It mounted at least 16 Predator strikes in the first four months of this year, compared with 36 strikes in all of last year. However, the mood in Washington is beginning to shift. The administration has recognized that they have created immense political challenges for the Zardari government.

The increased use of these missiles fired remotely by the US from computer screens in Las Vegas, Nevada has inflamed Pakistani public opinion as many of the dead have been civilians. Large-scale protests staged against the drone-launched attacks have forced the Zardari government into plausible deniability mode, denouncing the attacks publicly while allowing them privately.

With the redeployment of the 11 th Division from the border with India to the Swat Valley, the Pakistani army appears to be going into full gear to fight the Taliban. This has emboldened voices in Washington who never favored the attacks to ask them to be dialed back.

A retired colonel of the Australian army, David Kilcullen, who advised Petraeus during the Iraq War, told a Congressional hearing that while the drones had inflicted damage to Al Qaeda, they had deeply aggravated the local population. He cited the rising anger among the people could coalesce the population around the extremists and leads to spikes of extremism.

Kilcullen said that The Pakistani population sees the drones as neo-colonial, and they are especially unpopular in the Punjab, where there is a rising militancy.

Finally, there is the option of sending US commandos into Pakistan. If the operation now being carried out by the Pakistani army is successful, this option may remain on the backburner. However, given the serious tone of the comments coming from Washington, it would be nave to think that it will always stay there.

The only way to stop the US commandos from waging war on Pakistani soil is for the Pakistani army to eliminate the militants.

America Creating 'Talibanization' in Pakistan, Say Arab Media

Aid Group Forced to Halt Care in Swat, Pakistan

Pakistan Must Find its Own Solution to the Taliban Scourge

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