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April 21, 2008

Confusion in Pakistan
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Without a doubt, the U.S. desperately needs to more sharply focus on diffusing the resurgence of al Qaeda on the Afghanistan/Pakistan frontier. But, it seems like our strategic shift from unabashed support of Musharraf's regime to the newly-elected civilian  government in Pakistan is creating a web of contradicting reports.  For instance, yesterday Mark Mazzetti in the NY Times reported that the U.S. Military Seeks to Widen Pakistan Raids:

American commanders in Afghanistan have in recent months urged a widening of the war that could include American attacks on indigenous Pakistani militants in the tribal areas inside Pakistan, according to United States officials.

Under Musharraf, America appeared to have carte-blanche to operate militarily in the tribal regions without prejudice  The new Pakistani government, though, is taking a more tepid approach:

The new government has signaled that in its relations with Washington, it wants to take a path more independent than the one followed by the previous government and to use military force in the tribal areas only as a last resort.

It's no surprise that  Pakistan's coalition government, for internal political reason, is more reticent in giving  our military free reign in the region, and this means we must take a new strategic path to going after al Qaeda militants. Last week, I wrote about a  Guardian piece that seemingly contradicts the NY Times report, and that America and the new Pakistani government have already struck a new strategic agreement that would effectively triple American aid to civilian counter-terrorism efforts as well as effectively end unlimited Predator strikes in the tribal border regions. And while the NY Times piece strikes a more aggressive tone, the Guardian piece quotes Administration officials as lavishing praise on the new government and taking a more delicate approach:

A US administration official said: "Each day Musharraf's influence becomes less and less. Civilians are in control. People aren't meeting with Musharraf any more ... we are very pleased with the new civilian government."

The new government says it has also won American support for its policy of opening a dialogue with Pashtun tribes along the Afghan border, led by an ethnic Pashtun group, the Awami National party, that is part of the government coalition.

And the Guardian article also importantly contradicts the notion that the U.S. wants to increase military efforts, and in fact an integral part of the new strategic agreement was a promise to decrease Predator attacks:

Pakistani officials say they have been given assurances by Washington that there will be close consultation with the civilian government, not with Musharraf, before any future strikes. However, the use of Predators is held as a closely guarded secret and US intelligence is reluctant to share information about targets, and there is some scepticism in Islamabad over whether the deal will stick. "We'll have to take them at their word, won't we," said the new information minister, Sherry Rahman, in an interview in Islamabad.

So, has the U.S. already rescinded on its word, as the NY Times report suggests? Or is it all part of a larger P.R. game, with what's being said publicly not aligning itself with private negotiations?  It seems to me that the Administration is simply trying to please all sides and is employing a delicate rhetorical balancing act. We don't want to distance ourselves completely from Musharraf, who still controls the military, but we also don't want to alienate the fragile and new coalition government in Pakistan. If they were to collapse due to acquiescing too much too American military demands, then the subsequent political strife would be bad for everyone's strategic interest.

 

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There’s clearly an array of powers at work creating the case right now for a war on the Pashtun tribal regions. These things don’t just happen in a vacuum. Wars seem to start with the careful choreography of the news media. The war masters, the maestros, start feeding their lap dogs, the press. The music is then played by the press for the rest of us to hear.

Notice how all the papers are beginning to play the same thing about the Afghan and Pakistan border? The theme of “lawless frontier” is being played every week. The sound drowns out the reality of a noble 5000 year old culture of some 42-million people.

We hear instead about the vilified denizens of a “lawless tribal frontier.”

What you missed it? Well, it’s only been playing for about two weeks. You need to tune in to the inside pages. The maestros have been composing for a while longer…. Their creative juices kicked in about the time Sen. Obama, answering one of those deadly sucker-punch sound bite questions showed us his war face telling us he would take action on “high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf "won't act.

That’s the sunshine it took to start the war-sap flowing. War-sap is sticky stuff, its residue has been known to encapsulate the creatures that get too near and preserve them there for posterity. There is a legal system in place of course, in this lawless frontier. It’s been there for 5000 years. The Pashtun call the system the jirga. But its not part of the sharia law, it’s unique to the Pashtun and precedes Islam by thousands of years. But we don’t sing about that just now.

Please, I definitely don’t want the Pashtun to start signing their homeland song either. I don’t want to learn that an 1893 border line drawn with the blessing of Queen Victoria divided a group of mountain dwellers along the Afghan and Pakistan boarder in two.

I thought mountain ridges where proper borders. Everybody uses them. I just can’t handle the sound of another this-a-stan or that-a-stan popping up. So please, I don’t want to know about a Pashtunistan. And I definitely have no interest in anything 5000 years old, if it means Obama can catch Osama on good intelligence, bring it on! That should be Commander Obama’s war face call: “Bring it on!” Hmmmm, that sounds familiar.

What is this Pashtuni-whatever, Pashtunwahli, anyway?

They openly express somewhat defiantly, total cultural independence and have seen conquering armies and powers come and go through the millennia. Probably because of their original geographic high mountain foothold they could stand off vast armies with terrain advantage. Well it’s about time maybe for all that to stop. And, how come they sound more like American cowboys than foreigners? Darn it, if we are going to start another little war, can’t we start it with some body that doesn’t live like my great, grandfather? The old Pashtun nationalist non-violent Kahn Abdul Gaffari Kahn 1930's photo, even looks like grandpa!

Setting aside the Pashtun mostly pray to the same God I do, grandpa did, and great grandpa too, how on earth did they adopt the same code as the old cowboy code of the west?

According to “lawless frontier” musical score, the first impressions I hear is Pashtun love rifles, chewing green tobacco, and appreciate a good sense of humor. So what's not to like? I can’t go to war on that.

If I fell out of the sky and landed in a group of people like that, I'd get along just fine, especially if I were being chased by the law. What they call Nanawateh we call asylum. Nanawateh is extended even to an enemy, just like the Cowboy Code of the Old West. Except if you are granted asylum (called Lokhay Warkawal) by the Pashtun elders as a group you're in like Flynn! They protect you even if it means forfeiting their own lives. Man that is lawless. Imagine a code of living where a principal was so honored, that it exceeded my duty to the state. Hmmm. Now that is lawless. Isn’t it?

You know, if the Pashtun just hang in there with there non-violent thesis a few more generations, they'll be the dominent culture of the entire region with the new awakening of intellectual prowess and coming Islamic Reformation which is beginning right now. Their hopes of control over their resources, a name for themselves, and an end to fundamentalist radical Islamic persecution will fade away and they will be the dominant culture. They would be wise to muster whatever assets are needed, magically go find Osama bin Laden and turn him over to the world court thus avoiding a coming war in the tribal area.

Better to just seek hospitality, then they’ll treat you like a king, which makes me want to open a 5-Star hotel somewhere in the snowy peaks along the boarder if I can find a few acres for a ski-lift not planted in opium poppies, viewed on Google Earth satellite, not that anyone is actually checking the carefully cultivated fields above 6,000 feet along the borders. I would feel right at home there, not unlike parts of Tennessee or California.

Look at the forces arrayed here. My little fantasy war is going to happen if the Pashtun don't cough up bin Laden. The Democrats need to show they can be trusted with national defense again, be it Hillary or Obama. And McCain says fight to win.

The second verse of the song is still being written: Floating the contingency balloon. Up, up, and awa-a-a-ay, in my beautiful ball-o-o-o-on….

Obama or Hillary, or McCain get sworn in January 20, 2009. By mid June, whoever is President is going to make a push into the boarder regions the so-called "lawless frontier tribal zones” and “on good intelligence,” unless of course my leader does it first before June 20th. The operation will be Pakistan’s (well okay we’ll give them a few billion). It will be a fast coordinated air-ground attack with airborne US intelligence and lots of surrounding US air cover as a safety check to insure the operation stays within operational parameters. Pakistani’s will not go into Afghanistan and vice a versa. Meantime the Pakistan Navy will be backed up (some would say surrounded and outgunned) by the US Navy to keep a lid on the operation seeing to it they don’t launch an attack on India by Pakistan Islamic fundamentalist-leaning ground forces. We’ll hold India’s hand throughout the entire episode and offer security where needed.


Up, up and awa-a-a-ay in my beautiful …. This thing’s going to happen regardless of who wins.


You can’t deny the poetic justice in someone with a Muslim name (Obama) catching a renegade terrorist (Osama). Can you imagine the songs that we could write about that? To the tune of “Froggy went a courting.”

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh,

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh,

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, he hunt Osama on the Mount,

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, un-huh. …..

The best time to wage this little war would be during the Chinese Olympics. China would likely remain quiet with their hands temporarily full with the Olympics.

So my fantasy, glorious, contingency war needs to be brief, violent, and force the Pashtun jirga to rethink their long term cultural interests. It needs to end with Osama in a holding tank, brought up on charges in the world court.

If it fails? Well what do you expect from the lawless tribal frontier area in Pakistan with questionable army allegiance? Corruption is everywhere.

I’d still like to open a 5-star hotel with some good ski-runs. You don’t suppose the opium production their so good at, has anything to do with the foolishness of some of our drug laws? Nah.


Victor Davis Hanson says you have to look at war with a long term perspective in order to understand its meaning. Long term is real long term. It may well turn out that while many say Bush's legacy must be a failure, history may have a completely different take on things, long after both you and I and our great grand children have come and gone. It may turn out, that doomed legacy of a Bush Presidency we hear so often this campaign-cycle ends up being written 1000 years from now as the President who started Islamic Reformation and brought freedoms that enabled thinking people to ask questions about religious practices that eventually changed the world and started the east and the west talking again.

The Ritz, I like that franchise, a 5-star Ritz, mini-conference center and 18-hole Tiger Woods certified golf course. A Pashtun bag-piper paying my old favorite, “The Ass in the Graveyard” with double malt scotch, in the bracing night air.

Respectfully,

Warbucks

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