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.