That Pakistan Problem

Rachel Maddow covers Pakistan's order to shoot at US troops. Following reports of a US raid into Pakistan which was turned back by border guards firi


Rachel Maddow covers Pakistan's order to shoot at US troops.

Following reports of a US raid into Pakistan which was turned back by border guards firing into the air, the Pakistani military - which have the vocal backing of their president and prime minister, have issued a statement about any future raids. You don't get much clearer than this.

...Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told The Associated Press that after U.S. helicopters ferried troops into a militant stronghold in the South Waziristan tribal region, the military told field commanders to prevent any similar raids.

"The orders are clear," Abbas said in an interview. "In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire."

The Pentagon's entire response - speaking for the Bush administration because no-one higher has made a statement - is to send out a spokesman to tell reporters that Pakistan will be told to change its mind.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said Pakistan would "correct the record" on the latest statement. "We enjoy good cooperation with Pakistan along the border," said the spokesman, Bryan Whitman. "Pakistan is an ally in the global war on terror."

The Bush administration's motto really is "We make our own reality".

Recent reports have it that Bush himself ordered this new belligerence on the part of US forces along the Afghnaistan/Pakistan border - over the objections of his entire intelligence community who said it would destabilize Pakistan's political balance, possibly fatally. Since then, both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have both endorsed the stance made by Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who has stated that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops on its soil and Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended "at all costs".

Afghanistan, India and NATO allies alike have said for a long time that the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, controls and directs Islamist extremist groups including the Taliban and groups carrying out attacks inside India. It is also said to have close ties with Al Qaeda. But for domestic political reasons American politicians and pundits have previously tended to ignore those ties. Only recently, following officially orchestrated "leaks" from the Bush administration, have the American establishment media began to suggest the truth - that the Bush administration has been thoroughly played by Pakistan throughout the "war on terror".


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... even some Pakistanis said the U.S. government was naive to think that Musharraf or his generals would do much to find bin Laden. They noted that Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency had cultivated ties with the al-Qaeda leader for two decades and that many officers remained sympathetic to his cause.

Afrasiab Khattak, a Pashtun politician based here in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said Pakistani forces would occasionally help the CIA capture second-string al-Qaeda figures, but only to keep the aid money flowing from Washington.

"The Bush administration deceived itself," he said. "From the very beginning, the Pakistani generals were playing a double game. It was an open secret."

Khattak said he has warned U.S. officials since 2000 of bin Laden's close relations with Pakistan's spymasters, adding that he tried to alert Washington after 2002 that al-Qaeda was rebuilding in the tribal areas.

"We kept telling the Americans, 'They are here.' They said:'No, no. This cannot be true. General Musharraf is very committed, he's with us,' " recalled Khattak, president of the Awami National Party in North-West Frontier Province.

The aim of these new raids, and recent strikes by Predator drones, is to strike at Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaida leadership. But if a strike is to kill Bin Laden, or the Taliban's leader Mullah Omar, it will likely do so at a safe house owned by the ISI, which would cause an anti-American explosion in Pakistan's military and convulsions in Pakistani society which would certainly oust anyone willing to back the US. Several former senior intelligence officers went on the record for the Washington Post recently to say that the risks of this new policy outweigh the benefits and former officials from both NATO allies and Pakistan agreed:

"This has become incredibly complicated and messy," said a former senior British intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The Americans have been talking about inserting themselves militarily into the tribal areas since 2005, at least. But I think it would just complicate the whole issue by a very significant factor."

... "We thought, and we still think so, that the American strategy should have been to stabilize the area rather than look for a needle in a haystack," said Mahmood Shah, a retired civilian security chief for the tribal regions.

"If you find him now, the problem still won't be resolved," he said of bin Laden. "Maybe you'll get the fish, but you'll poison the pond around him."

Several supporters of Barack Obama have recently noted that Bush's new policy of cross-border raids echoes one part of Obama's stated policy for Pakistan - the part John McCain attacked him for. Their line has been that even Dubya disagrees with McCain on this one. But on this occasion both Obama and Bush are wrong. McCain isn't right though - just clueless. He has no plan at all except to continue what Bush used to do before he started doing what McCain had already condemned Obama for suggesting.

To some, this might look like bad news for Obama's foreign policy - the McCain campaign has characterized his stance as saying Obama would invade Pakistan in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and others - but that would be to only look at soundbytes. Obama's position is actually more nuanced. This is what he wrote:

The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won’t. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.

Make no mistake: we can’t succeed in Afghanistan or secure our homeland unless we change our Pakistan policy. We must expect more of the Pakistani government, but we must offer more than a blank check to a General who has lost the confidence of his people. It’s time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people. That’s why I’m cosponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda. We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam.

The first paragraph there, which sounds like it was written by the ZBig contingent of Democratic hawks in Obama's campaign, is the part that has gotten most attention - and was probably intended to do so. It's a hawkish soundbite and, in general, presidential candidates have rarely suffered from sounding hawkish to the American electorate.

Even so, it clearly calls for carefully targeted attacks on high-level terrorists, not indiscriminate bombing or shooting of villagers based on fingerpointing for bounty money. One of the problems with Obama's plan, of course, is how to target strikes that well. As Bob Woodward wrote the other day, the US military certainly has the equipment and expertise to carry out extensive real-time integrated electronic intercepts, intelligence gathering and command - what's been called "collaborative warfare" - but all the technology and people to do that are still mired in Iraq chasing Al Qaeda (who wouldn't be there if Bush hadn't invaded).

The other is Pakistani hostility to America which such strikes would only worsen - and that's where the second part of Obama's plan comes in. The second paragraph reads more as something that could have come from a progressive think-tank. It calls for a Marshall Plan of civilian aid to Pakistan, aimed at stabilizing the economy, the government and people's lives. That's far more the kind of thing that's needed - removing the levers by which the Taliban and their ISI handlers manipulate Pakistani politics, making America obviously a friend to the people as well as the feudal military elite, and thus removing their ability to stay safe and hidden. Even SecDef Bob Gates agrees with it.

It's a great plan and in my humble opinion is something Obama should be stressing far more. Especially as a contrast to McCain's policy on Pakistan - which is to continue the Bush administration's transfer of alliance from a dictator in uniform to one of the most corrupt figures in a very slimy political pool while keeping Pakistan's military supplied with F-16 fighters and ship-killing missiles which have little or no use in any battle against the militants but can instead have only one real target - India. Arming both nuclear-armed sides in a Cold War which has boiled over into violence several times over the years - always at Pakistan's instigation - is pure insanity.

From material originally posted in a different form at Newshoggers

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