US should not invade Pakistan

Fol­low­ing a state­ment by the US intel­li­gence chief that he believes Bin Laden is alive and hid­ing in Pak­istan, come fears that the White House may actu­al­ly con­sid­er raid­ing the Pak­istan trib­al areas to try to cap­ture Bin Laden. Some opin­ions inter­pret the home­land secu­ri­ty adviser’s remarks as an open admis­sion that the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary has already staged attacks against Al Qae­da with­in Pak­istan. Still oth­ers think that invad­ing Pak­istan, not Iraq, is an oppor­tu­ni­ty lost.

These remarks have caused the expect­ed stir and angry respons­es: Pak­istan has react­ed angri­ly, and a pro-Tal­iban leader from South Waziris­tan has warned against any US mil­i­tary incur­sion.binafp

The real mil­i­tary options avail­able to the US are all unpalat­able, how­ev­er:

When asked how the Unit­ed States would respond if Al Qae­da were to plot a suc­cess­ful attack on the Unit­ed States from the trib­al areas, the answer from one intel­li­gence offi­cials was direct: “We’d go in and flat­ten it.”

But the US is fac­ing a major dilem­ma:

There can be no wait-and-see approach by the US in terms of Pak­istan, but nei­ther can there be any uni­lat­er­al action like a covert oper­a­tion against these areas,” says Karl Inder­furth, a for­mer assis­tant sec­re­tary of State for South Asian affairs. “That would be the kiss of death for any broad move against the extrem­ists, and it would inflame the already strong anti-Amer­i­can feel­ings in the coun­try.”

So, what should the US do? While I am the staunchest sup­port­er of the ‘war on ter­ror’, I think (like many oth­ers) that it has gone ter­ri­bly wrong. One of the rea­sons Al Qae­da is gain­ing ground is that the US strat­e­gy is alien­at­ing all Mus­lims:

Amer­i­cans who think that all Mus­lims hate the Unit­ed States may be sur­prised to hear that many Mus­lims believe they have it pre­cise­ly back­ward. Our ques­tion­naires showed that Mus­lims world­wide viewed Islam­o­pho­bia in the West as the No. 1 threat they faced. Many Mus­lims told us that the West­ern media depict them as ter­ror­ists or likens them to Nazis.

The above arti­cle, “Bush still doesn’t get it”, is an excel­lent read “gal­va­nized by the need to help Amer­i­cans bet­ter com­pre­hend the Mus­lim world”. Yet anoth­er op-ed from the Bal­ti­more Sun echoes this view:

Al-Qae­da is not sim­ply an out­law orga­ni­za­tion that can be put “on the run.” Rather, it is part of a broad, reli­gion-based social move­ment that has deep sup­port in ele­ments of the Mus­lim world. If al-Qae­da can be iso­lat­ed and deprived of pub­lic sup­port, it will with­er and die. If not, it will con­tin­ue to be a resilient fran­chise capa­ble of regen­er­a­tion, growth and ulti­mate­ly addi­tion­al strikes inside the Unit­ed States.

Point 1: US needs to be more sen­si­tive to Islam­ic aspi­ra­tions, and project a vision for the future that embraces mod­er­ate Islamism. It can do many more dif­fer­ent things in Pak­istan, like help­ing revamp edu­ca­tion (a dear thing to many Mus­lims), rather than sim­ply pour­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in aid for the army, which the peo­ple of Pak­istan say is ulti­mate­ly used against them.

Sec­ond, a civ­il war or extrem­ist surge across Pak­istan would be worse than not cap­tur­ing Bin Laden. This has to be pre­vent­ed at all costs. And the only polit­i­cal process that can help avert that is democ­ra­cy. How­ev­er, after six years of sup­port­ing Musharraf’s dic­ta­tor­ship, there are sen­si­tiv­i­ties involved that need to be bal­anced. But sup­port­ing the roots of democ­ra­cy would like­ly pay off:

More broad­ly, how­ev­er, the US must work – fast – to pres­sure Mushar­raf into open­ing up Pakistan’s polit­i­cal sys­tem and tap­ping into its shal­low but exist­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic roots, experts say. “Mushar­raf sim­ply won’t be able to mount an effec­tive cam­paign against the extrem­ists with­out broad civil­ian sup­port,” says Cohen. And for that, he adds, the mil­i­tary leader will have to move to a sys­tem of pow­er- shar­ing that encom­pass­es Pakistan’s polit­i­cal par­ties.

Point 2: Urgent­ly pur­sue all diplo­mat­ic efforts to broad­en the polit­i­cal sup­port for the war against extrem­ism in Pak­istan. Chacko from Indi­an Mutiny even exhorts India to take up the cause.

Why am I writ­ing this? There are many rea­sons why Amer­i­ca should not invade Pak­istan. This blog post by Eric Mar­go­lis, who has actu­al­ly spent time in these trib­al areas of Pak­istan, offers a real­is­tic on-the-ground pic­ture and rea­sons why America’s inva­sion of this ter­ri­to­ry would be a cat­a­stroph­ic mis­take. I can only add that it would com­plete­ly desta­bi­lize the entire region. India can­not afford the risk of civ­il war or an extrem­ist Pak­istan. We can­not afford Pak­istan turn­ing into Iraq Ver­sion 2.0.

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  • I strong­ly agree. If a neigh­bor­ing farm is infest­ed by locusts, how long will my farm remain safe?
    That said, it was Pak­istan and US that incu­bat­ed this.

  • An extrem­ist Pak­istan is not a threat.
    An extrem­ist N-capa­ble Pak­istan is, and not just to India.

    Pak­istan is already a declared Islam­ic state, it won’t take an Amer­i­can inva­sion to turn it to rad­i­cal­ism. They are already on the verge of it. There is enough sup­port with­in the ranks of their mil­i­tary and ISI for the Tal­iban.

    Pak­istan of today, her army and weapons are America’s cre­ation.

    Now that the same weapons have been turned away from east and towards West, they do not like it. But they have to deal with it, and stop or erad­i­cate that threat. It may well have to be an inva­sion.

    India is no safer if Amer­i­ca does not invade.
    Maybe less.

  • One thing is for sure, if Amer­i­can attacks the NW region of Pak­istan, they are going to alien­ate Mus­lims and this is not going to help the war on ter­ror.
    What I keep won­der­ing is that is this the only way to get Bin Laden? Because if they do attack they might kill every­one except him! See how many peo­ple they killed just to get Sad­dam!

  • Neigh­bor­ing farm infest­ed by locusts!” — what an anal­o­gy! Great.

    If they attack, they alien­ate” — exact­ly. And the reper­cus­sions fol­low. The “real mil­i­tary options” that are “unpalat­able” linked NYT arti­cle describes the actu­al options of attack: covert action / air-strikes / large-scale ground offen­sive. All of them are high­ly prob­lem­at­ic.

  • I hope that we stay out of Pak­istan (I am Amer­i­can — Well I am a dual cit­i­zen of Greece and Amer­i­ca — but I was born in Amer­i­ca and spend most of my time here). Where was I?…

    Oh, Pak­istan. I think we would be incred­i­bly stu­pid to attack Pak­istan. Luck­i­ly, I do not think it will hap­pen. No one over here likes Bush right now, and we are cer­tain­ly not going to back anoth­er Iraq type con­flict. There is a big push to pull our troops out of Iraq not put more troops into anoth­er hos­tile sit­u­a­tion.

  • I hope you’re right and I also believe the US will not hasti­ly invade the Pak­istan ter­ri­to­ry. But, what if details of a plot to blow up the White House were to emerge with the per­pe­tra­tors sus­pect­ed to be in this Pak­istani ter­ri­to­ry? What will hap­pen then (and this is not a com­plete­ly unlike­ly sce­nario) may be the real acid test of the war on ter­ror.

  • I would hope that if the US chose a mil­i­tary response is such a sce­nario that it would be a small spe­cial ops engage­ment tar­get­ed at the ter­ror­ists, not anoth­er ‘war’. That said, my first hope would be some sort of diplo­mat­ic response. But, of course, it is Amer­i­ca. And we are not very good at diplo­ma­cy.

  • Well said. I ful­ly agree!

  • Until the US mind­set changes from a pre­sump­tu­ous mas­tur­ba­to­ry “they hate us because we are free, we are great, we are this, we are that”, and real­ly try to under­stand the root prob­lem as to why they are such deep dif­fer­ences, I am afraid we are stuck in a loop. This loop start­ed many many decades ago even before Israel. The iraq war is just the lat­est iter­a­tion — just one bat­tle in a long ongo­ing mess.

  • Arunk-

    I think that Arunk has a point. But it is impor­tant to remem­ber that Amer­i­ca is also a cul­ture of fear. It is a sub­tle fear but it under­lies every­thing and is a fair­ly sig­nif­i­cant force behind the ram­pant con­sumerism over here. Our media pref­er­ences the dis­as­trous, hor­ror sto­ries. Peo­ple are fed mur­der, war, and hos­til­i­ty every minute of every day here. And fear is what drove the public’s accep­tance of Iraq. Now, what drove the politi­cians might have been some­thing else. In any case, I hope that the pub­lic is a lit­tle smarter when it comes to Pak­istan.

  • Arunk: thanks for vis­it­ing — I com­plete­ly agree!

    Aika­ter­ine: This is a very good insight — “a cul­ture of fear”. I’d nev­er thought about it that way. Yes, I have always observed how the US media comes up with an unend­ing feed of hor­ror and dis­as­ter sto­ries but I thought it was just sen­sa­tion­al­ism. I nev­er thought it caters to a cul­ture of fear. Thanks for the insight!

  • Mahen­dra -

    I think the best way to sum up the neg­a­tive parts of the Amer­i­can cul­ture is to think of it as a cycle of fear and con­sumerism. Imag­ine that you are shown all of the vio­lence and dis­as­ter, so you have a view of the world that is influ­enced large­ly by fear. Again, it’s sub­tle, you might not rec­og­nize it. But it is there. And then you are shown com­mer­cials and adver­tis­ing for prod­ucts that are sup­posed to make you feel bet­ter. You want to get the girl, buy this car. You want to make your wife hap­py, buy her this ring. Peo­ple think you are ugly, buy this face cream to help with your blem­ish­es. Prod­ucts will make you feel bet­ter, no need to wor­ry any­more. We can all feel good about our­selves and be safe if we just buy enough stuff. And we are so busy chas­ing the ‘Amer­i­can dream’ in order to be hap­py and alle­vi­ate our fears that we do not have time to stop and ques­tion what our polit­i­cal lead­ers are doing.

  • Aika­ter­ine: what an insight and what a cre­ative way to look at it! The way you tie fear and con­sumerism — I’m sim­ply speech­less! I’m so glad to have your com­ments on my blog — thank you very much…

  • aika­ter­ine — very inter­est­ing per­spec­tive. But then con­sumerism is every­where and not unique to US (albeit it per­haps is most there). But I like the angle as to how it can cre­ate an arti­fi­cial pro­tec­tive shell for its cit­i­zens. BTW, all this talk made me share a thought I had for a while about coun­tries in gen­er­al. If you are inter­est­ed: see my blog.

  • Arunk: please feel free to com­ment on my blog and dis­cuss about the top­ic I’ve writ­ten about. But please don’t use it as a forum to divert read­ers to your blog — that is some­thing, which is frowned upon in gen­er­al in the blo­gos­phere. That is why I’ve removed the direct link to your post — those who’re inter­est­ed can still dis­cov­er your post via the link on your user­name. Thanks and hope you keep vis­it­ing!

  • oh sor­ry. A new­bie mis­take as I am new to blog­ging. Will cer­tain­ly avoid it in the future

  • Pingback: On American Imperialism « An Unquiet Mind()

  • Fateh Moham­mad

    As a Pash­tun from trib­al areas, let me state that the author’s knowl­edge about FATA and its peo­ple is at best scarce and frag­men­tary. An evi­dence of this is, that he also includes Chi­tral in FATA (which is a dis­trict of NWFP).

    The author either doesn’t know or ignores the fact that it has been the con­sis­tant demand of the FATA peo­ple that polit­i­cal, legal, and admin­is­tra­tive reforms be extend­ed to Trib­al Areas but the fed­er­al Pun­jab-dom­i­nat­ed govt of Pak­istan is ignor­ing such demands for a num­ber of rea­sons, fore­most such reforms would strength­en Pash­tuns of Pak­istan polit­i­cal­ly and would put an end to Pakistan’s use of the imag­i­nary but much prop­a­gat­ed inde­pen­dent-mind­ed­ness of FATA peo­ple as guise for interef­er­ence in Afghanistan and attack AL-Qaueda/­Tal­iban to attack NATO and oth­er forces.

    In real­i­ty, as Afrasiab Khat­tak, the provin­cial pres­i­dent of Awa­mi Nation­al Par­ty, the Pash­tun nation­al­ist par­ty, and ex-chair­man of Human Rights Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan, has recent­ly said, fed­er­al govt of Pak­istan has more con­trol in Trib­al Areas than it has set­tled dis­tricts.

    It is unfor­tu­nate that the exter­nal world learn about Pash­tuns and FATA from jour­nal­ists and schol­ars that are either not prop­er­ly aware about the region or the peo­ple or obtain infor­ma­tion from govt sources in Pak­istan, which is dom­i­nat­ed by Pun­jabis and Muha­jirs, whose inter­ests are best served if Pash­tuns, Baluchis, and Sind­his, the oppressed nation­al­i­ties of Pak­istan are paint­ed in a par­tic­u­lar way. Eric Mar­gu­lus writes for Dawn, a pro-Musharaf, pro-govt news­pa­per run by Muha­jirs, one of the domi­nent eth­nic groups that Musharaf comes from.

  • Fateh Moham­mad: Apolo­gies for the late response. Your insight into the FATA region sheds much more light to us out­siders, than we will ever know. I thank you for pro­vid­ing this glimpse of the real sit­u­a­tion. That Musharraf’s gov­ern­ment is using FATA for polit­i­cal pur­pos­es is some­thing unknown to the out­side and espe­cial­ly west­ern world.

    You haven’t com­ment­ed on the opin­ion I’ve expressed in my post. I still strong­ly think that the US should not invade FATA. If what you are say­ing is true, that is what should be brought out in the open by the west­ern media and gov­ern­ments. That will put enough pres­sure on Mushar­raf to put an end to his hypocrisy.