National Security Network

Pakistan Descends

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Report 23 April 2009

Pakistan Pakistan al qaeda Bush administration conservatives Obama Administration SWAT Taliban


News reports that insurgents have drawn within 70 miles of Pakistan’s capital dramatize how dramatically the security situation there has deteriorated over the last year.  The extremist insurgency has spread from the Northwest frontier into the resort district of Swat and now into the district of Buner, which borders Swat, lies just 70 miles from the capital of Islamabad, and offers access to a major highway connecting Islamabad with Peshawar. Additionally, terrorist attacks have spread throughout Pakistan and there are growing indications that the Taliban has made serious inroads into Punjab, Pakistan’s most populace province. The weak Pakistani government has sought to accommodate the insurgency instead of confronting it – and this has failed. If the insurgency continues to spread, it could threaten the viability of the Pakistani state.

This crisis is critical to the security of the United States. Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, has served as safe haven for al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups, has frequently gone to war with India, and holds some of the keys to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Yet despite Pakistan’s critical importance, we are only now emerging from eight years without a comprehensive Pakistan strategy. While its focus was on Iraq, the Bush Administration bet all its resources in Pakistan on supporting one man, Pervez Musharraf, whose authoritarian rule collapsed amid popular outrage. Now the Obama administration is left to pick up the pieces of this failed approach.  Its moves toward a comprehensive strategy –a high-level special envoy, military assistance that is accountable and focused on the insurgency, and expanded economic and humanitarian assistance to address the root causes of instability – has drawn support across the political spectrum.  But the picture is a very challenging one.

Grim developments in Pakistan, as Taliban elements draw within 70 miles of Islamabad. The Wall Street Journal reported today that “Pakistan's Taliban seized control of another district in the country's northwest just 70 miles from the capital after consolidating their hold on the Swat Valley, according to local government officials and residents.  The latest Taliban advance into the Buner district has spurred fears that a controversial peace accord, which allows the militants to enforce sharia law in Swat, has emboldened them to expand their influence.”  According to the New York Times, “[t]he fall of the district, Buner, did not mean that the Taliban could imminently threaten Islamabad. But it was another indication of the gathering strength of the insurgency and it raised new alarm about the ability of the government to fend off an unrelenting Taliban advance toward the heart of Pakistan.”  The insurgency’s latest actions followed on the heels of reports last week that elements tied to the Taliban were moving out of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier, and into the central province of Punjab.  “Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country. The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said,” reported the New York Times last week.  Yesterday, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the stakes in Pakistan: "I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, a nuclear-armed state." [WSJ, 4/23/09. NY Times, 4/23/09. NY Times, 4/14/09. Secretary of State Clinton, 4/22/09]

Obama administration plans a comprehensive approach to address Pakistan’s series of interlocking challenges.  Pakistan faces a series of interlocking challenges, which necessitate a comprehensive approach.  Apart from an increasingly emboldened insurgency, Pakistan’s economy faces huge obstacles.  “South Asia’s second-largest economy was forced to turn to the IMF for a rescue package in November to avoid defaulting on its debt, after the country’s foreign-exchange reserves shrunk 75 percent in a year to $3.5 billion and the current-account deficit widened to a record,” according to Bloomberg, and it is uncertain whether the situation is stabilizing.  Finally, Pakistan’s internal political battles have further weakened the ruling government, which “narrowly survived a meltdown” last month as a result of a political crisis involving Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his rival, Nawaz Sharif.  In response to these interconnected problems, the Obama administration has mounted a comprehensive strategy, which not only pressures Pakistan to confront its insurgent threat, but also includes substantial economic and political assistance .  Recognizing that “a campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone,” President Obama encouraged Congress to pass the Kerry-Lugar legislation on Pakistan, which “authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years.”  The Obama administration has also involved the international community , successfully soliciting pledges of more than “$5 billion in aid for Pakistan to bolster the country's economy and help it fight terror and Islamic radicalism,” according to CNN.  In addition, rather than intervene on behalf of one group in Pakistan’s complex political environment, Obama administration officials have sought engagement on all fronts.  As David Ignatius recounted for the Washington Post, the most recent political crisis “posed the first big diplomatic test,” for the Administration, and “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, joined by Holbrooke and Mullen, helped coax the Pakistani officials back from the brink” through sustained “pressure for compromise” on all the key players.  Finally, thanks to the persistent engagement of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen to “build a rapport with his Pakistani counterpart, General Ashfaq Kayani,” as reported in the Times of India, Obama can more effectively encourage Pakistan’s military to take actions to confront the country’s worsening insurgency. [Bloomberg, 4/20/09. Washington Post, 3/19/09. President Obama, 3/27/09. CNN, 4/17/09. Washington Post, 4/16/09. The Times of India, 4/5/2009]  

Bush administration lacked a comprehensive approach towards Pakistan.  Despite Pakistan’s geopolitical and security importance, the Bush administration never developed a comprehensive policy towards the region. Instead it relied solely on supporting President Musharraf and blindly giving money to the Pakistani military.  Foreign Policy magazine noted that the Bush administration “has consistently overestimated Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s value as an ally in the war on terror. Under Musharraf’s military rule, terrorism in Pakistan has increased and terrorist safe havens have expanded. Billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Musharraf’s authoritarian regime has done little to stem the tide of anti-Americanism sweeping this nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 160 million people.” A 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office said the Bush administration “has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA. Since 2002, the United States relied principally on the Pakistan military to address U.S. national security goals. Of the approximately $5.8 billion the United States provided for efforts in the FATA and border region from 2002 through 2007, about 96 percent reimbursed Pakistan for military operations there…the GAO found broad agreement, as documented in the National Intelligence Estimate, State, and embassy documents, as well as Defense officials in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan's FATA. No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed... neither the National Security Council (NSC), NCTC, nor other executive branch departments have developed a comprehensive plan that includes all elements of national power--diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support--called for by the various national security strategies and Congress. As a result, since 2002 the U.S. embassy in Pakistan has had no Washington-supported, comprehensive plan to combat terrorism and close the terrorist safe haven in the FATA.” [Foreign Policy, 11/07. GAO, 4/17/08]

Conservatives offering no new ideas on Pakistan, are supportive of Obama’s comprehensive approach. Conservatives now offer no ideas on how to move ahead.  While other serious policy issues have fallen prey to partisan bickering, conservatives in Congress and think tanks have not offered an alternative approach or detailed policy prescriptions.  Heritage and some other conservative analysts have not put forward new proposals but acknowledged the Obama critique of the past and echoed the Administration’s calls for change. As the Weekly Standard wrote, “Against this turbulent backdrop, President Obama has correctly noted that Pakistan should not be given blank checks; in the past, the United States often failed to gear its aid toward American strategic interests. Pakistan remains the critical country in the war against al Qaeda, yet too little aid has been directed toward counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations.” [Heritage, 4/22/09. Weekly Standard, 4/13/09]

What We’re Reading

Attorney General Eric Holder declassified a timeline of actions by senior Bush administration officials on the use of harsh interrogation tactics.  It reveals that these methods were approved as early as 2002.  Congress debates creating a panel to investigate the approval and use of these techniques.  Doubts about the effectiveness of the techniques continue.  The former head of Abu Ghraib prison says the release of the torture memos justifies her opinion that she was a scapegoat in the 2004 detainee abuse scandal. One of the key players in the creation of the interrogation program still remains at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The U.S. faces rising violence in Afghanistan. Reservists with civilian skills may be used to fill non-military jobs in Afghanistan.  A U.S. bomb-clearing squad based in Iraq heads to Afghanistan.  Kabul is overwhelmed by a building boom and imposes a construction moratorium.

A suicide bomber attacked a humanitarian aid station in Baghdad, killing at least 22.  Another suicide bomber attacked a group of Iranian pilgrims in Baquba killing at least 45. A new U.N. report proposes several options for the tense Kirkuk region of Iraq.

Russia launches efforts to get North Korea back into international disarmament talks.

A preliminary internal study by the Israeli military found that it did nothing wrong in the recent war in Gaza.  Human rights groups dispute the findings and call for an independent investigation.

The World Bank launches a stimulus program for developing nations.

Mohsen Rezai, a hard-liner and former head of the Revolutionary Guards, declared his candidacy in the Iranian presidential elections, criticizing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on economic issues.

China uses the global crisis to assert its influence worldwide and begins to build up its naval prowess.

Early results give the ANC a big lead in yesterday’s election in South Africa.

India votes today in the second part of its general election.  Shoe-throwing has become so popular in the Indian elections that at some rallies, attendees are asked to remove their shoes before entering.

An Islamist opposition leader returned to Somalia after two years in exile. Eighteen Somalis are in Kenya to face piracy charges.

Money from abroad flows into Lebanon to buy votes.  Though the freest and most competitive in decades, June’s parliamentary elections might be the most corrupt.

Commentary of the Day

Former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who interrogated Abu Zubadayah, disputes the claims that harsh interrogation techniques worked.  He also notes that contractors, not CIA officers, pushed for the use of the techniques.

Former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen says that the future depends on cooperation between the U.S. and China.  David Pilling looks at China’s rising naval power.

The LA Times debates President Obama’s vision of a nuclear weapons-free world.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend discusses Cuba policy and how her father, Robert F. Kennedy, would have rescinded the travel ban in 1963.