The War in Pakistan

By: Greg C. Reeson

The U.S. – Pakistan relationship is in crisis. Tensions continue to mount between the Bush Administration and a fractured Pakistani government over violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty by American military forces, and Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror is growing more tenuous by the day. Because Pakistan either cannot or will not secure its side of the border with Afghanistan, the United States has increasingly felt compelled to act.

There is some justification for U.S. actions. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines sovereignty as “supreme authority within a territory.” In no way, shape, or form does the Pakistani government have any semblance of control, let alone supreme authority, over the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) or the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters come and go freely, regularly crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan to conduct attacks on U.S., NATO, and Afghan security forces before retreating back to safe havens on Pakistani soil. The border, known as the Durand Line, is disputed by Afghanistan, which lays claim to the FATA and a portion of the NWFP, and senior al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are believed to be hiding on the Pakistani side. The border area is a disputed region in turmoil, part of Pakistan’s sovereign territory on maps only.

The security situation in Afghanistan is in steady decline. Attacks are increasing, as are coalition and Afghan deaths. The Taliban insurgency is expanding and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, has said he is not convinced the United States and NATO are winning.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is falling apart. The government is virtually nonfunctioning, the intelligence service is believed to be supporting insurgents in Afghanistan, and the internal security situation can be considered fragile at best. Pakistan can no longer be considered even the semi-reliable ally it was under Pervez Musharraf.

Something has to be done. Coalition forces in Afghanistan have been beefed up from 36,000 to more than 50,000 over the past year and a half. U.S. special operations forces have been operating inside Pakistan for years, and artillery and air attacks on Pakistani soil have occurred regularly since virtually the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. But that is not enough.

According to The Long War Journal, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have set up shop at more than 150 training camps and more than 400 support sites in the FATA and the NWFP. The United States, the Journal says, has conducted nearly 20 cross-border strikes this year, up from 10 in 2006 and 2007 combined. And we have not made a dent in the ability of insurgent fighters to cross into Afghanistan to attack coalition and Afghan forces.

So the Bush Administration is reviewing its Afghanistan strategy in order to find a way to turn the tide and set Afghanistan on a course toward stability. U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has a new Commander, General David Petraeus. More U.S. forces are set to be deployed to Afghanistan over the next year. And the implementation of any new strategy will no doubt include overt cross-border raids into insurgent strongholds on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line.

Of course, Pakistan says it is opposed to U.S. military operations on its soil. Both Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and head of the military General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani have stated that Pakistan’s sovereignty will be protected at all costs, and reports denied by both the United States and Pakistan allege that the Pakistani military has been given orders to fire on U.S. troops crossing the border. But given that there has been no break in diplomatic ties and no action by the Pakistani military against U.S. forces, it is reasonable to assume that much of the protestation expressed by the government of Pakistan is for domestic political consumption only.

At the end of the day, the leaders of Pakistan’s government recognize that they have a problem on their hands, and that they are ill equipped to deal with it on their own.

And while some have speculated that the use of U.S. ground forces on Pakistani soil is a desperate bid by President Bush to get Osama bin Laden before leaving office, it is more likely a case of long overdue recognition that the fight for Afghanistan cannot be won unless operations are extended beyond lines on a map that don’t reflect the reality on the ground.

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