Up in Flames

By Hajari, Nisid; Moreau, Ron | Newsweek, October 18, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Up in Flames


Hajari, Nisid, Moreau, Ron, Newsweek


Byline: Nisid Hajari and Ron Moreau

Pakistan's proxies are killing American troops and blowing up their supplies. So, how exactly are we allies again?

Of the two nations described jointly as "AfPak," one has nuclear weapons and the other doesn't. One has a population of 175 million and a GDP of $166 billion; the other has only 28 million citizens, a literacy rate under 30 percent, and an economy, if you don't count the opium trade, worth no more than $13 billion. One is a haven for Osama bin Laden and the remnants of the terror network that launched the 9/11 attacks. The 100,000 U.S. troops sent to root out Al Qaeda are in the other one.

By now the notion that Pakistan is the real "prize"--the strategic center of gravity--in the Afghanistan war hardly bears repeating. Yet in a telling moment in his book Obama's Wars, Bob Woodward notes that during the administration's deliberations last year, when then-national-security adviser Jim Jones suggested referring to the region as PakAf instead, the Pakistanis were immediately "distressed ... that the inversion might suggest that Pakistan was the main problem." Nobody wanted to upset our Pakistani allies; AfPak it has been ever since.

In America's relationship with Pakistan, carrots predominate, in part because we have so few sticks. After our almost unquestioned support for Pakistani dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf didn't elicit sufficient cooperation against the Taliban, we showered the civilian government that replaced him with $7.5 billion in aid, to little effect. American generals praise the very real sacrifices--in blood and treasure--made by the Pakistani Army in the fight against militants in Swat and South Waziristan; yet calls to broaden the campaign to North Waziristan, home to one of the deadliest Afghan insurgent groups, the Haqqani network, go unheeded. U.S. and Pakistani diplomats recite platitudes about "our common enemy, and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari repeatedly invokes his assassinated wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to underscore his dedication to battling extremists. But that depends on whose extremists.

The events of the past week make clear why the United States has been so solicitous. After a U.S. helicopter attack across the border killed two Pakistani soldiers at a frontier outpost, Islamabad shut down one of the main crossings into Afghanistan in protest. Three quarters of nonlethal supplies intended for Coalition troops in Afghanistan travel through Pakistan. The crossing point quickly clogged with trucks that couldn't pass, making them easy targets. Militants torched more than 100 fuel tankers as Pakistani authorities largely stood aside and watched.

Impeding supply routes is not the strongest leverage Pakistan can bring to bear. The high-tech drone war that has eviscerated Al Qaeda's ranks--killing 17 commanders in the last nine months--is run out of Pakistan and is largely dependent on Pakistani intelligence for targeting. Islamabad publicly denies any role in the Predator strikes, and loudly protests the collateral damage when civilians are killed. But it hasn't grounded the CIA's drones--so far.

America's forbearance, though, is waning. In a report sent to Congress on Oct. 4, the Obama administration admitted that "the Pakistan military [has] continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan." There is a reason for this--a "political choice," as the report says. The Pakistani military has long tolerated Afghan insurgents like the Haqqanis, who direct their attacks into Afghanistan only. Those groups--which include the Quetta Shura, led by the one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar--are Islamabad's insurance policy, agents who are meant to look after Pakistani interests when the United States eventually withdraws the bulk of its forces from the region. (Pakistan vehemently denies supporting any militant groups.

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