There Is No “Secret War” in Pakistan

Those who say America hasn’t been upfront about its role in Pakistan haven’t been paying attention.

A Pakistani soldier stands on top of an armored personnel carrier during an army exercise near port city of Karachi, 2007
A Pakistani soldier stands on top of an armored personnel carrier during an army exercise near port city of Karachi, 2007 (Zahid Hussein)

After three soldiers lost their lives in a roadside bomb explosion in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, American media seem to have suddenly discovered that their country is involved in Afghanistan’s volatile neighboring state as well.

The Huffington Post calls the conflict a “once-secret war” and quotes Wired‘s Noah Shachtman who asks, “Now can we start treating this like a real war?”

Shachtman wasn’t referring to the media’s previous lack of interest in the situation, though.

“When are we going to start treating this conflict in Pakistan as a real war,” he complains, “with real oversight and real disclosure about what the hell our people are really doing there?

Maybe at one point, this conflict could’ve been swept under the rug as some classified CIA op. But that was billions of dollars and hundreds of Pakistani and American lives ago.

Aside from the obvious that no “hundreds” of American lives have been lost in Pakistan, Shachtman’s suggestion that the government has somehow tried to cover up its military involvement in the country is simply false.

The war in Afghanistan is no war between nations. Coalition and NATO forces aren’t battling an Afghan state and the Taliban is no conventional enemy. Its tactics include guerilla, insurgency and terrorism while its warriors cross borders with little restraint — and little effort, it seems. The lack of control along the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, as well as the independent strongholds which Taliban affiliates in Pakistan maintain, make it impossible to ignore one country while trying to stabilize the other.

Some commentators may fail to appreciate as much, but the Obama Administration doesn’t.

The president has stressed time and again that Afghanistan and Pakistan ought to be considered as parts of the same war.

Late last year, both his secretaries of defense and state, Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, also said so in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Gates, at the time, agreed with what Henry Kissinger had argued: that the unstable border between the two South Asian states was a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism aimed at the United States. The former diplomat pointed out that “sanctuaries on the Pakistan side of the border supply and train the assault on Afghanistan and the allied forces assisting it.” No guerilla war, he warned, “has ever been won in the face of sanctuaries immune to attack.”

So, to answer Shachtman’s question: America has been treating this conflict as a real war since at least the day Barack Obama took office. Nothing has been “swept under the rug.” Instead, his administration has been clear about its intentions as well as its determination to prevent a Taliban power base from emerging in Pakistan.