The West Still Needs Pakistan

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan has never been a rosy one. The alliance has generally been sold by both governments as one of convenience instead of a genuine or unbreakable diplomatic partnership. After a turbulent period in the 1990s when American sanctions were levied on Pakistan’s nuclear program, relations improved dramatically after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Yet ten years later, those bonds are quickly breaking apart, with both countries viewing each other as unreliable and selfish.

With the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a town originally designed as a collection of residencies for Pakistani military officials, American-Pakistani relations are perhaps at their frostiest since more than a decade.

Unfortunately, however strained the relationship is now, it could freeze outright in the months ahead if the United States Congress acts boldly and prematurely. Outraged over Pakistan’s on again, off again struggle against Islamic extremism, both domestically and internationally, the legislature is currently taking a second look at Washington’s extensive economic cooperation with the Pakistani government. More specifically, lawmakers and their staffs are meeting, talking about and drafting proposals that would cut off a substantial amount of American aid to Pakistan on the assumption that its military and intelligence services either knew about Osama bin Laden’s hideout or actively sheltered him from American counterterrorism efforts.

Although the United States and Pakistan cooperate in a variety of ways, the provision of foreign assistance is by far the most important tenant of Washington’s commitment to the alliance. After Afghanistan and Israel, Pakistan was the largest recipient of foreign assistance in 2010. In 2011, Pakistan jumped to the number two spot (PDF), ahead of Israel, with a total package of approximately $3 billion per year. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid resolution that was passed by Congress last year added another $7.5 billion to that amount over the next five years. Ironically, one of the rationales for the Kerry-Lugar money was to remind Pakistani officials of their indispensability to the United States on a number of fronts, from counterterrorism to South Asian stability.

In total, the United States Congress has allocated $20.7 billion (PDF) in foreign aid since fiscal year 2002, with more than half of that money going straight into the pockets of Pakistan’s security establishment.

While discussions are still preliminary, Congress could draw back much of this funding if the Pakistanis refuse to convince American diplomats that they had nothing to do with bin Laden’s hideout. The general mood in the halls of Congress is unmistakably tilted against Pakistan — Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin and Senate foreign ops subcommittee chairman Patrick Leahy, the two lawmakers leading this camp, are among the most powerful in the Senate.

Pakistan’s position in Congress gets even worse when one considers the multiple ways that assistance can be decreased. The Kerry-Lugar aid could be delayed for an unspecified period of time or Congress could withhold money if Pakistan decides not to reform domestically. Reform is a broad term that encompasses a large array of issues, including the strengthening of civilian institutions, the changing of Pakistan’s tax system and the military’s retreat from civilian politics. The Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, which reimburses Islamabad for counterterrorism missions, could also be eliminated completely. This would perhaps be one of the most severe hits for the Pakistani government, due to the high operational expense of counterterrorism work, Pakistan’s already high inflation rate and its overall weak economy.

Just because the United States can cut foreign aid doesn’t mean it would be a wise policy however. For all of the heartache and stress that Pakistan has caused for the White House, the American armed forces and the intelligence community, that heartache might pale in comparison to the predicament that Islamabad’s institutional development would find itself in without American dollars.

The United States depends on Pakistan’s military for a smooth and protected route for coalition supplies traveling into Afghanistan, which is extremely vital for the counterinsurgency campaign against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. Absent Pakistani protection, it is difficult to conceive those supplies making their way into Afghanistan unharmed. In fact, NATO has already witnessed how quickly its convoys can be destroyed should Pakistan cease cooperation — hundreds of fuel tankers were attacked and destroyed by militants earlier this year when Pakistan closed a key border crossing. As long as NATO is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is little the coalition can do to push Pakistan hard.

Pakistani informants, whether government employees or private citizens, have also been extraordinarily valuable to the American drone campaign in North Waziristan, where Al Qaeda, Taliban, Chechen, Uzbek and anti-Indian militants are holed up. All of that success has the potential of being washed away should Congress withhold Pakistan’s share of allocated funds.

Pakistan has been burned by the United States repeatedly over the past four decades. In the 1970s, America distanced itself from Pakistan and shifted its diplomatic resources to its larger and more powerful neighbor India. In 1990, the CIA abruptly stopped funding Pakistan after the Soviet Union was driven from Afghanistan. This was followed by a decade of sanctions against Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program. And in 2005, Pakistani officials were sidelined again when President George W. Bush signed a highly publicized nuclear technology agreement with its Indian archrival. Pakistan, meanwhile, has grown to rely on China and Russia for its nuclear technology — further undermining South Asia’s fragile nuclear balance.

The Long Arm of American Military Power

In recent days, the United States government has exposed more details of the Navy SEAL raid deep inside Pakistan that netted Osama bin Laden. It looks like some of the White House’s earlier remarks about the operation were actually false, including the allegation that bin Laden was armed and deliberately used his wife as human shield.

In hindsight, some of those details should have been taken with a grain of salt anyway. With such big news, the Obama Administration was intent on providing information to the country as fast as possible. The fact that a large part of the original narrative was proven false, or at least inaccurate, is not all that surprising.

What is surprising, however, are the military options that were drafted before the bin Laden operation was given the green light by the president.

Upon turning on CNN and hearing the news of bin Laden’s death, I must confess that I immediately believed that a drone strike had ventured into Pakistani territory to take him out. The use of the pilotless aircraft has been a central tenant of the Obama Administration’s counterterrorism policy over the past two years, particularly inside the Pakistani tribal regions, which are beyond the reach of American ground troops. Since bin Laden was located in a city not too far from the capital of Islamabad, that assumption was eventually thrown out. Yet it turns out that airstrikes, in addition to a few other contingencies, were available to the president in case he wished to take a more conventional approach.

Before the mission was executed, three options were sitting on the president’s desk that the Joint Special Forces Command recommended. First on that list was an aerial attack on bin Laden’s compound, conducted by a B-52 bombing run, that would have literally destroyed the facility beyond recognition.

Although this would have been the safest option for American personnel and perhaps the best chance at making sure the terrorist leader was killed, a B-52 strike in the heart of Pakistan could very well have been seen by the Pakistani people as an attack upon their country. The site of a destroyed mansion and the prospect of civilian casualties, probably including women and children, would have further inflamed the Muslim world by poisoning a successful military operation into a public affairs disaster. And however strange it may sound, a failed strike against the compound might have inflamed bin Laden’s legacy as an individual immune from American military power. He was, after all, quite skillful at dodging American airstrikes over the past twelve years — first in Afghanistan in 1998 and then in Tora Bora in 2001.

The second option drawn up would have included a covert raid with the direct participation of the Pakistani Intelligence Directorate. Having the Pakistanis on board would have allowed the United States to claim some sort of Muslim collusion in the action. A joint operation would also have marginally improved American-Pakistani relations, which have been struggling lately.

Washington has relied upon Pakistani intelligence for many of their terrorism tips, the most significant being the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad in 2003. Unfortunately, the ISI doesn’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to fighting terrorism in an indiscriminate fashion — Pakistan’s military retains ties to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network which have been indispensable to the Pakistanis over the last fifteen years. (Both the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network promote Pakistani foreign policy interests by checking Indian influence inside Afghanistan.)

In a raid so important to the United States, both in symbolic as well as operational terms, the American intelligence community was understandably skeptical of soliciting help from the outside.

The third and final option was precisely the tact taken last Sunday — a unilateral and clandestine American mission executed by its most preeminent Special Operations Forces branch. A team of US Navy SEALs flew deep into Pakistan in the middle of the night, stormed bin Laden’s compound after extensive intelligence work dating back to last August, and took out the world’s most wanted criminal.

The successful killing of Osama bin Laden may not translate into much of a gain against the Al Qaeda organization in the long run. It was widely believed between American and European intelligence agencies that bin Laden gave up his operational status long ago and rebranded himself as the group’s most public spokesman and spiritual figure. But for the United States, whose military capabilities have been called into question since the struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fact that bin Laden is no longer on this earth reminds us all that the American military — and intelligence community — still boasts the world’s most talented and dedicated team of defenders.

Debating the Future of US-Pakistani Relations

Osama bin Laden’s death last week at the hand of American special forces was a victory in the country’s War on Terror. The fact that the terrorist leader was living in the heartland of Pakistan highlighted a major impediment to that very war effort at the same time — the ability of insurgents to find safe haven with Afghanistan’s eastern neighbor.

Even former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted to the “incompetence” of his country’s military and intelligence establishment this week when it turned out that bin Laden had lived for several years near an army base seventy miles northeast of Islamabad. Several American lawmakers wondered aloud whether the Pakistani intelligence service, which still maintains ties with the Afghan Taliban, didn’t shelter bin Laden.

National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon hadn’t seen “any information that would indicate foreknowledge by the political, military or intelligence leadership in Pakistan” however. He reminded ABC’s This Week that more people had died and more terrorists killed in and by Pakistan than anywhere else. “They have been an essential partner of ours in the war against Al Qaeda and in our efforts against terrorism,” he said.

More than 3,000 Pakistani soldiers and police have died in the fight against the Taliban and insurgents in the northwest of their country.

Even if some in Pakistan might have known about the terrorist leader’s whereabouts, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, the number two senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, stressed that division within their government probably prevented higher ranking officials from learning the fact. He, along with committee chairman John Kerry of Massachusetts, dismissed calls to end the more than $1 billion in aid the United States send to Pakistan each year. Kerry, in fact, saw an “enormous opportunity” to reevaluate America’s relationship with Pakistan while admitting that the two nations’ interests not always converged.

The Pakistanis have had a different set of interests about India, a different set of interests about what kind of Afghanistan they want to see. They’re apprehensive about a 350,000 person army being built up in Afghanistan on their border. They have a different interest on nuclear weapons.

“All of that,” said Kerry on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday morning, “has to change” and “can change.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed that America shouldn’t “cut off” Pakistan in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper earlier this week. “We’ve always known,” she said, “that there are elements of extremism in Pakistan and even in some of its institutions. There was a significant effort to purge some of those elements after 2001 by Musharraf and to get forces that had no links to extremism.”

The former Pakistani president, a career military officer, allowed the United States to gather intelligence on his soil and execute military strikes against suspected Taliban strongholds. He helped destroy the Taliban although Islamabad probably couldn’t have had an Afghan regime that was more compatible with its national interests.

The operation of what is largely a Punjabi army in predominantly Pashtun border provinces has pushed Pakistan onto the brink of civil war. The army’s offensives in the region displaced nearly half a million people. Until two years ago, the battle was confined to the tribal areas but since 2008, it has spread into Pakistan proper with bombings and assassinations taking place in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.

Since the United States are preparing to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 — “come hell or high water,” according to Vice President Joe Biden — Pakistan has to prepare for the eventuality of a Taliban resurgence if not the emergence of an autonomous “Pashtunistan” occupying its tribal provinces in the near future.

Rice therefore warned against a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying, “We have to be very careful that we don’t leave the job unfinished so it becomes a safe haven again.” Avoiding that, she argued, involved modest “nation building” operations.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney similarly urged caution, pointing out on Fox News Sunday that during the late 1980s, “after we solved the Soviet problem, everybody left Afghanistan and […] ultimately the Taliban took control, Osama bin Laden showed up; it became a safe harbor.”

If we turn and walk away from Pakistan or Afghanistan or that part of the world generally, I’m fearful that we’re headed for trouble down the road.

Counterterrorism experts both within and outside of the administration have long insisted that the mere existence of sanctuaries across the border is undermining progress made in Afghanistan however where the Taliban remain active in the mountainous frontier region.

Bin Laden Meets His Maker

It took close to ten years, hundreds of billions of dollars, a total revamping of the American intelligence community and two wars but the United States have finally killed Osama bin Laden, the most notorious terrorist in the world and the mastermind of the biggest terrorist attack in modern history.

Late Sunday evening, President Barack Obama addressed the nation live from the East Room at the White House to announce bin Laden’s killing.  “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s efforts to defeat Al Qaeda,” he said, adding that “we must and we will remain vigilant” in the face of future terrorist plots against the American homeland.

Immediately following the president’s announcement, scores of happy Americans rushed to the gates of the White House, chanting “USA! USA!” while New Yorkers converged on Ground Zero to celebrate the death of a man who killed their friends and family members.

The mood is truly euphoric, for many Americans often questioned whether the United States would ever find bin Laden, let alone kill or capture him. Indeed, bin Laden became a household name in American homes, not only for his central role in the 9/11 operation but also for his maneuverability and his propensity for avoiding justice.

Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and subsequent overthrow of the Taliban government, bin Laden managed to escape persistent bombing raids on his Tora Bora headquarters. Since that escape, he ventured into Pakistan and attained a ghostlike figure.

That ghostlike figure is now a ghost, literally. While the details are leaking out, it appears that American intelligence first discovered bin Laden’s large compound last August, culminating in Obama’s order last week for a Navy Seals Special Forces team to enter Pakistan and take him out.

There are more than a few interesting questions about the operation, as well as its potential fallout.

  • The Pakistani military and Pakistan’s intelligence service were not involved in the kill or capture mission. US Special Forces and CIA personnel executed the operation unilaterally without any direct assistance from the Pakistani government. Was Washington keeping the mission secret, afraid that disclosure would leak and tip off bin Laden? If so, what does that say about the US-Pakistan strategic relationship, which has soured to its lowest point in years over counterterrorism?
  • Contrary to popular wisdom, bin Laden was not hiding in a cave along the rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Rather, he was residing in a large mansion in Abbottabad, a city of 100,000 outside of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. The fact that he was deep inside Pakistani territory raises questions as to whether Pakistani intelligence knew about his location.
  • What will Al Qaeda’s response be? The terrorist organization has been famous for retaliating in short order whenever the United States or its allies killed one of their leaders or disrupted their plans. Precautions are already under way, with the State Department issuing a travel alert to all American citizens and police departments across the country beefing up their presence. Police in New York City will be on a heightened state of alert over the next couple of days and weeks.

    Expect a statement from Al Qaeda soon, and an Al Qaeda orchestrated attack where security is especially weak, either in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen.

Bin Laden’s death may not degrade Al Qaeda’s operational capabilities all that much since he has played more of a symbolic and spiritual role for the organization over the past couple of years. But his demise will certainly comfort families who lost loved ones on 9/11. No one can bring back the victims from that horrible day but at least now there is a small amount of closure.

Petraeus’ Untimely Departure From Afghanistan

As part of a shakeup of his national-security team, President Barack Obama is expected to nominate General David Petraeus to direct the CIA. Petraeus currently commands American and ISAF forces in Afghanistan but acquired fame as the general who led the “surge” in Iraq in 2007.

Petraeus would replace Leon Panetta who is set to succeed Robert Gates as defense secretary this summer. Marine Corps Lieutenant General John Allen would move from his post as deputy commander of US Central Command in Florida to take over the Afghan campaign.

The general’s move to intelligence is far from expected as defense analysts considered him a potential next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Michael Mullen is expected to retire from that position in October.

The staffing changes come at a pivotal moment for the war in Afghanistan where Petraeus is supposed to start withdrawing troops after the summer. Because the country is bracing for a violent season, the general hasn’t made his recommendations for a drawdown in troop levels yet. Close to 100,000 American soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan and Petraeus likes to keep as many as possible for as long as possible.

According to the administration’s latest assessment of the war, the “surge” in Afghanistan, which saw 30,000 additional American troops deployed last year, has had considerable success, particularly in the Pashtun dominated south, although gains made there remain fragile and reversible.

American combat operations have mounted in number and intensity under Petraeus’ command. Night raids have significantly increased. Airstrikes nearly doubled. But in part because the Taliban have sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan, they continue to be able to menace the population of areas and towns that are won by the coalition. Moreover, Afghanistan’s civil administration is often ineffective and corrupt, undermining a counterinsurgency effort that is designed to win the “hearts and minds” of the populace.

Taking Petraeus out of Afghanistan at such a critical juncture in the war may seem an odd decision and it has already been criticized by some conservatives. Petraeus has only been at the job since the summer of last year when he replaced General Stanley McChrystal. Although that was supposed to be a mere “change in personnel, not a change in policy,” according to Obama, the Iraq veteran worked to improve relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and tried to convince the Pakistanis to crush the militants that are operating along their western frontier.

Both Karzai and Pakistan have staked a lot on America’s commitment to Afghanistan. After the terrorists attacks of September 11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf provided more support for the war effort than any Western ally. He allowed the United States to gather intelligence on his soil and execute military strikes against suspected insurgent strongholds. Islamabad helped destroy he Taliban though it couldn’t have had an Afghan regime more compatible with Pakistan’s national interests.

Pakistan is now itself on the brink of civil war. American officials continue to urge it to step up its campaign against the Taliban in North Waziristan and the tribal area west of Peshawar but the Pakistanis are reluctant, arguing that they should first consolidate gains in South Waziristan and Swat before opening another front. Instead of expanding its efforts, the Pakistani military has demanded an end to American drone strikes in the border region which are deeply unpopular among the local population.

Karzai’s government is under mounting pressure from the Taliban and its sympathizers and has suggested that it might have to reach some sort of accommodation if American troops to pull out. Petraeus’ departure would make it all the more difficult for the Obama Administration to convince its allies in Islamabad and Kabul that it is not quickly bolting for the exit despite waning support for the war at home.

Pakistan Demands End to Drone Strikes

Pakistan has demanded that the United States seize drone strikes against Islamic militants operating along the Afghan border and reduce the number of intelligence and Special Operations personnel working in the country.

The request highlights the unpopularity of American counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan. One Pakistani official told The New York Times that drone operations had become the sole preserve of the United States with Americans no longer sharing information on how they were choosing targets.

Given the inability of Pakistani armed forces to root out the Taliban and terrorist presence from their mountainous frontier, the United States have dramatically increased the number of drone attacks since December of last year and expanded them into the province of North Waziristan and the tribal area west of Peshawar. The Pakistanis have been reluctant to deploy force in those areas, arguing that they should first consolidate gains in South Waziristan and Swat before opening another front against the insurgents.

As American military officials see it however, the mere existence of Taliban sanctuaries across the border is hampering progress in Afghanistan, making it difficult for American and ISAF forces to consolidate their own gains and allow Afghan civilian authorities to administrate territories effectively once the Taliban have been ousted. Read more “Pakistan Demands End to Drone Strikes”

New UN Report Shows Shift in US Strategy

Civilian casualties during NATO military operations in Afghanistan have been the biggest bone of contention between the United States and the Afghan government over the past two years. As Hamid Karzai has grown increasingly independent of American influence — even as his government has grown increasingly dependent on American, European and Japanese assistance for development projects and government ministries — he has found it much easier to speak openly about how unhappy he has been over the deaths of Afghan innocents.  Of course, avoiding civilian casualties is extremely difficult for the United States and its partners, especially as coalition forces increase their operations on Taliban hideouts and pour more resources into highly populated areas. Indeed, the recent accidental killing of nine Afghan boys by a NATO airstrike is a testament to brutal and confusing warfare can be.

But while civilian deaths are difficult to avoid, American and British troops have done a much better job over the past year eluding civilians during their operations, according to a United Nations report on Afghan civilian casualties. The study (PDF), conducted by the Human Rights Unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, is a long collection of assessments, charts, maps and graphs supporting its fact finding mission, yet the Associated Press ran a short story summarizing its main findings.

Civilian casualties did in fact increase by a disappointing 28 percent from the previous year (2009), but the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) found a way to decrease their share of the deaths by 26 percent.

Numbers can at times be consuming, but in this particular circumstance, the 26 percent decrease supports many of the conclusions that General David H. Petraeus and his operational command have been making over the past several months; that coalition troops are not only taking great care to stay away from local residents during attacks but are limiting their missions against very specific targets.

As expected, foremost among those targets are suspected Taliban hideouts, which have been severely degraded by frequent night raids by US Special Forces. The raids are controversial and unpopular in Afghanistan but they have not disappointed on results. Thousands of anti-government insurgents have been captured and thousands more (mainly low to midlevel Taliban field commanders) have been killed.

The statistics from the UN report also reveal an intelligence component that is especially important to the coalition going forward. The acquisition of accurate and actionable intelligence from those on the ground is undeniably one of the variables that have led the coalition to a more sustained campaign of precision targeting. As more accurate information makes its way up the chain of command, it is more likely that troops in the field will succeed in their operations with a substantially lower amount of collateral damage. It’s an obvious interpretation, but one that could convince more Afghan civilians to step forward with information.

This is good news tactically, since troops are finding it easier to locate Taliban fighters and weapons caches around areas that were “no go” zones only a year ago. But far more significant to the mission in Afghanistan is whether the decrease in civilian deaths is boosting Washington’s strategic advantage in relation to the enemy. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is still murky given the difficulties of measuring Afghan public opinion at a time of war.

The UN study also has implications for how the United States and its partners are actually conducting the war. Counterinsurgency (COIN) has become a common mantra in American military doctrine today, with the conventional use of force taking a secondary position in relation to the protection of the local population and the provision of enough security to win their support.

Counterinsurgency is reliant both on military and nonmilitary (or civilian) measures of success. Yet on the nonmilitary aspect of the strategy, there is cause for concern. General Petraeus himself acknowledged that a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan remains way off into the distance. The Taliban leadership, unmolested in Quetta, remains steadfast in its refusal to engage in negotiations with the coalition as long as foreign troops are on Afghan soil.  Members of the Taliban that have actually stopped fighting the government and have switched allegiances are not being integrated into Afghan society as quickly as Petraeus would hope.

In this context, should COIN still be the overarching war strategy for the Obama Administration? The high level of enemy combatants killed and the tedious pace of reconciliation suggests that the ISAF may be focusing more on what the military regards as kinetic operations, or classic war fighting capabilities. In Afghanistan at least, COIN may be a dead concept.

A Bad Week for Pakistani Politics

With an Islamic insurgency raging in its cities and millions of its citizens still displaced from widespread flooding, Pakistan’s leadership is increasingly losing control of its own country. Add political paralysis the mix, as well as the prospect of government collapse, and the situation inside Pakistan becomes even more dangerous.

The first bulletin comes to us from the halls of power in Islamabad, where a major political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, abruptly withdrew its support for the coalition government of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Pakistani politics have always been susceptible to this type of behavior: the main parties in the country view each other more as rival street gangs than legitimate political actors. The MQM and President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — two large members of the government — are especially hostile toward one another. At times, the hostility has exploded onto the streets of Karachi where gunmen from each party have targeted the supporters of the other. This past October alone, members of the MQM have shot and killed dozens of Awani National Party (ANP) supporters who are primarily ethnic Pashtuns from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Evidently, this political violence was not enough. Politicians from all major Pakistani factions have now taken their grievances inside parliament, where they should have been all along. Yet those grievances rarely get solved. Decades of tension that should have been solved long ago is left to fester. It has now exploded with the departure of the MQM. If Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari are unable to retain their slim majority, Pakistan’s military may take matters into its own hands.

The second story coming out of the country is the apparent assassination of the most powerful governor inside Pakistan, Salman Taseer.

Taseer was the governor of Pakistan’s largest and most strategically important province, Punjab, and officials are already describing his death as the most significant since the killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Bhutto’s death was attributed to the Pakistani Taliban; Taseer’s was orchestrated by one of his very own bodyguards.

This story is still developing, but it is having a shockwave affect on the Pakistani media. Taseer was quite the media savvy politician. He had an enormous following on Twitter where he frequently spoke out against religious extremism in all its forms — most recently about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. His protests may have finally caught up to him.

When Religion Meets War

What do you do when you know the exact location of a top level terrorist operative, but dropping a bomb on that location would cause a firestorm that could engulf an entire country into further chaos? Do you suck it up, assess the target and kill the people responsible for numerous attacks? Or do you take the high ground, consider the political context and wait to fight another day?

These are the types of questions that American intelligence analysts are asking themselves in Pakistan today. The target in question is a recruitment and training center of the Haqqani network, an independent insurgent organization responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The American military believes that Haqqani leaders meet at this location on a near weekly basis, training new members and planning for the next operation.

It sounds like a slam dunk case. The only problem is that this Haqqani compound is a mosque; the most potent and influential symbol in the Islamic world.

Therein runs the conundrum which the United States face as its armed forces continue to take the fight to militants in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. In fact, therein lies the microcosm of America’s battle against extremism of the past ten years; what is normally a “no brainer” in conventional military terms quickly turns into a tricky situation in a counterinsurgency environment.

The United States have run into a similar predicament before, when US Marines were heavily engaged with Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. The battle lasted for weeks, Americans were suffering heavy casualties and the Iraqi population of the city was often caught in the crosshairs. But as the Marines cleared the city block by block, they found themselves closing in on Sadr’s whereabouts. At one point, they circled Sadr’s exact location, inside one of Shia Islam’s holiest of mosques.

The Americans, faced with a choice of bombing the shrine or leaving it alone, wisely decided that the latter was the more plausible strategy. Surrounded from all sides, Sadr negotiated a ceasefire with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) at the time, promising to halt attacks against Americans. The United States withdrew and many conservatives became highly critical of the decision. Yet the ceasefire agreement saved the Unites States a lot of aggravation with the Muslim world (to put it mildly) at a time when the military was still grappling with the prisoner abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib detention center.

Six years later, the United States are in much the same situation, this time in a country that has a nuclear weapons stockpile and a heck of a lot more people (approximately 170 million). Thus far, the CIA has concluded that bombing the madrassa in Miranshah is not the best approach, fearing a violent backlash from ordinary Pakistanis. Instead drones have taken another approach to the problem, bombing the suspected militants coming too and from the site.

Coalition commanders who are eager for success in Afghanistan may be itching to pull the trigger on the mosque. But showing restraint, as the CIA is currently doing, may in fact be more effective in the long term rather than killing a few Haqqani militants now. If counterinsurgency depends on the support of the local population, the last thing the American image needs is another wave of angry protesters in South Asia.

Showing restraint, on the other hand, is the best essence of what General David Petraeus so often refers to as “strategic patience.”

India’s Strategic Doctrine of Lapse

George K. Tanham, a famous American military historian once said, “India doesn’t have a strategic culture.” In other words, India doesn’t have a strategy to project its power beyond the confines of the subcontinent. This shows a defensive realism on the part of Indian policymakers.

India had succumbed to numerous invasions from its northwest before it was colonized by the British for more than two centuries. The inability of Indian policymakers to understand what is happening around them in the world and formulate policies in accordance has been lacking since the days of Alexander the Great. Even if the Arthashastra, an ancient Indian text on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy was written in the wake of Alexander’s invasion, the art of successful statecraft was forgotten by subsequent Indian rulers.

Things have changed in recent years. India today is a nuclear weapons state; it has acquired great power status and aspires to permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

If India is just not rising but already had risen as President Barack Obama professed in his speech before the Indian Parliament last month, the country has a responsibility to project its power beyond South Asia.

For that to happen, India needs a blueprint. In statecraft, that is called strategy and if implemented, a strategic doctrine. Countries as China, the United Kingdom and the United States have national strategies and white papers which guide their military doctrines. Military doctrine is key to successful military planning and weapons procurement. It makes a country’s actions more predictable while the strategic debate will revolve around the strategic doctrine.

India clearly lacks such an articulated doctrine and this has left both policymakers and the military wandering on a path that leads nowhere. Top level strategists in India have to start thinking about their country’s future and its defense.

India claims that its military doctrine has moved to a “proactive” and “offensive” approach in recent decades. The Indian Army doctrine released in 2004 has popularly been dubbed as “Cold Start.” Though officially the army denies it, India does have plans to attack Pakistan and occupy the country with minimal civilian losses. Indeed, last month, while Obama toured the region, Pakistan said that it was because of the Cold Start doctrine that it needs to keep troops stationed on the western frontier which thus cannot engage in combating the Taliban along the Afghan border.

India’s contentious doctrine was framed after the India-Pakistan military standoff in the wake of the terrorist attacks against the Indian Parliament in December 2001. The army immediately mobilized under the code named “Operation Parakram” but the international community intervened to stop Indian troops from advancing into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. India then understood the need for a strategy which could produce swift results in penetrating Pakistan before any intervention from the international community, including the United States, could prevent it.

With this in mind, India framed the Indian Army Doctrine 2004. The Army Doctrine is updated every five years and has two parts. The first is accessible and declassified while the second is kept secret. Pakistan claims that these classified plans entail Cold Start.

Then there is a classified Joint Warfare Doctrine which was formulated in 2006 and includes the doctrine of the three services of army, navy and air force. The air force has its own doctrine which, too, is classified, however the Naval Doctrine, or Maritime Doctrine, is not.

Then there is a subconventional warfare doctrine for responding to terror provocations emanating from Pakistan, prescribing the use of “surgical strikes” and action on the Line of Control in Kahsmir.

With respect to China, India doesn’t have any concrete plans even if both political and military planners are worried about the possibility of having to wage a war on two fronts against both China and Pakistan. Logically, a two front strategy would first involve making thrusts into Pakistan in accordance with Cold Start to quickly shift the war effort to the eastern Himalayas facing China.

India claims to have attainted the necessary nuclear deterrence however its Draft Nuclear Doctrine of 1999 calls for the use of conventional forces before deploying atomic weapons. Against this background, one can understand a point made by American political scientist John J. Mearsheimer in The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001). He believes that great powers are feared not because of their nuclear weapons but because of their ability to project their armed forces beyond their borders. Mearsheimer cites the example of the Soviet Union and forces the argument that it was the Red Army that was feared in the Western Europe, not so much the Soviets’ nuclear arsenal. Indian policymakers needs to understand this and can’t sit with the fact that India clearly lacks a doctrine that ignores the worst-case scenario of a two front war.

One country that used to be in a similar position was early twentieth century Germany. Like India, it faced the prospect of a two front war, against both France and Russia. The famous Schlieffen Plan called for the quick elimination of France before venturing into the Russian heartland. But the military strategy was not backed up with sound German politics and diplomacy. That is another key lesson India must learn.

Unfortunately, the political establishment’s response to the army’s initiative has been limited. It should pursue a “whole of government approach” to balance diplomacy, the relative weight of the three armed services and conventional capability versus strategic deterrence.

If India intends to play a greater political role in the Asia Pacific, it has to fully exploit the advantages of its continental and maritime geography and prepare for the worst-case scenario. A good first step would be appointing a Chief of Defense Staff as recommended by the Group of Ministers. Although a decade has passed since that recommendation, politicians in India have so far refrained from creating the position. A Chief of Defense Staff would ensure greater cooperation among the armed services, the bureaucracy and the political leadership however, especially in times of crisis. In general, a paradigm shift has to occur in India’s strategic thinking from defensive realism to offensive realism.