U.S. Foreign Policy Experts Split on Unilateral Action against al-Qaeda in Pakistan

Pakistan is again the focus of The Atlantic Monthly in its regularly surveying of American foreign policy experts. It asked 41 foreign policy authorities:

  • Should the United States unilaterally go after al-Qaeda leaders and training camps in Pakistan?
    • Results: 50% Yes; 50% No
  • How likely is a U.S. incursion into the tribal areas in the next two years?
    • Results: 65% Somewhat Likely; 18% Highly Likely; 17% Highly Unlikely

It should be noted that none of those surveyed were Pakistan or South Asia specialists.

Some selected responses to the first question:

  • Yes:
    • “While it was a reasonable balancing of risks to give the Pakistanis the time and space to deal with the re-growth of al-Qaeda base on their territory, that time has now passed as it has become clear that they have neither the will or capability to do so. It would certainly be better to do this with stealth than with a large footprint operation, but the time for a direct response is now.”
    • “As al-Qaeda gets stronger in Pakistan and as its leaders elevate their public profile in the shadow of Musharraf’s troubles, the pressure on the administration to do ‘something’ will be high, and it is possible that they will carry out some action to respond to domestic pressure during an election year.”
  • No:
    • “Unless we can be (and how could we be?) 100% sure of finding and capturing Osama Bin Laden himself, the downside—in Pakistan above all but [also] in the Muslim world at large—of being seen to trample on Pakistani sovereignty and to attack and kill Muslims in a Muslim land would be immense, with no comparable gain.”
    • “[It is] better at this point to seek joint operations with Pakistani forces. Unilateral operations by the United States, except in the event of a devastating terrorist strike in the United States shown to emanate from the tribal areas, would be hard to justify and [would] produce a counterproductive backlash in Pakistan.”
    • “Even the best planned raids and air strikes come with probabilities and risks attached, but we should have learned that American unilateralism, especially when other people die, invariably comes with a heavy price tag.”

Participants: Graham Allison, Ronald Asmus, Samuel Berger, Daniel Blumenthal, Stephen Bosworth, Daniel Byman, Warren Christopher, Wesley Clark, Ivo Daalder, Douglas Feith, Jay Garner, Leslie Gelb, Marc Grossman, John Hamre, Gary Hart, Bruce Hoffman, Laura Holgate, John Hulsman, Robert Hunter, Tony Judt, Robert Kagan, David Kay, Andrew Krepinevich, Charles Kupchan, John Lehman, James Lindsay, Edward Luttwak, John McLaughlin, William Nash, Joseph Nye, Carlos Pascual, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Kenneth Pollack, Joseph Ralston, Susan Rice, Wendy Sherman, Anne-Marie Slaughter, James Steinberg, Shibley Telhami, Anthony Zinni.

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An Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan

If the stakes weren’t so high, the segment of above could simply be seen as an exercise in stupidity. But with U.S. engagement with Pakistan at perhaps an all-time high, both countries entering important political transitions and facing multiple intersecting security threats, the laughter should perhaps be followed by tears.

Richard Miniter, a right-leaning polemicist cum-”expert on terrorism,” appeared on the Fox News Channel’s Hannity and Colmes show Friday night (the second highest rated cable news program in the U.S.) to discuss the attempted Bhutto assassination. While the print media has extensively quoted Pakistan and South Asia specialists, H&C decided in favor of the author of related (and quite fair and balanced!) books, “Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror” and “Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush is Winning the War on Terror.”

Producers at the most popular cable news network in the United States decided it was best for a partisan hack to brief the American public on an already critical country that recently experienced a monumentally important event. Miniter proved to informed viewers (if there were any) that he was ignorant of Pakistan save for a Wikipedia entry he perhaps skimmed before coming on the show.

Here’s a re-cap of his misadventure into Pakistani history:

Ludicrous Statement No. 1: Former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was killed “partly for corruption, but also because of political dissatisfaction.”

Correction: Though corruption is endemic in Pakistan’s politics, Z.A. Bhutto was executed after being convicted (in a questionable trial) of ordering the extrajudicial killing of a political opponent. Are corruption and political dissatisfaction grounds for execution anywhere? It’s like saying JFK was assassinated because of his extramarital affairs.

Ludicrous Statement No. 2: Next, Miniter stated that if Benazir Bhutto “stayed in her home in Morristown, NJ,” Friday’s carnage “wouldn’t have happened.”

Correction: First, let me just say that Benazir staying out of Pakistan for security reasons is a slippery slope. If she decided to postpone her return and the threats continued, her self-exile would perhaps be never-ending. BB can, however, be faulted for actions taken after her return: having an absurdly long procession and a mediocre security detail surrounded by untrained young boys who literally were guarding her with their bodies and nothing else.

But where in the world does Miniter get that BB has a home in Morristown, NJ? The Harvard and Oxford graduate has assets that, in some estimates, exceed a billion dollars. She inherited leadership of a Sindhi feudal family and Pakistan’s largest political party. Her main homes are in expensive areas like Dubai and Karachi’s Clifton area. There’s also her family feudal home in Larkana, and she presumably has access to her husband’s luxury condo in Manhattan. So why would a landed, Ivy League educated, two time prime minister of Pakistan have a home in a middle class town in central Jersey?

Ludicrous Statement No. 3: Alan Colmes, the program’s meek co-host, decided to get into the mix and asked Miniter of Benazir, “Didn’t she make a deal with Karzai to come back and have some kind of a unity government?”

A puzzled Mintier asked, “With Karzai of Afghanistan?”

Colmes attempted to correct himself, “Ah, uh I’m sorry, with Sharif.”

Mintier scored a point, informing Colmes that Pakistan’s ruler is “Musharraf.”

Ludicrous Statement No. 4: Miniter reverted back to old form, stating that Pervez Musharraf, “siezed power from Sharif, who was the same member of Benazir’s political party and that political party was suspected in the 1990s of taking money from al-Qaeda.”

Correction: Nawaz Sharif leads an altogether different party — his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League. Sharif is a center-right politician, a Punjabi businessman. Bhutto is a center-left politician and a Sindhi feudal. They fiercely competed against one another throughout the 1990s and the bitterness remains. Miniter’s statement would be similar to saying that Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush are part of the same political party. I won’t even get into the al-Qaeda comment.

Ludicrous Statement No. 5: Mintier topped it off with this gem: “And so really the people of Pakistan have the choice between Islamists, either radical or not, and corrupt Marxists… there isn’t much of a political debate despite those ends of the political spectrum.”

Correction: Wow. Marxism fizzled in Pakistan in the 1950s. Perhaps it re-emerged in the late 1960s into the 1970s, but the tendency were co-opted by Bhutto’s People’s Party, a populist social democratic party that was overtaken by feudals not too long after its founding. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and rise of Zia bid adieu to Marxism for good.

The three major centers of power in Pakistan are Musharraf’s liberal authoritarianism and center-left and center-right quasi-democratic parties. Islamists are on the second tier along with liberal constitutionalists. Marxists are not even on the radar. That’s like calling Hillary Clinton a Marxist — wait, some already do.

Ludicrous Statement No. 6: Mintier: “even now when he [Musharraf] flies, he flies [with] a foreign air crew and foreign security force protects him, not Pakistanis…”

Correction: This is a case of the ‘Musharraf is threatened from within’ paradigm gone mad. He’s no Karzai. Pakistan is no Afghanistan. Plain and simple.

Ludicious Statement No. 7: Guest co-host Mark Steyn asked, “Who’s going to be able to re-assert Pakistani sovereignty over [Waziristan]?” Then he followed by asking, “Why don’t we just go in there when we have to?”

PS: The Fox News Channel appears on many cable television providers in Pakistan.

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Benazir Bhutto on IAEA access to A.Q. Khan

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New Media Face for Pakistan’s Foreign Office

Pakistan’s Foreign Office has announced that Muhammad Sadiq, the former deputy chief of mission (DCM) at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, will be replacing Tasnim Aslam as spokesperson. Aslam, a Fletcher School graduate, was the first female to hold the position in Pakistan’s history. She will vacate the position in two weeks, after having served for two years.The appointment of Sadiq as Aslam’s successor indicates the Pakistani government’s desire to bring in a diplomat with significant experience handling the U.S. media. Sadiq served as DCM in Washington from 2002-05. This gave him critical experience in a post-9/11 United States; additionally, Sadiq’s tenure in Washington witnessed a number of other challenges, including the nuclear proliferation scandal involving Abdul Qadeer Khan.

The choice of Sadiq is a step in the right direction, but Islamabad needs a more aggressive and comprehensive communications strategy to counter a discourse on Pakistan in the United States that is not only ill-informed, but increasingly dangerous. Some of my thoughts on how Islamabad can successfully defeat the ‘push on Pakistan’ dynamic are expressed here.

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[Op-Ed] Obama, Osama and American Trauma (The Daily Times)

The Daily Times

August 18, 2007

By Arif Rafiq

Pakistan is emerging as a frontline state in yet another war: the battle for the presidency of the United States.

The firestorm caused by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s roundly criticised pledge to violate Pakistani sovereignty should President Musharraf not respond to actionable intelligence concerning Al Qaeda has since subsided. But rather than letting out a sigh of relief, Islamabad should see Obama’s comments as an ominous sign of things to come.

The current US political environment makes Pakistan the ‘perfect culprit’ during high-stress periods in the American “war on terror” and is marked by increased levels of pessimism towards and opposition to the war in Iraq and an imminent, subverted, or successful terror plot against a Western country. A bi-partisan consensus on Iraq as an irreversible failure or a successful terrorist attack on European or US interests could put Pakistan in great difficulty.

There are two reasons for this push-Pakistan dynamic. First, it is easier to go after identifiable targets than an elusive adversary. Plus a thought is precipitating that the Taliban-Al Qaeda lifeline starts in Pakistan. If Pakistan is not effective in stemming the tide on its side, there is no point mopping up the floor in Afghanistan; the US should attempt to turn off the tap and that lies in Pakistan.

Second, it is election season in the US: partisan sentiments are high, terrorism is a major issue, and American voters prefer strength to weakness. Democrats largely favour a pullout from Iraq, but by no means will lay down their guns. They cannot be seen as pusillanimous, so they will replace ‘a war that cannot be won and should have never been fought’ (in Iraq) with the ‘real war Bush didn’t finish’ (in Pakistan-Afghanistan). The Pakistan card is the Democrats’ means to establish their national security credentials.

Republicans might have little choice but to join the chorus. This is an unlikely scenario and dependent on their abandoning Iraq and the easing of US-Iran tensions. The latter possibility would generate interest in and free up resources to focus on Pakistan and a ‘winnable war’.

But the most dangerous is the potential for unilateral action in Pakistan by the Bush administration. It is conceivable in two scenarios. In the first, a legacy-driven Bush administration in its last year in office is desperate to cap the war on terror and needs a ‘decisive’ achievement. It possesses what it believes trustworthy intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri in the northwest of Pakistan. Pakistan’s ruler at the time is politically, militarily, and psychologically unable to act upon the information. Seeing its potentially last opportunity to apprehend or eliminate one or both of Al Qaeda’s top two vanishing, Bush authorises one or more of the following against the high-value target(s): a US Predator strike, capture by teams of US Special Forces, or elimination by a not-so-surgical air strike.

In the second scenario, Al Qaeda successfully attacks the US again and a mix of intelligence, assumptions, and political convenience help Washington conclude that the plot emanated from Pakistan. Not only does the American president authorise actions from scenario one against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, but sees fit and is compelled by political allies, opponents, and public opinion to punish Islamabad diplomatically, economically, and even militarily.

The range of potential punitive actions against Pakistan is wide and the resulting damage even wider. At its worst, Pakistan could be cemented as an economically backward, socially fragmented, politically unstable, militarily weak international pariah for decades.

So what must be done to prevent such a dire outcome? Islamabad must first appreciate that a worst-case scenario is indeed possible. Next, it must take preventative measures to reverse the push on Pakistan trend before it fully takes hold.

At home, it must work to develop a broad political coalition sufficient to decisively eliminate or apprehend those in Pakistan engaged in or plotting terror both within and outside of the country. Additionally, it needs to convince its sceptical populace of the need to confront terrorists militarily. Finally, it should wean the indigenous population of Waziristan from foreign terrorists that have entrenched themselves among them.

In the United States, Islamabad must commit to a pro-active and wide-ranging communications and diplomatic programme to reshape and consolidate elite and popular opinion of Pakistan. More specifically, it should help shape an American political discourse in which calls for unilateral strikes in or punitive actions against Pakistan by credible individuals are inconceivable.

Pakistan’s diplomats work most effectively with their American executive branch counterparts, but are ill-equipped to deal with the broad spectrum of actors involved in a potential push-Pakistan policy. The Pakistan Foreign Office must select appropriate internal and external talent to liaise with leading Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns; relevant members of Congress and staffers; editorial boards, news and opinion writers for key newspapers and major mainstream and partisan magazines; Middle East and South Asia experts in the US think tanks; hosts of major cable news and talk radio programmes and elite bloggers.

Islamabad must figure out how to ensure that its perspective is processed through the vast political machinery in Washington — the vast community that makes things happen. It can no longer afford to simply speak to the man at the top, especially since he is close to leaving.

Islamabad can take heed from its counterparts in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, who in recent years each tasked a young, media-savvy diplomat (versed in American, not British English) with speaking before the US media. The Saudis’ rocky road post-9/11 was softened by the smooth-talking Adel al-Jubair.

Additionally, the Pakistani government should invite each major presidential candidate and their foreign policy advisors to meet with senior political and military leaders. Briefings with top Pakistani officials and secure tours of areas close to the Pak-Afghan border will also help greatly in making these candidates understand the complexity of the situation. This would be timely and critical as US politicians’ perspectives on Pakistan are remarkably undereducated and fluid.

Lastly, Islamabad should also consider periodically embedding major print and electronic American journalists with Pakistani military units along the border with Afghanistan. Firsthand glimpses of Pakistani forces in action, combined with meeting families of slain Pakistani soldiers, best display Islamabad’s commitment to combat terrorism.

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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