Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Decisive Battle?

And so it begins.  The Pakistani army is finally going into its nation's Taliban heartland.  To put what they face into perspective, operation Rah-i-Nijat - meaning Path to Deliverance - is not dissimilar to Nato's push into southern Afghanistan back in 2006.  South Waziristan tribal agency is the hive, where the most diehard of Taliban fighters reside and where foreign jihadis, mainly Uzbeks, have claimed their own mini-fiefdom, injecting a toxic mix of brutality and suicidal determination into Pashtun society.  Altogether, they claim to have tens of thousands of fighters, not to mention thousands more suicide bombers.

Pakistan is sending in 28 000 troops.  That works out to approximately 2% of its total military, reserve and paramilitary personnel.  My question is: What do they expect to deliver?  Sweets?

It's of course much too early to say how all of this will play out.  Pakistani military officials have been in negotiations with some militant groups in South Waziristan, hoping to convince them to stay out of the fight.  They are also relying on technology, begged and borrowed from the U.S., to help them focus their operations.  U.S. drones will be flying reconnaissance missions, jamming and surveillance equipment is being rushed out to the front.  Quite frankly, it all sounds a little familiar: these are the same tactics employed by the U.S. in Afghanistan, which begs the question: Who is really guiding Pakistani military strategy?

And ultimately, Pakistan has its own interests in the region, and they are not always in line with American interests.  So while on the one hand, Pakistan appears to be taking cues from the U.S. on how to fight, they have their own reasons for why they are fighting.  It's certainly not, as the U.S. would like, to clear the region of militants.  The Pakistani military is determined to rid its territory of militants who pose a threat to its national security but it is not so amenable to ridding its territory of all its militants.  Some of them are an asset.

Funny that.  During the recent debate in the U.S. over Afghan policy, one of the big questions was why the American troops are there in the first place.  What is their objective?  Defining objective guides policy.  One of the arguments being forwarded, largely by the conservatives, was that the U.S. should limit its objectives to dealing with al Qaeda in the region, what they define as the real threat to America's national security.  Fixing Afghanistan is not our problem, these hawks bemoaned.  These are the same hawks who quietly support violent dictators in other parts of the world, who have nurtured violent revolutionaries of their own in the pursuit of American interests.  Funny that.  They're not so different than the Pakistanis.


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