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Posted on Jun 2, 2009
The Petraeus strategy has strengthened radical Islamic groups within Pakistan.
On April 20, The Washington Post reported that “a suspected U.S. missile strike killed three people at a Taliban compound in the South Waziristan tribal region; such attacks have become a powerful recruitment tool for extremist groups in Pakistan as anti-American sentiment builds.” Extremist success has worked to “create an arc of radical religious energy between the turbulent, Taliban-plagued northwest region and the increasingly vulnerable federal capital, less than 100 miles to the east. They [extremists] also appeared to pose a direct, unprecedented religious challenge to modern state authority in the Muslim nation of 176 million.”
Post columnist David Ignatius reported on an April meeting between regional envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen with Waziristan tribal leaders: “ `We are all Taliban,’ ” one young man said—meaning that people in his region support the cause, if not the terrorist tactics. He explained that the insurgency is spreading in Pakistan, not because of proselytizing by leaders such as Baitullah Mehsud but because of popular anger. For every militant killed by a U.S. Predator drone, he says, 10 more will join the insurgent cause. ... `You can’t come see the people because they hate you,’ he warned.”
Counterinsurgency adviser Kilcullen has warned that the drone war “has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians ... [is] now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation’s two most populous provinces. ... ”
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Al-Qaida’s success in Pakistan—including attracting recruits and joining forces with local extremists—makes it unclear whether the terror network would even bother to return to Afghanistan should the Taliban regain power there. A senior intelligence official told The New York Times that “recent successes by the Taliban in extending territorial gains could foreshadow the creation of `mini-Afghanistans’ around Pakistan that would allow militants even more freedom to plot attacks.” Al-Qaida would presumably be as welcome in such new “mini-Afghanistans” as it is presently in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier, and even safer.
Petraeus’ strategy is increasing support for a “Pashtunistan,” threatening Pakistan and Afghanistan’s survival.
By attacking Pashtuns in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, Petraeus is increasing local support for a radical Islamic entity combining the 13 million Afghan and 28 million Pakistani Pashtuns on either side of the artificial Durand Line dividing the two countries. As Selig Harrison wrote in The Washington Post on May 11: “It is equally plausible that the result could be what Pakistani ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani has called an `Islamic Pashtunistan.’ On March 1, 2007, Haqqani’s Pashtun predecessor as ambassador, the retired Maj. Gen. Mahmud Ali Durrani, said at a seminar at the Pakistan Embassy, `I hope the Taliban and Pashtun nationalism don’t merge. If that happens, we’ve had it, and we’re on the verge of that.’ ”
Petraeus’ strategy helped push the Pakistani military into a disastrous military operation that is strengthening the government’s enemies over the long term.
As Kilcullen has noted,“Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies must be defeated by indigenous forces—not from the United States, and not even from Punjab, but from the parts of Pakistan in which they now hide. Drone strikes make this harder, not easier.” All observers agree that if Pakistan is to be stabilized, the Pakistani military will need to shift its priorities from defending against India and learn to wage an effective counterinsurgency war within Pakistan.
Petraeus’ blunders and U.S. threats to withhold military and economic aid have helped force the clearly unprepared Pakistani military into premature fighting in the Swat Valley, creating 2 million refugees in the process—what the United Nations, quoted in the Guardian, dubbed “the world’s most dramatic displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.” Even if the Pakistani military succeeds in retaking Swat, it has alienated much of the local population with heavy bombardment. And it is unlikely to defeat the Taliban in the long run, as the Post explained on May 24: “Highlighting the difficulty, some extremists are simply melting back into the civilian population so they can fight another day, as they have during previous clashes over the past 18 months in Swat.”
A “senior [Obama] administration official who is closely following the Pakistani military operations in Swat, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid offending the visiting Pakistani leaders,” was even more blunt, telling the Times on May 6 that the Pakistan military is “fundamentally not organized, trained or equipped for what they’ve been asked to do. ... They will displace the Taliban for a while. But there will also be a lot of displaced persons and a lot of collateral damage. And they won’t be able to sustain those effects or extend the gains geographically.”
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