The US prescription for Pakistan

David Kilcullen [his bio is rather long and distinguished -- former Australian army officer and anthropology PhD, who has advised the American, British, and Australian governments and was one of General Petraeus’s strategic advisors at the start of the Iraq surge, currently a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, which has provided Obama with foreign policy advise, and also an advisor to the US State Department] believes that the US has “failed to deal with the Pakistani sanctuary that forms the political base and operational support system for the Taliban, and which creates a protective cocoon (abetted by the fecklessness or complicity of some elements in Pakistan) around senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders”.

Here is David’s prescription for tackling the “central front of world terrorism”, Pakistan:

On the Pakistani sanctuary, this seems to be the cancer in the bones of Afghanistan, and no one has a good answer. Both air power and special-forces incursions have drawn the wrath of the Pakistani government and people, but their efforts, as you say, have been weak at best and two-faced at worst. Our diplomats and development workers are being systematically targeted, and there’s a question how well we can spend $750 million in the northwest. Is there a way to clear out this sanctuary, that doesn’t cause the problem to metastasize?

You’re right. Pakistan is extremely important; indeed, Pakistan (rather than either Afghanistan or Iraq) is the central front of world terrorism. The problem is time frame: it takes six to nine months to plan an attack of the scale of 9/11, so we need a “counter-sanctuary” strategy that delivers over that time frame, to prevent al Qaeda from using its Pakistan safe haven to mount another attack on the West. This means that building an effective nation-state in Pakistan, though an important and noble objective, cannot be our sole solution—nation-building in Pakistan is a twenty to thirty year project, minimum, if indeed it proves possible at all—i.e. nation-building doesn’t deliver in the time frame we need. So we need a short-term counter-sanctuary program, a long-term nation-building program to ultimately resolve the problem, and a medium-term “bridging” strategy (five to ten years)—counterinsurgency, in essence—that gets us from here to there. That middle part is the weakest link right now. All of that boils down to a policy of:

(a) encouraging and supporting Pakistan to step up and effectively govern its entire territory including the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], and to resolve the current Baluch and Pashtun insurgency, while

(b) assisting wherever possible in the long-term process of state-building and governance, but

(c) reserving the right to strike, as a last resort, at al Qaeda-linked terrorist targets that threaten the international community, if (and only if) they are operating in areas that lie outside effective Pakistani sovereignty.

One hopes Barack Obama, Dave Petraeus and their advisors are listening to this veridical advise from David. While the Bush administration may have focused too much on the short-term, the new administration may make the mistake of focusing too much on the long-term goals. David’s “bridging” strategy will allow the new US administration to strike the right balance between the divergent paths of nation building and eliminating al Qaeda sanctuaries inside Pakistan. Petraeus’ recent defence of US attacks inside Pakistan is a validation of this line of thinking; where attainment of US short-term security goals should not be abandoned in favour of the long-term objective of strengthening the Pakistani state.

More importantly, this raises an infuriating question for Indian strategic thinkers and the Indian government.  Is there a similar Indian strategy for Pakistan — in the short-term, in the medium-term and in the long-term? If yes, then what are the components of that strategy? If no, then what should they be?


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