A major push to open negotiations with the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is reported to begin Monday, “at a summit of leading political figures from the two countries,” reported McClatchy Newspapers. The news agency noted, “Pakistani Taliban, based in the country’s tribal border area with Afghanistan, have joined the battle in Afghanistan and also taken on Islamabad. Nevertheless, the assembly of 50 people, called a jirga, which will meet for two days in Islamabad with the backing of both governments, is likely to question the continued presence of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.”
The continued American presence in the region, as well as the recent increase of missile attacks on militant targets on Pakistani soil, has caused anti-U.S. sentiment to increase dramatically. A recently released Gallup poll found that 45% of Pakistanis viewed the U.S. forces in Afghanistan as a menace to their country, [see related CHUP post]. On Monday, media outlets reported that yet another suspected U.S. attack struck the house of a Taliban commander in South Waziristan, killing up to 20 people, reported the Associated Press. The NY Times has recorded that “through Sunday, there were at least 18 Predator strikes since the beginning of August, some deep inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, compared with 5 strikes during the first seven months of 2008,” [see NY Times image above].
According to the news agency, “Pakistani leaders have protested the strikes as an unacceptable violation of the country’s sovereignty and argue that the attacks only fuel Islamic extremism in the region.” On Monday, Dawn cited statements made by the country’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani who asserted during a press conference that “U.S. attacks in tribal areas are harming the government’s efforts to isolate extremists and mobilize people against militancy.”
A feature in Sunday’s NY Times reported that the White House, in reaction to “furious” complaints from Pakistan’s government, “has backed away from using American commandos for further ground raids into Pakistan…relying instead on an intensifying campaign of airstrikes by the Central Intelligence Agency against militants in the Pakistani mountains.” The Times added,
At the same time, however, officials said that relying on airstrikes alone, the United States would be unable to weaken Al Qaeda’s grip in the tribal areas permanently. Within the government, advocates of the ground raids have argued that only by sending Special Operations forces into Pakistan can the United States successfully capture suspected operatives and interrogate them for information about top Qaeda leaders.
The decision to focus on an intensified Predator campaign, therefore, “appears to reflect dwindling options on the part of the White House for striking a blow against Al Qaeda in the Bush administration’s waning days.” The American ground mission known to have taken place in Pakistan was the Special Operations raid on September 3rd, “in which the roughly two dozen people killed included some civilians,” reported the Times. The raid drew outrage from Islamabad, with Pakistani national security adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani paying a surprise visit to Washington to register the government’s complaints in person. American officials say there has not been a commando operation since the previous attack.
According to the NY Times, “As part of the intensified attacks in recent months, the C.I.A. has expanded its list of targets in Pakistan and has gained approval from the government there to bolster eavesdropping operations in the border region.” Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, reportedly told the Council on Foreign Relations this month that the U.S. and Pakistan “were cooperating in deploying ‘strategic equipment that is used against specific targets.'”
While such a development [the U.S. backing away from ground campaigns due to complaints from Islamabad] may be significant, the truth is that Predator strikes are increasing, and with greater intensity. And while Pakistani officials have reportedly made clear in public statements that they regard the Predator attacks “as a less objectionable violation of Pakistani sovereignty,” each strike still garners an outraged response from Pakistan’s public. It seems like we have been forced to accept the lesser of the two evils – but at what cost?
Also good to note: The Associated Press did a brief, albeit overly simplified breakdown of the militant groups operating along the Afghan-Pak border.