A few days ago, the NY Times reported that President Obama and his national security advisers “are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Balochistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.” Senior administration officials told the news agency that recent high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan have “called for broadening the target area to include a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta,” since Mullah Omar has reportedly been operating in and around that area for years.
The U.S. has continued their policy of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, [a drone attack last week killed 22 people], but now say the missile strikes have pushed Al Qaeda-linked targets south towards Quetta, “making them more vulnerable,” noted the Times. The news agency added in its coverage,
Many of Mr. Obama’s advisers are also urging him to sustain orders issued last summer by President George W. Bush to continue Predator drone attacks against a wider range of targets in the tribal areas. They also are recommending preserving the option to conduct cross-border ground actions, using C.I.A. and Special Operations commandos, as was done in September.
Not surprisingly, the Times’ revelation incited much anger in Pakistan, with officials and politicians calling further strikes “counterproductive” and “provactive,” warning that it will spark further backlash in the country. Although Abdul Basit, a foreign office spokesman, stated, “We have seen the report. It appears to be speculative and we cannot comment on speculations.” The Guardian quoted him adding, “As we have been saying all along, we believe such attacks are counter-productive. They involve collateral damage and they are not helpful in our efforts to win hearts and minds.” Munawar Hassan, the secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami echoed, “The United States has no message of peace for the world, they can only talk through arms and armaments.”
An increased U.S. military presence in Pakistan will not bode well for anti-U.S. sentiment in the region, and stands to complicate Pakistan’s own war on terror, something I have noted again and again on this forum. Moreover, although the government appears to be speaking out against this policy, I question how sincere their protests are, given the recent revelation that the U.S. has allegedly been launching drone attacks from an air base in Balochistan, [see past CHUP post]. Are the government’s protests genuine this time or merely an effort to distance themselves from this policy and save face?
For the U.S. to criticize the Pakistani military for not conducting an adequate counterinsurgency strategy is, to me, like the pot calling the kettle black. Striking tangible targets may kill a few militants, but it ultimately increases sympathizers for AQ and Taliban-linked militants. Moreover, hitting militant strongholds is like playing Whack-a-Groundhog – they inevitably shift their power base elsewhere, as we have seen in the case of Balochistan. If you want to defeat Al Qaeda, you have to weaken their support base, something I’m not sure either the U.S. or Pakistani military has adequately done.