Gringo Lost

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Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan

A Strategy To Die For?

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75 U.S. military personnel died in Afghanistan last month during Operation Enduring Freedom.  More than 900 have lost their lives since that war began over 8 years ago.  Of the dead, almost 350 occurred in the last 6 months.  A potential decision by President Obama to increase troop levels will result in yet more unnecessary American, NATO, and Afghan civilian deaths.

Increasing America’s troop presence in Afghanistan will be the most irresponsible decision Obama has made as president. It is time to re-focus our mission there and re-direct attention to where it belongs, the homeland.  Already top military leaders – to include General Petraeus and General McChrystal – have said that al Qaeda cannot stage attacks against the U.S. from Afghanistan.  Maintaining this level of security only requires an operational capacity to do counter-terrorism in Afghanistan.  Supplying a counter-terrorism mission will require far fewer resources in terms of both troops and dollars spent.

For relatively cheap, the U.S. can conduct drone attacks, special operations, and train Afghanistan’s own security forces.  Each of these has been done since the war’s beginning.  In 2002 and 2003, these missions were done with less than 20,000 troops in theater – at a cost of less than $20 billion a year.  Roughly Operation Enduring Freedom costs American taxpayers $1 billion a year to sustain each 1,000th American military service member in Afghanistan.  Obama’s plan to add an additional troops will likely push the costs of Operation Enduring Freedom over $100 billion a year.

How long can the U.S. spend so much?  Most estimates are that “victory” is still years ahead.  Yet, it has already been 8 years of “nation-building” and, at best, we can say the Karzai-led government is a weak and corrupt ally.  To paraphrase the old proverb: with allies like these, who needs enemies? Obama must re-think his definitions of success, unless the U.S. is to get bogged down in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

Al Qaeda has not re-established Afghanistan as a stronghold since October 2001. That was some sort of victory; maybe it’s the only sort of “victory” needed. Operation Enduring Freedom needs to be concentrated, not expanded.

Instead of trying to build a government in Afghanistan, Obama should focus on what’s a priority to every American. Namely, America.

The Department of Homeland Security’s 2010 budget tops in at just around $50 billion. That’s half of what we’re likely to spend in Afghanistan.  Tax revenues for Afghanistan’s own government barely surpass $700 million a year; still Washington chooses to devote American debt to a cause that has no clear end-point. With a record budget deficit of nearly $1.6 trillion, Afghanistan does not deserve the resources.

The argument that a troop increase in Afghanistan will help us meet some sort of strategic victory is tenuous when placed against what we are defending ourselves from.  A large troop presence in Afghanistan destabilizes Pakistan by pushing militants into the tribal areas and providing ample propaganda for Muslim separatists.  Aside from the Taliban and al Qaeda, a destabilized Pakistan is the last thing anyone in the world wants.

Meanwhile, trying to garrison Afghanistan when we cannot do the same to Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, or Yemen will be fruitless against a terrorist enemy not bound by territory. An honest assessment would show that protecting the homeland should start at home, and not 8,000 miles away. Knowing this, it is time to re-direct many of our finite resources back to the U.S.

The Obama administration should strengthen efforts to protect against cyber-warfare and espionage. Resources should be devoted to border enforcement and towards forming a better immigration process that increases the U.S. government’s ability to keep track of who exactly is inside the country. The Coast Guard should be enlarged.  And lastly, all efforts to increase security at airports, seaports, and other points of entry must be taken.  If we cannot afford any of these measures, then partial blame must go to an obtuse Afghan war strategy with no end in sight.


Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan tainted with bad blood

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Fatima Bhutto at The Daily Beast blogs about Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan today, amidst a disastrous explosion in Peshawar that killed over 90 and injured more than 200.

In the post, Bhutto blusters over the controversial Kerry-Lugar aid package and Clinton’s cordial relationship with President Zardari.

Bhutto’s most choice quote:

Clinton promised today to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Pakistan. Hillary, I think we’re standing close enough as it is.

Benefactor beware, the U.S. must be growing cognizant of Pakistan’s growing rancor.  In all likelihood, inter-state collaboration between the U.S. and Pakistan may have passed its peak.

Written by gringolost

October 28, 2009 at 2:52 pm

The waning power of India

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In international relations, power can be measured in absolute or relative terms.  When it comes to economic power, a country is mostly likely said to be better off if its economic power increases in absolute terms.  But, when it comes to diplomatic power, a country is more concerned with its relative power vis-à-vis others.

That’s why this article by Brahma Chellaney in Forbes’ Magazine, “Behind the Sri Lankan Bloodbath,” sheds interesting light on the state of India’s power in South Asia.  Because while India may be one of the strongest regional actors in terms of trade, population and military might – it is still struggling to assert itself in the diplomatic arena.

Even the small island-state Sri Lanka, which is proximate to India in many ways, does not operate as a client or as India’s sole beneficiary, instead pledging allegiance to other states (especially China and Pakistan) in return for counterinsurgency support against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

As Chellaney notes, Sri Lanka “practiced adroit but duplicitous diplomacy” which often contradicted India’s interest but was in-line with Sri Lanka’s sovereign interest:

[Sri Lanka] assured India it would approach other arms suppliers only if New Delhi couldn’t provide a particular weapon system it needed. Yet it quietly began buying arms from China and Pakistan without even letting India know. In doing so, Colombo mocked Indian appeals that it rely for its legitimate defense needs on India, the main regional power. It was only by turning to India’s adversaries for weapons, training and other aid that Colombo pulled off a startling military triumph. In any event, Colombo was emboldened by the fact that the more it chipped away at India’s traditional role, the more New Delhi seemed willing to pander to its needs.

Accordingly Chellaney reports, “India’s waning leverage over Sri Lanka” manifested itself in how “it has to jostle for influence there with arch-rivals China and Pakistan.”  As an example, Chellaney uses the billion-dollar seaport being built by Beijing in Sri Lanka’s southeast as a symbol of China’s strategic challenge to India.

In a broader sense, India’s inability to exert diplomatic leverage over other powers becomes apparent with the global influence China has compared to India despite their approximate similarities in demographics, military capability and economic strength.  India’s waning regional influence is exemplified by the Sri Lanka case.

Now, what are the reasons for India’s lackluster ability to project diplomatic power?  In regards to Sri Lanka, Chellaney believes India’s foreign policy suffered because it was not driven by “resolute, long-term goals, but by a meandering approach influenced by the personal caprice of those in power.”  Additionally, I would add that India’s foreign policy is hindered by domestic and border concerns that often receive paramount attention.  And India’s “meandering” approach can be explained by its inability to overcome these critical constraints at home. ♦

U.S. aid package to Pakistan meets with disapproval (in Pakistan)

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Last week, the Kerry-Lugar Pakistan aid bill was passed by congress. The bill will grant $1.5 billion a year to the civilian-side of Pakistan’s government over the next 5 years.  Conditional to the aid package, Pakistan must meet certification requirements that would focus on Pakistan’s counter-terrorism/insurgency goals, while also increasing America’s embassy presence.

Conditions embedded in the bill have angered Pakistan’s military, but can the U.S. actually measure if the conditions are being met?

Here are the certification requirements (conditions) as per Sec. 203, sub-section (c) of the bill:

The certification required by this subsection is a certification by the Secretary of State, under the direction of the President, to the appropriate congressional committees that—(1) the Government of Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as providing relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks; (2) the Government of Pakistan during the preceding fiscal year has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups, consistent with the purposes of assistance described in section 201, including taking into account the extent to which the Government of Pakistan has made progress on matters such as— (A) ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighboring countries;

(B) preventing al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e- Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighboring countries, closing terrorist camps in the FATA, dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets; and

(C) strengthening counterterrorism and anti-money laundering laws; and (3) the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.

(Emphasis added, with a focus on the last sentence)

Pakistan’s military has organized its objections to the bill, seeing within it a concerted effort by the U.S. Congress to influence Pakistan’s internal affairs.  Of special note to Pakistan’s military is the last conditionality of the bill (stated above), which reads “the security forces of Pakistan are not materially or substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.”  But this is not a concrete and measurable requirement.

Putting aside the military’s complaints, it remains to be seen how the U.S. could actually measure its own certification requirements.  Besides this, there really is nothing in the wording of this bill that hasn’t been accepted either tacitly or outright by Pakistan already.

To think Pakistan would refuse $7.5 billion in aid over principle is possible but, in reality, why would they refuse the aid package if the U.S. cannot effectively measure Pakistan’s level of compliance.

This post was re-posted at Fletcher Reflections.

U.S. to Pakistan: “Taliban and al Qaeda are in Quetta.”

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Pakistan to U.S.: “America, you so crazy!”

Reporting from Islamabad:

Pakistan has dismissed the U.S. accusation about the presence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan, and termed it “baseless,” Pakistani intelligence agencies and officials said.

Denial impedes recovery.

Written by gringolost

October 6, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets to discuss Afghanistan

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Really, this is a great post over at Fletcher Reflections about the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Afghanistan.  It starts like this:

Last week, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations met to discuss the war in Afghanistan.  Two hearings titled Exploring Three Strategies for Afghanistan and Countering the Threat of Failure in Afghanistan were intended to address how America should proceed in Afghanistan.  Presiding over the hearings was Massachusetts  Senator John Kerry who commented in his opening statements that the US lacked “realistic” goals in Afghanistan.

“I am concerned by where we are today in Afghanistan – about the rising number of casualties among our troops and those of our allies, about the deeply flawed presidential voting that took place, about the impunity with which drug traffickers operate, and about the rampant corruption undermining the faith of Afghans in their government and ours.”

Read more at Fletcher Reflections.

Written by gringolost

September 20, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Baitullah Mehsud reportedly killed in drone attack

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Baitullah Mehsud 2-thumb-280x390Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was reportedly killed in a drone attack.  Here’s a compilation of different news articles covering his death.

From the NY Times:

The American government made killing or capturing Mr. Mehsud one of its top priorities this year, and his death would boost President Obama’s effort to weaken a resurgent Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.


One immediate effect of Mr. Mehsud’s death, if confirmed, could be a reduction of lingering mistrust between the intelligence services of the United States and Pakistan. The two sides have long harbored suspicions about each other’s motives, and some officials in Islambad once suspected that the C.I.A. might not be seriously trying to kill Mr. Mehsud because he was a C.I.A. asset.


The apparent death also raises questions for the future of ordinary Pashtuns, the ethnic group that predominates in the tribal areas, the overwhelming majority of whom do not support militancy or Mr. Mehsud directly.

A prominent member of the Mehsud tribe in Karachi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was afraid of trouble from the military and the Taliban alike, said taking a public position on Mr. Mehsud’s death was a delicate balancing act and that Pashtuns were watching nervously to see who will come out on top: Pakistan’s military or a successor of Mr. Mehsud.

From the Dawn (Pakistan newspaper):

In December 2007, Mehsud became the head of a new coalition called the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistan’s Taliban movement. Under his guidance, the group killed hundreds of Pakistanis in suicide and other attacks.

Analysts say the reason for Mehsud’s rise in the militant ranks is his alliances with al-Qaeda and other violent groups. US intelligence has said al-Qaeda has set up its operational headquarters in Mehsud’s South Waziristan stronghold and neighbouring North Waziristan.

From Al Jazeera:

Al Jazeera correspondent Kamal Hyder said:

“There are also reports there is an ashura [meeting] under way to pick a successor to Mehsud.

“There is not doubt there will be a swift succession, but Mehsud was a strong leader, so it will be difficult to fill that particular vacuum.”

From Iranian Press TV:

The reported death of Pakistan’s Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud will not affect the group’s ‘resistance’ in Afghanistan, says an Afghan Taliban spokesman.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Imtiaz Gul, who heads the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad said Mehsud’s death “could lead to a decline” in terror attacks inside Pakistan, which have spiked in the past two years.

Mr. Abbas agrees: “We may see some immediate retaliation. But over the long term, we may experience a dip in very organized level of violence against the people.” In 2008, there were 62 terror attacks in Pakistan; so far in 2009, there have been 38.

From the Washington Post:

Although Pakistan has other strong Taliban factions, such as those that seized control of the Swat Valley earlier this year, Mehsud was a unifying force and the acknowledged leader among many of them. His exploits had given him a nearly mythical persona.

Written by gringolost

August 7, 2009 at 11:58 am