Unilateral Action by U.S. a Growing Fear in Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ
Published: July 22, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Strong suggestions by the United States that it could resort to unilateral intervention against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan are generating increasing anxiety in the Pakistani press and among government officials, who warn that such an action could backfire.
Chad J. McNeeley/Department of Defense, via Associated Press
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, with President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad in February.
Over the last week, the Pakistani press has been filled with commentaries warning that American attacks without Pakistan’s permission would further inflame anti-American sentiment, drive more people into the camp of the militants and fatally undermine the already fragile civilian government. Privately, one senior government official said American strikes would produce “chaos.”
But the English-language newspapers have also stressed that the Pakistani government has failed to deal with the Islamic militants, and they have made repeated pleas in recent days for the government and the military to take on the militants before Washington does the job, uninvited.
“What is missing and is urgently required in Islamabad is a coherent policy” for dealing with the militants in the tribal areas, said one in a series of recent editorials in a leading newspaper, Dawn. The editorial continued: “The world and all of Pakistan is looking to Islamabad for leadership and vision. The time to act is running out very quickly.”
Washington has increased the pressure in the past 10 days, asserting in public statements and closed-door meetings with senior Pakistani officials that the increase in the number of Pakistani Taliban fighters crossing from the tribal areas into Afghanistan to fight NATO and American forces was unacceptable.
A spike in deaths of United States and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan in the last two months has been largely attributed by American officials to the flow of Pakistani Taliban into southern Afghanistan.
American officials have also emphasized to Pakistani officials their concern that Al Qaeda was plotting attacks on the United States from sanctuaries in the tribal areas, a region of rugged territory adjacent to Afghanistan that is now almost totally controlled by the Pakistani Taliban.
President Bush said at a White House news conference last week that “some extremists are coming out of parts of Pakistan into Afghanistan.” He added, “That’s troubling to us, troubling to Afghanistan, and it should be troubling to Pakistan.” Such statements have been interpreted here as a sign of rising American impatience with a lack of action to stem the tide of militants by the Pakistani government.
Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said on Sunday, while visiting Afghanistan, that if the United States had “actionable intelligence against high-value Al Qaeda targets, and the Pakistani government was unwilling to go after those targets,” the United States should strike. Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has been viewed warily in Pakistan because of similar previous comments.
Alarm in Pakistan about possible American intervention rose after a surprise visit July 12 by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to Islamabad, where he met with the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani; the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani; and the president, Pervez Musharraf.
It was Admiral Mullen’s fourth visit in six months to see the nation’s leaders. Days afterward, reports about a buildup of NATO forces on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan added to Pakistani anxiety.
A senior Pakistani government official familiar with the content of the meetings with Admiral Mullen, who declined to be identified because public statements were not released, said the admiral was informed that unilateral action by the United States would be “counterproductive” and would result in “chaos.”
But the Americans did not recognize the downside of intervention, the official said. “They don’t see that,” the official said. “They have tunnel vision. They see more foreign fighters pouring in, more training, more cross-border attacks.”
The Americans were right in their assessment that more fighters from Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and a “spurt of Turks,” had come to the tribal areas to join the Taliban since the Pakistani government entered into a peace accord with the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, this spring, the official acknowledged.
The official said the Pakistanis had asked Admiral Mullen for infusions of military equipment and the sharing of real-time intelligence, demands made many times to visiting Americans in the past six months.
The frequent request by the Pakistanis for the sharing of current intelligence has been refused by the Bush administration because Washington lacked confidence in what the Pakistani military might do with the information, according to a former United States military officer who served in Pakistan and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the situation.
The Bush administration has given more than $10 billion in military aid to Pakistan since 9/11, when President Musharraf agreed to become an ally in the campaign against terrorism. Of that amount, $5.5 billion was specifically intended for counterinsurgency efforts by the Pakistani Army. A Congressional report this year said that Pakistan did not spend the $5.5 billion on counterinsurgency, and that the Bush administration had failed to insist that it do so.
“Improve our capability — you’ve been slow on that,” the Pakistani official said, describing the gist of the recent conversation with Admiral Mullen. “We are fighting a war here. But the army is geared to peacetime.”
In unusually blunt terms, some of the commentaries in recent days in the Pakistani English-language press have disputed that the army has actually been fighting the Taliban or Al Qaeda at all.
Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst, wrote in Sunday’s issue of The Daily Times, a newspaper, that many in Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership did not view the Taliban and other Islamic extremists as the main threat to the Pakistani state.
“They view Taliban violence as a reaction to the use of force against them by Pakistan and the U.S., rather than a strategy to establish their hegemony in the name of Islam,” he said.
It was understandable that American commanders would want to take unilateral action against the Taliban, Mr. Rizvi wrote. But there was “no guarantee that such an action would eliminate militancy in the area,” he warned.
“Rather, it may worsen the situation and increase American losses,” he said.
In Washington, a new report on Pakistan by Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, cautioned against uninvited intervention in Pakistan.
“The U.S. military would find Pakistan’s tribal areas extremely tough going,” he said. “The primary challenge would come not from the militants or terrorists but from the rest of Pakistan’s 165 million people and army.”
He concluded, “Under almost any conceivable circumstance, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis would perceive a U.S. invasion of the tribal areas as an attack on national sovereignty requiring resistance by every means possible.”