*by William Pfaff*
*Date* 2007/11/21 11:30:00
Paris, November 20, 2007 -- The New York Times reports that the Bush
government’s frustration in its effort to control events in Pakistan now
has led it to debate direct intervention in that country.
Washington’s desire to strengthen the standing of General Pervez
Musharraf in international -- and also Congressional -- opinion prompted
its recent arrangement for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s return
from exile, and its promotion of a coalition between the two Pakistani
leaders that might obtain democratic electoral confirmation.
Appealing as this plan will have seemed in Washington, it has been
thwarted by the general. The Bush decision then taken was that Musharraf
is no longer an asset to the United States but an obstacle to its
efforts to defeat the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan by attacking the
movement’s roots in Pakistan -- and possibly, one unlikely day, to
capture Osama bin Laden, assumed to be in the same inaccessible
territories, controlled by Pathan tribes, where the Taliban movement
general, especially as there is great American concern about what would
happen to Pakistan’s nuclear forces if effective secular government
collapses in that country.
However there would be new difficulties with another general, the first
being that his nomination to power would terminally discredit the claim
that the United States supports democracy in Pakistan. The second is
that anti-American feeling is so extensive and so deep in Pakistan that
a U.S.-nominated strongman (even if one were found) would likely provoke
a spontaneous and tumultuous repudiation, to the profit of the Moslem
Two different approaches to the situation seem currently under
consideration. The first is the Pentagon’s, as reported by the Times,
put forward by the army’s special operations people. It is to reinforce
the Pakistan army’s own efforts to intervene in the Tribal Territories
by directly financing and training the tribal paramilitary force. Tribal
leaders would be paid to furnish men for this force. This would require
a sizable increase in the number of Americans in the area, but could be
a reasonably discreet effort – or so the plan intends.
Buying up the tribes has been tried before without great success.
Alexander the Great may have been the first to do so. The U.S. State
Department and the Agency for International Development already have a
5-year, $750 million assistance program in seven tribal districts.
A second reason to hesitate is that the U.S. Army is not known for its
ability to maintain a low and politically-sensitive profile in combat or
semi-combat circumstances. It is not a subtle organization. More U.S.
troops in the region is politically dangerous.
The third objection is that the Interior Ministry-controlled Frontier
Corps that already exists, recruited from the young men of the tribes,
has for exactly that reason been reluctant to battle Moslem
fellow-Pathan tribesmen who belong to the Taliban. The Frontier Corps
would rather patrol than fight what might prove to be friends or cousins.
The group of “soldiers” the Taliban in Afghanistan recently claimed had
surrendered to them were actually from the Frontier Corps. After the
capture was exploited for its international propaganda value, the
captives were patted on the head by the Taliban and told to run along
home. A western military man is quoted as saying of the Frontier Corps,
“It’s going to take years to turn them into a professional force. Is it
worth it now?”
The other direct intervention program being promoted in Washington is,
predictably, of neo-conservative origin, from Frederick Kagan and
Michael O’Hanlon, and possesses the relationship to reality of a
computer game for adolescent boys.
It starts out by warning that “stabilizing” a completely collapsed
Pakistan would require more than a million foreign troops. This being a
rather larger number than in the current Pentagon inventory (and even
Sarkozy’s France unlikely to make up the difference), it is desirable,
the authors say, to move quickly, while the U.S. has “the cooperation of
moderate Pakistani forces.”
They suggest first a U.S. operation to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear
warheads and materials, or move them to New Mexico, but recognize that
such a plan might be opposed by “Pakistani nationalists,” so “somehow”
Americans would have to team with other Pakistanis to secure or move the
nuclear assets, possibly to “a remote redoubt” in Pakistan where “crack
international forces” would oversee Pakistani guards. On this we need
“rapid action and secrecy.”
Another element in the plan is U.S. intervention to support “the core of
Pakistani armed forces” despite ineffective government, “seceding border
regions,” and al Qaeda and Taliban assassination attempts against
leaders. Given Iraq and Afghanistan, the authors write, it would take
months to get (a “million”?) American and other troops there to help
Pakistani loyalists hold Islamabad and “populous areas like Punjab
province.” But events fortunately are moving slowly.
Since there might also be internecine struggle within Pakistan’s
security forces, America might have to intervene in a civil war to
secure nuclear weapons and retake crucial strategic territory. America
then would probably have to establish order, prop up the state, and
“[deprive] terrorists of the sanctuaries they have long enjoyed in
Pakistan’s tribal and frontier regions.” In all, a modest proposal.
© Copyright 2007 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights