America’s dilemma is how to solve Pakistan

Obama will be left with few options if the Pakistanis cannot control their extremists

By Tim Marshall, April 2, 2009

Bush broke it, Obama owns it, and his Presidency has to fix it. ‘It’ is Af-Pak.

His remedy is to take money and manpower to glue the fragmenting states of Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af-Pak) back together. When the administration announced its plans last week, it became clear the “hawks” had won the debate. It was also clear the administration was preparing the American public for an escalation.

The “doves”, vice-president Joe Biden, Senator Carl Levin and others, had wanted a reduction in troops, with the focus on counter terror operations and training for those remaining. Obama listened, shook his head, and went with the advice of Hillary Clinton, Richard Holbrooke and General David Petraeus.

They intend to reinforce, buy off some Taliban commanders, clear territory, hold it, build the Afghan National Army (ANA) then substantially withdraw within four years.

They will double the size of US forces in Afghanistan to 68,000 — including 4,000 to train the ANA.

They will send thousands of civilians to build the economy and simultaneously throw money at Pakistan whilst throwing missiles at the Pakistan Taliban.

Therein lies the rub. The Afghan part could work based on the success of Petraeus’s surge strategy in Iraq, but there no surging to be done in Pakistan — not unless you want to start World War Three.

Instead Obama will give $ 1.5 billion a year in aid to Pakistan. In return, Islamabad is supposed to smash the groups which control the North West Frontier (NWF) that borders Afghanistan. This is a continuation of the Bush policy.

After 9/11, the Americans insisted that Pakistan dismantle the groups it had helped set up in the 1980s to counter India in Kashmir and to impose a friendly government in Kabul.

Musharraf agreed to act against them. But the tiger — feeling betrayed — threw off its rider and began to bite. It is helped by powerful people within the Pakistani military and intelligence services who still believe the groups are a long-term guarantee of security against the Indians.

Hence the Talib control of the NWF, the Bhutto assassination, the Marriot bombing, the shootings in Lahore and the daily attacks on the police, government buildings, schools and mosques. In effect, the American pressure has resulted in a civil war in Pakistan.

Not only are the Americans asking the Pakistanis to kill large numbers of other Pakistanis, they are also intending to increase the number of airstrikes the US carries out using Predator pilotless drones. So far this method has killed almost half of the top 20 Taliban commanders, but there have also been substantial civilian casualties. There will also be an increase in special forces operations.

The “Af-Pak” envoy, Richard Holbrooke, says the Predators will also be going after the dozens of illegal Talib radio stations which “nightly broadcast the names of people they’re going to behead”.

This will further enflame the NWF and further endanger the vital supply route for NATO forces across the border. The alternative, though, is to grant the enemy complete freedom in its “rear base”. Catch 22.

What will Obama do if the Pakistanis cannot tame their tigers? After all they’ve already lost more than 700 soldiers trying, have surrendered territory, and are at war with each other inside the system.

Obama can hardly cut off the flow of money. Without Pakistan, Afghanistan may become his Vietnam, but deep within the Pakistani system are a number of pro Taliban people who look at the dollars flowing in from Washington and think “Take the money and bomb”.

Tim Marshall is Foreign Editor of Sky News

Last updated: 2:00pm, April 2 2009