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Defining the U.S. Surge for Pakistan

August 18, 2009

“Pakistan Objects to U.S. Plan for Afghanistan War” reads a New York Times article last month updating us on our foreign policy. The article forewarns of “fissures” in the U.S. Pakistan alliance at this critical moment when President Obama sends additional troops to the region. The article specifically outlines Pakistan’s insistence on maintaining forces along the Indian border when the United States expresses concern that the Afghan border is of greater priority. Pakistani officials, to some international dismay, contend that it is more constructive to maintain dialogue with some parts of the Taliban rather than going at the group in an all out military offensive. The piece continues to explain that, sources from the Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI: Pakistan’s intelligence agency, their equivalent to our CIA) briefed Special Envoy Holbrooke this morning in their strong concerns of an U.S. “surge” which would “result in more civilian casualties, further alienate local populations. Thus more local resistance to foreign troops”. And while the article continues with how these concerns contrast starkly with U.S. fears that Pakistan is not focusing enough on the Taliban in the north, it is important to revisit the consequences of, and reassess our long-term strategy in Operation Enduring Freedom. Because more of the same may not be an apt solution given that the war is escalating in terms of U.S. costs (on various levels), the region is deteriorating, and prominent experts now claim the effort is doomed to be “unwinnable”.

The fact is, this is the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and where there once was no Al Qaeda or Taliban in the sovereign state of Pakistan, now exists a terribly frightening border through which terrorists are fleeing and situating themselves in the north. Furthermore, it is important to remember that until recently, the Taliban was not considered a terrorist organization, although alarming they were not a military threat before 9/11. Al Qaeda was the main target in Afghanistan, and their presence in Pakistan was minimal, if at all. Since our invasion, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are increasingly difficult to differentiate, and rather than being obliterated, are moving in to Pakistan. And a once ideologically problematic group of Islamic extremists, the Taliban, are now dangerously aligning with far more treacherous terrorist outfits like Al Qaeda.

In a similar way, other regional militant groups are gaining ground as extremist groups evade NATO forces and subsequently weaken our anti-terrorist efforts. The Mumbai atrocities and embassy attacks in Afghanistan last year are testimony to the danger of militant groups advancing their efforts in an increasing climate of instability. This only legitimizes Pakistan’s skepticism of continuing an predominantly military means to combating terrorism. If limited surgical strikes, close intelligence sharing, and consistent provision of anti-terror training and supplies is agreed as effective amongst officials, the U.S. and Pakistan should focus on a “surge” on these fronts.

So when the news paints a clashing picture of interests between Pakistan and the United States, it is a simplistic one. Both states actually have an intense interest in securing the region against terrorists and while they might disagree on tactics, it is important that the Obama administration at least reassess the previous administration’s policies of simply implementing a military “surge”. Even if a surge in troops is potentially successful, working closely to expand on what has proven to be effective is a safer option. So a discerning look at this weeks supposed “fissure” between U.S. and Pakistani officials in discussing cooperation should prompt us to better understand Islamabad’s concerns and perhaps reassess our strategy .

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