AfPak Progress and Caution

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AfPak Progress and Caution

Late yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Pakistani authorities have captured seven out of fifteen members of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership council, the Quetta Shura.  This builds on Pakistani efforts which began with the joint U.S.-Pakistani operation that brought in Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghanistan Taliban’s military commander and second in command.  Pakistan’s unprecedented effort against Afghan Taliban within its borders comes following a year of Obama administration engagement.  This comprehensive approach -on counterterrorism but also Pakistan’s development, defense and diplomatic priorities -has built greater cooperation between the two countries, particularly on regional counterterrorism issues.  However, caution is warranted:  Pakistan’s interests will not always align with those of the U.S., and the Administration should not repeat its predecessor’s failure by simply assuming a “friendly” Pakistani government will pursue U.S. interests.

Pakistan has taken unprecedented action against the Taliban’s core leadership over past weeks. The Christian Science Monitor reported late yesterday that, “Pakistan has arrested nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days…dealing what could be a crucial blow to the insurgent movement. In total, seven of the insurgent group’s 15-member leadership council, thought to be based in Quetta, Pakistan, including the head of military operations, have been apprehended in the past week, according to Pakistani intelligence officials… News of the sweep emerged over the past week, with reports that Pakistani authorities had netted Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the movement’s second in command, as well as Maulavi Abdul Kabir, a prominent commander in charge of insurgent operations in eastern Afghanistan, and Mullah Muhammad Younis. Pakistan has also captured several other Afghan members of the leadership council, called the Quetta Shura… These include: Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir, who oversees the movement’s military affairs, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhunzada, and Mullah Abdul Raouf. At least two Taliban shadow provincial governors, who are part of the movement’s parallel government in Afghanistan, have also been captured.” [CS Monitor, 2/24/10]

These successes follow months of productive engagement with Pakistan and the development of a comprehensive Pakistan policy that changed the atmosphere of U.S.-Pakistani relations. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who led President Obama’s first Afghanistan policy review, told the Christian Science Monitor that “A year ago when this [Obama] administration was completing its first Afghanistan review and we asked the Pakistanis about the Afghan Taliban leadership operating from their country, they flatly denied it, Now not only do they say there are senior Taliban leaders in their country, but they are frankly taking action against them.”  This progress has been achieved over the course of the past year as the Obama administration has taken the issue of Pakistan seriously, developing a comprehensive policy towards the country that consists of efforts to combat terrorists and insurgents, maintains high level diplomatic engagement, and consists of a tripling of American aid to that country.

Defense: The Obama administration has increased cooperation on hard security issues, such as counterterrorism and battling Pakistan’s Islamist insurgency.  Last month it was announced that “The United States will provide a dozen unarmed aerial spy drones to Pakistan for the first time as part of an effort to encourage Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting Islamic militants on the Afghanistan border, American defense officials said Thursday… The Shadow drones, which are smaller than armed Predator drones, will be a significant upgrade in the Pakistanis’ reconnaissance and surveillance ability and will supply video to help cue strikes from the ground or the air,” according to the New York Times. [New York Times, 1/21/10]

Diplomacy:  The Obama administration has vigorously engaged Pakistan diplomatically at the highest levels.  There have been visits by Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen as well as CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus, in addition to SFRC Chairman Senator John Kerry (D-MA).  These visits “highlight Pakistan’s importance [to the U.S.]. Al Qaeda and other militant groups have established refuge in Pakistan and use the porous border to stage attacks against US and coalition forces inside Afghanistan,” writes the Christian Science Monitor.

In addition, the U.S. has engaged vigorously in regional diplomacy.  As Secretary Clinton recently told a Senate panel: “With respect to India and Pakistan, we’ve encouraged the resumption of the direct talks which were suspended when (Pakistan) President (Pervez) Musharraf left office.” [Christian Science Monitor, 12/15/09. Hillary Clinton, via the Nation, 2/25/10]

Development:  In October, the BBC reported that, “US President Barack Obama has signed into law a $7.5bn aid package for Pakistan, after fears it might impinge on Pakistani sovereignty were eased… It triples non-military US aid to an annual outlay of $1.5bn for five years.”[BBC, 10/15/09]

Moving forward, the Obama administration must avoid the mistakes of its predecessors – confusing Pakistan’s objectives with its own.  Action taken by Pakistan over the last two weeks gives hope that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is improving.  At the same time, the motivations behind Pakistan’s crack down on elements of the Taliban hiding within its borders are still unknown.  The Christian Science Monitor indicates that Pakistan may be motivated by a desire to steer reconciliation talks between some Taliban leaders and the Afghan Government and Western coalition.  The story also suggests that “Pakistan may also be wary of Taliban attempts to initiate talks without its involvement or sanction.” A UN official familiar with the efforts to start talks told the Monitor: “Pakistan wants a seat at the table… They don’t want the Taliban to act independently.”  A New York Times story elaborates, saying that “Washington and Kabul hint that the ISI’s goal seems to be to weaken the Taliban just enough to bring them to the negotiating table, but leaving them strong enough to represent Pakistani interests in a future Afghan government.” A BBC story touched on the possible regional connections to Pakistan’s actions, describing how Pakistan is “wary of its [India’s] growing influence in Afghanistan.”

Because of this uncertainty, the Obama administration is best served by not confusing its motivations with those of Pakistan, a cautionary point illustrated by the failures of its predecessors.  For years, the Bush White House acted as if U.S. interests and Pakistan’s were one and the same, with President Bush even going so far as to say, “when [Musharraf] looks me in the eye and says there won’t be a Taliban and won’t be Al Qaeda, I believe him.”  The reality was very different.  Brookings Institution Pakistan expert Stephen P. Cohen explained at the time: “Administration officials have gloated that they coerced Pakistan into signing on to the ill-named war on terrorism. In return, Islamabad played a double game regarding its participation in this struggle.” Cohen added, “Its intelligence services supported the Taliban, while only reluctantly going after the al Qaeda forces embedded in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The failure to round up the Taliban leadership was a matter of state policy: the Pakistan army still regards India as its major threat, and the Taliban are used to counterbalance Indian influence in Afghanistan.” [CS Monitor, 2/24/10. NY Times, 2/24/10. BBC, 2/25/10. Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007. Steven P. Cohen, 11/05/07]

What We’re Reading

The Afghan government has claimed hold over the territory of Marjah and installed a government administrator there.

A report from the Justice Department’s ethics office says the CIA asked to use mock burial as a technique in interrogating prisoners.

A blizzard of bank notes worth well over $1 billion is flying out of Afghanistan — often in full view of customs officers at the Kabul airport — as part of a cash exodus that is confounding U.S. officials and raising concerns about the money’s origin.

The election in Iraq-and the nature of the country’s future democracy-may hinge on which of the majority Shiite parties wins the most votes.

The preliminary peace treaty signed between the most powerful rebel movement in Darfur and the Sudanese government is the culmination of a shift in regional politics that could help bring Darfur’s sputtering conflict to an end, Sudan observers say.

The human rights branch of the Organization of American States issued a blistering 300-page report on Venezuela, saying that the oil-rich country run by President Hugo Chávez constrains free expression, the rights of its citizens to protest and the ability of opposition politicians to function.

New polls show Americans are increasingly worried about China’s rise.

Viktor Yanukovych was sworn in as Ukraine’s president in a ceremony in parliament. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was defeated by Mr. Yanukovych in a Feb. 7 runoff, boycotted the ceremony and continues to contest the election.

The Dubai police released the names of 15 more suspects on Wednesday in the killing of a senior Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel room last month.

The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan began their meeting today. Topics of discussion include the Mumbai attacks, the situation in Kashmir and water rights.

Global trade fell 12% last year, the greatest drop since World War II.

Commentary of the Day

The New York Times editorial board asks if the state of ethics in the American legal system is such that “government lawyers who abused their offices to give the president license to get away with torture did nothing that merits a review by the bar.”

Fred Kaplan argues that NATO should not be used in “expeditionary” missions, as opposed to the defensive missions it was designed to take on.

David Ignatius says the best way to fight Iranian meddling in Iraq’s election is to expose it.

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