US should not invade Pakistan

Following a statement by the US intelligence chief that he believes Bin Laden is alive and hiding in Pakistan, come fears that the White House may actually consider raiding the Pakistan tribal areas to try to capture Bin Laden. Some opinions interpret the homeland security adviser’s remarks as an open admission that the American military has already staged attacks against Al Qaeda within Pakistan. Still others think that invading Pakistan, not Iraq, is an opportunity lost.

These remarks have caused the expected stir and angry responses: Pakistan has reacted angrily, and a pro-Taliban leader from South Waziristan has warned against any US military incursion.binafp

The real military options available to the US are all unpalatable, however:

When asked how the United States would respond if Al Qaeda were to plot a successful attack on the United States from the tribal areas, the answer from one intelligence officials was direct: “We’d go in and flatten it.”

But the US is facing a major dilemma:

“There can be no wait-and-see approach by the US in terms of Pakistan, but neither can there be any unilateral action like a covert operation against these areas,” says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs. “That would be the kiss of death for any broad move against the extremists, and it would inflame the already strong anti-American feelings in the country.”

So, what should the US do? While I am the staunchest supporter of the ‘war on terror’, I think (like many others) that it has gone terribly wrong. One of the reasons Al Qaeda is gaining ground is that the US strategy is alienating all Muslims:

Americans who think that all Muslims hate the United States may be surprised to hear that many Muslims believe they have it precisely backward. Our questionnaires showed that Muslims worldwide viewed Islamophobia in the West as the No. 1 threat they faced. Many Muslims told us that the Western media depict them as terrorists or likens them to Nazis.

The above article, “Bush still doesn’t get it“, is an excellent read “galvanized by the need to help Americans better comprehend the Muslim world”. Yet another op-ed from the Baltimore Sun echoes this view:

Al-Qaeda is not simply an outlaw organization that can be put “on the run.” Rather, it is part of a broad, religion-based social movement that has deep support in elements of the Muslim world. If al-Qaeda can be isolated and deprived of public support, it will wither and die. If not, it will continue to be a resilient franchise capable of regeneration, growth and ultimately additional strikes inside the United States.

Point 1: US needs to be more sensitive to Islamic aspirations, and project a vision for the future that embraces moderate Islamism. It can do many more different things in Pakistan, like helping revamp education (a dear thing to many Muslims), rather than simply pouring billions of dollars in aid for the army, which the people of Pakistan say is ultimately used against them.

Second, a civil war or extremist surge across Pakistan would be worse than not capturing Bin Laden. This has to be prevented at all costs. And the only political process that can help avert that is democracy. However, after six years of supporting Musharraf’s dictatorship, there are sensitivities involved that need to be balanced. But supporting the roots of democracy would likely pay off:

More broadly, however, the US must work – fast – to pressure Musharraf into opening up Pakistan’s political system and tapping into its shallow but existing democratic roots, experts say. “Musharraf simply won’t be able to mount an effective campaign against the extremists without broad civilian support,” says Cohen. And for that, he adds, the military leader will have to move to a system of power- sharing that encompasses Pakistan’s political parties.

Point 2: Urgently pursue all diplomatic efforts to broaden the political support for the war against extremism in Pakistan. Chacko from Indian Mutiny even exhorts India to take up the cause.

Why am I writing this? There are many reasons why America should not invade Pakistan. This blog post by Eric Margolis, who has actually spent time in these tribal areas of Pakistan, offers a realistic on-the-ground picture and reasons why America’s invasion of this territory would be a catastrophic mistake. I can only add that it would completely destabilize the entire region. India cannot afford the risk of civil war or an extremist Pakistan. We cannot afford Pakistan turning into Iraq Version 2.0.

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19 thoughts on “US should not invade Pakistan

  1. I strongly agree. If a neighboring farm is infested by locusts, how long will my farm remain safe?
    That said, it was Pakistan and US that incubated this.

  2. An extremist Pakistan is not a threat.
    An extremist N-capable Pakistan is, and not just to India.

    Pakistan is already a declared Islamic state, it won’t take an American invasion to turn it to radicalism. They are already on the verge of it. There is enough support within the ranks of their military and ISI for the Taliban.

    Pakistan of today, her army and weapons are America’s creation.

    Now that the same weapons have been turned away from east and towards West, they do not like it. But they have to deal with it, and stop or eradicate that threat. It may well have to be an invasion.

    India is no safer if America does not invade.
    Maybe less.

  3. One thing is for sure, if American attacks the NW region of Pakistan, they are going to alienate Muslims and this is not going to help the war on terror.
    What I keep wondering is that is this the only way to get Bin Laden? Because if they do attack they might kill everyone except him! See how many people they killed just to get Saddam!

  4. “Neighboring farm infested by locusts!” – what an analogy! Great.

    “If they attack, they alienate” – exactly. And the repercussions follow. The “real military options” that are “unpalatable” linked NYT article describes the actual options of attack: covert action / air-strikes / large-scale ground offensive. All of them are highly problematic.

  5. I hope that we stay out of Pakistan (I am American – Well I am a dual citizen of Greece and America – but I was born in America and spend most of my time here). Where was I?…

    Oh, Pakistan. I think we would be incredibly stupid to attack Pakistan. Luckily, I do not think it will happen. No one over here likes Bush right now, and we are certainly not going to back another Iraq type conflict. There is a big push to pull our troops out of Iraq not put more troops into another hostile situation.

  6. I hope you’re right and I also believe the US will not hastily invade the Pakistan territory. But, what if details of a plot to blow up the White House were to emerge with the perpetrators suspected to be in this Pakistani territory? What will happen then (and this is not a completely unlikely scenario) may be the real acid test of the war on terror.

  7. I would hope that if the US chose a military response is such a scenario that it would be a small special ops engagement targeted at the terrorists, not another ‘war’. That said, my first hope would be some sort of diplomatic response. But, of course, it is America. And we are not very good at diplomacy.

  8. Until the US mindset changes from a presumptuous masturbatory “they hate us because we are free, we are great, we are this, we are that”, and really try to understand the root problem as to why they are such deep differences, I am afraid we are stuck in a loop. This loop started many many decades ago even before Israel. The iraq war is just the latest iteration – just one battle in a long ongoing mess.

  9. Arunk-

    I think that Arunk has a point. But it is important to remember that America is also a culture of fear. It is a subtle fear but it underlies everything and is a fairly significant force behind the rampant consumerism over here. Our media preferences the disastrous, horror stories. People are fed murder, war, and hostility every minute of every day here. And fear is what drove the public’s acceptance of Iraq. Now, what drove the politicians might have been something else. In any case, I hope that the public is a little smarter when it comes to Pakistan.

  10. Arunk: thanks for visiting – I completely agree!

    Aikaterine: This is a very good insight – “a culture of fear”. I’d never thought about it that way. Yes, I have always observed how the US media comes up with an unending feed of horror and disaster stories but I thought it was just sensationalism. I never thought it caters to a culture of fear. Thanks for the insight!

  11. Mahendra –

    I think the best way to sum up the negative parts of the American culture is to think of it as a cycle of fear and consumerism. Imagine that you are shown all of the violence and disaster, so you have a view of the world that is influenced largely by fear. Again, it’s subtle, you might not recognize it. But it is there. And then you are shown commercials and advertising for products that are supposed to make you feel better. You want to get the girl, buy this car. You want to make your wife happy, buy her this ring. People think you are ugly, buy this face cream to help with your blemishes. Products will make you feel better, no need to worry anymore. We can all feel good about ourselves and be safe if we just buy enough stuff. And we are so busy chasing the ‘American dream’ in order to be happy and alleviate our fears that we do not have time to stop and question what our political leaders are doing.

  12. Aikaterine: what an insight and what a creative way to look at it! The way you tie fear and consumerism – I’m simply speechless! I’m so glad to have your comments on my blog – thank you very much…

  13. aikaterine – very interesting perspective. But then consumerism is everywhere and not unique to US (albeit it perhaps is most there). But I like the angle as to how it can create an artificial protective shell for its citizens. BTW, all this talk made me share a thought I had for a while about countries in general. If you are interested: see my blog.

  14. Arunk: please feel free to comment on my blog and discuss about the topic I’ve written about. But please don’t use it as a forum to divert readers to your blog – that is something, which is frowned upon in general in the blogosphere. That is why I’ve removed the direct link to your post – those who’re interested can still discover your post via the link on your username. Thanks and hope you keep visiting!

  15. Pingback: On American Imperialism « An Unquiet Mind

  16. As a Pashtun from tribal areas, let me state that the author’s knowledge about FATA and its people is at best scarce and fragmentary. An evidence of this is, that he also includes Chitral in FATA (which is a district of NWFP).

    The author either doesn’t know or ignores the fact that it has been the consistant demand of the FATA people that political, legal, and administrative reforms be extended to Tribal Areas but the federal Punjab-dominated govt of Pakistan is ignoring such demands for a number of reasons, foremost such reforms would strengthen Pashtuns of Pakistan politically and would put an end to Pakistan’s use of the imaginary but much propagated independent-mindedness of FATA people as guise for intereference in Afghanistan and attack AL-Qaueda/Taliban to attack NATO and other forces.

    In reality, as Afrasiab Khattak, the provincial president of Awami National Party, the Pashtun nationalist party, and ex-chairman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has recently said, federal govt of Pakistan has more control in Tribal Areas than it has settled districts.

    It is unfortunate that the external world learn about Pashtuns and FATA from journalists and scholars that are either not properly aware about the region or the people or obtain information from govt sources in Pakistan, which is dominated by Punjabis and Muhajirs, whose interests are best served if Pashtuns, Baluchis, and Sindhis, the oppressed nationalities of Pakistan are painted in a particular way. Eric Margulus writes for Dawn, a pro-Musharaf, pro-govt newspaper run by Muhajirs, one of the dominent ethnic groups that Musharaf comes from.

  17. Fateh Mohammad: Apologies for the late response. Your insight into the FATA region sheds much more light to us outsiders, than we will ever know. I thank you for providing this glimpse of the real situation. That Musharraf’s government is using FATA for political purposes is something unknown to the outside and especially western world.

    You haven’t commented on the opinion I’ve expressed in my post. I still strongly think that the US should not invade FATA. If what you are saying is true, that is what should be brought out in the open by the western media and governments. That will put enough pressure on Musharraf to put an end to his hypocrisy.

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