03 Jan 2008

Pakistan, Bhutto and the U.S.-Jihadist Endgame

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George Friedman‘s latest from the Stratfor subscription service.

The endgame of the U.S.-jihadist war always had to be played out in Pakistan. There are two reasons that could account for this. The first is simple: Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda command cell are located in Pakistan. The war cannot end while the command cell functions or has a chance of regenerating. The second reason is more complicated. The United States and NATO are engaged in a war in Afghanistan. Where the Soviets lost with 300,000 troops, the Americans and NATO are fighting with less than 50,000. Any hope of defeating the Taliban, or of reaching some sort of accommodation, depends on isolating them from Pakistan. So long as the Taliban have sanctuary and logistical support from Pakistan, transferring all coalition troops in Iraq to Afghanistan would have no effect. And withdrawing from Afghanistan would return the situation to the status quo before Sept. 11. If dealing with the Taliban and destroying al Qaeda are part of any endgame, the key lies in Pakistan.

U.S. strategy in Pakistan has been to support Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and rely on him to purge and shape his country’s army to the extent possible to gain its support in attacking al Qaeda in the North, contain Islamist radicals in the rest of the country and interdict supplies and reinforcements flowing to the Taliban from Pakistan. It was always understood that this strategy was triply flawed.

First, under the best of circumstances, a completely united and motivated Pakistani army’s ability to carry out this mission effectively was doubtful. And second, the Pakistani army was — and is — not completely united and motivated. Not only was it divided, one of its major divisions lay between Taliban supporters sympathetic to al Qaeda and a mixed bag of factions with other competing interests. Distinguishing between who was on which side in a complex and shifting constellation of relationships was just about impossible. That meant the army the United States was relying on to support the U.S. mission was, from the American viewpoint, inherently flawed.

It must be remembered that the mujahideen’s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan shaped the current Pakistani army. Allied with the Americans and Saudis, the Pakistani army — and particularly its intelligence apparatus, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — had as its mission the creation of a jihadist force in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. The United States lost interest in Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet Union, but the Pakistanis did not have that option. Afghanistan was right next door. An interesting thing happened at that point. Having helped forge the mujahideen and its successor, the Taliban, the Pakistani army and ISI in turn were heavily influenced by their Afghan clients’ values. Patron and client became allies. And this created a military force that was extremely unreliable from the U.S. viewpoint.

Third, Musharraf’s intentions were inherently unpredictable. As a creature of the Pakistani army, Musharraf reflects all of the ambivalences and tensions of that institution. His primary interest was in holding on to power. To do that, he needed to avoid American military action in Pakistan while simultaneously reassuring radical Islamists he was not a mere tool of the United States. Given the complexity of his position, no one could ever be certain of where Musharraf stood. His position was entirely tactical, shifting as political necessity required. He was constantly placating the various parties, but since the process of placation for the Americans meant that he take action against the jihadists, constant ineffective action by Musharraf resulted. He took enough action to keep the Americans at bay, not enough to force his Islamist enemies to take effective action against him. …

the United States now faces its endgame under far less than ideal conditions. Iraq is stabilizing. That might reverse, but for now it is stabilizing. The Taliban is strong, but it is under pressure and has serious internal problems. The endgame always was supposed to come in Pakistan, but this is far from how the Americans wanted to play it out. The United States is not going to get an aggressive, anti-Islamist military in Pakistan, but it badly needs more than a Pakistani military that is half-heartedly and tenuously committed to the fight. Salvaging Musharraf is getting harder with each passing day. So that means that a new personality, such as Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, must become Washington’s new man in Pakistan. In this endgame, all that the Americans want is the status quo in Pakistan. It is all they can get. And given the way U.S. luck is running, they might not even get that.

Read the whole thing.

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