When I wrote back in September about Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s “Faustian Bargain” with the tribes of North Waziristan, counterterrorism experts predicted disaster. I summarized their concerns for The American Thinker:
In effect, the Taliban has carved out an independent enclave in ‘The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan,’ a safe haven for alâ€”Qaeda terrorists, and a base of operations secure from interference by the Pakistani military to better carry out their murderous raids across the border into Afghanistan. They have already established their own harsh brand of Sharia law in the area and allowed training camps for various extremist groups to be set up. And most importantly, they have humiliated the government and weakened Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power.
More ominously, another country now has a terrorist state within a state operating virtually free of the control of the central government but with one potentially catastrophic difference:
This nation has at least 60 nuclear weapons that could potentially fall into the hands of Islamic extremists.
Now the New York Times is reporting that the worst fears of the experts have been realized and al-Qaeda has regained much of its strength, using Waziristan as a safe harbor to rest, refit, and plan their next moves:
Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.
American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.
The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.
Musharraf has been trying to to do the impossible since 9/11. He has been trying to appease radicals, his base in the military and Pashtun tribe, and the United States – all without getting assassinated. He is dealing with an incipient revolt in Boluchistan, a stagnant economy, a push among the people for free elections, pressure from the military to give up his Chief of Staff position, a shadowy intelligence service that created and nurtures the Taliban, agitation from religious political parties to distance himself from the United States, and a restive, radical, anti-American population who is plenty angry at the Pakistani President for helping the US in the War on Terror.
And that help has not been insignificant. For all of Musharaffs trimming and outright lies to us about how well he is fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the fact is he has done the best he can in impossible circumstances. At our insistence, he went into Waziristan in the first place looking to battle the Taliban and al-Qaeda only to get bogged down and watch as his military suffered regular casualties without making much headway in the mountainous, nearly impassable country. The treaty that led to the current catastrophic situation was a necessity – at least from Musharraf’s point of view. His fragile hold on power is dependent on his enemies not being able to coalesce in opposition to him. And his military moves against the northern tribes was extremely unpopular.
Just recently, he has bombed the camps in the northern territories, once again at the insistence of the United States:
Al Qaeda is fighting back against the Pakistani tactic of bombing terrorist camps along the Afghan border. In the last few weeks, terrorists bomb attacks have killed over a hundred people. Police have also prevented several additional bombings, capturing bomb making materials and documents proving the al Qaeda connection. Some of the captured bombers were actually preparing for attacks on Shia religious festivals next month, but most were revenge hits ordered up by al Qaeda.
Pakistan is in a tough position. With most of the population either enthusiastic, or supportive, of Islamic radicalism, it’s difficult for the government to declare open war on the tribes providing bases for the Taliban and al Qaeda along the Afghan border. Officers have already reported that up to a third of their troops might be “unreliable” if there were sustained military operations in the tribal territory. Yet, if the government does not go after these bases, the people in them have vowed to continue building their strength until they can topple the government. Such a headache.
Our leverage over Musharraf is simple; $2 billion in direct aid every year since 2002 and help in restructuring Pakistan’s massive debt burden. Beyond that, Musharraf knows what will happen if Pakistan becomes another base for al-Qaeda terrorists to strike western interests with impunity. For the moment, the US and NATO is obeying Musharraf’s absolute restriction on “hot pursuit” of Taliban fighters who have infiltrated into Afghanistan and move effortlessly back across the border into Pakistan. But Musharraf cannot be insensitive to the fact that the patience of the US is wearing thin and that taking matters into our own hands is an option that is not off the table.
Musharraf has also banned air operations against the Taliban (although he has relented on a few occasions when a high value AQ target was sighted) and denied entry even by Special Forces – although there have been hints that he has simply turned the other way with regards to both American and French Special Operations that have been run in the northern Afghan-Pakistani border area.
Ed Morrissey sums up our dilemma with Musharraf pretty well:
Western intelligence and military agencies are unsure how to proceed. American military strikes on these bases will violate Pakistani sovereignty, but Musharraf has not been willing to take on the task himself. The West cannot allow AQ to operate so easily, and the Bush doctrine certainly would apply here. However, if people thought Iraq was such a “meatgrinder”, as one CQ commenter recently put it (and later retracted), it would be a walk in the park compared to an invasion of Waziristan and an occupation of that region. It would almost certainly pull down the Musharraf government in Islamabad, and its replacement would almost certainly be Islamist. Its army and intelligence services would immediately begin to attack American positions in the mountainous country, and we would then be at open war with a nuclear power. Plus, the lines of communication would make it difficult to resupply our troops even if that war went reasonably well; we could not hope to hold Waziristan for a significant period of time.
Besides, given the nature of AQ, even targeted American strikes could not guarantee that they could be “surgical”, ie, not create collateral damage to civilian populations. We also could not be sure that we had destroyed the core AQ targets, although the camps would be enough for now. Escalation of the war in Afghanistan would have to get NATO’s buy-in, and it would open up the White House to more attacks from Congress, including another defunding threat.
Allah adds this:
The stupider, more reactionary types among the nutroots will try to blame this on Chimpyâ€™s Iraq gambit, but one has nothing to do with the other. The issue here is Pakistani sovereignty, not troop levels, and in any case there arenâ€™t enough men and women in the U.S. military to occupy a country of 160+ million people with nuclear weapons and a jihadist power base thatâ€™s the envy of the Wahhabist world. We might have enough troops to invade and occupy the tribal areas if Musharraf was willing to cut a deal on that, but (a) what could we possibly offer him to get him to effectively cede territory, (b) how could he hope to survive the irredentist backlash among Pakistanis, and© if you think 3,000 dead in Iraq is bad, what would the numbers look like with U.S. troops fighting Iwo-style cave-clearing warfare in the mountains of Waziristan with jihadis from every shinolahole in the Middle East streaming in as reinforcements?
Truly, remarkably, ignorant is the reaction from much of the left. Bush has been blamed for Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and a variety of societal ills that the rational among us recognize as not being the responsibility of government. But the delusion that the United States government – run by anyone – should be able to find a way to help Musharraf or mitigate his problems is beyond stupid.
Pakistan is a sovereign country. Those anti-American feelings among the population were there long before Bush took office. And the fiercely independent tribesmen in the north have been fighting the central government in Pakistan since the partition with India 60 years ago. The Taliban, as I mention above, was created by the ISI who has a vested interest in seeing that they survive. Musharraf himself was a big Taliban booster until 9/11. And Pakistan has always taken a proprietary interest in what happens in Afghanistan, seeing that country as part of their sphere of influence.
Taking all that together, only a monumental idiot would blame President Bush for the state of affairs in Pakistan. Here’s one:
So while our Great Decider Bush was busy deciding whether he wanted Osama dead or alive, or didn’t care about him anymore, the real terrorists weren’t waiting around to for his final answer. And now we have a hell of bigger problem. Musharraf’s government is holding on by a thread as it is. He can hardly afford to rile up the Islamic extremists without risking a major coup. The US can hardly go in and start bombing the place willy nilly without triggering the same reaction and possibly riling up a bunch of countries in the region whom we are sure possess nuclear weapons. Not to mention the inevitable civilian deaths in such a strategy would really get the people in terrorist recruiting country even more energized.
It surely would have been better if Bush had finished the first war he started before he expanded the front all over the globe. It couldn’t be anymore screwed up if he did it deliberately. Makes you wonder if creating international chaos wasn’t the goal from the beginning.
“Finished the first war…?” Who, pray tell, would we have been fighting? Goats? Sheep perhaps?
The Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan. And the sovereign country of Pakistan refused to allow us entry to finish them off. Of course, if we had violated Pakistan’s sovereignty and gone in anyway, Mr. Impolitic would have had apoplexy. Nor does our deranged lefty cousin say anything about the responsibility of the Pakistanis in the aftermath of the War in Afghanistan. We had been assured by Musharraf that the Taliban would be held in check and that al-Qaeda would be dealt with. Given the circumstances and the alternatives, we had very little choice but to believe him.
No, I blame Bush for much of the debacle in Iraq as well as the fact that there are still too many soft targets here in this country. But I cannot stand by and watch truly ignorant, reflexive, bashing of President Bush over a situation that is not his or the government’s fault. The problem of Pakistan is one of geography. It is one of sovereignty. It is one of history that occurred long before George Bush became President. It is about radical politics that Iraq has only marginally affected – that, in fact, our invasion of Afghanistan (you know, the one that our super patriotic liberals say they supported) roiled the streets of Pakistan far more than anything that happened in Iraq.
None of this matters. The left is in a comfort zone when blaming Bush and I daresay they will continue to do so long after his term of office is over.