U.S. Security Interests After Musharraf
August 21, 2008
The United States cannot expect Pakistanis to act on the basis of US interests, as distinguished from those of Pakistan. It also needs to understand that most Pakistanis see the Islamist threat from the Taliban, other Afghan insurgents, and Al Qa’ida as a secondary or low priority and the fighting in Western Pakistan as a struggle inflicted on Pakistan by the US as a result of its invasion of Afghanistan.
It is equally clear that Pakistan faces at the least a troubled year while it attempts to deal with internal divisions and find whether its two main, competing political parties can create a stable government and begin show that democratic government actually produces effective and relatively honest governance. Pakistan must also find a new balance of power between its civil leaders and its military, and cope with growing economic turmoil. Under normal conditions, Pakistan would need patient encouragement, and American tolerance. It would be a time for diplomacy, not pressure and calls for military action.
US Strategic Interests in Pakistan
At the same time, we need to be clear about our own strategic interests, and set our priorities accordingly. Pakistan is not a major trading partner, and other nations could replace it almost overnight. It is not a major regional power, and it is increasingly overshadowed by an emergent India. It also is not a practical candidate for yet another American experiment with democratic reform. As for its role in the “great game” between China and India, and central Asia, this is a game the US has every reason not to play with the exception of the issue of extremism and terrorism. It has always been a game most easily won by refusing to play.
Pakistan’s strategic importance to the US lies in four areas that directly affect US security interests:
• Winning the Afghan-Pakistan war;
• Preventing Pakistan from becoming a sanctuary for Islamist extremism and limiting such influence over the Pakistani government and armed forces.
• Ensuring the security of Pakistani nuclear weapons, and
• Preventing any significant conflict between India and Pakistan.
There is no easy way to prioritize these objectives. At the same time, there is little indication that Pakistan’s internal divisions really present any threat of Pakistan losing control of its nuclear weapons. It is equally clear that India has no desire to expand its territory, and that any serious Pakistani clash with India would result in a major Pakistani defeat. Pakistan may have an army of 550,000, some 2,461 main battle tanks, 352 combat aircraft, and a substantial navy with 8 submarines, and 6 capital ships. India, however, has an army of 1,100,000, some 3,978 main battle tanks, 849 combat aircraft, 16 submarines, and 57 capital ships. Pakistan’s security lies in peace with India, not in creating larger conventional forces and more military spending.
This does not mean that the US can ignore Pakistan’s political and economic development. There is no question that a stable, democratic Pakistan with a growing economy and improved distribution of wealth is as critical to mid and long term success in meeting this combination of objectives as is Pakistani cooperation in defeating the Taliban and Al Qa’ida. The narrow definition of “security” is only one part of real security, and politics, governance, and economics ultimately offer a degree of stability and safety that force can never achieve. More simply, the right kind of aid and diplomatic support will always be as important as the right kind of military action.
Musharraf: A Failed and Uncertain “Ally”
That said, however, the US needs to recognize both the scale of Musharraf’s failures and how delicate the situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas and Baluchistan has become. There are acute limits to the amount of patience the US and its allies in Afghanistan can show. The US is now losing the war against the Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar and other anti-government forces in Afghanistan and faces a reemergent Al Qa’ida. Pakistan may officially be an ally, but much of its conduct has effectively made it a major threat to US strategic interests.
During at least the last four years, Pakistan has become a steadily expanding base and sanctuary for Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar and other anti-government forces. The North West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in western Pakistan, and the border areas in Baluchistan to the south of Afghanistan, have become the center of a resurgent Al Qa’ida and Pakistani Taliban and other violent extremist movements seeking to dominate parts of Pakistan.
For all the rhetoric about Musharraf as an ally in the war on terrorism, he never took decisive or effective action in dealing with any of these issues. He reacted under pressure, conducted limited offensives that had no lasting impact, arrested key Taliban and Al Qa’ida figures when he had to, and did just as much in the border area with Afghanistan as he had to. He tolerated occasional US UCAV strikes and small intelligence and Special Forces operations in practice while denying their existence or objecting to them in public.
Musharraf did not, however, take effective or consistent steps to deal with the threat from violent extremist groups and those who supported them. When the conventional dilemma in counterinsurgency is whether a government can shift from winning tactical engagements to “win, hold, and build;” Pakistan pursed a strategy of lose, halt, and accommodate. Musharraf failed to take effective steps towards providing aid, governance, security, and services in the FATA area or Baluchistan. Musharraf also failed to clean up Pakistani intelligence and elements in the military forces with ties to Islamist extremist groups, or who saw encouraging them as a way to gain control and influence over both Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Pashtuns.
Pakistan continued the politico-military game that gathered momentum under Zia, and its failure to act had a critical impact. Declassified US intelligence and UN maps indicate that the area of Taliban and insurgent influence/presence in Afghanistan doubled between 2004 and 2005, quadrupled between 2005 and 2006, and rose sharply again between 2006 and 2007 – spreading out of the Pakistani border areas into central and northwestern Afghanistan. While much of this expansion involve presence, rather than fighting, insurgent movements win by expanding presence and outlasting their opponents, not by open warfighting.
Musharraf made no real effort to reform the ineffective 65,000 man Frontier Corps – which remains little more than an untrained mix of tribal elements the Pakistani government bribes to offer some degree of local support to the government. He did not sustain the initially effective combination of Pakistani special forces combat units and small elements of US special forces advisors. He only supported limited and occasional action by Pakistan’s regular army. He did not give retraining the Pakistani Army for counterinsurgency meaningful priority or accept the need for the scale of outside aid that is vital in achieving this mission.
He did not reform the police; he encouraged its subordination to the military and his rule, and encouraged its corruption and abuses by default. He did not bring the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) under control, and almost certainly tolerated or supported its continuing efforts to exploit Pashtun groups like the Taliban to maintain Pakistani control over the FATA and its influence in Afghanistan.
Musharraf used substantial amounts of US military aid to ensure his control over the Pakistani military, and buy weapons that had nothing to do with the war on terrorism. Not only was much of US aid money used to buy F-16s, naval ship, and air defense radar coverage; much of it was used in ways that the US never understood or account for. The GAO reported (GAO 08-806) in June 2008 that,
…as of May 2008, Defense paid over $2 billion in Pakistani reimbursement claims for military activities covering January 2004 through June 2007 without obtaining sufficient information that would enable a third party to recalculate these costs. Furthermore, Defense may have reimbursed costs that (1) were not incremental, (2) were not based on actual activity, or (3) were potentially duplicative. GAO also found that additional oversight controls were needed. For example, there is no guidance for Defense to verify currency conversion rates used by Pakistan, which if performed would enhance Defense’s ability to monitor for potential overbillings.
Some of the aid money was used in the FATA area and to deal with the Taliban and other threats in the border area, and some was used to support Pakistani offensives in the area – although none had lasting success. There were also other reasons that the US needed Pakistani help. The Department of Defense reports that, “84 percent of all containerized cargo and approximately 40 percent of all fuel for U.S. and coalition forces operating in Afghanistan passes through Pakistan.” In broad terms, however, US aid was used more as a bribe than to deal with the Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar, and Al Qa’ida threat. Moreover, there is substantially evidence that aid money was siphoned off in ways that strongly indicate substantial amounts of corruption within the Pakistani military.
The Impact of the Political Struggle Over Musharraf
Musharraf’s failures broadly outline the areas where the US most needs Pakistani support. This need is also urgent. Ineffective as Musharraf was, things have become much worse without him. The Pakistani forces have virtually stood down, and far more effort has gone into negotiating with Taliban hardliners in Pakistan than dealing with the threat they pose.
As many analysts have already reported, the Afghan /Pakistan War is a conflict that the US and NATO/ISAF are now losing. Once again, the Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar, and Al Qa’ida do not need to defeat the US, NATO/ISAF, and Afghan government forces. They only have to outlast them. They do not even have to be popular as long as there is no meaningful government presence and provision of services, and the combination of US, NATO/ISAF, and Afghan government forces is only strong enough to defend itself, but far too weak to “win, hold, and build.”
US officers privately admit that most of the gains they made in Eastern Afghanistan during 2007 have since been lost. The US publicly states that the number of attacks per week in Eastern Afghanistan increased be 40% between January and July 2008. A similar pattern exists in the south where Britain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and US Marines now fight an extraordinarily difficult coalition war. UN maps show that the southeastern half of Afghanistan is effectively a “no go area” for aid workers who do not have military escorts, and Kabul itself is now a danger area for foreigners.
Admittedly, Pakistan is only part of the problem. An ineffective Afghan government must have much of the blame. The Bush Administration has never given the war proper attention or met the resource requirements set for the by US ambassadors and commanders. NATO/ISAF has a divided and tension-filed command structure crippled by national caveats on how much of its force can fight. Aid has been badly underfunded and undermanned. Efforts to build up the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police have been badly underfunded and understaffed, and have reacted with long time lags to the growth of the threat rather than made attempts to create large enough forces to prevent its growth. Drug eradication has left drug lords and traffickers largely intact while pushing drug production down into areas largely under Taliban control.
The fact remains, however, that the Afghan-Pakistan War is a two-country war that cannot be won in Afghanistan alone. At this point in time, US-NATO/ISAF-Afghan forces are simply too weak to deal with a multi-faceted insurgency with a de facto sanctuary along the entire Afghan-Pakistan border.
Worse, the growth of Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar, and Al Qa’ida influence and operations is occurring in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan; is bringing a steadily growing number of foreign volunteers and donations; and is helping to create new problems in Kashmir and with India. President Bush may still talk about Iraq as being the center of terrorist activity, but this has never but true. Today, if violent extremism and terrorism have a center, it is Pakistan and not Iraq.
Winning the Afghan-Pakistan War and Preventing Pakistan from Becoming a Sanctuary for Islamist Extremism
There are no quick and cheap answers to these problems for either the US or Pakistan. It seems likely that the Afghan-Pakistan war will play out over a decade or more, and be a major problem for the entire term of office for the next Presidents of both the US or Pakistan – as well as the next President of Afghanistan. It is also clear that any detailed campaign plan to deal with these issues should be shaped by those serving in the area, and not half a world away, regardless of whether that is in the NSC or various “think tanks.” It is all too easy to advance concepts and “strategies” if one ignores the need for financial and human resources, coordination with local and allied governments, and the host of details that can only be understood by those on the scene.
Nevertheless, there are priorities that do seem clear:
Strategy and Politics
The US and its allies in Afghanistan have no choice other than to try to force Pakistan’s new government to take a far firmer and more aggressive stand towards reengaging with Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar, and Al Qa’ida. They should, however, make it clear that this is of the highest priority and that future aid and support will be tied to action and not to promises.
The war cannot wait until Pakistan has a fully stable government, and has resolved its civil-military problems, or until Pakistanis come to fully understand that action is as important to Pakistan’s security and stability as to that of Afghanistan. The situation has deteriorated to the point where Pakistan needs to understand that its officials and officers can no longer temporize, obfuscate, and lie about the nature and scale of Pakistani actions, or expect any aid without strict controls based on actual performance.
The US and its allies need to openly oppose the present kind of divided and uncertain Pakistani negotiations with the Taliban and other extremist and terrorist groups. Here, it should be noted that amnesty programs, mediation, and other negotiating efforts do have major benefits when the government is strong and the insurgents/terrorists are divided, have alienated the people, and/or are largely defeated and exhausted. The right kind of political openings should be encouraged and supported. But, there do not seem to be any historical examples of cases when such negotiations had any lasting success where the government was weak and divided, had ignored and alienated the people, and/or was largely defeated and exhausted.
Decisions to take decisive action will be Pakistani, but the US should make it openly clear that the US cannot wait for Pakistan to make such decisions, and will have to treat Pakistani territory as a combat zone if Pakistan does not act. Pakistan cannot both claim sovereignty and allow hostile non-state actors to attack Afghanistan, US, and NATO/ISAF forces from its soil. Pakistan must understand that use of UAVs, UCAVs, limited Special Forces, and hot pursuit/defense operations in Pakistani territory will continue until Pakistan takes action to secure its own territory and borders
The other side of the story, however, is that US and its allies must show that they are firmly committed to a long campaign, and will not be driven out of Afghanistan or the war by frustration or a Taliban irregular war of political attrition. The US must act now to show that Pakistan will have US sustained support, and the US has shown Pakistan that it is willing to commit the level of resources, time, and strategic patience to actually defeat the enemy rather than confront Pakistan with a US departure and an Afghan government with Taliban participation or control.
The US needs to engage Pakistan broadly with a major information effort that shows there is ample intelligence to indicate that violent Islamist extremist groups really do pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s interests as well as those of the US, its allies, and Afghanistan. Detailed declassified US intelligence reports on the threat and its growth, rather than PAO-level rhetoric, might do much to make the US position credible to Pakistanis and counter the divided reporting of the ISI, police intelligence, and military intelligence.
When and if the Pakistani government does make the decision to act, the US should publicly judge Pakistan solely by its actions and their results and not by its rhetoric. War is not a matter of tact and good manners. The US should openly report on the result of Pakistani actions, except where direct and sensitive security concerns are involved. Transparency has risks and drawbacks, but silence and acceptance are now proven failures.
Creating Effective Pakistani Military and Security Capabilities
Pakistan needs to retrain and reorganize its army, intelligence efforts, and salvageable elements of the Frontier Corps and police, to deal with counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. It will need US financial aid and training support to carry out these missions. Success, however, requires a well-structured plan, and promises of adequate resources for suitable progress to actually take place. It also requires embedded specialized advisors and trainers like US Special Forces. Pakistan must recognize and admit the need for such plans and aid. The US and any allied advisors must recognize that all operations will be planned and approved by the Pakistani government and commanders.
Pakistan’s current army force structure is obsolete, and outdated even as a means of fighting conventional wars. Its nine corps are virtually all flat land forces. The IISS reports that it has 2 armored divisions and nine brigades, one mechanized brigade, and 18 infantry divisions and six brigades. It only has one special forces group with only three brigades. A substantial number of these forces need to be built into special forces or ranger type units. This will require both aid and embedded advisors. US special forces can play this role, they have already done so to a limited degree, and plans exist to expand their role in such missions. Britain and France could also provide such cadres. This would leave all planning and operational decisions up to Pakistan, give it the kind of modernization it really needs, and sharply improve its war fighting capability.
Both Pakistan and the US need to rethink their use of airpower. The Pakistani air force needs the kind of training, battle management capability, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets to conduct precision strikes against carefully verified targets. At the same time, Pakistani land forces need improved capability to provide targeting data and forward air control for irregular warfare, and may well need embedded US special forces and intelligence support to allow the US to provide very sensitive intelligence information without compromising sources and methods. The role of US satellite and UAV coverage of Pakistan, and UCAVs in supporting such operations will almost certainly remain vital although it scarcely has to be publicly acknowledged.
Pakistan has long flown some of the most demanding helicopter missions in the world. Creating more Pakistani airmobile capability will have high priority.
The Frontier Corps and other local FATA, Baluchi, and border area forces need to be built up to provide local security and local employment, and win hearts and minds by renting them. The US has shown it has some capability to act as an advisor in such roles, and France and Italy have practical experience with paramilitary police forces. The key decision and pattern of action, however, will be determined by whether the Pakistani government chooses to actively engage in these areas for the first time, and create effective local security capabilities based on local politics and values.
This decision involves more than security. The Pakistani government cannot provide the economic aid, more effective governance, and services that its citizens in the FATA and Baluchi areas need until it can provide security. Similarly, US and other aid cannot be effective without added security. War fighting solutions and tactical victories alone cannot win in Pakistan, anymore than they can in Afghanistan. Governance and development, however, cannot improve without both government victories to “win,” and local security forces that can “hold.”
All of these steps are going to take sustained military aid, although it should be stressed that such aid will be far cheaper and far more acceptable to Pakistan than committing US forces to either Afghanistan or Pakistan, or fighting a “long war,” and losing it. The US needs to shape and resource a mixture of military and economic aid plans to both Pakistan and Afghanistan large and long enough to be credible to the host country, and which seek to dominate the threat through early massive efforts rather than react after the fact to the growth of the threat. For all its rhetoric, the Bush Administration consistently reacted after the fact, and then still underfunded the annual increment.
At the same time, US military aid should be clearly and publicly tied to the counterterrorism mission and Afghan-Pakistan conflict, not abstract Pakistani needs for more defense spending or used to help Pakistan build up its conventional forces. The plan should clearly define exactly where US aid money goes. Pakistani use of the money should be subject to US and Pakistani audit in broad terms. This should occur without nitpicking accounting rulers, or restrictive regulations, but the end use and its impact should be clear and verified.
Border Security and Civil-Military Operations in Depth
The Pakistani-Afghan border is 2,430 kilometers long. It cannot be made totally secure, and security requires defense in depth. It may take several years to create a common or parallel Afghan and Pakistani approach to border security, even if both countries take full advantage of the plans and groundwork that already has been done. Pakistan must, however, make an immediate and tangible commitment to action to secure its FATA and Baluchi borders, with clearly defined goals and objectives, as a key test of whether it is committed to serious action.
It is also clear that developing a common architecture or approach to border security would sharply reduce the cost and resources that either Afghanistan or Pakistan would otherwise have to commit and serve as a key confidence building measure in improving Afghan-Pakistani relations and American trust in the new Pakistani government.
Any successful action will, however, require US and other aid that does address problems in governance, government services, development, and employment. Operations cannot be limited to the border or to military and security forces. As Senator Biden and Senator Lugar have suggested, the US needs to provide a carefully targeted economic aid program that supports a broad “nation building” effort that makes the FATA area and outlying areas in Baluchistan a real part of Pakistan for the first time.
Once again, this does depend on progress in security and the Pakistani government showing it can find honest personnel to run the civil side of such programs. Again, however, it will be far cheaper to the US than trying to provide military solutions or losing the Afghan-Pakistan War.
Reforming Intelligence and Controlling Supporters of Extremism
ISI is only one part of the Pakistani intelligence problem, and only one of the intelligence organizations that is divided, has members with links to the Taliban and Al Qa’ida, and which has tried to exploit the Pashtun issue and Islam for what is felt to be Pakistan’s intelligence. The new Pakistani government cannot succeed in either dealing with the Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar, and Al Qa’ida, unless it brings all of the elements of Pakistani intelligence – and related military and police officers and officials -- under control. Pakistani denials about this issue have no credibility and the US and its allies cannot afford to tolerate them.
Like the various elements of the Pakistani intelligence community, the new government must ensure than all of the elements of the military, police, and Frontier Corps are carefully vetted so that Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar, and Al Qa’ida sympathizers or supporters are removed.
When, and if, such developments take place, the US should work with Pakistan to improve its IS&R capabilities and technology. In the interim, the US should not be diplomatic about revealing the real nature of ISI and other Pakistani intelligence operations, or future lies and obfuscations by Pakistani officers and officials. Open confrontation is not desirable; detailed and deliberately embarrassing background briefings are.
Clear goals and objectives need to be set and reported on that show Pakistan is steadily hunting down Taliban, Haqqani, Heymatyar, and Al Qa’ida leaders and cadres at all levels. It should be made clear to Pakistan that token or episodic action is not enough, nor are directing such efforts at low and mid level cadres. Once again. Pakistani action, not words, should count.
Pakistan needs to bring extremist radio broadcasts, and use of mosques and madrassas under control. This requires a narrowly focused effort, not a broad based government intervention. The worst cases, however, are clearly not exercising legitimate freedom of expression, but supporting violence and extremism.
Nudge, Push, and Shove
The US and Pakistan have long had troubled and uncertain relations. Both sides have made major mistakes, and it is obvious that under other circumstances, Pakistan’s present political turmoil would require American patience, quiet diplomacy, and a real commitment to supporting Pakistani democracy even if this meant taking years for it to achieve results in the security sector.
There are serious risks in the strategy and recommendations made above. They can end in creating even more tension with Pakistan without altering the course of the Afghan-Pakistan War. To reiterate a point made at the beginning of these recommendations, any effort to implement them will need to be modified and shaped by the US country team, and each effort will need to be part of a carefully tailored interagency effort, often in consultation with our NATO/ISAF allies.
At the same time, it seems even more dangerous to ignore how much the situation in both Pakistan and Afghanistan has deteriorated, and how much more dangerous it would be for the next President to appear to tolerate the climate of illusion that existed under Musharraf, or how serious Pakistan’s failures to act could be in terms of vital US security interests and the course of US-Pakistani relations. There are times when realism is more important than tact and conventional diplomacy. There are times when nudging a friend and ally cannot work, and the US has to push and shove.