by Real_PHV_Mentarch | 4/09/2008 05:05:00 PM
Much was made (and rightly so) about Gen. Patreus's and Amb. Crocker's admission yesterday that al-Qaeda’s main base of operation and greatest threat come from Pakistan/Afghanistan - not Iraq.

Of course, that was stating the obvious known all along.

Indeed, many (including yours truly) have been clamoring the same said obvious - however, that this simple fact is at last admitted openly in testimony before Congress, and that said admission was actually proded out by elected representatives, constitutes nevertheless a significant moment.

In order to fully appreciate such significance, let us first go back to the core-reasons for the Afghanistan War (emphasis added):
At the time, President Bush justified the launching of the Afghanistan War as a response to 9-11 and the failure of the Taliban to meet his demands concerning terrorists, including delivering Osama bin Laden. Following the trauma and outrage brought by 9-11, an overwhelming majority of Americans supported the War in Afghanistan - and President Bush was believed at face value when he claimed that the replacement of the Taliban regime was a requirement for keeping the U.S.A. safe from another al-Qaeda attack.
However, and despite President Bush's "convictions", a lot did not sit well with his invasion of Afghanistan (emphasis added):
(...) there was a rather meek international support for such justifications initially, especially since: 1) the U.S.A. had turned a convenient blind eye when the backward, fundamentalist Taliban regime seized power in 1996 (after all, the U.S.A. had supported the Taliban); 2) although the Taliban was indeed characterized by its parochial, fundamentalist and theocratic-driven ruthless rule, it was never a terrorist organization to begin with; 3) the Taliban was certainly not involved in 9-11; 4) the Taliban had agreed to extradite bin Laden to Pakistan for trial (10/01/2001, but Pakistan refused); 5) the Taliban then offered to try bin Laden themselves (10/07/2001, but the offer was rejected by Bush); and 6) the Taliban thereafter offered to hand him over to the U.S., provided that proof was shown that bin Laden was responsible for 9-11 (10/14/2001, but this offer was likewise flatly rejected by Bush).

Hence, the Taliban regime was not a terrorist organization and had made a significant number of overtures to deliver Osama bin Laden - however, all such overtures were rejected.

Why? Because of the expedient desire to go to war - which happened on 10/07/2001, when American and British forces undertook an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban forces and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan - thus marking the beginning of the Afghanistan War.
From then on, the rest was history - including how it turned out (emphasis added):
By the summer of 2002, the Taliban had been removed from power and its remnants, like those of al-Qaeda, had gone into hiding. By the end of spring 2003, then-still U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared major combat operations over. However, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, by then fully allied by necessity, had already regrouped along the Afghani-Pakistani border, recruiting heavily while training in guerrilla warfare tactics - thanks to consistent funding seemingly transiting through Pakistan. Then, the Taliban insurgency followed - which has been lasting to this day.

(...) Osama bin Laden got away and is still in hiding, along with most of the al-Qaeda leadership - even if he and his organization were the prime justification for going into Afghanistan in the first place.
How could this have happened? Simply this way:

The Powell Doctrine was already established and demonstrated after Operation Desert Storm. But then the resident incompetents in the White House (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al.) tossed it aside when they went into Afghanistan - especially because, as it has been revealed, they already had their sights on Iraq. So, they went in Afghanistan without massive deployments, made those stupid deals with the Afghan Warlords and their militias, contented themselves with routing the Taliban and al-Qaeda away from Khabul (and for the life of me, I never understood why no one figured out that the remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban would run into Pakistan and, consequently, take strategic steps to block off the border in order to prevent this - then again, they never had enough boots on the grounds to enact such a basic strategy to begin with - but I digress), and then they asked for U.N./N.A.T.O. help because they had begun occupying themselves with Iraq.
Conclusion: the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been back in force after being essentially allowed to flee to Pakistan and regroup, thanks to the mind-boggling incompetence of the Bush administration.

Or, in other words: this has been a policy of retreat from bin Laden and Afghanistan.

At the same time, this has also been a policy of not only ignoring the Pakistan problem, but actually coddling to it (emphasis added):
Pakistan has often been praised by the Bush administration, among others, for its role in the Global War on Terror(TM). President Bush even once proclaimed a broad and lasting strategic partnership with Pakistan to this effect.

Despite evidence to the contrary:

A) Although initially helping to round up remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban (after their defeat in the summer of 2002) on its own side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Pakistani army quickly found itself in a sub-war (dubbed the Waziristan War) which began in the spring of 2004 and ended in the summer of 2006, being pitted against al-Qaeda and other militants joined by local rebels and pro-Taliban tribal forces - all believed to be connected with the Taliban insurgency. A peace agreement was signed in September 2006 between the Pakistani government and the pro-Taliban militants, encouraged by the Tribal Elders in power in the region.

B) The provisions of this peace agreement included, among others, a significant reduction of Pakistani troops in the Waziristan region and the release of some 2500 al-Qaeda and pro-Taliban militants previously captured. Consequently, al-Qaeda and the Taliban have free reign at hiding within Pakistan.

C) Since then, Pakistan's "help" against al-Qaeda and the Taliban has been going downhill. Osama bin Laden was ascertained all along of being in hiding in Pakistan, whereby the Pakistani "lost his trail" quite a while ago. Furthermore, al-Qaeda funding still goes through Pakistan.

and D) Despite previous claims (see above), members of the Bush administration have begun this year to call upon Pakistan to "step up" further with its help in fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban, even going as far as to threaten military strikes within Pakistan's side of the border with Afghanistan, without Pakistan's permission.

In between, there has been a resurgence of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as well as clashes and confrontations between Pakistani forces and pro-Taliban/al-Qaeda forces - in fact, Pakistan is deemed likely to face a civil war should it presses on further in the areas where al-Qaeda and the Taliban are hiding. Furthermore, President (dictator) Musharraf may yet declare martial law, even if he has so far publicly rejected the option. Meanwhile, the only solution that President Bush could come up with in solving this dire problem is by seeking a $2 billion Pakistan aid package from Congress, in order to help financing tribal paramilitary groups in the semi-autonomous region of Waziristan in Pakistan (where al-Qaeda and the Taliban have gained such a foothold) as part of an American-Pakistani joint counterinsurgency effort designed to wrest the region from extremist militants.
The preceding was written in August 2007. Since then, Musharraf did declare martial law in November 2007 (which he lifted about one month later, but not before making himself President until 2012 - with congratulations from President Bush), opposition leader and staunch al-Qaeda opponent Benazir Bhutto was assassinated (apparently by none other than al-Qaeda), and a new Prime Minister intent on restoring full democracy in Pakistan (and a close associate of Benazir Bhutto) was elected.

In the meantime, Pakistan remains very much volatile as al-Qaeda, Taliban and tribal allies continue to sow chaos, while U.S./N.A.T.O. forces have stepped up their unilateral strikes into Pakistan from Afghanistan against al-Qaeda and its allies.

In short, terrorism and extremism have remained so far beyond the control of Pakistan, having painted itself in a corner to this effect long before 9/11 and the launch of the Afghanistan War.

So here we are, with two full-fledged quagmires - one (Afghanistan) brought about by incompetence-driven desire to rush to war along with botched pre-war and post-war planning, and the other (Iraq) brought about by incompetence-driven desire to wage a war of choice ... along with botched pre-war and post-war planning (violence is the last refuge of incompetence and incompetence is nothing but consistent with itself - so state the 6th and 7th Principles of Incompetence, respectively). In addition, we have a country (Pakistan) with nuclear weaponry which ever hangs precariously on the razor's edge of civil war and anarchy.

Oh - and to top it all, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are still alive and well in Pakistan ... as they have always been.

The idea of military intervention as the crux of the strategy behind the Global War on Terror(TM) was wrong-headed to begin with and has proven itself to be wrong-headed ever since - if only because one does not wage war on a method/technique of fighting. In this respect, it is now safe to say that the Global War on Terror(TM) has been a colossal failure so far, in addition to fostering more terrorism and extremism than prior to its implementation.

Or, in other words: anti-terrorism is not a matter of troops and tactics, but rather one of diplomacy and strategy - at home and abroad.

Another fact which was obvious all along, to which incompetent warhawks, chickenhawks and fear-driven fools have ever been blind to (we all know who and what they are).

Consequently, the very à propos question which should have been asked from the begining and which is to be asked again and again, especially in light of the aforementioned admission by Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker, remains this one: what should we do about al-Qaeda in Pakistan?

I have found some potential answers (emphasis mine):
- implementation of a new guarded, yet effective, counterinsurgency strategy in Pakistan. This means relying on credible human intelligence, winning over local support, and coordinating with American trainers and intelligence and military personnel in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis were able to bring Swat – a former Al-Qaeda stronghold in northern Pakistan – under state control using such a comprehensive strategy.

- in addition to a desire to "talk" to moderate Taliban, more needs to be done to endorse counterinsurgency strategies over brute-force counter-terrorist measures. Pakistani politicians are eager to take charge – but they must know that simply cutting deals with al-Qaeda or Taliban will not guarantee security. Before hastily signing another truce with the "moderate Taliban" in the tribal areas, the new government must investigate past failures of similar agreements.

- measures that promise better governance, more constitutional autonomy and socioeconomic opportunities to the tribal areas pending expulsion of terrorists will only succeed if Pakistani politicians guarantee consistent engagement. That includes, for example, asking the military to support Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) – similar to International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) role in Afghanistan – over large-scale military operations.

- the current U.S. plan to increase the training of Pakistani troops – paratroopers, Pakistani Special Forces, and Frontier Corps – is a step in the right direction. U.S. training programs must be supplemented by U.S. military hardware and intelligence exchange across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In constrast, the current unilateral U.S. attacks on Pakistan’s rustic tribal areas are highly likely to prove devastatingly unsustainable and counterproductive (Note: actually, they have done so in the recent past already).
Once again: anti-terrorism is not a matter of troops and tactics, but rather one of diplomacy and strategy.

Only by taking a long, hard and sober look at was done horribly wrong will we be able to formulate the policies and strategies to combat terrorism that should have been devised to begin with.

If only because (emphasis adeed):
A stable nuclear-armed Pakistan is crucial for any successful effort to bring stability to the region. It holds the potential for intelligence exchange and military support, and holds a strategic geographic location next to Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban know this too well. With time running out, Washington should provide smart and targeted military, economic and diplomatic aid to all willing and capable Pakistani civilian and military leaders and institutions. Changing the counterterrorism-counterinsurgency calculus by focusing on active socioeconomic engagement over excess use of brute force is essential to achieving victory in the Global War on Terror.
Looks like the table has been set after all.

Do we have the courage and competence to pull up a chair and sit down to it?

Que sera, sera.

(Cross-posted from APOV)

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