The Pakistan Problem

While three divisions of Pakistani troops are attacking Waziristan, and according to Amnesty International 150,000 refugees are streaming out of the area, Senator Kerry is in Pakistan trying to staunch a mini-revolt over our demanding changes in the Pakistani government in return for $1.5 billion for each of the next five years. (Changes like the elected government gets to appoint the head of the Army…)

Pakistan wants the money without strings. (Who doesn’t?)

Meanwhile the Pakistan Army is fighting its war absent the type of restraints we place on our troops. Basically, Pakistan just says, “Ready or not, here we come” and uses F-16’s with dumb ordinance, and helicopter gunships, saying “If you are not Taliban, leave, and if you don’t leave through our checkpoints where we can verify who you are, you are dead.”

The Pakistani Foreign Minister, asked on AL JAZEERA why the government did not provide refugee camps for the expected exodus, simply said, “That would warn the Taliban that we were coming.”

Of course the anticipated attack has been in Pakistan and American newspapers since June, and today’s Pakistan Dawn, the English language newspaper, headlined? “Attack – Finally!”) The truth is Pakistan government never took the refugees into account, just as their Rules of Engagement do not take into account “innocent civilians,” because they are going to try to win.

The initial attack is on the stronghold of the Mehsud Tribe, which is the Taliban stronghold. Unfortunately, the Pakistan Army is trained more for facing India than the mountains of Waziristan, and they face a harsh winter starting in December, so we shall see what happens.

Even if the tribal areas as brought under government control, the militants will just retreat into the hills and carry on, virtually forever. It is what they do – what they have always done. It is a way of life. Hopefully, the central government can FINALLY bring this semi-autonomous region into its control, but that requires first a military victory and then administrative help to a region long ignored, without schools or roads or anything the government has supplied to the rest of the country.

This will not be an eight weeks war, but a multi-year commitment if Pakistan is to deny this sanctuary to the Taliban and Al-Queda.

Without this, whatever our mission is in Afghanistan, it will not succeed. Theoretically we learned in Vietnam that we cannot win where the enemy can attack and then retreat to a politically protected sanctuary.

Must we learn this lesson more than once?