Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Traveller From An Antique Land

I had an interesting conversation with a native of Pakistan's NWFP recently. He's young, well-educated (partially in the U.S.), and a member of his country's establishment. This won't exactly be news to anyone who's been following the situation there, but he's extremely worried about the effect of U.S. military strikes in Pakistan. Pakistanis see these strikes as targeting not a small group of high level terrorist leaders, but the deep-rooted, increasingly popular Taliban movement itself. One result is growing sympathy for the Taliban among his peers: the young, tech-savvy, well-connected elite who should be -- and traditionally have been -- opposed to everything the Taliban stands for.

I'm all for dropping a daisy cutter down the chimney of whatever hovel Bin Laden or al-Zawahiri call home. Is that still the mission? Or, while we've been chattering about every zig and zag of the financial markets, has this morphed into a de facto low-level war on an indigenous grassroots movement, in support of a weak and unpopular government, with a disastrous and growing civilian death toll? To the extent it's the latter -- and since that seems to be the perception in Pakistan, the reality might not matter -- the danger I wrote about at the end of this post should be even more of a concern.


Anonymous Stan said...

Let's review the option of "neutering" the Taliban in Pakistan.

1. Supports stability in a staunch ally - India
2. Removes a safe haven for our adversary in Afganistan
3. Increases the isolation/pressure on Iran
4. Reigns in a rogue nation that has nuclear capabilities
5. Helps make the shipment of oil through the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea more secure
5. Our (US) troops, weapons and infrastructure are deployed and in place in the region so we can implement to the scale we want.

So, my wager is that this operation will continue and possibly escalate to war if deemed necessary.

6/02/2009 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Inthon said...

perpetual war for petpetual peace..

6/02/2009 12:32 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Stan, I get the first 4, but not the last two. How does this stabilize the movement of oil?

I see both sides. The Taliban gaining control of the Pakistan military apparatus (and thus nuclear weapons) is a non-starter.

Yet, the killing of civilians in order to deplete the enemy is destined to always be longer and messier than the "experts" calculate. Our own experience with the genocide of Native Americans is proof of that: it look longer than anyone guessed.

These are real problems with no quick solution. The Taliban, unlike North Korea or even Iran, are crazy. We always have this discussion about whether mutually assured destruction will work with a given enemy. It worked with the USSR and China, but is it operable with an apocalyptic cult of religious nomads and sheep herders?

If the Taliban gets nuclear capabilities, the havoc they could wreak could be an existential threat-- not to the US perhaps-- but certainly to the perceived security of the interdependent world.

One dirty bomb.... and the world markets come to a screeching halt.

6/02/2009 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Stan said...


5. Just look at the completion of the massive Chinese development at Gwadar Port. Some 40% of the worlds oil passes this location. This is now a deep sea port...good for both trade and berthing military ships right at the mouth of the Persion Gulf.

Should've been No.6. My belief all along has been that Iraq II was only possible because the US had already established exclusive staging areas in Afganistan to counter the political reality of when the Sauds, Turks and Kuwaitis could not or would not support our overt military over-throw and occupation of Iraq. So, now that we are well established in the area (the Iraqi "embassy complex" etc - we are never going to leave. Think Germany, Korea and Japan; unless we are forced out (but what group or country can challenge our global reach and military might) or we find a replacement for "cheap" oil (highly unlikely).

In short, I agree with Inthon 100%. Welcome to the "new" US policy for the Middle East.

6/02/2009 1:49 PM  
Anonymous JohnR said...

Interesting; not 5 minutes ago, I was involved in a discussion where my position was that humans are intrisically disinclined to take the long view. Short-term solutions that lead to problems requiring further short-term solutions are the norm. Mix that with the corporation version of the 'committee effect', and you end up with our present economic situation. Mix it with the delightfully American political version of the same 'committee effect', and we end up where we are now; with the only people responsible for diaster are either the people at the bottom of the hierarchy or the people who took over in the middle. The pilot who blew out the engines of the aircraft parachutes to safety, leaving Ted Stryker holding the controls the rest of the way down (courtesy of the Dept. of Really Bad Analogies).

6/02/2009 2:05 PM  
Anonymous KAIMU said...


Well, at one point in US Foreign Policy Land, both Osama and Saddam were our best buddies. We could not send them enough missiles and guns! We wanted Saddam to defeat Iran and now that "little War" is over there are probably a million or so Iranians still limping around Tehran thinking of new ways they can help the Taliban.

As a side note in 1970 I was in Tehran, Iran and I have to say I have never seen so many Mao Chinese outside of China! China in the Middle East is old news ...

Now look what happened to our "allies" during the Iran/Iraq War and the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. The Arab World knows that the US Foreign Policy is not to be trusted, otherwise Saddam would still be our pal and so would Osama. Makes you wonder how Israel has been our ally for so long.

As this Taliban thing keeps festering the amount the US TREASURY reported spent from Oct 1, 2008 to June 1 2009 is now over $8TRIL USD. That's an "8" and that's a "T"!

The math is very simple ... about $3,000USD for a RPG-7 and about $5milUSD for a M1 tank.

6/02/2009 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone interested in more detail should check out "Descent Into Chaos" by Ahmad Rashid. Lots of excellent detail and on-the-spot insight.

6/02/2009 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One result is growing sympathy for the Taliban among his peers: the young, tech-savvy, well-connected elite who should be -- and traditionally have been -- opposed to everything the Taliban stands for."

I find it distressing, that this day in age, with mass communication, and a more educated populous, that the Pakistanis youth you are referring to, don't take a more active role to improve the lives of their fellow citizens and their own country.

6/02/2009 9:33 PM  
Anonymous bismarck said...

I agree with Cunning Realist's original point. Our policy in regards to Afghanistan and Pakistan should have been to find and capture the people responsible for 9-11, and bring them to trial in a civilian US court. Well, we did half of that with Khalid Shaik Muhammed.

Other than that, we have absolutely no business trying to shape events in that region. How many Americans own passports again? How can we possibly avoid blundering around in a part of a world that might as well be in a science fiction novel to the extent that people in the government understand the history and culture. Even the British and Russians, who were both more ruthless imperialists and more knowledgeable about the area, had problems, in fact Afghanistan is basically the parts they never succeeded in controlling.

6/03/2009 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Goldhorder said...

Wow. The monumental arrogance of the typical US citizen never stops amazing me!

6/03/2009 12:44 AM  
Anonymous nil said...

@Anonymous 9:33PM
What exactly do you expect a Pakistani to do?

6/03/2009 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Chad said...

"I find it distressing, that this day in age, with mass communication, and a more educated populous that the Pakistanis youth you are referring to, don't take a more active role to improve the lives of their fellow citizens and their own country."

I to find it distressing, but I also find it distressing that our educated and techno culture still does not understand how we create our own enemies. We focus far too much on hard power and not enough on soft power. We had both in spades after the fall of the Soviet Union, 90's economic success, and after 9/11. Now we have severly hurt our hard power by grinding our troops down in the longest war we have fought in 100 years. On top of that we completely destroyed our soft power. It is gone. Looking at it this way, who is winning, us or Osama?

Killing a few suspected terrorists in Pakistan in exchange for alienating an entire population that has control over nuclear weapons...again, who is winning?

6/03/2009 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Moyers Journal discussion with Jeremy Schahill (author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army"), reminded me of this entry. Private militia's seem as popular today, if not more so. Which brings up an interesting point.

"There are very disturbing signals being sent with Afghanistan as a microcosm. Not to mention these regular attacks that we're seeing inside of Pakistan that have killed upwards of 700 civilians using these robotic drones since 2006. Including 100 since Obama took power."
"Well, that that I mean, on the one hand, that those words are true. I think that the fact is that, when you are killing civilians, in what is perceived to be an indiscriminate way certainly by the people of Pakistan you're going to give rise to more people that want to attack the United States. They view themselves as fighting a defensive war."

6/06/2009 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy Schahill web site (author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army").

6/06/2009 1:17 PM  

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