Is it time to start thinking about Pakistan yet?

The New York Times reports that Al-Qaeda is re-constituting itself in Waziristan, the autonomous area putatively a part of Pakistan:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 — 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.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

Hat tip: James Joyner

There have been concerns about Pakistan for some time. You might want to reflect on this post from Cernig of Newshog in which Cernig considers whether Pakistan is really our ally.

In my view Gen. Musharraf is mostly his own ally and I’ve argued that Iran, which is developing nuclear weapons, is a more pressing concern than Pakistan, which already has them, and it’s prudent for us to treat it that way.

Our options in dealing with a Pakistan that harbors Al-Qaeda as the price for maintaining Musharraf’s dictatorship (he’s #15 on Parade’s list of worst dictators—hat tip: The Duck of Minerva) are unpalatable and limited. If we make raids into Waziristan to strike against Al-Qaeda’s facilities there, Musharraf may do nothing which could run the risk of being replaced by Islamists within his own military. Or he may strike back in which case we’re at war with a nuclear-armed country of 160 million people. As I’ve pointed out, it’s a very poor nuclear-armed country of 160 million people (which IMO reduces its threat), but that’s a substantial risk nonetheless.

So I think it’s prudent that, rather than risking a nuclear World War III by bombing a few tents in the wilds of Waziristan, we stay our hand unless we become sufficiently unhappy with Pakistan that we’re willing to destroy the country (we should communicate that publicly and in no uncertain terms to Pakistan).

Given the events of today India may be willing to take care of that for us at some point. Once again in my view that’s our real recourse in dealing with situations like those in Pakistan: rather than constantly being the big dog we should be encouraging regional powers to take a more active role in bolstering regional security within their regions. But that’s a rather different posture for us than has been held for the last 25 years or so.

James Joyner (see above) disagrees with me on this:

In the case of Waziristan, we don’t need to clear and hold the territory, just destroy the training infrastructure and decimate the force. If that has to be done periodically, so be it. Certainly, that would be better than allowing al Qaeda to openly prepare for the follow-on to the 9/11 attacks. Fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here and all that.

A global war on terrorism that won’t cross borders and kill terrorists is neither global nor a war.

He has a point. Clearly, his assessment of the risks involved are different than mine. Under the present political conditions conducting such raids without the authorization of the UNSC would be very bad juju. Think we’d get it?

17 comments… add one
  • I think the threat of a radical islamist coup in Pakistan is overblown. No coup has much chance of success without support of the Army, and that institution is still largely representative of the more moderate Punjabi majority of society.

    As for the border areas, I’m predicting American intervention there this spring. It will likely consist of airpower along with a small number of special operations boys to find and fix targets. The Pakistani withdrawal and agreement to allow autonomy to the tribal border areas will likely give Musharraf political cover for greater Coalition intervention. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the plan all along.

    It’s not like the lumbering Pakistani Army had much of a chance against the nimble locals over the last few years anyway. The Pakistani army was, in a practical sense, a foreign Army in the Tribal areas.

    If I’m right, we’ll start to see signs in the next two months when some of the passes and infiltration routes start to clear.

  • What I’ve read suggests that about 30% of the Pakistani army is Islamist. That’s certainly enough for a full-blown civil war with the risk of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons coming under the control of the Islamists.

  • Andy:
    I can’t count the number of times we’ve been reassured that radicals had no chance against a moderate majority. Radicals always have an edge that belies their numbers in non-democratic countries. It seems like only yesterday that we were hearing that Iraqis were secular and pragmatic and would never succumb to radical factions.

  • Andy,

    The issue is not so much the percentage of the army which subscribes to the Islamist view, rather, the issue is one of nationalism. Punjabi’s, like other Pakistani’s are extremely nationalistic and would not take well to having American or NATO troops crossing their borders to take out al Qaeda camps.

    In addition, there will be Pashto’s and Baluch’s who will try to take advantage of the turmoil within the Punjabi’s to exert their own influence and position themselves to gain their own objectives. Already, the Pakistani army has proven itself less than adequate in handling both insurgencies. In Pashto territory they signed the peace deal. In Balochistan they supported radical jihadists against the moderate Baluchs.

    So what to do? One of the first things we will need to do, is help Pakistan address the Afghan refugee problem in Pakistan. These camps exist mostly along the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and are used primarily by the Taliban and al Qaeda as recruitment centers for their operations. We must push to resettle these people within Afghanistan to deny al Qaeda and the Taliban a recruitment pool.

    To deny funding to al Qaeda we need to find a way to either regulate the drug trade in Afghanistan, or bring poppy farmers into the legal economy without using violence or police force hence denying the Taliban a revenue source and fresh grievances they could take advantage of to recruit Pashtos in the south.

    Apart from this, we will probably have to rely heavily on intelligence and special operations in Waziristan to gain enough intelligence about the camps and their capabilities so that if we need to, we can take them out and cause al Qaeda the most damage. This will also require us to move to either begin redeploying from Iraq at some point to ensure that we have enough troops tp safeguard an unstable Pakistan should Musharaf’s government fall.

  • This will also require us to move to either begin redeploying from Iraq at some point to ensure that we have enough troops tp safeguard an unstable Pakistan should Musharaf’s government fall.

    nykrindc, I think that’s a bit of a red herring. Even if we redeployed all of the troops from Iraq to Afghanistan right now it wouldn’t be enough to achieve that objective. Look at a map of Pakistan for goodness sake. With a country of that size and population if we had double or triple that number of troops it wouldn’t safeguard a country that refused to be safeguarded. Further, it’s unclear to me how, if we can’t put our troops in the middle of a civil war in Iraq (a commonly-heard theme these days), it is better to put them in the middle of a civil war in Pakistan?

    What we need to do in the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and probably many others, is decide in what directions our interests lie and pursue those with a whole heart.

  • I’m going to disagree with my friend Dave.

    Once the camps are full with eager would-be jihadis, they should be bombed, then strafed with A-10’s and then special forces should finish off whomever is left in a crystal clear example to the tribesman of Wazirstan that friendship with al Qaida means death and ruin and a lesson to the world that a return to the days of a free pass on overt terrorist training camps is not in the offing.

    The territories are beyond Islamabad’s control and always have been, being a part of historic Pushtunistan that was hived off by the British as a buffer zone. Islamabad can- and is prepared to – weather occasional surgical strikes among the ethnic Pushtuns if it does not mean the flow of U.S. benefits to the regime will also be interrupted and it’s position vis-a-vis India is left undisturbed.

    If there is a coup against Musharraf by Islamists then we should be prepared to follow through on what Musharraf feared in 2001 if Pakistan refused to cooperate, the destruction of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and production facilities.

  • As I see it, Mark, the problem is that, while I can imagine us doing the first (raiding irhabi camps in Waziristan) I can’t imagine us doing the second (destroying Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and production facilities) in the current political climate. That’s why, in my view, it’s imprudent to risk the probable consequences of such raids when you’re not prepared to deal with those consequences.

  • Hi Dave,

    Tehran is now saying that the terrorists who attacked a bus full of members of the Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday were trained in Pakistan.

    The Iranian Foreign Ministry has charged that Sunni insurgents from Iran used Pakistan as a base to plan a bombing that killed 11 people and wounded more than 30 in the southeastern border city of Zahedan last week, and an official said that the ministry had demanded an explanation from the Pakistani ambassador.

    …Newspapers in Tehran reported Sunday that the state-run Hamoun channel in Sistan and Baluchistan broadcast a two-minute confession by a suspect, Nasrollah Shamsi Zehi, who was accused of being involved in the deadly bombing. He said he had robbed a bank in Zahedan, then escaped to Pakistan, where he was trained by Jundallah [an anti-government terror group C] for two months and was told that he would receive $1,200 for each mission.

    Which fits, to be honest. The ISI has, at least since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ISI set up the forerunners of the Taliban, been the most Islamist of all Pakistani government agencies. It also views Afghanistan as its personal feif (gaining much of its covert funding from involvement in the opium trade) and has always been violent in its reaction to any country that looked like it might challenge the ISI’s control of that nation.

    As for the Pakistani military, the thing to remember there is that it is defined by its animosity towards India. Afghanistan and Kashmir again provide excuses to wage war by terrorist proxy.

    Regards, C

  • Yeah, I’d read that, C. Tends to support my view that, if we make the West a hard enough target, violent radical Islamists are likely to go after each other. And, of course, the Deobandis in Pakistan are pretty darned radical.

    I don’t find that prospect particularly cheering but there you are.

  • Dave and M. Takhallus,

    For the record, I did not say it would be impossible for Islamists to stage a coup in Pakistan, but I think it is much less likely than most assume. Any coup would have to have the support of a large portion of the military – in fact, it really would have to be a military coup. Musharraf has picked his leaders wisely and has dispersed the Islamist segment so they are not in command of key units that would be necessary to secure any grab for power. It’s certainly possible Musharraf could be assassinated, but it’s a very long road from killing him to taking control of the country. Musharraf is not stupid and he’s taken steps to minimize any chance of radical elements seizing power.


    We’ll have to see what happens. I realize there will be large parts of Pakistani society that will look down on any US action inside Pakistan, but I am predicting it will be manageable, particularly if the US is prudent in its use of strikes.

  • Ken Hoop Link


    “large parts” will “look down” on “US action?” Try “overwhelming
    majority” many more joining the jihad. Imperial hubris, as Mike
    Scheuer puts it.

  • Dave,

    I should have been clearer. When I said we need to think about redeploying troops from Iraq to safeguard an unstable Pakistan, I was thinking more along the lines of safeguarding their nuclear weapons. I realize that as I wrote this I overreached by saying “safeguard an unstable Pakistan should Musharaf’s government fall,” should have been “safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons should his government fall.” I don’t think we should put our troops into the middle of a civil war. I wrote that thinking about the nukes and not noticing what I was writing. However, given our commitments elsewhere outside of Iraq, I think you would agree that we need to find a way to address all of the commitments we have and move to begin our draw down from Iraq. Note that this is not meant as an argument for a precipitous withdrawal nor a withdrawal without a strategy in place for containing the mess.

    I agree with you with regard to “decide in what directions our interests lie and pursue those with a whole heart.” My comment was actually agreeing with your argument on why it would be difficult to go after the camps in Pakistan.

    I would also add to my earlier comments that the ISI and former elements of that organization continually provide al Qaeda and the Taliban aid against us.

  • James Smythe Link

    Of course, Dave would much prefer to support AL QUEDA as his FUCKED up support of Pakistan shows. I can’t believe how FUCKED up our country has been in allowing Pakistan to harbour terrorism all over the middle east all the while getting distracted with Iran and Iraq.

    Remember the Indian Airlines incident in 1999 where the hijackers were found to be from Pakistan? The same thing happened on September 11, 2001 although the hijackers happened to be from mainly Saudi Arabia. Oh wait, I forgot, they’re our “friends”.

    It is not difficult to crush Al Queda if the US would stop going after the countries that pose no real threat and actually focus on the countries that harbour the most terrorism. Maybe Dave doesn’t want to tell us that our current set of US policies produces 10 terrorists for every 1 “caught”.

    I don’t know if the US needs to attack Pakistan as it has already wasted its forces on Iraq and will continue to do so with the possibility of adding Iran to the mess. However, Dave might want to call for BIG GUBBMINT to STOP SENDING TAXPAYER MONEY TO THE FUNDAMENTALISTS IN PAKISTAN AND STOP SUPPORTING A NATION THAT IS TOTALLY ANTI-DEMOCRATIC. Mushraff came to power the same way Saddham did and there is no excuse to refuse to fight for democracy in Pakistan.

  • Ken,

    We’ll have to see, won’t we? We’ve already conducted limited strikes against targets inside Pakistan as well as exchanged artillery fire with insurgents over the border, so if my guess is correct, the change will be one of scale and not precedent.

    I have a lot of respect for Mr. Scheuer, but I fail to see how attacking AQ in Pakistan is either imperial or hubristic as long as Pakistan gives at least tacit permission to do so. The border is the #1 problem in securing Afghanistan and it will never be secure so long as insurgents find safe haven in Pakistan.

  • James Smythe Link

    By the way, will Dave Schuler do us the honor by calling for ABOLISHING THE CIA ? Here’s a good reason why:

    Abolish the CIA!
    by Chalmers Johnson

    [remainder deleted.  Please do not make long comments that have little to do with the subject of the post and consist mostly of copyrighted material.]

  • Frederick Johnson Link

    Smythe, thanks for the post. It’s amazing that the “Democrat” blogosphere could be this ignorant and even intolerant of the crisis right before them. Having checked Cernig’s blog out and now understand that neither the conservatives or liberals care to defeat the country that secures Al Queda the most which happens to be Pakistan even more than Saudi Arabia, it just shows that both sides are hell bent on keeping Al Queda alive just for political expediency.

    If the Jews who are fed up with the Muslim fundamentalists really wanted terrorism to end, they’d be GUNNING the CIA down for HEAVILY ARMING Osama and helping to prop up the BIG LIE that Reagan helped get rid of the USSR when in fact the USSR was already crumbling and that Reagan even helped keep it up and running until the “perfect time”. In fact, the CIA is what is arming, funding, and training the major terrorist forces in Pakistan and from what one former CIA agent told me, “they could care less who they’re arming; America won’t ever blame the CIA for its crimes!”

    P.S.: The US-Indo Nuclear deal which took forever to get through is peanuts compared to dozens of quick to pass deals where the US keeps rewarding Pakistan and even North Korea and China all the nukes they can offer. Talk about foreign policy hypocrisy ! But hey, Dave Schuler loves SELLING OUT AMERICA !

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