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The unraveling situation in Pakistan confounds US policy in Afghanistan Pt. 3

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The Pakistan puzzle

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re talking to Gareth Porter about the great jigsaw puzzle that is the Iranian-Russian-American relationship about Afghanistan, Pakistan. Thanks for joining us, Gareth. So we talked in the first segment about this Russian-American relationship and the Russians talking about pulling back on sending this advanced defense missile system to Iran. There’s all kinds of leverages and cards being played—the Russian routes controlling supply lines into Afghanistan that the Americans badly need now. So there’s clearly grounds for all kinds of regional collaboration here. But none of that has anything to do very much with what goes on in Pakistan, where so much of the issues reside, in the tribal areas, at a time when there’s enormous antagonism towards the US role in Afghanistan, throughout the whole of Pakistani public opinion, and the meltdown of an economy. So look at this big jigsaw puzzle now and put Pakistan into it.

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND HISTORIAN: Well, it seems to me that this latest development in Swat, which is outside the FATA region, the Federal Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan—and that’s one of the reasons that there’s been such alarm expressed at what appears to be a concession made to Taliban militants in that part [inaudible]

JAY: Isn’t the deal where the Pakistani government agrees to allow the local tribes to have sharia law as the law of the area?

PORTER: That’s right, yes. And, again, these are not the tribal groups in the FATA region. This is outside that. It’s in the rest of Pakistan.

JAY: And in an area that’s supposed to be controlled by the Pakistani government.

PORTER: That’s correct. Exactly. And it’s the area which is north of Islamabad, on the border with Kashmir. And it does appear to sort of parallel, in a broad sense, the past efforts to sort of have a reconciliation, an accommodation between the Pakistan military and local officials and militants in a particular area. And in the past, of course, that hasn’t really produced peace. It hasn’t produced a genuine stand-down on the side of the Taliban and other militants. And so the fear is that that’s exactly what’s going to be happening in this case, that even though, you know, they’ve agreed to apply sharia law, and supposedly the militants will stop fighting, and there won’t be any more sort of aggressive actions in that area, that that really won’t end the fighting, it won’t end the activity on part of the militants to try to move forward. One of the issues, however, that’s different here is precisely this issue of sharia law. It has, in fact, been a real point of discontent in that region of Swat, the Swat Valley. It is a genuine grievance, in other words. And so one could suggest here that we need to wait and see whether this could be, you know, partly, at least, helpful in [inaudible]

JAY: ‘Cause the critique in the past by American officials and others have been it just gives the, quote-unquote, “insurgents” a chance to reorganize and get ready to fight again.

PORTER: That’s right. That’s the downside. But the question is whether there might be an important upside, in that this was a grievance, that there is a real problem with the court system that has existed, you know, the traditional sort of Pakistani court system, which is corrupt, it’s inefficient, it’s ineffective, and discredited, basically. And so there may be a real rationale here for trying this out. And I think the larger point here, for those who are looking at it from the United States in particular, is to say we really don’t know enough to understand how best to manage this problem in Pakistan. It’s very, very difficult. It’s not something that outsiders can address [inaudible]

JAY: Now, President Zardari’s been attacking the Americans for these Predator attacks that are firing missiles into compounds and villages, often killing civilians, sometimes, apparently, killing senior Taliban fighters, maybe al-Qaeda fighters. And there’s been another critique of Zardari, that in fact it just came out a few days ago that these attacks actually might be being launched from bases in Pakistan, and that the Pakistani government actually knows all about it, and this is all a rhetorical position taking place?

PORTER: Well, I think that probably both of those are true. I mean, I think that there’s not necessarily an inconsistency between the fact that the Pakistani government is generally very unhappy with the attacks that are being carried out by the United States, because they do think that they are, on balance, something that is hurting the Pakistani government’s ability to get public support for its efforts against the Taliban, and they do generate enormous anger within the areas where they take place. At the same time, Pakistan is highly dependent on the United States, for its economic support particularly, and it’s very easily understandable that they would have agreed reluctantly to have the United States go ahead with this under duress.

JAY: Now, let’s say there is a way to have some kind of a deal with Russia that gets a certain amount of Russian cooperation in Afghanistan, perhaps even a deal with Iran that gets a certain amount of Iranian cooperation—maybe they get their supply routes. But there still seem to be only talking about a military operation, both on the Afghan side and on the Pakistan side, and most people seem to think that a military operation can’t be the answer.

PORTER: Well, look, you know, there’s no doubt, even in the minds of planners at CENTCOM, General Petraeus and his staff, as well as the military in Afghanistan, and the sort of Washington-based Pentagon thinkers, that there is no military solution in Pakistan. There isn’t even one in Afghanistan, and even more so, that applies in Pakistan. The CENTCOM plan, by now it’s sort of leaked out that it is very, very strong on saying that there’s going to have to be a non-military approach to addressing the problem inside Pakistan, that there is no military approach there that’s going to work. And that sheds, I think, even a more glaring light on this problem that we’ve just been discussing of the Predator, the drone missile attacks that have been carried out in Pakistan. This is an approach that just doesn’t make sense from a strategic point of view. What they’re doing here is applying a kind of, you know, sort of bee-sting approach aimed at, you know, killing off a few leaders, when the problem is a strategic one, that you’ve got a movement there that is continuing to gain mass and momentum, and it gains mass and momentum for political reasons. And these Predator attacks are adding to those political reasons why the militants, the Taliban militants, are gaining ground as time goes by.

JAY: In the next few weeks we’ll know just what their strategy seems to be, and we’ll return to it then. Thanks for coming. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.