US troops in Pakistan?

January 4, 2008

Aijaz Ahmad: Is there a military solution in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

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Aijaz Ahmad: Is there a military solution in Afghanistan and Pakistan?


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Aijaz, M. K. Bhadrakumar, who was in the Indian foreign services for more than twenty-nine years, recently wrote a piece in Asia Times Online. I want to read you a quote and then ask you to comment on it. He writes:


According to Der Spiegel, senior NATO leaders fear that “Pakistan could very well descend into total chaos after the elections scheduled…”. NATO leaders assess that everything depends critically on President Pervez Musharraf “managing to retain his hold on power”. If he doesn’t, “the already half-hearted efforts by the Pakistani military leadership, permeated with Islamists, to stem Taliban and al-Qaeda activities in the Pashtun tribal regions could fail completely”.

—M.K. Bhadrakumar, Asia-Times Online

He talks about the possibilities of an alliance, after the elections, between Sharif’s PML and the PPP coalition government, and he says:


Even assuming that coalition government refrains from confronting Musharraf, its willingness to go along with the “war on terror” on Washington’s terms is highly doubtful. Any elected government will be sensitive to the deep-rooted opposition to the war in Pakistan public opinion.

—same, January 2, 2008

Former army intelligence analyst and consultant William Arkin is claiming that Washington was expecting, in terms of an agreement reached in November with Islamabad, to:


“… vastly expand the US military presence in Pakistan’s frontier area…”

—William Arkin, The Washington Post, December 26, 2007

Arkin wrote in The Washington Post that:


“…first US personnel could be on the ground in Pakistan by early in the new year…”


Arkin says:


“…what appears to have been under discussion is a shift in the US military and for US-Pakistan relations, whereby Musharraf will lift restrictions on US involvement in cross-border military operations by special forces, as well as paramilitary operations within the Pakistani territory.


And he says The Washington Post has separately reported that:


“…planning for the proposed US military deployment in Pakistan is already underway at the headquarters of the US special operations command in Tampa, Florida…”


Aijaz, if the US objective here was to make a deal with Musharraf—and in theory they had one with Bhutto—to allow direct intervention by US forces in the North-West Frontier Provinces, first of all, does that seem like a plausible proposition? And then, two, what happens to that plan now, after Bhutto’s death?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Paul, Mr. Bhadrakumar is one of the most astute and knowledgeable commentators writing today on these affairs. William Arkin is a very seasoned man with all sorts of contacts in Washington, and I will not take the opinion of either of them lightly. My sense is that that was probably the heart of the deal with Benazir, that she will come to become the prime minister of Pakistan at the head of a legitimate, elected government and would allow the US special forces to operate from Pakistani territory in a very big and potent way, which the Pakistan army has not been willing to grant. My difficulty with all of that is that the Pakistan army understands a few things far better than the US does. Twenty percent or more of the Pakistan army, including a large section of its officer corps, comes from the North-West Frontier Province, and the people against whom these actions are to be taken are their kith and kin. They are very reluctant to find a military solution to the problem in the Northwestern Frontier Province. They understand that this is part of the Pashtun nationalism, which exists on both sides of the border. Pakistan army understands that if they were to allow the American special forces to come in in a very big way, it would have very detrimental effect on their relationship with China, because that means US special forces come within about 200 miles of the Chinese border.

JAY: It’s also an area where, I understand, most of the Pakistani nuclear weapons are maintained.

AHMAD: Yes, it is a very sensitive area. It is an area that is very close to Russia, very close to China. And actual American troops in any number operating from the Pakistan territory isolates Pakistan, then, from very many forces, such as Iran. And so my sense is that the Pakistan army would be extremely reluctant to have them operating from the Pakistan territory in the way in which Arkin is predicting. I think for now that plan will have to be postponed until after the elections. Benazir had the authority, the political authority, to get elected and say that this is very important for this country, and therefore I’m adopting this policy.

JAY: This policy of a more aggressive position towards the extremist forces [cross talk]

AHMAD: Of permitting the US Special Forces to come in in a big way, as William Arkin puts it. Makhdoom Amin Fahim does not have that kind of stature. Nawaz Sharif; Neither has the stature nor the political orientation. He is beholden to the Saudis, who would be very uncomfortable with that kind of proposition. The problem is that Americans are facing a great strategic debacle across the region, and they’re desperately looking for military solutions, which don’t work.

JAY: What would be a solution that might work?

AHMAD: Solution in my view is that Pakistan should disengage itself from the war in Afghanistan altogether. It should respect Pashtun nationalism, which has arisen against foreign occupation. It should facilitate contacts between US and Karzai government on the one hand and various shades of Pashtun nationalism, as well as the Taliban, with whom both the Pakistan government and now even the Karzai government are in dialogue. Pakistan should play a moderating role, a neutral role, rather than become a party to a war which will spell disaster for Pakistan as a country.

JAY: That’s certainly not the American plan for Pakistan.

AHMAD: It has to disengage from that American plan altogether. Whether or not the Pakistan military will have the guts to do so is another question altogether. The entire Pakistani elite, both civilian and military, is much too closely tied up with the United States. The vast majority of Pakistani population is opposed to all of these policies, not because they’re in some crass sense anti-American or anti-western or anything like that. They’re just liberal people. But they know that this is a disaster for their country. So if either the military or the new incoming government undertakes that policy, they would have much of the Pakistan population greatly dissatisfied and angry with those policies, and Pashtun and Baloch nationalists actually picking up weapons to fight them. What I’m arguing is that there is really no military solution. There is no military solution in Iraq, there’s no military solution in Afghanistan, nor is there a military solution in Pakistan or northwestern Pakistan, whatever, just as there is no military solution to the nuclear issue in Iran. The United States thinks that it can find military solutions to these extremely complicated political, social problems.


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