The game began Sept. 30 when two NATO helicopters entered Pakistani airspace and attacked a military outpost, killing three soldiers and wounding others. The U.S. has waged a small-scale war inside Pakistan for several years, and it has intensified under President Obama. The U.S. maintains an estimated 250 ground troops in Pakistan and has stepped up drone missile attacks. Pakistanis criticize the loss of hundreds of civilian lives in these attacks, which the U.S. justifies as collateral damage in the war on terrorism.
But the Pakistani team, commanded by the Inter Services for Intelligence (ISI), switched from defense to offense this time. It closed several key border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Insurgent groups inside Pakistan torched and blew up 100 trucks carrying gasoline and other supplies. The U.S. was forced to apologize to the Pakistani military and the border was reopened on Oct. 9.
The ISI and Pakistani military support some of the Afghan insurgents (the Haqqani group and some Taliban commanders). Pakistan wants to have a friendly government in power once the U.S. troops withdraw, and one opposed to India. The U.S. is angry at the Pakistanis but so far has been unable to change their policies.
The NATO helicopter attack reflects an effort by hawks in the U.S. government and military to pressure Pakistan to stop insurgents from crossing into Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal reported, “Some Obama administration officials say the U.S. must be more forceful with Pakistan to make it clear that Washington wants more direct action against militants. Other say the public and private criticism of Islamabad is likely to backfire.” Pakistan Urges On Taliban
Well I think the events of the past 10 days could certainly be considered “backfire.”
When I first visited Pakistan in 1999, it was a stable military dictatorship closely allied with the U.S. Today the country faces civil war, nominally allied with the U.S. but helping to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. This situation arises directly from the never-ending U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Everyone in the region hates the U.S. occupation, and it fuels continued to recruitment to extremist groups, helping to destabilize countries in the region.
Team Obama has a choice. Declare victory, and end the game by pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, or expand the war with Pakistan so the U.S. suffers an even bigger defeat in the years ahead.
Freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich’s new book is “Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire.” For information about his national book tour, see www.reeseerlich.com. His blog appears on Tuesdays on The Real News.