Slouching Towards Islamabad
Fierce fighting continues between the Pakistani military and radical Islamist insurgents in the Swat Valley about 200 km northwest of the capital:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani Air Force fighter jets pounded militant positions in the Swat Valley on Monday as the military pressed its offensive on three Taliban-held districts northwest of the capital, the interior minister said.
Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, told reporters in Islamabad that 700 militants had been killed in the last four days of intense fighting — a far higher figure than has been reported by the military. No official reason was provided for the discrepancy.
At the weekend, the military put the number of killed militants at around 140 and has reported additional militants killed since then. The Taliban have not commented on their own casualties since the start of the latest offensive, and the death toll cannot be independently verified because aid agencies and journalists are barred from the conflict areas.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the fighting.
Meanwhile, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus notes that we have accomplished the objectives we had initially when we invaded Afghanistan:
The head of U.S. Central Command said Sunday that Al Qaeda is no longer operating in Afghanistan, with its senior leadership having moved to the western region of Pakistan.
Gen. David Petraeus said affiliated groups have “enclaves and sanctuaries” in Afghanistan and that “tentacles of Al Qaeda” have touched countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. But he said the terrorist group has suffered “very significant losses” in recent months, and agreed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent assessment that there is no Al Qaeda based in his country.
That the stateless Al Qaeda should have pulled up stakes, crossed the border into Pakistan that we’re hesitant to cross ourselves, and set up shop there should have come as no surprise. Some criticize the Bush Administration for the situation in which we now find ourselves, pointing out that the resources which were deployed in Iraq could have been used in Afghanistan. That’s true as far as it goes but in my view it only means we’d have gotten to where we are now sooner.
Max Hastings writes in the Financial Times:
The Bush administration’s policies were dominated by a crude belief that democracy in itself promised Arcadian outcomes for Muslim societies. London and Washington now agree that this was a foolish delusion. But western governments find it extraordinarily difficult to define an acceptable alternative to, or modification of, democracy.
None of this is intended to suggest that either the Americans or British want to pack their bags in Afghanistan. On the contrary, there is agreement that the restoration of Taliban rule there would hasten an implosion of Pakistan. But even those of us who share this view are dogged by fears that US and British forces are fighting in support of an unsustainable Afghan political construct.
The allies’ enthusiasm for “putting an Afghan face on the campaign” must be right. But where are the uncorrupt, administratively competent Afghans to make this happen? Washington and London agree that “saving” Afghanistan requires a long-haul commitment, which may prove tough with flagging domestic enthusiasm for the war.
Unless some visible progress is achieved within, say, two years, all bets are off. Sufficient Afghans watch CNN and al-Jazeera to perceive this for themselves, whatever the British and American message on the ground.
I’m left with a host of questions. Will the Pakistani government try to subdue the ironically named Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Or will it be content to stop the current offensive? Defeating the insurgents in open battle won’t stop their insurgency. The typical practice of insurgents is to confront the military in open battle, conventional military conflict, when they’re strong enough to do so only to return to nonconventional strategies if they’re defeated. Can Pakistani officials be fool enough to believe otherwise?
Can Afghanistan produce a force of its own strong enough to prevent Al Qaeda and the Taliban from reasserting themselves in the country in our absence? Can we prosecute an effective offensive against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan without further weakening the Pakistani government? Or forcing their hands against us?