Archive for the ‘Media Coverage’ Category

Pakistanis Harassing American Diplomats

December 17, 2009

In an article published today in the New York Times, journalists Jane Perlez and Eric Schmitt detail a campaign by Pakistani authorities to harass American diplomats and other US officials.  Pakistan has repeatedly refused to grant visas to American personnel and declined to extend those that have expired.  Pakistani security forces have also been searching diplomatic vehicles at checkpoints, which is illegal under international law.  These actions have hampered America’s ability to conduct its affairs in the country.  Pakistani officials have complained that American foreign service officers have been acting arrogantly and inappropriately. 

The harassment illustrates the ambivalence about the alliance with the US among Pakistani officials.  The main Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, has reportedly helped the US carry out drone strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas while also maintaining ties with the Taliban.  Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who heads a weak civilian government, has tried to ally himself with the US and has accepted an offer of financial assistance for military and development projects, but high-ranking military officers have opposed the agreement on the grounds that it infringes on Pakistan’s national sovereignty.

Pakistani public opinion is strongly anti-American, partly because the US has been launching attacks against militants inside Pakistan, and civilians have reportedly been killed as a result.  The US has also pressured the Pakistani military to carry out offensives against Afghan Taliban insurgents which have been costly in terms of lives lost and people displaced, amd many Pakistanis believe their country is being forced to fight America’s war.  For domestic political reasons, the Pakistani government has condemned American military operations that target people in Pakistan, but they are reportedly supporting the efforts behind the scenes.

Pakistan will probably continue to provide some assistance to the US while hedging its bets by not fully committing to the American war effort because officials are concerned that the Taliban will regain power in Kabul if US involvement in the region wanes.  The Pakistanis do not view the Afghan Taliban as a threat, but they are engaged in a battle against the Pakistani Taliban, a separate group, which has recently carried out several high profile attacks against government facilities and personnel.  The US has aided that effort with airstrikes and other measures.

American officials are frustrated that Pakistan has not done more to combat the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, but they believe the alliance is important for US national security interests.  Pakistani officials share that sentiment in that they want America to be a strategic partner, but they chafe when the US tries acts in a way that they perceive as domineering or arrogant.  The relationship between America and Pakistan is ultimately a marriage of convenience rather than one of affection, which explains why it is often strained.

Pakistan’s Dilemma

December 8, 2009

Last month, James Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, reportedly warned Pakistani officials that the US would escalate attacks against militants in Pakistan if the Pakistani government does not do more to combat them.  The escalation would entail expanding drone strikes into Baluchistan, which is outside the tribal areas where the bombing campaign has been confined to, and launching more cross-border raids by special operations forces.  Leaders of Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network are based in the tribal regions of Waziristan, and Taliban leaders are believed to be in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.

The threat of an intensified American campaign poses a dilemma for the Pakistani government.  On one hand, it does not want to sustain high casualties in an offensive against militants who would likely retaliate by bombing civilians and government facilities, nor does it want to alienate Taliban leaders in case they come back into power in Afghanistan.  On the other hand, refusing to act and inviting more American attacks in Pakistan would be problematic because the incursions would likely be perceived as violations of national sovereignty by army leaders and the Pakistani public, a perception which could arouse intense opposition to the weak civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and threaten his hold on power.

The US also faces a dilemma with regard to Pakistan.  America wants to attack Afghan insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists based there, but it also fears instability in a country that has nuclear weapons and many Islamic extremists.  If the Taliban and other militant groups continue to have a safe haven in Pakistan it will be extremely difficult for the US to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan, where the US has been fighting since 2001.  But destabilizing Pakistan would be a strategic disaster that might be worse than allowing the Taliban to take over large swathes of Afghanistan.  The prospect that drone strikes will cause civilian casualties and anger some Pakistanis enough to join anti-American militant groups also complicates the US decision calculus, although the Obama administration appears to have decided that the benefits of the Predator campaign outweigh the risks.

The Necessity of Drone Strikes

December 4, 2009

In an article published today in the New York Times, Scott Shane reports that the US is escalating its Predator airstrike program in Pakistan which targets Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.  Mr. Shane discusses some of the strategic and ethical dilemmas surrounding the program, including the risk of civilian casualties. 

Some analysts support the campaign because it has been successful in killing Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, while others argue that the airstrikes are counterproductive because they inflame Pakistani opposition to the attacks and help radical Islamic groups recruit new members; human rights activists oppose the program for moral reasons rather than strategic ones.

Obviously, civilian casualties resulting from drone strikes are tragic and should be minimized as much as possible.  But from a strategic standpoint, the Predator program is essential for US counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts because it is the only way that American forces can reach Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan who are plotting terrorist attacks and directing the insurgency in Afghanistan.  Ending the campaign at this time would defeat the ultimate purpose of the war effort in Afghanistan, which is to keep Al Qaeda leaders bottled up in the tribal areas of Pakistan where they can be more easily targeted than they would be if they had a safe haven in Afghanistan.  It would also be politically untenable for the administration to stop the airstrikes and signal that the US has essentially stopped trying to kill Osama Bin Laden and other militants who planned the 9/11 attacks and are plotting more mass casualty attacks against Americans.

Thus far, the US has focused its Predator operations on militants in North and South Waziristan, but senior Taliban leaders are primarily based in Baluchistan.  In an op-ed piece published today in the New York Times, Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan and a civilian adviser to American military commanders there, argues that the US must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan in order to succeed in Afghanistan.  He says this can be done in two ways: conduct police-type raids in cooperation with Pakistani security forces and capture the militants; or kill them with drone strikes. 

American officals are reportedly talking with Pakistani officials about expanding the Predator campaign into Baluchistan.  Pakistani leaders express opposition to the drone attacks publicly but privately support the program, according to many accounts.

Maziar Bahari’s Detention

November 24, 2009

Newsweek recently published a fascinating article by Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari in which he details his imprisonment and interrogation by the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s elite security organization (  Among the most interesting revelations are: his interrogators’ belief that his faux interview with Jason Jones, a correspondent for the satirical Daily Show who the Guards believe is an American spy, was real; his main interrogator’s obsession with New Jersey; Ayatollah Khamenei’s belief that there is a “cultural NATO” network comprised of journalists, activists, scholars and lawyers who are trying to bring down the Iranian regime at the behest of Western powers; the Guards’ disdain for the clerical establishment; the ascension of the Guards as a political force; skewed Iranian assumptions about Western sexual mores, including the prevalence of orgies, free love and anonymous sexual encounters; the fact that international pressure to free Mr. Bahari was effective; and the high level of paranoia about the West felt by Iranian leaders.

I highly recommend this article to anyone who is interested in the political situation in Iran and the attitudes of hardcore militants there.

Humor About Afghanistan

November 20, 2009

The Onion, a satirical newspaper, has recently published humorous articles about Afghanistan as the Obama administration debates how to proceed there.  Below are links to a few of them.

This one is about America’s strategic options:

This one is about heroin addicts’ support for the war effort:

This one is about the recent Afghan presidential election: