The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

America’s New Embassy in Islamabad

US plans for the $1 billion upgrade of their Islamabad embassy are taking shape.  The plans include investments of about $405 million in reconstruction of the main embassy building and $111 million for a housing complex for additional personnel.  The US has already purchased 18 acres of land from the Pakistan government for additional accommodation for diplomatic personnel.

This plan to increase US presence in Pakistan was first announced in May 2009, to complement Obama’s Af-Pak strategy.  The plan also calls for a significant increase in the number of personnel (by about 1,000), and includes the deployment of 350 marines and several armored personnel carriers.

The slow but steady increase in US boots-on-the-ground provides the Americans the ability to carry out COIN and covert operations in NWFP, FATA and Baluchistan with or without direct assistance from the Pakistani army and the ISI.  Clearly, the frustration of being encumbered by a double-talking “ally ” has translated into the US adopting a more operational role in the border regions of Pakistan and beyond.  Indeed, there are reports of significant US muscle power already present in the Tarbela area (about 20 miles NW of Islamabad), in addition to CIA “facilities” in Karachi and Peshawar, and Predator drones operating out of Shamsi airbase.

While there may be question marks over the exact role of US marines in Pakistan, they are clearly there as a result of Pakistani government assent — whether provided voluntary or under compulsion.  Boots-on-the-ground provides the US the flexibility to operate with enough independence to pick and choose targets for engagement, while leaving some of the “dirty work” to the Pakistani army.

It also ties in with the overall strategy of negotiating with the so-called “moderate” Taliban, while targeting those Talibani elements not willing to be bought over. In this regard, the return of Robin Raphel to the neighborhood may not be coincidental. Who better to deal with the Taliban than their most vocal cheerleader? (via The Acorn)

As expected, this hasn’t gone down well with the Pakistani media.  Never one to pass up an opportunity to fume over all things India or US related, Shireen Mazari takes her government to task for kowtowing America’s line.  She argues:

It now transpires that there are already 300 plus US military personnel in this area – the so-called “trainers”. Of course, given the poor counter insurgency record of the US, heaven knows what training they will impart to our much better trained army!

Of course, one could point out that for all the bravado and chest-thumping, the Pakistani army has nothing to show for its COIN efforts in Swat, that the Swati leadership is still intact, and that as was last known, the Radio Mullah had resumed his FM-based sermons, but the concepts of “fact” and “logic” are largely irrelevant in Mazari’s writing.

Meanwhile, the August 3 editorial of The Dawn disapproves of the increasing US presence and asks whether such a move would “endear” the US to Pakistani civilians.  The editorial sees the development as being part of US’s contingency plans of taking control of Pakistan’s nukes, in the event of a meltdown of the state.  It points out that the Americans operated a similar base out of Tehran during the Shah’s rule, and asks, with tongue-in-cheek, whether such a base wouldn’t be more suitable if it were to operate out of capitals in the region that were friendly to Washington, such as Kabul or New Delhi.

Filed under: Af-Pak, America, Foreign Policy, India, Maulana Fazlullah, nuclear weapons, pakistan army, Swat, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pakistan Roundup

Even amidst the flurry of political activity in New Delhi, the media has had a field day (or two) with a couple of news reports from Pakistan. The first being the apparent successful military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley, and the second being the release of Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, from house arrest.  As is the case with anything related to Pakistan, there is always more than meets the eye.

The United States and the international community have been hailing Pakistan army’s successes in the Valley.  Even The Wall Street Journal joined the chorus, in a very gung-ho editorial that put its weight behind Pakistan and asked the US Congress to approve the military and economic aid package to their “allies in Islamabad”.  A couple of days ago, Ahmed Quraishi was on BBC, claiming that the $11 billion military aid doled out by the US to his country was pittance, but couldn’t answer why Pakistan was unable to account for funds provided to them for a specific purpose.

The problem that Pakistan faces is an old one.  The British tried, with carrot and stick, to bring the Pashtun in line and failed. The Soviets launched a war — and even declared victory — but eventually had to retreat in the face of ceaseless guerrilla assaults.  The Americans have experienced this first hand.  The Taliban are not going to fight a conventional military battle against anyone.  They will not have war imposed upon them.  They fight at a time and place of their choosing.

Despite the apparent losses, the Taliban leadership is still intact.  The Radio Mullah and Baitullah Mehsud are still alive, and the Pakistani army faces the unenviable task of asserting itself in territory it hasn’t ever fully controlled.  Anyone believing that a military “victory” is the only solution is living in a fool’s paradise.  Pakistan will eventually realize that it needs to take a page out of Gen. Petreaus’ book and bribe/appease/cajole/entice their way into some sort of political compromise with the Swati tribes.  The question is whether the Pakistani government has the will to sustain a military/political campaign against the Taliban.

Which brings me right along to Hafiz Saeed.  His release, after nearly five months of house arrest, is only to be expected.  India’s huffing and puffing is as utterly meaningless as its decision to outsource the redressal of its grievances vis-a-vis Pakistan to the US.  This blogger has opined previously that Pakistan sees no benefit in abandoning its use of unconventional warfare  against India; and why should it? India has no antidote to counter state-sponsored terrorism, and the United States is unfalteringly vague on the matter, for fear of offending its friends in Islamabad.   And if this extraordinary report in The Times of India is to be believed, India is working through diplomatic channels to rekindle the “peace process” with Pakistan, a month before Secretary Clinton’s scheduled visit.

Given the lack of will or ability to affect a credible response from Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, the stagnation of the peace process, and diplomatic inertia of the past six months on account of the general elections, the Indian government now sees no way out but to extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan.  Stagnation, or indeed, further deterioration of Indo-Pak relations is not acceptable.  At least, not to the United States.

Therefore, with the continuation of the charade that is Hafiz Saeed’s trial, and the soon-to-be-broadcast vague, ambivanet utterances against terrorism by Islamabad, readers  should fully expect the commencement of  the second edition of the India-Pakistan Peace process (IPP-2), which will be dramatically heralded by a series of Twenty20 Indo-Pak cricket matches, and the establishment of a cross-border laddoo exchange mechanism.  Meanwhile,  the 200 civilians who died in Mumbai will be as purged from our memories as were their lives at the hands of terrorists from Pakistan on 26/11.  So much for candlelight vigils and “Never Forget” banners.

Filed under: 26/11, Foreign Policy, India, indo-pak peace, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Maulana Fazlullah, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, Pakistan, pakistan army, Politics, Swat, Terrorism, TSNM, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Attack on Sri Lankan Cricket Team in Lahore

News is just trickling in that Sri Lanka’s cricketers, who are on tour in Pakistan, were attacked in Lahore. The cricketers were en route to Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium where they were to face the Pakistani cricket team on day three of the second test match.  Preliminary reports indicate that several cricketers, including heir apparent Kumara Sangakkara, were injured during the attack.

It is always a bit of a challenge to glean any information from channels like NDTV or Times Now during an ongoing incident, because their “journalists” and “news reporters” neither know how to construct a coherent sentence in English, nor have gumption to present a half decent analysis of the said incident.  The Times of India is now running a news item that screams: “Terrorists” behind attack on Lanka cricketers. Really?  Did you piece that together yourself, Einstein?  I’m sure the art of stating the bleeding obvious isn’t mastered overnight.

Images flashed on the TV screen showed terrorists brandishing what appeared to be rocket launchers and AK-47s.  There is no word on whether the terrorists were captured, killed, or if they have even been identified.   The real issue that should continue to concern anyone following Pakistan is that the breakdown of law and order is spreading eastward at an astonishing rate.  Despite assurances of security cover to visiting teams, this attack reinstates the notion to this blogger that the civilian government (whether federal or state) is in no position whatsoever to be making such guarantees.   The political machinations of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan will try to lump this in with the Mumbai attack to reinforce to the West that they are victims of the same terrorism that India and the rest of the world are subject to.

It is not beyond doubt that Punjabi terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) or Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) could be responsible for the attack.  The establishment may also choose to quickly transfer blame to the “bad” Taliban (as opposed to Maulana Fazlullah’s “good” Taliban) or to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).  Who orchestrated the attack is not as important as recognizing the obvious malaise that is devouring the legitamacy of the Pakistani state.  I have previously made the case that Pakistan today consists essentially only of Punjab and Sindh.  Various sections of NWFP and Balochistan have already been bequeathed/abandoned/surrendered.  Despite every assurance of security, a dastardly attack was perpetrated against high profile, soft targets in the heart of a major Pakistani city that lies 45 kilometers from the International Border (IB) with India.  How safe are our borders?

PS — Raman’s Q&A on the Lahore attack (March 4, 2009)

Filed under: Lahore, Lashkar-e-Taiba, let, Maulana Fazlullah, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Terrorism, Terrorist Attacks, World, , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)