The Pakistan Enigma

A little over two months after assuming the United States presidency, Barack Obama is making waves in all directions. He leads at a time of multiple crises. The collapse of the economic and financial system, with worldwide consequences and a growing human cost, take center stage in the public discourse in America and Europe. But the threat of terrorism is not far behind.

The West frets over the risk of another attack. A continent away in Afghanistan, Pakistan and, in recent days, in Iraq, violence takes increasing numbers of lives every day. As Pakistan becomes the latest country to suffer a breakdown in order, new fears arise in the region and beyond. It is going to be a severe test of President Obama’s evolving policy on the Afghan-Pakistan front.

The suicide bombing on a Shi’a mosque in Chakwal, in the north of Punjab province, on April 5, 2009 appears to confirm a pattern in the escalating cycle of violence in Pakistan. Some twenty people were blown up in the attack, including the suicide bomber, reported to be a boy dressed in black. Up to a hundred were wounded. For some years, conventional wisdom had been that militant havens existed only in tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan frontier. And attacks were launched on both sides from bases in the autonomous tribal belt. It is not the case, not any longer even if it might have been before.

The assassination of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, in December 2007 was a political earthquake. It laid bare the rapid proliferation of insurgency to the heart of Pakistani society. In September 2008, the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was targeted, killing over fifty victims and injuring many more. Violence by the Taliban and their affiliates has since spread to other parts of Punjab province. Then came the attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team in early March 2009 to the south in Lahore. The attack did much damage to Pakistan’s image as a destination for foreign visitors and forced this year’s Indian Premier League, a money-spinning cricket competition that attracts the world’s top players, out to South Africa.

America under President Obama has abandoned the doctrine of overwhelming military force as the sole option to deal with the terrorist threat. His evolving policy is complex, more nuanced. It aims to enter into a dialogue with sections of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and isolate Al-Qaeda. The new administration accepts that America cannot impose its will and its own political system anywhere it chooses. It is not possible to transform traditional societies into modern ones all of a sudden. And Washington must have the ‘exit strategy’, but must stabilize and rebuild before taking the desired exit route.

Therein lies the problem. To stabilize and to rebuild means to keep the military and civilian presence in Afghanistan. It necessitates use of military power to control the campaign of violence by militants. Increased American and allied presence, military and civilian, provides the enemy with a greater number of targets. The result could be higher casualties. A determination made to keep the occupation finite involves negotiating with the adversary. And a deadline to expand the domain of constitutional order and peace. However, forces that are there in the region to restore order also provoke resistance.

In Pakistan, America relies on attacks by unmanned aircraft against diehard militants and the capability and the willingness of Pakistan’s security forces. Close secretive ties between Islamist groups and the military since the CIA proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan go back to the 1980s. These ties have proved impossible to break, despite persistent efforts of the United States.

For now, a definite pattern appears to be taking shape. Every American missile which targets a suspected militant hideout reportedly kills some militants, but also civilians. Retaliation by the militants, a Taliban or allied group, follows. Can President Obama achieve what has been illusive for years? That is Obama’s enigma.

DEEPAK TRIPATHI, former BBC journalist, is an author and a researcher. His book, Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to be published by Potomac Books this year. His works can be found on http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at: DandATripathi@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Deepak Tripathi is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. His works can be found at: http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at deepak.tripathi.writer@gmail.com.

March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It