Thursday, September 11, 2008

General Kayani and Democracy

We've seen how rhetoric unhinged from an appreciation of national interest got us in trouble in Georgia. Now we see it in Pakistan as well.

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the new chief of staff of Pakistan's army, is sending pretty clear signals that, unlike his predecessor, ex-president Pervez Musharraf, he is not going to carry Washington's water. In particular is his embrace of the need for democratic legitimacy in justifying any operations with the U.S. Certainly his stance on defending Pakistan's sovereignty goes over well, as well as his statements that any solutions to try and stop Pakistan's tribal areas from being used as safe havens for Taliban fighters would need public support.

Just as in Turkey in 2003, Washington seems unprepared for the contigency that a democratic government won't endorse its policy objectives--and then wonders why the military won't override the civilians.

This is going to put real pressure on our planners. Do we respect Pakistani sovereignty and put our forces in Afghanistan at risk? Or do we go ahead and carry the fight across the border, even though this could end up discrediting the new government? What we aren't going to get, it seems, is a friendly general who is going to defy his government and facilitate U.S. needs.

I hope we don't lean on the Pakistani military to intervene in that country's politics. The choice now is between a short-term approach and a long-term one, as noted in the Los Angeles Times today.

Sanctuaries only matter if they give insurgents a relative advantage, ie. a ratio of opposing force losses to insurgent losses that the former cannot sustain and that the latter can. The question is whether the trend in insurgent activity based in Pakistan is rising to a sustainable point where it will confer such an advantage to the Taliban/al-Qaida.

One question prompted by the recent Woodward book is whether we have the technology to identify insurgents from the air and eliminate them by remote means. If the border can be made unsafe to cross, then the problem is solved. If not, then the short-term approach is either to make cross-border raids into places to which insurgent replacements would only return, or we occupy Pakistani territory and enlarge our problem.

The long-term approach is to help the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan shift the relative advantage in their favor, if we are intelligent enough to know how to do so and if the two governments agree. Otherwise we are marking time and will sooner or later have to leave.
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