Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Benefit of the Doubt?

Talk about doing wonders on the hearts and minds front.

There are two, equally bizzare accounts of what happened on Wednesday in Mohmand, which I have summarized below.

The American Account:

Coalition troops about 200 yards inside Afghan territory were attacked from across the border.

The coalition informed the Pakistan army that they were being attacked, apparently from a wooded area near the Pakistani border at Gorparai.

The US retaliates against the attack with with an air strike, hammering about a dozen bombs into Pakistani territory.

The Pakistani Account:

Afghan government soldiers had occupied a mountaintop position in a border zone disputed with Pakistan.

On Monday, the Afghan troops accepted Pakistan request to vacate the disputed position, withdraw to Afghanistan.

The Afghan troops were then apparently on their way back and were attacked by insurgents, inside Afghanistan.

The Afghans then called in the coalition airstrikes, which proceeded to fly directly past the insurgent attack site, and instead hit a Pakistani Frontier Corps post across the border and killed 11 Pakistani soldiers.

The coalition gave no notice prior to launching the strike.


Clearly theres a disagreement on the facts. Notwithstanding this, Husain Haqqani makes a very sad attempt to assert that the attacks were unintentional:
"We will look upon this as an incident that is not an intentional action to cause harm to Pakistan,"
And receives absolutely no assistance from US officials:
“The bombs hit the target they were aimed at,”
- Anonymous US Official quoted in the New York Times
"Every indication we have is that this was a legitimate strike against forces that had attacked members of the coalition,''
- Geoff Morrell, quoted in the Guardian
The aforementioned conversation between Husain Haqqani and US officials may therefore be reduced to the following:
HH: You bombed us!

US: Yes. But someone over your side was acting up.

HH: No they weren't. The problem was on the Afghan side. This must be a mistake.

US: It was on your side. This wasn't a mistake.

HH: It is a mistake you twat. 11 of our soldiers are dead.

US: Targeting your soldiers for an air strike was not a mistake. Though we are quite sorry that they're dead.

HH: Right. So if you're sorry, it must have been a mistake. Jolly good. Apology accepted.

US: It wasn't a mistake. But yeah, we're sort of sorry.

It would be an understatement to say that I'm skeptical about the impact of any sketchy peace accords, appeasement or Shariah-deals with the militants. The only thing that currently seems capable of changing the equation in Afghanistan and NWFP-FATA is a change in American focus, from Iraq to Afghanistan. More money, more troops, a comprehensive policy for reconciliation and development, even if it means the US' hard stance against Pakistan becomes more overt. This new American President can't come soon enough. And I really really hope its not John Mccain.


Ahsan said...

The key point to note is that both accounts agree on one thing: Taliban militants attacking coalition troops across the border. Hell, they (the Taliban) admit it themselves. This from the BBC report:

A spokesman for a pro-Taleban militant group in Pakistan said it had launched an attack on US and Afghan army troops trying to set up a border control post.

"We launched an attack on them from several sides and caused serious harm - and then the US and Nato forces began a series of air strikes," said the spokesman, Maulvi Umar.

The deals with militants are useless unless they include a stipulation to not attack coalition troops across the border.

Anonymous said...

NB: While it's true that the US' current policy towards Afghanistan/Pakistan is accomplishing diddly squat I don't see any potential advantages to Pakistan if the US were to take a more hardline approach towards us. It will obviously help the security situation in Afghanistan, but what about the situation in Pakistan? I'm very skeptical about the effectiveness of Obama's proposals in the article that you linked to for example. It would be very difficult for Pakistan to ever keep Waziristan under "tight control" under any circumstances especially in the event of direct US military intervention in Pakistan. Do you think that even the US military would be able to militarily subdue an insurgency in the tribal areas? Its track record in Iraq and Afghanistan hasn't exactly been stellar and consider that the British tried to do this for much of the early 20th century and failed quite badly. Despite your suspicion regarding the recent peace deals there has to be a non-military solution to FATA and Swat and the US has to help the Pakistan government achieve this. Taking a more "hard" stance towards Pakistan is only going to make the situation worse.

Asad said...

on the topic of mccain and security;
i think the word 'supreme' lends an air of credibility. thanks wes clark.

NB said...


Id say that Obamas proposals to pump more money and troops into Afghanistan could change the equation in the sense that it has the potential to A) enable the coalition to deal with cross border attacks more effectively, thereby reducing the militants incentives to conduct them b) pump money in from both sides of the border for development, and to give people an actual stake in the peace. If that is what a hard stance entails in substance, then Im all for it.

Once the equation changes in a meaningful way, then the peace deals and political solutions can potentially mean something. Otherwise one is left with the current problem that Ahsan cited, wherein the militants are in a position to maintain their demand for cross border attacks on the coalition, leaving the 3 sides to wind up exactly where they started.

NB said...

And as for the hard stance, they US already takes a hard stance. They just bombed us and refused to recognise it was unintentional!

Perhaps Obamas stance is more overt than that of the current administration, but in substance there is nothing to suggest the position viz Pakistan would change. We are (arguably) still the more important half of the pak-afghan policy problem.

Anonymous said...

nb: I never said I had any problem with the Coalition adding more troops and funds to Afghanistan. Yes, I agree with you, the US already takes a pretty hard stance (this missile strike and their cavalier "apology" being a good example) which is why I'm against Obama's suggestion that they take an even "harder" stance. They need to stop pushing Pakistan into a corner.

NB said...


Apologies if I misdirected my answer, and thanks for clarifying.

The thing with Obama is just that he will say overtly what the US is doing anway. I dont think he could, in actuality, harden the American position.

Conceivably, a hardened US stance could entail:

A)imposing a steadily increasing economic and diplomatic cost on Pakistan if it fails to work with the US

B) striking targets within Pakistan without consent via airstrikes

C) striking targets within Pakistan without consent via ground strikes

D) actually striking Pakistani military infrastructure

If a 'hardened stance' entails A and/or B, its no different to what theyre doing as of course.

If it entails C or D then yes, that would be pretty catastrophic and would certainly force Pakistan into the Wrong corner. But i dont think either of those options are anywhere on the cards. Obama's supposed 'hard stance' consists of:

"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will,"

The only two differences between
the current administration's position and Obamas are 1) Obama has actually added a couple of extra pre-conditions to a cross border strike 2) Obama's take on the issue has been articulated publicly and verbally, and is overt.

sana said...

i doubt all the development money in the world would be enough to buy peace in this region as long as you have US airstrikes on FATA soil.