Is the US overextended or what? While anti-authoritarian movements have swept the Arab countries in the Middle East, the US strategy to neutralize militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan seems on the verge of collapse. The tension between the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies with the US Afghanistan command has not been a secret. But it seems the events leading up to the arrest and release of CIA operative Raymond A. Davis have aggravated the relationship to the point of breaking. According to the New York Times:
Pakistan has demanded that the United States steeply reduce the number of Central Intelligence Agency operatives and Special Operations forces working in Pakistan, and that it halt C.I.A. drone strikes aimed at militants in northwest Pakistan. The request was a sign of the near collapse of cooperation between the two testy allies.
A ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between Pakistan and the US over the use of American-launched drones to kill extremist elements within Pakistan has papered over antagonisms now reaching the boiling point. For months, the Pakistani government has publicly objected to the cross-border America strikes from Afghanistan but let them go forward. The US has likewise turned a blind eye to Pakistani refusal to rout out militants in the border areas while continuing to funnel billions of dollars to the Pakistani military. And they call Libya a stalemate!
But the arrest of Davis has broken the camel’s back. Because the Pakistani government knew the role Davis played in the anti-extremist fight, it expected his shooting of two Pakistani civilians , who were said to be robbing him, to be buried by the government and Pakistani press. Instead, the shooting became a rallying point for Pakistani anger at the US flights and civilian casualties caused by drone strikes.
Can’t you just see it: the hot-shot CIA agent gunning down two Pakistani civilians – crooks they might be! – in broad daylight, then apprehended by local officials for month-long game of diplomatic brinksmanship. Davis was finally released but immediately the Pakistani Army Chief, General Kayani demanded the US cease drone strikes and scale back its CIA and Special Ops presence in the country by 20-40%, enough to weaken but not stop American special ops in Pakistan.
Come on! Do these two governments expect their citizens to believe this narrative? The Pakistani/US relationship is classic co-dependency. Both counties need each other to develop their own national narratives. The Pakistani government need to take money from the US to shore up their economy but also use the US as a target of citizen anger that deflects outrage from itself. The US, meanwhile, needs Pakistan to put on a show of weeding out extremists while pacifying anti-US elements in the Pakistani military with billions of dollars of military aid.
Meanwhile, nothing dramatically changes in the field. Neither the Taliban, Afghani government or US can muster the strength for decisive defeat of their opponents. This war is ten years old, stale and based on short-term attrition. It reflects the failed policy of both the Bush and Obama Administrations.
George W. Bush initiated the war in Afghanistan as a defense against the extremist camps that bred and trained terrorists bent on attacking the US. Instead of smoking militants out of safe havens in the Afghan mountains, however, he pulled US troops out of Afghanistan and redeployed them in Iraq, leaving Afghan a mess to be solved by his successor.
Instead of narrowing the focus of the Afghan war to counter-terrorism, the Obama Administration upgraded it to counter-insurgency where protecting the civilian populations was goal #1. But long ago Vietnam proved you can buy off some civilians but can’t protect most through counter-insurgency strategy. In Afghanistan, like Vietnam, it’s difficult to tell who is a ‘pure’ civilian and who is a dual purpose citizen/fighter. And drones don’t make such nuanced distinctions.
This is the ninth round. Both the fighters are holding each other up, both bruised and tired. No KO in sight. Something has to give.