The Convoy Attacks in Pakistan

Evgeny Kirsanov (Russia)

The recent events in Pakistan are an excellent illustration of the serious crisis in American foreign policy. Six NATO convoys have been set on fire in Pakistan over the last two days in areas located different distances from the border with Afghanistan. That in itself is unprecedented, but one nuance makes it simply extraordinary: they symbolize a new state of affairs in world politics. The attacks on convoys started happening immediately after the Pakistani government threatened to close the logistics corridor used for supplying coalition forces in Afghanistan in response to “mistaken” attacks by American helicopters on Pakistani soldiers in their own country. However, the casualties among Pakistan’s troops are a minor aspect of the situation. They were nothing more than an excuse to “kick over the traces.” The crisis had been brewing for a long time, and now Islamabad—or rather its all-powerful military leadership—has decided to show Washington who is really in charge of the country. The vast majority of observers rightly point to the strange coincidence of Islamabad’s public statements and the activities of militants to destroy the NATO convoys. This is a typical oriental way of expressing extreme indignation. The military and intelligence agencies simply gave the groups they control carte blanche to carry out a little public “vandalism.” The country’s “pro-American,” democratic leadership (as Washington naively believes) prefers to remain silent in this situation to avoid being arrested on corruption charges by the military, especially since there are more than enough legal grounds for to do so.

NATO convoys previously were moving through Pakistan relatively freely. Before, there had been perhaps no more than two incidents involving convoys, when military jeeps were burned at warehouses. But we make so bold as to ascribe those incidents to ordinary theft, which was, as usual, blamed on jihadists. We feel confident in saying that because, as a recent Pentagon investigation showed, the logistics channels through which goods are delivered to American troops in Afghanistan were virtually “eaten up” by corruption, and local contractors and the American troops working with them not only stole shamelessly, but also (intentionally or not) supplied the Taliban with everything they needed. The fact is that the local contractors addressed part of the goods right to them. According to Pentagon estimates, it came to 40 to 60% of all goods transported. Like they say, “one man’s war is another man’s fortune.” Apparently, that “fortune” goes to a lot of influential people in Pakistan. The audit led to a tightening of shipping procedures, and most of the contractors and their patrons lost their “piece of the action.” That was one more reason (although a less important one) for the current fireworks.

The sharp response by Pakistan’s military elite is linked, of course, to the tightening of Washington’s position on the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda and its plans to extend the fight along virtually the entire Afghan-Pakistani border. The Pentagon is intent on bombing 150 terrorist camps. There were fewer terrorist camps than that even when Soviet troops were in Afghanistan. What we are talking about, of course, are the Afghan refugee camps that the American military has lumped together as militant bases while sparing itself any unnecessary doubts. All of this “crap” (it’s hard to think of a different word for it) is related to the upcoming US congressional elections and the need to show the voters that they are acting with “firmness and decisiveness.” Attempts by unwise public relations people to “fix” the President’s approval rating by such means have caused a tremendous systemic crisis in American foreign policy, and not just in Pakistan. The Orient is not the right place to conduct an election campaign. The strategy there needs to be diligent and inconspicuous. The fiasco in Pakistan is very obvious. Washington has simply been shown that it will not be allowed to break previous agreements that only allow counter-terrorist activities (including the use of UAVs) in the tribal areas.

Washington has found itself in a very difficult position because it cannot directly accuse Islamabad of attacking the convoys, nor can it continue to tolerate this state of affairs because Pakistan territory is its main artery for supplying its forces. Other corridors will simply be unable to take its place in the foreseeable future. And making adjustments in the midst of a military campaign is expensive and entails delay, and there is fighting to be done every day. Pakistan understands all that very well, but apparently the White House does not.

The recent events in Pakistan clearly indicate that people in Obama’s administration are “calculating” the possible consequences of their actions very poorly. The situation in Pakistan is actually controlled by the military, as Washington could have guessed after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Instead of reaching clear-cut agreements with the Pakistanis, the opposite happened. Still, success or failure in Afghanistan lies not in “democratic change” but in reaching a compromise with the Pakistani military. You don’t need to be a great visionary to see that; you just need to be able to analyze facts: the fact of information coming out about secret contacts between the Karzai administration and Mullah Omar and other hardline Taliban warlords, for example. The contacts were initiated this fall, and in August there was evidence that Pakistani armed forces commander Parvez Kiyani gave the Taliban the go-ahead for contacts with Karzai. That actually is nothing more than simple arithmetic.

Therefore, we should now expect a second act to the “play,” namely the hardening of Karzai’s position regarding the length of the Americans’ stay in Afghanistan. That will be an excellent indicator of the status of the contacts between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s current leader. If Karzai becomes increasingly insistent on reducing the number of foreign troops in the country, it will mean progress is being made in the consultations. But we should not delude ourselves: the contacts are not about integrating the Taliban into the government, but about terms under which Karzai can resign with honor. He will only be able to remain in office should a figurehead be needed for a short time who would be acceptable to the West and allow them to feel their defeat less keenly. The more so because the US Senate has publicly committed itself to helping Karzai conclude a package deal with the Taliban leadership. But all that is just “putting a good face on a bad deal” in order to show voters that they did not spill blood and collect taxes in vain.

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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