October 6, 2009


Proponents of the Afghan war offer up a buffet of reasons to escalate US troop levels: General McChrystal’s review, 9/11, woman’s rights, strategic positioning in Asia.

Now Pakistan, who doesn’t have many fans in Washington or mainstream America, is our new best friend and we can’t leave it behind. American officials only care about two things in Pakistan, but both are persuasive enough for President Obama to justify another deployment into the region.

While American officials milk the nuclear threat for all it's worth, a more realistic pretext for additional troops is about to unfold in Waziristan, a shadowy mirror of Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army is finally prepared to enter what it calls “the mother of all battles” after numerous delays, barring another abort. Troop and equipment shortages pressed pause on a previous operation in July, but in light of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud's death, waiting until after winter is simply not an option. Worried of losing the initiative, one Pakistani official grumbled, “the operation should have been launched three months ago.”

That same sentiment inhabits neocon corners in America, where Republicans are going crazy as President Obama enters his “strategy review strategy." They should take heart at the parallels in Waziristan - and those who oppose the war should take notice. Pakistan’s army is about to cement Obama’s decision. Once it enters Waziristan he will have no choice but to send more troops.

The run-up to the operation isn’t far from America’s own troubles. Pakistan is faced with a daunting enemy holed up in their own territory. Initially ill prepared for the final fight, the army was forced to delay until it repositioned itself accordingly. Forces have been gathering around on the border since June, maintaining an economic blockade of Waziristan while waiting for the go ahead. Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the troops and raised pay by 20%.

Pakistani officials now worry that public support for such a massive operation is waning as the Taliban regroups; launching an assault preempts both these concerns.

“If we don’t take the battle to them, they will bring the battle to us," a senior military official said. “The epicenter of the behemoth called the Taliban lies in South Waziristan, and this is where we will be fighting the toughest of all battles.”

Supporters of the Afghan war are hoping for the same outcome from President Obama. They will get it.

Pakistani officials weren’t alone in their displeasure for delay; American officials, the true barometer, have pushed the Waziristan operation for months. Why would they pressure Pakistan into this course of action if Obama isn’t planning to deploy more troops? Why would the Pakistani army invade Waziristan only for Obama to maintain, drawn down, or withdraw his forces in Afghanistan?

The answer is obvious - he's planning to send more troops to coincide with Pakistan’s operations, or he was until Afghanistan's election trainwreck. Waziristan will take months to clear in optimum conditions and America must secure the other side of the border to ensure maximum effectiveness. Intelligence won’t be enough - more troops are the only option when McChrystal is so limited that he’s withdrawing into the cities.

Leaving Pakistan out to dry would be suicidal after intense lobbying for this very operation.

Pakistan’s decision also rejects narrow goals in Afghanistan and Vice President Joe Biden’s “offshore” strategy once and for all, after its internal disagreement mimicked America’s. The same official that wanted an earlier operation claimed, “The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan as a monolithic organization remains no more... Baitullah is dead and his group seems to be in some form of disarray. And this provides the best opportunity to go after them.”

His admission verifies that eliminating the leaders of an insurgency isn’t enough to end it. A second official came to the same conclusion, albeit from the opposite direction.

“We thought that Baitullah’s death would unravel the Mehsud militant group and galvanize the tribe to stand up to the people they have suffered from,” the official said. “It didn’t happen.”

Thus ground operations are necessary either way; the army claims to have run out of targets for drone strikes due to intelligence problems. Pakistan has prepared at least 40,000 soldiers for the inevitable showdown against an estimated 15,000 Pakistani Taliban and 4,000 foreign militants, mainly Uzbeks. General Kayani recently called Waziristan an intelligence black hole. "We have to move in,” he said.

Sound like Afghanistan? The battle certainly will. Said one official, “It will not be a walkover. This is going to be casualty-intensive hard fighting. The nation will have to bear the pain.” Said another, “They are as much ready for the battle as we are.”

"If the Pakistan army tries to launch any offensive, it will face severe resistance, tougher than in the past," Hakimullah Mehsud told reporters at his press briefing.

And like Afghanistan, the battle is just the beginning of the war. Assume for theoretical purposes that Pakistan manages to clear Waziristan. The reward is years of political, economic, and social development, without which the situation is likely to revert back to its ugly self. The needs of Pakistanis demands more from government than battling the Taliban, and failure to capitalize on military gains will jeopardize the sacrifice.

is still necessary in Waziristan no matter how successful the army is.

But perhaps the most powerful persuasion is perception. America and Pakistan have been sitting in the same boat for months: growing militancy, inconclusive drone strikes, lack of resources, weary public. Imagine Pakistan laying it all on the line while America backtracks. President Obama can’t stand still while Pakistan soldiers ahead - a toxic visual.

For the longest time Pakistan has been forced to keep up with America in the “War on Terror.” Now America must match the pace.

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