Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pakistan update: blustering about the border regions

Lead graph of Karin Brulliard's piece today in WaPo:

Karachi, Pakistan — Pakistan’s defense minister has said that the country might withdraw thousands of troops from its volatile border areas in response to a suspension of U.S. military aid, a move that would undermine Washington’s interests in a region that is home to al-Qaeda and a stew of other Islamist militant groups.

A bit of editorializing here, no? Whether the threatened move would "undermine Washington's interests" depends on exactly what the thousands of Pakistani soldiers are currently doing there. Recently it was reported that there have been cross-border clashes involving unspecified Afghan insurgents attacking into Pakistan and the Pakistan army responding with artillery fire that has allegedly killed Afghan civilians. A reduction of the Pakistani military presence in the border regions might not necessarily be an entirely bad thing if it leads to some reduction in Pakistan-Afghanistan tension. OTOH there might be a downside if the Pakistani military is actually carrying out effective counterinsurgency operations in the border regions. They are not in any case in N. Waziristan, where several militant groups continue to be based.

The WaPo article goes on to note that drone strikes in the border regions have been continuing, another source of some U.S.-Pakistan tension. Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, writing in the current Foreign Affairs, contend that control of the drone program in these areas should be switched from the CIA to the U.S. military, a proposal which may have something to recommend it. However, the very non-transparency of the drone program which Bergen and Tiedemann criticize may be one reason the Pakistan government has tacitly supported it. On balance, though, they are probably right that more transparency would mean more support for the drones among the civilian population in these areas and a corresponding reduction of anti-U.S. sentiment.

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