Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pondering Balochistan

What was once the mission to drive Al Qaeda from their sanctuary and kill their leaders has officially devolved into a question of whether we should invade Pakistan to kill the leaders of our puppet government's opponents in Afghanistan.

Every now and then you'll hear the mainstream media mention Balochistan, or its key city, Quetta, but this is no side front. What happens there over the next one to two years will determine the success of our military mission in Afghanistan, as well as the future of our relationship with Pakistan (or our relationship with the current Pakistani government).

Baluchistan has become the home of the Afghan Taliban, with much of their leadership permanently based in, or known to pass through Quetta. As the map on the left demonstrates, Baluchistan is pretty huge- in fact, its Pakistan's largest and poorest province. Quetta is pretty deep on the Pakistani side of the border, meaning any incursion into the Taliban's base would be a pretty large breach of national sovereignty, unless, of course, Pakistan allowed it. And they won't:

"We can't fight everyone, everywhere. We need to be pragmatic. And we will not be dictated to," said a senior official with Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), speaking on condition of anonymity. The official admitted that insurgents "do come and go" in Balochistan, but insisted the ISI was already cooperating with the CIA in the province, citing 60 joint raids over the past year.

Drone strikes in densely populated Quetta would be "disastrous", he said, both in terms of civilian casualties and anti-American hostility. "I think this is just pressure tactics, the Americans aren't stupid enough to [extend drone strikes]. But if their objective is to destabilise Pakistan, that would be a good way to do it."

The U.S would disagree with the assertion that Pakistan is doing everything that they can. The reality is that the U.S will not be around forever, and Pakistan would rather not trigger an endless battle with the Afghan Taliban when it could just as well become a strategic party with them down the road. Witness the difference in policy in northeastern Waziristan, "the tribal area." There the U.S and Pakistan have been launching an intense drone and ground attack against Afghan Taliban. The reason for Pakistan's enthused participation that Waziristan is the base of the "Pakistani Taliban," who have been suicide bombing Pakistani cities and truly terrorizing the region.

It is simply not in Pakistan's interest to help us properly take out the Afghan Taliban leadership in Quetta. I do not believe that national sovereignty issues would morally prevent us from taking the fight into Balochistan (though legally I'm more conflicted). If an enemy of the United States is attacking us from Pakistan, and Pakistan won't do anything about it, we have a right to act. However, in this case, it is not American interests that are at stake, but the Karzai government's. That is quite different. The Afghan Taliban will not "follow us home." That we are thinking of creating a regional and international uproar by sending troops into Pakistan goes to show how pointless and ill-fated our battle against the Taliban is.

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