The White House released the unclassified “Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review” yesterday followed by a press conference. In addition to the conclusion that the US is making progress against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the review and statements of Secretaries Clinton and Gates point to a comprehensive and long-term partnership between the US and Pakistan as a fundamental part of American foreign policy.
Secretary Gates was explicit in his answers to Charlie Cook and others who pressed the officials on whether Pakistan was doing enough to target militant sanctuaries in the remote tribal regions along its Western border.
The growth of local security initiatives is helping communities protect themselves against the Taliban, while denying insurgents sanctuary and freedom of movement. At the same time, Pakistan has committed over 140,000 troops to operations in extremist safe havens along the border in coordination with Afghan and coalition forces on the Afghan side.
Though we believe the Pakistanis can and must do more to shut down the flow of insurgents across the border, it is important to remember that these kinds of military operations in the tribal areas would have been considered unthinkable just two years ago. And the Pakistani military has simultaneously been contending with the historic flooding that has devastated much of the country.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, echoed this sentiment on Twitter during the press conference saying,
It is only matter of time & operational capacity before we take on all terrorist, extremist & militant groups
It’s also important to note that Secretary Gates does not mention the need to do more only in regard to Pakistan’s military, but also mentioned this with regard to American troops.
I’d like to close with a special word of thanks and holiday greetings to our troops and their families, and especially to those who are serving in Afghanistan. It is their sacrifice that has made this progress possible. I regret that we will be asking more of them in the months and years to come.
Read in context, it is clear that Secretary Gates is praising Pakistan’s military for taking the fight to militant groups on the Afghan border and simply stating the obvious – the fight isn’t over, and there’s more to be done. The greatest obstacle to doing more is not a matter of will, but a matter of resources.
A military official in the US Embassy that spoke with David Ignatius agrees:
The U.S. military official, standing at his map, says Washington should realize that the Pakistanis “are unable to conduct significant new operations without additional troops. That’s not a criticism, it’s a reality.” This official notes that the Pakistani military has lost 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers fighting the extremists, with three to four times that many wounded. Civilian casualties are in the tens of thousands. If America experienced this level of casualties, he says, “we would probably call it a second American Civil War.”
Much of the doubt about Pakistan’s willingness to fight these militant groups comes not from the actions (or lack thereof) of Pakistan’s military, but from concerns leftover from the Musharraf era. Gen. Musharraf had forged close ties with then-President George W. Bush while covertly continuing support for domestic militant groups who he considered strategic assets as proxy fighters against India in Kashmir.
But Pakistan’s policy toward militant groups took a dramatic change with the election of the present democratic government according to Secretary Clinton.
If you had – when we came into this administration, we had very little in the way of an understanding with Pakistan that the extremists who threatened us were allied with extremists who threatened them, and that in effect they were creating a syndicate of terrorism. And in fact, when we came into office, the Pakistanis had agreed to an ill-conceived peace agreement with the Pakistani Taliban that was consistently and persistently expanding their territorial reach. And we pointed out firmly that this was not a strategy that would work for them, and in fact we had very strong objections to it because it would provide greater and greater territory for al Qaeda and their allies to operate in.
So what happened? The Pakistanis took an entirely different approach. They moved, what, 140,000 troops off the Indian border. They waged an ongoing conflict against their enemies who happen also to be the allies of our enemies. They began to recognize what we see as a mortal threat to Pakistan’s long-term sovereignty and authority. That was not something that was predicted two years ago that they would do. They’ve done it.
The consensus in the White House and the Pentagon is clearly in favor of Pakistan’s efforts to target and defeat radical militants within their borders. While this is a relatively recent development, a change that coincides with the election of the democratic government in Pakistan, the country has made great sacrifices in the fight against terrorism and continues to do so. Unfortunately, the fight is not over. Though American and Pakistani forces are doing much to win this fight, there is more to be done before we will see peace. Working in close cooperation, though, we can be assured that the security of Pakistan and the world will be defended from extremist militants, and peace will return to South Asia.