The writer David Halberstam, author of a cruel analysis of the people who gave America the Vietnam War, “The Best and the Brightest,” observed that “no matter how small the initial step, a policy has a life and a thrust of its own, it is an organic thing. More, its thrust and its drive may not be in any way akin to the desires of the president who initiated it.” He had a hard time making his Vietnam-era interlocutors agree, for part of being one of the military and civilian best and the brightest was that you didn’t need advice from journalists.
It is another characteristic of official life that you are discouraged from applying lessons from experience and history (in the military case, before that experience has been incorporated into field manuals and regulations placed in front of you).
This rumination is motivated by the scarcely believable news that the people who are running the war in Afghanistan are contemplating an air attack on a Pakistan city in order to kill one of the most important figures in Pakistan’s own foreign and security policy.
Pakistan, as most sensible people know, is in the grip of forces that could tear the country apart if that happened—which would make it the third nation, after Iraq and Afghanistan, to be devastated by the United States since that fateful day in September 2001 when the so-called war on terror began.
The idea is for the United States to bomb Quetta, one of Pakistan’s principal cities, the capital of its largest province, Balochistan, which already experiences separatist forces. Quetta is a major Pakistan military base, home of the century-old Command and Staff College inherited from the British army.A reported American threat is not just one of sending drones over this city of 850,000 people, with missiles meant to kill Mullah Omar, the leading figure in at least one branch of the Taliban; senior al-Qaida figures also supposedly in Quetta; and Siraj Haqqani, called the most important Taliban leader in the country, whose men are supposed to pose the biggest threat to NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Haqqani is also, as it happens, a major and longstanding Pakistani strategic asset and ally. He will be a vital factor in the regional reconciliation and strategic settlement that will follow America and NATO’s defeat. That is the most important objection to the supposed plan.
The Pakistanis believe that the NATO expedition in Afghanistan is an ill-conceived and futile affair from which, after killing and being killed in large numbers, and accomplishing nothing useful, the Europeans and Americans will depart, just as the U.S retreated from Lebanon under Ronald Reagan, after the 1983 attack on the troops’ barracks in Beirut, and Bill Clinton pulled U.S. troops out of Somalia not long after losing the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.
After the foreigners leave, Pakistan will find itself once again in the awkward geopolitical and militarily dangerous situation in which nature and the vagaries of man have placed it. Its avowed great enemy is India, with which Pakistan shares a very long eastern border, with Iran to its west, and Afghanistan on its long northwestern frontier. A friendly Afghanistan therefore offers strategic depth in case of Indian attack, and access to Central Asia, while Iran is a corridor to the Middle East. This is the sort of thing they teach at the Quetta Command and General Staff College.
The American generals seem to be saying to Pakistan: You henceforth will ignore your own national security interests and devote yourself to our interests, whatever the cost to you. You will hand over all of the Taliban’s leaders and men in your country, and place your army under our strategic control. Otherwise, we will bomb your cities.
Why, according to the Los Angeles Times, “senior U.S. officials” think this is a good plan I cannot for the life of me tell you. I think it is a way to wreak further havoc in the region and do fundamental damage to the United States itself.
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.