By Col. Jack Jacobs
Already badly frayed, the relations between the United States and Pakistan were not improved by the report that two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed by a NATO airstrike. In reaction Pakistan ordered that NATO vacate the airbase at Shamsi—which has been used to launch drones—and closed the border to the vital logistical traffic that supports NATO operations in Afghanistan.
The airstrike was requested by the Afghans, who had taken fire from the Pakistani side of the border, a common occurrence. Air assets are coordinated by NATO, and information about friendly locations is distributed to commanders on the ground. The ensuing investigation will note that this information does not normally cross the border, but even with good data, incidents like this are guaranteed to occur. In World War II, when front lines were distinct, there were thousands of friendly fire incidents and many tens of thousands of casualties. In a fluid environment like that on the Afghan border, mistakes are more difficult to avoid. One major lesson here is that because ground combat is an inexact art, national leaders will fail when they rely on small-unit tactics to achieve large-scale strategic objectives. Get a grip on economic and diplomatic instruments, and quit relying on the rifleman as the panacea for the variety of ills that afflict foreign policy.
Another lesson is that we should have low expectations of the Pakistanis. The United States and Pakistan have a great deal in common, but we also have interests that are mutually antagonistic. We have sent many billions of dollars in aid to Islamabad, and have received some courtesies in return, but our money has already proved to be insufficient to get the fragmented Pakistani government to act in unison. Many among Pakistan’s leadership would like to destroy the terrorist apparatus, but the country does not have the will to make it happen, and in any case it uses terrorism as a tool in its dealings with India. The bombing incident occurred only about a day after General John Allen, who commands allied forces in Afghanistan, and General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Chief of Staff of the Pakistani army, met to discuss the dangerous border. Kayani’s previous post was the leadership of the ISI, which, in addition to providing national intelligence to Islamabad, trains and equips terrorists as something of a major sideline.
The long convoys that transit the Khyber Pass carry materiel for our Afghan campaign, and because we will withdraw the majority of our forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the utility of Pakistan’s logistical cooperation will be greatly reduced. But we do not want to stop making cross-border attacks; the terrorists are there, and unconventional means are the most efficient way to combat them. For this, however, we will want Pakistan’s forbearance, but Washington has decided that it’s not a requirement, that we just have to get better at targeting.
As for the Afghans, we are incapable of modernizing in a few years a culture of tribalism, inefficiency and corruption that has had millenia to develop. We plan to leave in 2014, but that is both too soon and too late: too soon if we want to change it, and too late if we want to save American money and lives.
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Insightful piece by our Board member, Col. Jack Jacobs, on Pakistan and Afghanistan
By Col. Jack Jacobs