The dark frontier
Pakistan claims 11 of its paramilitary forces were killed on its border with Pakistan by US forces. US forces thought they were fighting the Taliban. There is not necessarily a contradiction between the two statements. Bill Roggio writes, "The Pakistani government maintains the US military struck a paramilitary outpost in Mohmand. A Pakistani military spokesman "condemned this completely unprovoked and cowardly act on the post and regretted the loss of precious lives of our soldiers."
A video clip describing the Pakistani outrage over the attack on what it considers to be its soldiery is shown below.
However, the US military released a video which clearly shows a number of individuals firing upon coalition forces until they were all killed by four precision guided weapons. Any reasonable commander on the ground would assume the forces depicted in the video clip below were hostile.
Bill Roggio highlights the possibility that Pakistan has already lost or is losing control of its border and observes, "as the security situation along the border further destabilizes, US and Afghan forces will be forced to strike along the border to prevent infiltration of Pakistani Taliban forces."
The situation poses a number of strategic dilemmas for the US. US-led forces may have to assume the security responsibility for an area that Pakistan has effectively abandoned to the Taliban while simultaneously being pummeled by the "outrage" of same Pakistani politicians who abdicated it in the first place. In the worst case Pakistan will demand all the dignities of sovereignty over an area for which they will assume no meaningful control. At the same time, the US must respond to this situation without wholly alienating Pakistan through which the bulk of US supplies pass. Afghanistan will be effectively lost if the supply lines are irrevocably closed.
It's a scenario tailored-made for extortion. Efforts will probably be made to encourage Pakistan to resume control over the area through such inducements as training, largesse and foreign aid. But the internal problems of Pakistan itself will make all such efforts as effective as pushing on a rope. The strategic goal of ensuring al-Qaeda and similar organizations have no safe haven in the area is inextricably linked to the political health of Pakistan. While Pakistan remains broken it cannot effectively control its territory; and border problems will only get worse. A fractured Pakistan will ipso facto mean that radical Islamic organizations will always have a safe haven within its formal borders.
Finding a way to stabilize Pakistan is of overriding importance. Afghanistan can be lost on the Pakistani border, but Pakistan itself cannot be saved on the Northwest Frontier. That can only happen through political improvements in its heartland. If Pakistan unravels or permanently loses part of its territory it may eventually set in train a series of events that will destabilize the subcontinent, with incalculable consequences not only for the region but for Central Asia and even the UK.
The return of Benazir Bhutto was a failed attempt to find a magic bullet with which to slay Pakistan's political monsters. Whether they can still be stopped is an open question.
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