Escalation in Afghanistan: It’s All About the Neighbors
Many of us are disappointed with the escalation announced last week by President Obama, increasing the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan by 30,000. We’ve known going into this administration that Obama perceived military activity in Afghanistan as "the right war," compared to the misdirected misadventure we know as the Iraq War. But we also assumed he’d realize that the real problem, al Qaeda, didn’t require an additional deployment of tens of thousands of troops to be kept under control.
But the real problem isn’t necessarily al Qaeda; it’s the neighbors. And if Afghanistan isn’t in better shape, the neighbors are going to be a problem of a size and nature we can’t yet comprehend.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like this situation. Not one fricking bit. I’d rather we’d not moved towards an escalation, but instead deployed special forces on the down low to handle the few problems we have with al Qaeda, and allow the people of Afghanistan to work out their own mess. We cannot expect them to adopt democracy; no country does so successfully at the point of a gun. But a few intransigents fomenting terrorism could be dealt with by special forces, without a big footprint in the country.
The real problem is Pakistan; the second part of this problem is the public’s perception of the situation. Something massive and ugly is going on in that country, and the mainstream media here seems unable to tackle it, or simply unwilling to bring up how very bad things are in any detail so that we the people can have a cogent, coherent conversation about it like adults. Especially adults who may eventually get called to pay another tab for yet more war.
Look for "pakistan terror" at Google News; you will find numerous stories about attacks over the last week. Check out this chart on terror attacks in Pakistan at Wikipedia; last I checked, this page only covered about 18 months of attacks, not including the last quarter. There’s been more than 6500 killed in that time frame, resulting from attacks which occur every other day to every third day across the country. For a country which is one and a half times the size of Texas, it’s a very violent place to live.
There are other much more disturbing developments which require the average American to do a little more digging to learn about them. We’ve heard that private military companies have personnel inside Pakistan, but we don’t know which companies, how many or why. More explicitly, Americans can see that Blackwater is in Pakistan and in very large numbers if they simply expend a little effort to look beyond the corporate-owned media.
It appears Pakistanis are distressed about it; you’ll see their concern if you search YouTube for "pakistan blackwater". There are hundreds of videos either featuring or talking about Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan. Many of the videos are in languages most Americans don’t speak, but it’s easy to pick out key words in English which sprinkle the discussion, and the graphics can fill in the blanks.
In short, Blackwater has a massive presence in Pakistan — or at least a group of westerners believed to be primarily Blackwater personnel have set up a rather large compound in Pakistan, and are buying up property in Pakistan for some unspecified purpose with the help of other middle eastern countries.
A Pakistani security analyst posted that at least 3700 individuals, identified as a mixture of military and civilians, were issued diplomatic visas to enter the country. This is a sizable commitment, no doubt about it.
Once we confront the truth of this situation, it’s time to ask questions and get some answers. Why are these private military personnel in Pakistan? And at whose invitation or orders? Who’s picking up the tab?
There may be excellent reasons for their presence, like "broken arrow" events where nuclear weapons have gone walkabout, or even the precursors to build such a weapon may not be under adequate control. The political climate in Pakistan is also highly volatile, undermining outsider’s confidence about weapons and precursors. Benazir Bhutto’s widowed spouse and Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zadari has been under pressure politically with regard to corruption; he’s given up control of the nation’s nuclear weapons to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Add this on top of almost daily violent attacks attributed to any number of groups and even to Blackwater, and it’s a tinderbox.
India, which neighbors Pakistan to the south east, has an exceptionally large role here; there are enormous challenges ahead between these two neighbors which threaten the stability of both countries. But the U.S. is not in a good position to lecture them if we don’t acknowledge our mistakes in judgment which have encouraged rather than discouraged terrorism in the middle east.
Which brings us back to one of the other neighbors, Afghanistan. What has the U.S. done to stabilize the country which had already been through decades of war before we arrived after 9/11? How can we help Pakistan maintain a tighter grip on its nuclear arsenal when we’ve managed to screw up a neighboring country with a much smaller population? How do we simultaneously undo the screw up and establish a better position to help Pakistan without digging an even deeper hole for ourselves and now for others?
Quite literally, without digging a hole the size and breadth of a nuclear detonation?
It’s time to get answers. We need to be able to talk about this coolly, rationally; we need to look at all the repercussions of funds to be allocated and spent, along with human resources to be deployed. We need to have frank conversations here, and with other countries about our own failings as well as theirs when it comes to the political climate in which we now find ourselves.
We’re all going to have to learn how to be better neighbors.