Pakistan’s War of Choice
By MICHAEL E. O'HANLON, New York Times, March 23, 2010
WHAT are Americans to make of all the good news coming out of Pakistan in recent weeks?
First, the Afghan Taliban’s military chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was arrested in a raid in February. Around the same time, several of the Taliban’s “shadow governors” who operate out of Pakistan were captured by Pakistani forces. Last week, the C.I.A. director, Leon Panetta, announced that thanks in large part to increased cooperation from Pakistan, drone strikes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are “seriously disrupting Al Qaeda,” and one killed the terrorist suspected of planning an attack on an American base in December that caused the deaths of seven Americans. Meanwhile, Pakistan has mounted major operations against its own extremists in places ranging from the Swat Valley in the north of the country to Bajaur on the Afghan border to South Waziristan further south. Yes, extremists continue to do great damage, as at Lahore on March 14 when about 40 civilians were killed in bombings. But after traveling across the country in recent days as a guest of the Pakistani military, I was convinced that Pakistan has become much more committed to battling extremists over the last couple of years, as the country felt its own security directly threatened.
Things are complicated, as always in this fractious land. Pakistan’s resolve is clearest against its own internal enemies. And while its will to pursue the Afghan Taliban has grown, its policies are changing incrementally, not fundamentally. It is rebuilding trust with America only slowly. And its obsession with India will continue to constrain its ability and willingness to act against the groups that threaten the NATO mission across the Afghan border.
First, though, give credit where credit is due. Pakistan has become deadly serious about its own insurgency, loosely referred to as the Tehrik-i-Taliban. Total Pakistani troops in the North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and the tribal areas now number about 150,000, up from 50,000 in 2001. In addition, there are 90,000 paramilitary troops of the Frontier Corps in the area, and they are far better equipped, paid and led than in years past.
As I toured the nerve center of the Pakistani military in Rawalpindi, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army’s spokesman, recited an impressive list of statistics. The army now has 821 posts on the Afghan-Pakistan border, as opposed to just 112 manned by NATO and Afghan forces on the other side. Pakistan carried out 209 operations in 2009 of brigade size or larger (that is, involving at least 3,000 troops), twice as many as in the previous two years combined. Convoys bringing supplies for the NATO mission in Afghanistan used to be preyed on frequently by terrorists and thieves; but as a result of the improved security, NATO is now losing only about 0.1 percent of the goods it ships across Pakistan.
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