Special Operations in Pakistan ?: Alternate Scenarios

A March of Folly in Pakistan
By ANATOL LIEVEN, New York Times, December 29, 2010

LONDON — News reports that senior U.S. commanders in Afghanistan want to expand Special Operations ground raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas may well have been leaked deliberately in order to increase pressure on Pakistani military leaders to take tougher action against Taliban fighters seeking refugee in their country.

However, if American generals genuinely want to increase such raids, then it needs to be stated emphatically that this is not just a lunatic idea, but one that demonstrates how far senior American (and British) commanders have become obsessed with the war in Afghanistan at the expense of the struggle against terrorism as a whole.

Pakistan, with its huge population (around 200 million), large army, nuclear weapons, extensive extremist networks and diaspora in the West, is a far more important country than Afghanistan and presents a vastly greater potential threat of anti-Western terrorism. Moreover, the one thing that would certainly lead to the collapse of the Pakistani state and an immense surge in extremist and terrorist strength would be if the Pakistani Army were to split and parts of it were to mutiny against the alliance with America. U.S. ground raids into Pakistan would risk precisely this disastrous outcome. In fact, after all the talk about the danger of state collapse and Islamist revolution in Pakistan, it would be the U.S. itself that would bring these events about.

Advocates of ground raids seem to think that they are merely an extension of the current campaign of drone attacks on targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which have caused great resentment and have had very doubtful success.

Pakistani officers from captain to lieutenant general have told me that the entry of U.S. ground forces into Pakistan in pursuit of the T
aliban and Al Qaeda is by far the most dangerous scenario for both Pakistan-U.S. relations and the unity of the Pakistani Army. As one retired general explained, drone attacks, though ordinary officers and soldiers find them humiliating, are not a critical issue because the Pakistani military cannot do anything about them.

“U.S. ground forces inside Pakistan are a different matter because the soldiers can do something about them,” he said. “They can fight. And if they don’t fight, they will feel utterly humiliated before their wives, mothers, children. It would be a matter of honor, which as you know is a tremendous thing in our society. These men have sworn an oath to defend Pakistani soil. So they would fight. And if the generals told them not to fight, many of them would mutiny, starting with the Frontier Corps.”

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